How I Spent My September 11

Back in 2001 I worked at a small television production company – so small that, were it founded in these moustachioed and rhubarb-soda’d times, people would call it “boutique” or even “artisinal.” We specialized in hour-long documentaries about the survivors of the biggest atrocities that the twentieth century could hurl at an unsuspecting citizen: the Holocaust, the invasion of Poland, the apocalyptic refresh of Cambodia into Kampuchea, the rape of Nanking, the Holocaust (again), the repeated historical insults visited on the Roma – you get the idea.

My job was to select and order historical stills and footage. I quickly grew accustomed to sitting down with a stack of VHS tapes from footage houses and watching old newsreels with images of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor waving at crowds, followed by Dutch fields of tulips, then wave after wave of planes disgorging bombs over central Europe. It all blurred together into one long spectacle of scratchy film shots, dramatic titles and distant explosions. Even the Vietnam-era footage dissolved into one endless hike through scrubby jungle, punctuated by an occasional corpse. It was a pretty great job, actually.

On the morning of September 11 I walked into work around 9:00 and picked up the phone immediately. I’d spent the previous week going over footage of the British being booted out of Singapore, and now I had to contact the stock footage houses, almost all of which were located in Manhattan and just waiting to charge us their atrocious licensing fees.

I called. Nothing. No ringing phone, no busy signal, no ‘all of our circuits are busy’ message. Just a fat silence on the other end, as if my phone had been unplugged.

I tried another New York contact. Nothing.

“Is something wrong with the phones? I can’t get ITN or Getty to pick up.”

My boss appeared from around the half-wall. For a man who matched my height but outweighed me by at least 100 pounds, he could move with amazing speed and determination. He would just sort of vanish from one spot and reappear in another.

“Are you trying to phone Manhattan, Aidan? Are you seriouslytrying – to phone someone in Manhattan right now?”

My boss delivered most of his information in a series of heavily emphasized rhetorical questions (“Are you bringing coffee? To the office? When you can just make some here”?).

“Yes. Yes I am?”

“Manhattan is on fire right now, Aidan. It’s on fire. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”

I did not.

“The World Trade Center has been hit by planes. Don’t you know that?”

I realized that our office was completely empty. Somehow I’d missed the news that morning.

A few weeks later I managed to reach one of my contacts in Manhattan. His apartment lay within blocks of the World Trade Center plaza. When he returned to his place after a week’s absence, he discovered a layer of ash coating every surface. He’d left a window open.

Author: Aidan Morgan

Aidan is a very serious man who’s saving up for a nice dignified pipe. Then we’ll see who’s laughing.

5 thoughts on “How I Spent My September 11”

  1. That morning, I was dawdling over a late breakfast when I heard the news on CBC. When the second plane hit, for the first, last, and only time in my life, I said “Let’s get CNN on the TV.”

    I was on the Regina Public School Board at the time, and that day I had a function at City Hall, and an evening Board meeting. In the City Hall Committee Room, which is on the 15th floor, I walked over to the window just to get some height perspective, and to think about my prospective son-in-law, whose job entailed a lot of air travel. I was hoping that, wherever he might be, he was merely inconvenienced. As it turned out, he was safe at home, enjoying some down time. He and my daughter couldn’t understand at first why they were getting so many concerned e-mails from friends and family.

    At the start of the meeting that evening, at my request, the Board broke precedent and observed a few minutes of silence. We then voted unanimously to accept the Regina Huda School as an Islamic Associate School.

  2. I was visiting my brother in Ottawa, got up early to bike downtown and was standing in line at Bank Street McDonald’s when some city workers started talking about a plane hitting a building. I forgot about it. Went to Chapters, started emailing my friend back here about a trip to Banff. Basically got the same reply: ““Are you calling a Banff trip, dude? Are you seriously – calling – a trip to Banff right now???” I didn’t know till well after the towers had fallen.

    After that I went running out into the street where some melodramatic foo’ was closing off access to the Parliament Building (although he didn’t really – he was just winding yellow tape everywhere) yelling about there were 50,000 dead in New York and the Sears Tower in Chicago “just went down”. Loser.

    After that my “adventure” bus ide back to Regina was ruined as I had to share seats all the way back home (duh) as every plane was grounded and everyone had to take the bus. It was awful. And ppl in New York and Washington and that field died.

  3. roommate: “Hey someone crashed a plane into the world trade centre”
    me: “WOW! Now that’s a STATEMENT!”
    (…then the second plane hit, LIVE on TV)

    It seemed pretty clear to me in that moment that someone hated our consumerist-capitalist culture and wanted us to watch our consumer-media boxes as they made a statement about it.

  4. I was getting ready for work in the morning. I ironed some pants while watching news about a plane striking a tower in New York. I didn’t catch all of it as I didn’t want to be late.

    When I came to work, one of my coworkers had the TV on shouting to all of to come watch as 2nd tower was hit. by another plane. That’s when we were all shocked. We were silent for over 1/2 an hour. Then one of the towers crumbled and fell to pieces on live tv.

    That’s where all the panic and discussions began. So much uncertainty as to what was going on and what would happen later that day.

    That was the first time I never heard the phones ring at work for business reasons. Coworkers were busy using them to call loved ones. Several were allowed to leave work early. No customers walked in neither. It’s one of those rare moments where everything was halted.

    Sure 12 years later it doesn’t have the impact as when it originally happened. Doesn’t mean we should forget about it.

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