9/11 Memories From an Okie Down Under

Everyone has their 9/11 memories. These are mine. Originally published in 2011. Republished today in honor of those who died.

1. On Sept. 11, 2001, in Auckland, New Zealand, my home since 1993, I was about to back out of my driveway and go to work. What I heard on the radio made my blood run cold. Literally.

2. I stumbled back into the house and told my Singaporean wife. All she could say was, “What? What? Oh no.”

3. I felt confused and bamfoozled. I didn’t know whether to go to work or call my family in Oklahoma or get on a plane. I mean, what the hell do you do?

4. I went to work, listening to radio news and feeling like a stunned mullet. As a P.R. pro, I should have been thinking about the impact on my NZ clients, about what to advise them to do. But when I got to work, all I could do was watch the towers collapsing over and over and over and over and over and over again. I’d make a few calls and go back to the TV. When a plane hit the Pentagon, I thought, “When Eli was born, we lived two miles from there. Two freaking miles from there.”

5. I prayed. I went to Mass. I could not believe what had happened. I wondered about Capt. Buttface, my best man and reporting buddy from Waco years. He’d been a big dog in the Big Apple for awhile. If he survived, I knew he’d be in the apex. As a Texas newspaper writer and editor, he was the Master of Disaster and “loved the smell of napalm in the morning.” And now, he’d be smelling it. Or he’d be dead. Oh, Lord.

6. I remember thinking, Capt. Buttface IS alive and will know what to do. He will act heroically. As for me, all I could think was: “This is too huge. I don’t know what to do. What the hell do you do?”

7. I was amazed at Rudy Giuliani. What balls.

8. And that’s all I remember now. Watching TV. Praying. Feeling surreal. Worrying about Buttface. Fearing even worse acts of terrorism. And feeling guilty for thinking, “At least we’re safe here at the bottom of the world.”

9. Four years ago, I visited New York City with my 18-year-old son. Capt. Buttface showed us around the Big Apple, including Ground Zero. He shared his memories. He said he still had the taste of 9/11 in his mouth; it just would not leave him. As he said that, he turned away, and a tear tracked down his face.

10. It’s 11 years after 9/11. Bin Laden is dead. Countless heroic NYC police, fire and emergency officials have lung disease. A shiny skybunker is rising from Ground Zero. I find myself still waiting for a terrorist nuke to hit my homeland. I wonder how people in Israel live under constant threat. I guess that’s what you have to do in NYC, every day.

Lord have mercy.

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