by Martin Kleinman
September 11, 2019
(Originally published on September 10, 2017)
The 16th anniversary of 9-11 is tomorrow. I never told this to anyone.
These days, I live on top of a mountain in the Bronx. As I write this, I can see the Kingsbridge Veterans Hospital and, far in the distance, the Williamsburg Savings Bank building, on Flatbush Avenue, in Brooklyn. I lived just off Flatbush for twenty-five years, and when the sky turns Colorado blue and the summer air decamps, replaced by crisp “back-to-school” weather, my mind plays tricks on me and I’m back in Brooklyn on a cloudless Tuesday, just a couple of days after Hewitt beat Sampras in the U.S. Open. It was decisive: 7-6, 6-1, 6-1.
In the aftermath of 9-11, I would sit at my desk and replay that sunny Tuesday’s events over and over and over in my head, until I would simply convulse in sobs.
The air in Brooklyn, where I lived, hung heavy and yellow and smelled like an electrical fire inside a cremetorium. Which is what it was.
One day, the daze lifted. Sort of. And I was determined to make my very own memorial. I had a brainstorm. I would make a mix tape, in five parts. Each part related to one of the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Death.
In my song cycle, I had:
Denial and Isolation
- E Lucevan le Stelle (Caruso version)
- My Little Town (Simon & Garfunkel)
- Small Blue Thing (Suzanne Vega)
- Danny Boy (Chieftains)
- Star Spangled Banner (Hendrix)
- We’re Not Gonna Take It (Twisted Sister)
- Sunday Bloody Sunday (U2)
- Ahab the Arab (Ray Stevens)
- Ride of the Valkyries/Napalm (Apocalypse Now soundtrack)
- Broken Things (Buddy and Julie Miller)
- If I Fall Behind (Springsteen)
- Flying Shoes (Townes Van Zandt)
- Come Down In Time (Elton John)
- Ben McCullagh (Steve Earle)
- Tears in Heaven (Clapton)
- The Boxer (Simon & Garfunkel)
- Tragedy (Emmylou Harris)
And I spent hours on the floor, in front of my old-technology analog two-channel stereo, mixing vinyl and CDs and cassettes onto my cassette deck, for this was well before burners, or iTunes, or Spotify. And, many hours later, I was finished. And I was mentally and physically exhausted and, for the first time in a long time, I actually felt “good.”
I made a little decoration for the cassette box and, later in the week, brought it down to my 1999 VW, which was equipped with a cassette deck, as were cars of that vintage. The decoration was a print-out of the New York Times photo by Angel Franco of the heavy black lady resting on a mailbox near Ground Zero, crying, her eyeglasses askew.
For the debut of my 9-11 tape, I thought I’d take a ride and play it on the road. Not the typical “road trip” tape but, hey, this is what I wanted.
I opened the car door, got in, turned the key. The car fired up. I turned on the radio. I inserted the cassette.
AND THE CAR STEREO ATE MY TAPE!!!
I did not laugh, I did not cry. Dutifully, I pulled the shards of plastic and ribbons of accordioned audio tape from inside the ruined bowels of the tape player, which never worked again. The tape, of course, was rendered useless and, it being my “master,” I had no way to create a dupe other than to re-record.
Which I never did, for I was, and remain, determined not to succumb to the tyranny of these tunes.
I completely forgot about the entire episode until this very morning, mere days before 9-11’s Sweet Sixteen. It is cool and clear, here in the Bronx. I look out of my window and see my borough, and Brooklyn, and Manhattan.
Oh, just a couple of other things. In the weeks after that day, I do, however, remember purposely misdirecting camera-toting, out-of-town tourists too eager to photograph the carnage.
How do you get to Ground Zero? Easy. Take the number six train uptown. Yep. Number Six. Uptown. Get off at Elder Avenue. Can’t miss it.
You know what else? I’ll admit it: After that cloudless Tuesday in 2001, I never once visited Ground Zero. I never once went to the Memorial/Museum. I never once walked around Freedom Tower. And I never will, for my memories of that day are burned into my brain, as if by a branding iron.
And you know what else? I never told any of this to anyone, dear reader, until I set it down now, for you.
Martin Kleinman is a Bronx-based storyteller. He has captivated audiences with his tales of real New Yorkers (therealnewyorkers.com) in New York City venues from KGB Bar, to Brooklyn’s Union Hall, to the Bronx’s An Beal Bocht. Kleinman lives in the Bronx and is a regular contributor to thisistheBronx.
To submit writing for publication, send it to info@thisistheBronX.info. Fiction, non-fiction, commentary, news, news analysis, and poetry are welcome. Bronx slant always preferred.