There was a time called <911 when Defend Brooklyn consulted the oracles of black math and conducted several studies to determine that, if the coming generation of rabble, hoi polloi, and 85%ers were groomed properly, “Riot” could be the new “street wear” market.
We planned to harness the anarchic energy driving the nouveau contact sports like skateboarding and grafitti to stop the world from becoming a strip mall. Cribbing tactics from the best political propagandists and advertising, we would use loaded language to dripfeed enough revolutionary iconography into the mainstream and pull the center to the left, like Barbie in reverse. Then things would get progressively better until our grandkids would eat vegetarian big macs on spelt bread in sustainable settings. Or whatever it was we were trying to do. I still can’t remember all the best things we said.
I got a sweatheart deal to place an ad in a legitimate fashion magazine (thanks sweeties) in preparation for something called the Magic Fashion show in late August of 2001 in Las Vegas. The ad was to be used as evidence that I was a T-shirt “curator” instead of just a drunk wingnut with a Ho Chi Minh complex.
Uncanny isn’t it? But Destiny speaks not only through me. There are plenty <911 artifacts suggesting that others felt the crosshairs as well. I claim to be neither conspirator nor prophet, but submit these images as proof that many American artists have developed a situational awareness during their forays into the American third world in search of affordable housing with hardwood floors. Maybe the wood of those floors is where the harmonics of the unconscious collect to be absorbed by those of us who, in the course of living the dream, have to sleep on them.
Some will, rightfully, claim that this “prescience” is due to the abundance of art, as it has been postulated that given enough time, a monkey will eventually type Shakespeare.
All I suggest is that if an adept is truly sensitive, he might interpret what the world thinks, speaking as it does through various argots of hair, dress and music.
Cracks of thunder woke me twice that morning, so I slept on, as rainy days and Mondays always get me down. The phone went unanswered as The Defend Brooklyn Hangover Index had been upgraded to Puce.
Then came a huge noise under which there was an intricate snap and bash, like boulders breaking apart with a violence too intense to hear with ears, registering in teeth and marrow instead. I would have bravely slept through even this, as it was a pet nightmare of mine since witnessing several big avalanches in the steep mountains of South America, if it were not followed by a roller coaster whoop and a full-throated scream of outrage, a sound which human DNA demands a response.
I was occupying one of those back stage apartments made available to me in the latter days of affordable Brooklyn. The apartment window faced northeast, away from the picturesque southern tip of Manhattan, and overlooked the maw of an immense shed where green trucks dropped paper to be recycled. Normally a ballet of heavy machinery performed reverse pirouettes to a polyrhythm of back-up beeps day and night, rain or shine.
This particular morning a hundred trash men stood flat-footed on the dock with their trucks idling will nill. From my vantage point I could see only their reaction. They weren’t cheering like when they had strippers or fights. Their body language was inert, unreadable. What awes the trashman thus?
By the time I got the coffee pressed I knew it had to be Godzilla, and I hate that motherfucker. So, I pulled on my plush Defend Brooklyn TM sweatshirt and charged up the stairs.
There were a hundred or more people I didn’t know on the roof, which was weird because I was the mayor of Williamsburg and what kind of party goes on at the crack of nine on a Monday morning anyway?
I asked an Asian couple what was going on. “They blew up the buildings. Planes flew into them,” was all the girl would say, never looking away from Manhattan. The sun was bright and clear so I had to squint to make out the smoke billowing from downtown.
I contended that those buildings were made to take a lot.
“Not this much,” a blond girl piped up.
“Planes crash into buildings all the time.” says I.
The blond girl pointed out that the first building was gone already.
“Really? How?” I asked the blond girl, meaning “which way did the building fall?” but she replied, “This is going to sound weird, but it was beautiful.”
Forgive her. We said a lot of things that before the jaws of <911 turned on us. Shock makes people do weird things, like giggle at open caskets or take pictures in front of the smoking World Trade Center just before it falls.
(P.S. If you have those pictures contact me for your five hundred dollar reward.)
The jokes stopped when the Asian girl realized aloud that it was people jumping off the building, struggling to stay upright as they fell to earth. “Maybe there’s guys down there with the trampoline things.” Finally, we stood like trash men, realizing the impossibility of any scenario except the worst one.
Then the whole building jumped into itself and sifted away, avalanched, leaving a glittering tempest of broken glass to sift to earth like ersatz snow settling in a globe and winked out among the buildings.
The howl started at a woman downtown and grew until it bawled in all voices, everywhere. It was a biblical sound, a primitive shriek, the keening germ of ululation, passed from those who’d seen it with their own eyes to those who watched with televisions, expanded from where the building fell and rolled out into the world in a ring.
When finally the sirens spun down, New York City was silenced. The smoke billowed heavenward, much higher than the Towers it replaced. Without the diffusion of smog Manhattan was as naked as I had ever seen it. Scores of birds circled, looking for their nests in the cliffs of mountains moved by Mohammed.
A stealth fighter skated low over the river, wagging like a kite, too late to do anything more than comfort us.
“That’s a damn stealth fighter,” I said, never having seen one before. This scared the Asian couple more than when the cell phones went out.
“Maybe there is something in that smoke.”
“They wouldn’t tell us if there was. This is gonna be mayhem. The tunnels are fucked for sure.”
“We could go out Long Island and try to catch a ferry.”
We made escape plans as blackbirds of charred business confetti wafted down on Redhook.
“We got to know what is going on,” they insisted.
“I live downstairs,” I volunteered.
So we four went downstairs and listened to the radio. WFMU was off the air which, to me, meant the world was really over. Without any civilized programming we had to listen to that dumb-ass Howard Stern prepare torches for the inevitable witch hunts.
We were shamed and much afraid because as liberals we knew intuitively that this was somehow our fault. The Asian girl and her boyfriend left, as it wasn’t their neighborhood and they didn’t know if they could still get home. The skinny blond girl, reckoning that her job assisting for Diane Von Furstenburg was canceled, stayed and listened to 1010 WINS late breaking news bulletins over and over.
I laced the coffee with whiskey, in case of anthrax, and made a passable egg and toast breakfast. After we ate, this girl, whose name might be Lauren, stretched out on the couch and said, “If you want to take advantage of me, this would be a good time.” And it was.
Turned out to be a good time to take advantage of every American, what with our radical veneer peeled away like a prom dress. Whatever revolutions we might have thought necessary were over and done with. We were in shock. Vulnerable.
By the time the smoke cleared, most of the orders from Magic Fashion show were canceled, along with the Fourth Amendment. Every damn one of us went with a holding pattern on the idea of civil liberties, like a herd of cows. Soon thereafter, I stopped aggressively pushing Defend Brooklyn, as such a thing might be construed as profiteering, Arab-bashing or, worse, treason.