Blackjack Anniversary

My neighbors are all women in their late twenties, and they have the priorities people their age have, like dating and FWBs. We have a picnic table in our backyard, and they like to hang out there when the weather is good, sometimes with the company of gentlemen callers. A handful of times, when I’m taking out the trash, they will invite me to sit with them. A handful of those times, I’ve taken them up on it. I never say anything, I just listen.

On one occasion, the subject of September 11 came up. They weren’t kind. They treated it as an overrated, overhyped spectacle that people needed to get over. If I really wanted to make them awkward, I could have told them where I was that day, but I’d probably no longer get invites to enjoy their show. Plus they’re kids. When I was twenty-seven, I wasn’t a kid, but twenty-seven-year-olds now are kids. Prior to September 11, 2001, I was pretty flippant about Vietnam and the people affected by it.  

I wasn’t offended, and that’s because I’ve been writing a novel where two twenty-six-year-old women fall in love. They’re in Battery Park, New York City, and the subject of the 9/11 Memorial comes up, and it occurred to me as I was writing that the Twin Towers on fire looked just like a movie. If you were a kid, say five years old, when this happened, how would you be able to tell the difference? Maybe I should ask a Baby Millennial/Geriatric Zoomer.

My main character: “September 11 is Generation X’s defining moment, like Vietnam was for Boomers.”

Love Interest: “What’s the Millennials’ defining moment?”

Main Character. “Look around. Take your pick.”

If disaster and disaster came my way just as I’m becoming an adult or trying to settle down with my young family, and if the people in power don’t represent your viewpoint anymore and are legislating hard against people like you, somehow two buildings falling down doesn’t seem like that big a deal.

September 11 is old enough to drink or, in select states, purchase cannabis. What’s happened is that it, like every memory, grew hazy with time. September 11 was bad, but twice as many Americans died in Iraq fighting a war that was proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be manufactured by people who profited immensely from it and were never punished. Almost that amount died in New Orleans when a hurricane they should have been prepared for ravaged a US state, and many more died because relief efforts were so poorly planned. And so on, to this decade, when a virus spread through the country, killing almost a million people, which could have been contained if leadership wasn’t incompetent. Now we have mega-billionaires bending the country to their will and a reactionary minority preparing to take rights away from all of us.

All that in mind, what does 9/11 mean to me? It’s not the worst thing to happen to this country in the past thirty years. Why do I feel something heavy in the pit of my stomach every time I see the date on a calendar? Is it because I was there? Because everybody’s memory of September 11 is one tower burning while a plane crashes into the second, while mine is from a different angle, on the ground, looking up buildings so tall, you couldn’t see the top, now covered in flames and smoke.

My experience with COVID was disappointing, to say the least. I was hoping to be bedridden for a few days, but all I got was a headache. But twenty-one years ago, for about four hours in the morning, the world was on fire. Strangers would grab you and yell in your face that they destroyed the Pentagon! They’re taking out the bridges! And the guilt. I actually believed I could run in there and help people. I didn’t care how or what I did, I thought I could help. Instead, I ran. I’ve made a lot of decisions in my life, but that was probably the smartest.

This essay doesn’t have a clear thesis. Like September 11, there’s no lesson to be learned here. It reveals nothing about our humanity. My generation likes to think they’re jaded, latchkey kids who’ve seen it all. But we were spoiled. America won the Cold War and was riding high when we were young. We were the punching bags of the Boomers until Millennials came along with their avocado toast, and that’s really as bad as it got for us collectively. (Individually, I know a lot of Gen-Xers who’ve suffered unfairly in life, but as a whole, we’ve done pretty well.) Our innocence died on September 11, and as a result, the subsequent generations never really had any. Maybe that’s why I go back to that day, again and again, starting in August every year. It was the morning that changed everything, even for the Millennials and Zoomers who don’t realize it.It was the morning America got so scared that it went completely mad and hasn’t recovered since.

Imagine growing up in that.

Watch for Falling Enthusiasm

When we were doing our little mixer for the fifth floor, we were asked to tell someone we’d never met before something only our best friend knows. The next day, I spoke to one of the women who had organized the activities for the gathering, and she said if she could do it again, we’d tell the stranger what was number one in our Netflix queue.

A few weeks ago, I watched Thor: Love and Thunder. I remember being entertained, as a Marvel Cinematic Universe fan and as a Taiki Waititi fan, but I don’t remember much about it, except that I had this strange feeling sitting in my belly like a brick. And after chewing on it for some time, I figured it out. I didn’t really like it. I had a similar feeling after watching Dr. Strange: Into the Multiverse of Madness, with the added conflict of Dr. Strange being one of my favorite comic book characters and loving Sam Raimi since I was old enough to watch people cut off their own hands with chainsaws. I remember having a similar feeling after Captain Marvel, when the feminist in me wanted to love it, but the storyteller in me said, “This is actually not good.”

I don’t want to dislike these movies. I want Marvel to be successful. And I’ve been enjoying the various series on Disney+. I just don’t think these movies were very good. What about them don’t I like? Mostly it’s the sassy snark. It’s not even good sass. It’s weak sass. It feels like Joss Whedon, who patented snarky sass in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has taken over all of the dialogue for Marvel, and he’s phoning it in. These movies are making me retroactively dislike Buffy and Angel, two shows I love.

Now we return to my Netflix queue. I have been watching a show, as I tried to explain to my coworker, that is not good. The scripts are overly simplistic, the special effects are from 1998, the acting is both wooden and over the top, the music is the worst, the title font is stolen from Harry Potter, and the title itself is embarrassing to say out loud. And I can’t get enough of this show. As I sat in my bed, enjoying another episode before I turn the lights out, I ask myself, “Why am I watching this?” The answer is because it’s sincere. There’s snark, there’s sass, but it’s always delivered with an eye-roll, and it’s pretty infrequent.

The show is about a teenager who suddenly finds herself immersed in a world of fairies and elves, doing magic. She is taught how to control her newfound powers in a library classroom that has four students, two fairies and two elves. They work for a department of the Australian government whose job it is to keep magic from being discovered by the normals, and that means these teenagers have to stop the occasional magic outbreak, sometimes coming from magical objects hidden in the library. So they’re fighting tentacled monsters that eat people? No, they’re trying to stop chairs from floating around in a park or locating a graffiti artist whose signature frogs come to life. The stakes on this show couldn’t be lower, and I am there for it.

I’ve particularly fallen for a character named Peter, who is close friends with the first teenager. Peter is a regular human and a conspiracy theorist who figured out that something weird was going on. In the beginning, trying to keep Peter away from the magic was a running theme, but he was let into the magical world, and he’s now a rabid fan-boy. His enthusiasm and goofiness really carry the show.

This show has been the perfect antidote for the cynical humor of Marvel movies. And each episode is twenty-four minutes long. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a show under an hour on Netflix and Hulu anymore? This show has got this joy and earnest innocence that I kind of need in my life right now, especially after I tried and failed to watch all of season four of Stranger Things (the bloated episode lengths are just one of my complaints).

The title is The Bureau of Magical Things (I told you it was bad), and it’s on Netflix, if you need an antidote from all the violence and cynicism out there.

Behind Closed Doors and Minds

I don’t often have call to compare myself to a hard-right, easily and loudly offended, conservative, but things have a tendency to take you by surprise.

In December, I made a new friend. In fact, she’s the first woman I’ve been attracted to in a long time (not counting little crushes). She is into a lot of the geek ephemera that I’m into, she’s ace too, and most importantly, she’s a writer. She writes fanfiction for one of the big sites, and she has a really good following. When she told me this, I asked her for her username, and she said, and I quote, “Not a fucking chance.” I’m the opposite—I’m overeager to share my work. We’ve stayed in touch since the conference, mostly through IM, which is funny because her office is ten feet from my cubicle. I don’t know what prompted this, but last week she decided to share her works with me.

I don’t know what I was expecting, to be honest. I knew her fandom was the Avengers, but that’s all I knew. If you know anything about fanfiction, there is a tendency to create worlds and identities for a character (or real life person) that are nothing like the ones we’re familiar with. Fifty Shades of Grey is famously Twilight fanfiction, and when a major publisher picked it up, they made EL James change the names, and that’s pretty much it. She had recast Edward Cullen as a businessman, as opposed to a sparkling vampire. That’s what she did here, though not as drastically. It hews closely to the movies (as of when they were posted), but otherwise, so much has been changed.

The most interesting thing was what I found in the tags: D/s. In case you didn’t know, that means Dominant/submissive. Within a few paragraphs, it was clear that the relationships were going to be between male Avengers. So I found out my asexual friend was writing gay bondage fiction about the Avengers. Here’s where my mind took a hard right: I assumed that it was going to be sexual.

Conservatives are obsessed with sex. The recent tragic Supreme Court decision was not protecting the babies, it was about restricting who can have sex and inflating the consequences of it. In entertainment news, the newest Pixar film made conservatives freak out because a character had two moms … WHO KISSED! When normal people sees this, they think this is a family. It’s innocent. Not a conservative. They see two middle-aged women scissoring and fingering each other. When they see drag queens, they don’t see men who dress as women having fun, they’re picturing them sticking their penises inside of each other. And they expect you to be thinking about it too. The mere act of being LGBTQ at all is a sexual statement.

When I started reading my friend’s fic, my assumption was that it was going to be porn. I’ve been surprised by erotica in some of my friends’ writing before, so I braced myself, but this was nothing like that. It was an Avengers high-octane, dark action story. However, Captain America and Iron Man were married, and they shared a sub in Bucky. They did not whip Bucky or make him lick their boots, but rather it affected their relationship. When Bucky goes rogue, the bond between doms and subs is tested, and the most fooling around we get are Captain America and Iron man holding hands while they worry about Bucky. Nothing about their relationship was sexual.

Like homosexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality, B/s is sexual at its core, but like all of these other sexualities, B/s is about relationships. I’ve never thought about B/s deeply before because, if I know anybody who is, they haven’t shared it with me. Full disclosure: before we were married, my ex-wife was into that kind of thing, and it was very sexual. That’s why my mind went there.

I feel silly now. I feel like Tucker Carlson. I wasn’t going to go off on a rant about it, but I was thinking what he would be thinking. I guess I’m not as Woke as I thought I was. But then again, who is?

A Question About Some Romantic Comedies

I started a new novel last week, and I’m already at sixty typed, double-spaced pages. Part of the reason I’m putting so much work into this in what little time I have is because it’s made up of little set pieces that I am itching to write out. It’s also been surprising me every time I think of a new idea of where to take it. For example, a chapter in was when I decided that the main character’s best friend was going to be trans, and I’ve never written a trans character in a major role (hopefully one day I’ll tell a trans person’s story, but I’m not ready yet).

Another reason I am so taken in by this story is because it’s making me flex my gender politics muscles, to the point where it’s the most Woke thing I’ve ever written.

When I sat down and started writing this, it was going to be a simple story about a guy who has a crush on his boss, who always looks serious at all times. He vows that he will make her smile, and his friend calls him out on it, i.e. calling him a white-collar construction worker. Twenty-three years ago, I’d vowed to make a coworker smile, which I’m filing away as something I did because I didn’t know better. (I wasn’t creepy or an asshole, I just engaged her when everyone else in the office had written her off as a bitch.) It took fifty pages for the boss to smile, and when she does, it makes her uncomfortable because of baggage she’s been carrying around since she was a kid.

Even before the smile, the relationship evolves into heavy flirting coming from her but appreciated by him, and the real issue at the center of the narrative comes into focus: it doesn’t matter the boss is hot and female, and it doesn’t matter if the underling likes it, any advance they make toward them is still sexual harassment. The encounters with HR are intense and ridiculous, labeling an innocent St. Patrick’s Day pinching as sexual assault. But don’t they have a point?

I think about my boss’s boss, a slightly overweight middle-aged dad who sometimes grows a beard. What if he gave an unsolicited pinch to my crush, his underling? We’d get HR on that, right? How would that be any better if it was my crush, a tall, lean, pretty blonde, pinching me, her underling? I’d probably like it a lot (maybe not, though, as I’m touch-averse), but someone who has some control over my professional life shouldn’t be deciding when it’s appropriate to touch me without consulting with me first.

The main character takes HR with a grain of salt, and the boss begins flirting with him even harder, and what I believe to be the central conflict of my book becomes clear (and it only took sixty pages to find it). At first it will appear to be how do they have a real romance under the nose of human resources? But the real question is, how can they have a real romance when everything about it is unethical?

The book is written in the first-person perspective of someone who is really enjoying these advances because I am really enjoying writing these advances. My last book (The Sass in Assassin) involved a lot of murder, so I want to make the characters in this one happy. But the more I write, the more it’s becoming clear that the boss is wrong. She’s hot, the flirting is hot, but it’s so wrong. Is she going to get out of this situation without being fired? Is the main character? Are they actually going to get together, or will they just tease each other until someone loses their mind. I don’t know because I haven’t written it yet.

Off the Old Block

There are a series of short stories I really love, by famed mystery writer Lawrence Block, and they’re all about a character named Keller. The stories were published all over the place, and they’re self-contained, but there’s a specific order to them, and with the collection I own and have owned since slightly after I moved to New York, you can follow the story. I remember I first encountered the character in an issue of Playboy (there IS stuff in there that aren’t nude pictures, honest!), and he stuck with me that I was stunned to find out that there was a whole book of his stories.

Keller is a regular lonely guy in New York who has maybe too much spare time. He watches movies, goes on long walks in Central Park, sees a therapist, and he takes up stamp-collecting at one point. Every once in a while, maybe once a month, he gets a phone call, he takes a train to Upstate New York, talks to his boss, and flies out somewhere in the United States, and murders someone. He’s not an action-movie hitman by any means. He very rarely uses a gun, he’s not a martial artist, he’s not insane, and he doesn’t kill only “bad people.” He just very efficiently figures out how to get into someone’s comfort zone and exterminate them, no questions asked.

As someone who had been raised on Tarantino movies and a lot of the crime dramas from the nineties, it was very easy for me to put aside the horrible job this character has and get to know him personally. Maybe it was that compartmentalizing I’m pretty good at. Either way, I didn’t think much about it. He’s an introvert with a rich inner life, like me, only instead of fixing spreadsheets, he killed people, and I was able to identify with him.

Around the time I got the book, I was dating a wonderful artist in Brooklyn, and she was interested in whatever I was interested in, so she watched all my favorite movies and read all my favorite books, yet she has a very low violence threshold. She really wrestled with the book because she liked Keller, but what he did was monstrous, and she struggled to reconcile that.

I’m rereading the book, trying to inspire myself to write my next novel, now that I’ve finished the one I put aside to write my screenplay, as well as the one I put aside to write the one I put aside for the screenplay, and I’m remembering something that pissed this girlfriend off about the book more than any of the murders did. In one story, Keller gets a dog, and in a subsequent story, he later gets a dog-walker. Then, in another story, he and the dog-walker hook up. One story after that, Keller gets an assignment and takes care of it, going through all the motions, until the very end, where he tells someone she left him, and she took the dog.

This infuriated my girlfriend. Why did he take twenty-five pages to acknowledge that his relationship had ended? Why was he not thinking about it and mourning it that whole week he was out of town and killing someone? Why did he not talk to anyone about it? And yet for me, this seemed to be the natural thing. This is before “compartmentalizing” became a word that people used, but what was wrong with filing grief away? There was an unexpected loss in your life, and you might as well start moving forward as soon as you can instead of dwelling on it. It’s how I handled my breakup with her, and boy did that cause problems post-relationship (she is the one ex who will never talk to me ever again—all of the others, even with their grievances, acknowledge me). It’s also how I handled my divorce. The grief spilled out sometimes, mostly because of the far-reaching financial ramifications, but mostly it was tucked away where it wouldn’t interfere with me.

I am willing to acknowledge that my muted reaction to the divorce probably had to do with the truckloads of lithium I’m on, but there was no excuse for how I reacted in 2002. (Which was twenty years ago. Jesus.) I also know that I almost had a friend break up with me last year, and I did not compartmentalize at all. I yelled, I screamed, I begged, so I’m not incapable of feeling grief. Men are taught not to feel emotions other than anger, so I wonder how much of that had to do with Keller’s reaction to that breakup, as well as mine. I haven’t lost anyone close to me in years—what’s going to be my reaction when it inevitably happens?

I haven’t made it to the offending story yet; Keller has just met the dog-walker, and they are just friendly right now. I haven’t read this book in over twenty years, so I wonder how I’m going to see it. Will I identify with Keller’s stiff upper lip, or will I be angry at him like she was, all that time ago.

The Snow Miser Reloaded

I used to live in Nebraska. It wasn’t for very long—only four years, or less than one-eleventh of my life. At Hastings College in January, we had what we used to call “Interim,” but is now called “J-Term” (the latter which feels like a racially charged insult of some sort, but I’m not in charge of marketing for Midwestern liberal arts colleges, so what do I know?). I have a lot of memories of the time I spent in Hastings, some good, some bad; but Interims, with their university-like focused classes and more spare time than we were used to, really stuck out. I bonded with people I’d never really spent any time with before, I’d had a lot of adventures, I played a metric shit-ton of Doom II in the computer lab, and most of all, I froze.

I lived in Indiana for another four years later in my life, and I spent long January and February weekends in Upstate New York. I loved winters in New York City, as I often had a girlfriend at those points, and there was a lot of cuddling under the covers to keep warm. Also the city seemed so much more electric at that time of year, sometimes because of Christmas, and sometimes it might have been that the cloud of air in front of your face that invigorated everyone. Of all these places I’ve lived, nothing has measured up to winters in Nebraska, where once, as I walked across campus to get to my dorm, a gust of freezing wind caught me and slid me back about a foot on the ice.

Winters in New York were impersonal, dropping in because they had a job to do and leaving as soon as was polite in March or April, only to return again later in the year. Winters in Indiana brought ice storms with them, which were just kind of mean. Mostly what I remembered of the winters in Upstate New York, as well as those in my hometown of Gallup, New Mexico, was the slush, which felt like the season just throwing in the towel. Winters in Nebraska, though, were brash yet cozy, like that relative who was just going to stay over a few days and ends up using up all the hot water and eats all your food. It got into your bones, and even when you were sitting in front of a roaring fireplace in a cable-knit sweater over a set of long johns, you just can’t get warm.

Winters in Virginia and DC, however, have been nothing short of mild. They’re actually pretty wet. Sure it gets cold every once in a while, like when it was in the low 20s (-4° Celsius) last week, but within a few days, it was almost 40° again (4°). And we never, ever get snow. Well, we got snow this year. It was like somebody dumped a big bucket of it on the region. I thought this was great. Winter doesn’t start in DC until mid-January, and on the rare occasion we do get snow, it happens later in the season. Therefore, a major winter storm on January 3 means we won’t get one in February (this is not remotely how meteorology works), and hopefully spring will come early.

I’m thinking about winters in all the places I’ve lived, especially Nebraska, because this morning, when I woke up, it was 16° (-8°) out, certainly not the coldest I’ve ever been, but the coldest I’ve ever been in a long time. I opened the front door to stand in it for a minute and remember what it felt like to absolutely freeze to death. It was not as fun as I remembered. Also on the horizon is a snowstorm that is supposed to be as bad as the one two weeks ago, but with freezing rain to add to it, and I’m like, what am I, in the Midwest? We still haven’t gotten rid of the last snow.

Weather’s not the same as when I was a younger, and that is 100 percent because of manmade climate change. Where weather that approached 0° (-18°) used to be pretty bad in the Midwest, thanks to polar vortices, temperatures far below that are frequently gripping the Heartland and bringing it to its knees, which is a particular hardship given the shoddy American infrastructure—which tends to be worse in states with Republican governors. This is the way it is now.

I don’t know if DC’s recent run of actual winter in the winter is a result of climate change, but I do know that this morning, I stood in the doorframe, my breath visible, wistfully remembering what it was like to bundle up and brave the outside, as well as curling up under a blanket with someone special, sipping hot chocolate and watching through the window what looks like stars, slowly drifting from the sky and resting peacefully on the ground with all of the rest of the stars in the universe.

Post-Countdown Countdown

I wanted to wait until 2022 to get all this down, just in case the universe has anymore surprises to throw at us (Betty White), but now that it’s January 1, I feel like I can safely look back. The one thing I dread every year between Christmas and New Year’s is the pile-on about how terrible the previous year was. Everyone is falling all over themselves to condemn it the hardest, and a quick look at your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr (which is still a thing—I just checked) reveals the accepted wisdom that 2021 was a terrible year. So was 2020, and 2019, and 2018, and 2017, and so on. I have very, very rarely looked at a social media post stating that the year that passed was a good year in all the time I’ve been on social media, and I had a Friendster account. Honestly, the news was pretty bleak this year, and I have several friends, one in particular, whose December was a terrible nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, much less someone as kind and generous as she is. But the thing, the news is bleak every year. That’s how they sell news. And while I watch the rise of fascism, income inequality, and disease in my own supposedly clean, democratic country with a sense of dread, I had a pretty good year.

I am not a trend-maker, and I cannot convince anybody to do anything, no matter how much I think it’s a good idea, so I don’t expect this to catch on, but I would hope that maybe in the future that people will look upon the passing year with a little nostalgia. This seething hatred and disgust for every year that passes cannot be healthy for us as a society, and neither is this hope for the next year that will be dashed completely a few months in. I’ll go first, and I’ll do it in meme form.

Everyone else:

Me: In 2021, I self-published 10 e-books and one print book, and I got pretty good reviews (and one really bad review) on a couple of them. I jettisoned an unhealthy relationship that was draining me dry. I lost twenty-five pounds in the spring and summer (and gained back six in the fall). I (kind of) learned how to play tennis. I got a promotion and subsequent raise at work. I went on my second business trip ever, and I had a wonderful time and met some really amazing people doing it. There was another Matrix movie, which may have been fan fiction, but was still welcomed with open arms by me. I went to San Francisco and had a much more enjoyable time than the last time I went and got to go on the So I Married an Ax Murderer tour I so desired. I entered several novel-writing/screenwriting/movie-pitching contests and advanced to round two in some of them. I rediscovered classic MacGyver. I befriended my neighbor, who is a treasure. I moved to a better apartment. I went wild and bought all fourteen action figures they made of Doctor Who. I tried dating (which didn’t really take), and I met a lot of interesting people in the process. I went to a movie in the theater for the first time since January 2020.

Again, I know that I have very little influence on what people do, but I still highly recommend doing this for yourself. If I push the flaming dumpster fire that contains things like the January 6 insurgency and both Delta and Omicron—as well as the negative review my TV pilot got or some of the fights I got into with my roommate—off the cliff and never speak of it again, what would I do with all these victories I racked up? Times are hard for America and the world, but they were good for me, and I’ll bet, if you try hard enough, you can come up with some reasons 2021 wasn’t that bad.

If you’ve ever listened to a thing I say, make it this: Live your life. Enjoy the good parts as much as you can. Don’t be hating every moment that passes, or you will die a miserable person.

Production Racket

Late summer, early fall, I decided to try something new with my writing: I was experimenting in getting seen by movie and TV producers. The thing about trying to sell scripts and pitches is that there is a precise science to it. If you don’t do everything 100 percent right, they throw you away, regardless of how good your idea is. There is a whole publishing industry dedicated to how to write screenplays. I have a lot of good ideas, and the closest I came to being seen was a video pitch (in which I tried and failed to not sound like I was reading off of a sheet of paper). If I had made it past that round, I would have been put on a Zoom call with actual producers who would have ruthlessly picked my idea apart and probably made me cry. There are thousands upon thousands of ideas out there for movies, and it is up to these gatekeepers to decide which movie will be made.

My question is this: with this much quality control, why are the vast majority of movies and TV shows rubbish? I was just looking at Netflix for a movie to watch today, and I couldn’t find anything that I hadn’t already seen or didn’t look like a complete waste of my time. Are the ideas I come up with actually worse than these ideas (no, they’re not)? I know that movie-making is a business, not an art, so will I base my success as a writer on how marketable I am?

I don’t know what about my video pitch didn’t sell. Was it my insistence on making the main character a party animal? Was it that I turned the other main character into a stalker? Was it how well I read my script? Was it my tie? I don’t know, I didn’t get feedback. But I know what I want to write, and I will write a tale of drunken debauchery with a side of stalking. I don’t need anybody’s permission to do that.

My experiment ended up costing me about $400 in fees and gave me a bad review that still troubles me to this day, and I’m glad I did it. But I know after all that that this isn’t the way forward for me. I’m sticking to unpublished novels from now on.

A Gift of Platinum and China

I struggled for a year about what I should do for the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The most obvious thing to do would be to go to New York and be there for it, but I really can’t. It’s not because of money or finding a place to stay or anything but because it’s not my New York. My New York is trapped in amber from 1998 to 2004 when subway fares were $1.50 and the Freedom Tower hadn’t even been conceived yet. My New York doesn’t exist anymore, just like the Jeremiah of 2001 doesn’t exist anymore either, and that is a mixed blessing. I thought of myself as a New Yorker for years after I moved on, but not anymore. I’ve lived in the greater DC area for thirteen years (minus the two-and-a-half I lived in Qatar), far longer than I lived in New York, or even New Mexico, which I consider my home (I won’t be going back there either). I made the decision I would stay home for the anniversary of the day the world ended.

New York has always been a city in flux, so it’s not only unrecognizable from 2001, but it’s also unrecognizable from 2014, the last time I was there. I think that really showed itself in the weeks following September 11, 2001. The Twin Towers had dominated the skyline for decades, looking like, as Donald Westlake described them, an upside-down pair of trousers. Suddenly, it was gone, and all that was left was wreckage that was still recognizable as the World Trade Center. After we finished running away, screaming, and when the dust settled, we had to return to our lives. There was an updated subway map on September 17. By September 24, I was back to work a block and a half from a smoking crater, having to take a ferry there from Hoboken because the PATH train went directly into the World Trade Center. We got used to the Towers’ absence really quickly, and life went on.

Except life didn’t. I was in a relationship at the time that was irreparably damaged by the events of that day and limped along for another five months out of sheer inertia before falling down and dying. The problem was she was shaken to her core by the attack, and she needed comfort. I was unable to give it because I had shut down my emotions to get me through that day, and they didn’t come back on for a long time. It didn’t help that I was drunk and high constantly for the two weeks following the incident. Not dealing with it was how I chose to deal with it.

As a sidebar, I met someone who would become one of my most fondly remembered friends as a result of that day. At the end of the month, someone threw a party for all the September birthdays that didn’t get celebrated that year, and I met this really cool young woman and wanted to be her friend right away. She was celebrating because 9/11 gave her the kick in the pants she needed to divorce her terrible spouse. As with everything, there were good side effects.

The vaccine-denying, election-overturning, polarized hate-fest that is modern America has a lot of roots in this day. There are a lot of milestones on the road to where we are now—the nomination of Ronald Reagan for president in 1980, the ascension of Newt Gingrich to Speaker of the House in 1995, and so on. However, as a result of being president on one of the worst days in American history, George W. Bush, who was well on his way to becoming a one-term president, became a two-term president, and the Republican Party really got the hang of hateful polarizing tribalism. Rudy Guiliani would have been a footnote in history had he not stood on the rubble and started barking orders. Do you remember flag pins? Do you remember what would happen to you politically if you didn’t wear one?

On the twentieth-anniversary year, we finally left Afghanistan, the country we destroyed in retaliation for the attack. When we first invaded in 2002, the Taliban was in control. In 2021, the Taliban is in control. As much dread as I feel for the people stuck there under this oppressive regime, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder what the fucking point of all of it was.

Osama bin Laden has been quoted saying he wanted to bankrupt the United States, not conquer it. People who were watching American troops loot Saddam’s palace a year and a half later were thinking, “U! S! A! We won! Take that, bin Laden!” But we have gone trillions in debt occupying countries and not actually helping anything. All of the precious freedoms President Bush said “they” hated were being signed away by the PATRIOT Act and other bits of legislation. Dick Cheney’s company Halliburton robbed the off-the-books budget and didn’t even pretend they weren’t doing it. Osama bin Laden wasn’t a stupid man. He accomplished his mission.

September 11 is a formative chapter in my life as a young man. I’m not a young man anymore. In the 2000 election, George W. Bush and Al Gore fought like gladiators over prescription-drug benefits for seniors. The summer of 2001, the most front-page headlines were about Gary Condit, a U.S. Representative who was suspected of killing his aide. America has not been young for a long time, but in 2000, 2001, the stakes seemed a little lower. We can’t go back to those days again. I can’t go back to those days again. I could go to New York, but it will be as foreign to me as San Francisco was when I went this summer. It would be like going back after a while to that coffee shop you frequented until you left the neighborhood, and the barista who knew you by name doesn’t recognize you anymore. In fact, we’re going to let Pearl Jam play us out with a little number from 1993, “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.”

I seem to recognize your face
Haunting, familiar yet
I can’t seem to place it.
Cannot find a candle of thought to light your name
Lifetimes are catching up with me

The Matrix Rehashed

I just saw the first trailer for Matrix Resurrections, and I am excited. I thought the original three movies were a tight trilogy that wrapped everything up neatly, and they would have to do some serious contorting to squeeze another movie out of it. I was skeptical. But now I’m actually hopeful.

A lot of it has to do with the tone and sluggish pace of most of the trailer. It’s mostly Keanu Reeves as Thomas Anderson sleepwalking through life, and weird shit kind of happens, and then the action starts. I think this is a good sign because it might be about more than CGI and kicking.

The Matrix is my favorite movie. It’s not the best movie, but I’m in love with its questions about control and consciousness. It was a philosophical question with action and special effects grafted onto it. The Matrix Reloaded, however, was action and special effects with a philosophical question grafted onto it. The Matrix Revolutions was just action and special effects.

What I liked about The Matrix that was completely missed in the sequels were the people. The Matrix as a computer program was lived in. There were homeless people, dirty trains, sleazy hotels, stark office buildings, and a place where you can get “really good noodles.” When we find out that this world, so much like our own, isn’t real, we’re shocked. Of course, the movie breaks down in the end when the heroes just shoot everyone.

In the preview for Matrix Resurrections, we see Keanu living in the world, riding in elevators, taking antidepressants, going to coffee shops. It looks like it just might be grounded, like the first movie, and I, for one, can’t wait to find out if I’m right, or if this is another shameless cash grab like all of the other sequels made over twenty years after the last film. Will this succeed, like Bill & Ted Face the Music, or will it suck like all the Die Hards and Rambos that keep getting churned out? I guess we will find out in three months.