What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
In America, we just passed the 17th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. As it will be for everybody in my generation for the rest of our days, 9/11 will always be one of reflection and remembrance. As such, on that day I was having a conversation with a co-worker who just so happens to have a 9/11 birthday. The question was just hanging in the air, so I had to ask…doesn’t it suck to have your birthday on a day now infamous for the worst terror attack on American soil to date?
The answer was as apparent as the question; as obvious as the direction of the conversation. If you’re my age, 9/11 is one of those dates where you will never forget where you were when you heard the news, like the Challenger explosion or the day President Reagan was shot.
For me, at the time I was working at a software development company and we were all in a usual Tuesday morning management meeting. To set the scene, you should understand that heading into the end of 2001 was not a particularly great time in the software world; everybody had spent their money on the previous years “Y2K” quasi-hoax. That means the bubble had burst, the salad days were over, and this meeting already had a somber tone as we were talking about needing to make “some cuts.” In other words, and I found myself making fat coin managing a staff that had precious little to do. I knew there was heavy weather coming, and it was simply becoming a matter of “when” rather than “if.”
Right about then, one of the office staff peeked in the conference room door and said “You guys should turn on the television.”
We tuned in just in time to see the second plane hit.
Now, not only are we watching what at the time looked like the start of World War III, but every single person in that room knew that two of our company’s largest clients were in the World Trade Center. I took one look at the CEO’s face, and leaned over to the guy next to me and said “my ass will be on the street by the end of the week.”
“You and me both, brother,” was his response.
Flash the clock ahead three days to Friday the 14th. Just like three days ago, it was a beautiful fall day in Minnesota. The funny thing about days like that is that up north, even the most idyllic autumn day has a way or reminding you the harsh northern winter is just around the corner. One of the eeriest things about those first few days after the attack, was the complete shut-down of all non-military air traffic. My daily commute took me right past Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. If you’re not familiar, this is a major airport, and going past it without seeing planes in the air was like walking into a pizza shop and not seeing pepperoni.
Being a bit of an aviation nerd, I always had my windows down when I drove past the airport because the roar of a 747 on take-off is amazing stuff. Old habits die hard; even though I’m on day three of no planes to watch, I still rolled down my windows. But instead of getting the distinctive rumble of four Pratt and Whitney PW-4000 turbines at full power, I got a weird cold gust of wind which for a few moments made September feel more like November.
My office was in a typical business park found in the typical suburb found in every typical American city. The difference was mine happened to be across the street from Winter Park, the training complex and team headquarters of the Minnesota Vikings. Normally, on a Friday begin before a football Sunday, it would have as much coming and going as the airport, but today it was also as strangely silent.
I’m barely through the big glass double doors embossed with the company logo before I see the very same staff member who tipped us to turn on the television sitting behind our expansive receptionist’s desk stuffing papers into large white envelopes. Once I get to my desk, there’s a sticky note from my boss asking me to come to his office when I get in. The way to my bosses’ office takes me past the reception desk, where I see our usual receptionist boxing up her belongings, and notice the lady stuffing the envelopes has obviously been crying.
I’m no Jim Rockford, but I also don’t need the proverbial anvil to fall on my head. The big, white envelopes are severance packages, and my boss hands me a stack of them.
“Come back and see me when you’re done,” he says.
“Let me guess. You’ve got one these with my name on it,” trying to hide the “I fucking knew it” tone in my voice. He wouldn’t look me in the eye.
Back in my office, as I’m doing the deeds, every single one of my people had the “I fucking knew it” on their face as I handed them the papers pointing them to their winter of unemployment. One by one, they took their severance, cleaned out their desks, and took their own boxes of office stuff off to whatever the next chapters of their lives are going to be. This is well before social media, so I knew this was the last time I’d ever see most of these people.
After it was my turn to take the corporate version of “Tommy from ‘GoodFellas’ getting it in the back of the head,” I took my own box and started my own chapter doing the only thing I really could. I went home and got piss drunk.
The next morning, as I’m making that vital pot of coffee to start the process of sweating out the better part of a fifth of Kentucky’s finest, I come to the sobering realization that before I’m going to be able to do anything as far as the aforementioned “next chapter” is concerned, I need to get to a mental state of “not flaming pissed.”
I’m pissed that 19 assholes just killed 3,000 innocent people. I’m pissed that I lost a pretty cushy job, and the already-sad state of the Tech world coupled with the obvious nose-dive the U.S. economy was going to take after this attack meant my prospects of getting another job anytime soon were slimmer than a supermodel with a tapeworm. And I’m pissed that I’m never going to see our receptionist again; on “Blue Jeans Friday,” that woman had a butt that could’ve been the 8th wonder of the modern world.
If that weren’t enough to be pissed about, another thing that was taken away form this weekend was my main source of escaping the bullshit of reality…sports. Air traffic wasn’t the only thing which shut down in the days after 9/11; the sports world went dormant as well. The shittiest part about that was September is a damn good sports month. Baseball is in the heat of the pennant races, the NFL is getting started, and college football is bringing us the twelve greatest Saturdays of the year.
But this Saturday wasn’t going to be one of them.
Right about the time I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do on what was now a sports-less Saturday, I discover I don’t have any milk, and I’m way too fucking hungover to drink my coffee “bareback.” I throw on some clothes and shoes and head out my back door; there was s a convenience store around the corner. But there’s a short-cut; I just have to cut through some trees and over an embankment for a railroad track. As I’m walking up the embankment, it occurs to me this store is owned by a couple of Arab guys. I don’t just mean “sort of” Arab, these guys were full-on in the role. They had the kufis, the big beards, the flowing robes…you name it, they got it.
For a host of reasons, I’m very familiar with many Middle Eastern cultures, so I’m not a guy who sees Muslim headgear and immediately thinks “terrorist.” But at the time, I also know the world was completely off it’s axis from what it was four days ago. I also know I live in a city where a Palestinian guy got his coffee shop fire-bombed by some college students because he was posting anti-American, pro-terrorist newspaper pages in his window. In other words, I don’t know what I’m going to see when I get to the top of the embankment; I just want to see an open convenience store where I can buy some goddamn milk.
As I crest the embankment, I see what I want to see. There’s an open store in front me, but it sure as hell isn’t the one I remember. There was a brand new gigantic red, white, and blue sign which read “Discount USA” and the canopy over the gas pumps was adorned in so many American flags it looked like Arlington National Cemetery had installed self-serve lanes.
But that wasn’t the biggest transformation.
Once I was inside, I saw the kufis had been replaced with baseball caps. The robes had been traded for golf shirts and khakis, and if I had known these three brothers were going to shave their beards, I would have bought stock in Gillette. ZZ Top had nothing on these guys.
In other words, they looked just like Apu from “The Simpsons” when he tried to pretend he was a natural-born American. In this case, there was nothing funny about it, and I completely understood why they did it. Even before George W. Bush gave his “you’re with us or your against us” speech, these guys knew they had to pick a side, and they made it very clear they didn’t want to be the guys who got their store torched.
The saving grace in all of this is while they had transformed the exteriors of the store and themselves, they still sold their falafel mix and home-made hummus, and it was still where it always used to be…right next to the milk.
At least the terrorists didn’t take that away from me.
You can see all the episodes of “Story Time” here.
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