The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Tuesday, September 10, 2002
MY BELATED BLOG: Some say the Big Blog Boom began on September 11, 2001. Others say that was the beginning of the end. The technical term for the latter group is "snobs."

I'm in no position to be snobby about anything bloggish, because I'm starting this perpetual three-dot column a full year after the warblog boom, at a time when "warblog" itself sounds vaguely retro. I'm doing this because I feel like sharing my own September 11 story with the world, and I can't imagine any editor being interested in publishing it, so I'm going to put it here instead. I suppose I could have done this a while ago, but for a long time the tale seemed somewhat inappropriate for its subject, as though someone had cast the Three Stooges in a Bergman movie.

I had a headache that morning, and I slept late; I wasn't sure I was going to go to work at all. It didn't help that in the alley outside my bedroom window, some maniac was yelping into a telephone, keeping me half-awake as he rambled on about some explosions somewhere ... he wasn't clear about the specifics.

No one had called me, you see, to tell me to turn on the news. Seems my friends don't use the telephone: They use e-mail and, in a couple of cases, the postal service. Even my girlfriend didn't call -- her newspaper had immediately sent her on a 9/11 goosechase, and we weren't able to talk until the evening. My only clue that something had happened was this man outside my window.

I started listening more carefully to his monologue, curious as to what his story might be. "It just exploded," "it just collapsed," "it just crashed" -- I heard all these variations and more, peppered occasionally with a disgusted "and they, they just cheered!" Later, I decided that he'd been watching footage of cheering Palestinians on the news. But that morning, I figured he'd been at a movie, and was distressed at the crowd's reaction to the onscreen violence.

"No, I'm OK," he said; "I'm in L.A." He said that a few times, disjointedly, throwing it in at unpredictable intervals. A narrative began to form in my mind. The man in the alley had come to Los Angeles seeking his fortune in the film industry. Things weren't going well for him, and he was growing disillusioned. In fact, he was cracking up. There could be no other explanation for his strained tone of voice, his repetitious yet never entirely comprehensible digressions. And now he was calling home, to reassure his folks that he was all right and, maybe, to tell them he'd be returning soon.

I got up, showered, dressed, drove to work. Hardly anyone was around. I was ridiculously late: I sent my first e-mail of the day at 11:04 a.m., so I couldn't have arrived more than 10 minutes before that. The message was a quick note to a colleague at Reason magazine, letting her know that I'd proofread something she'd sent me and found no errors.

A co-worker,
Sara Rimensnyder, walked into my office. "Are you all right?" she asked. "Is Rona all right?" (Rona is my girlfriend.) "Is everything OK?"

"Why?" I asked. "What happened?"

She looked stunned. "You mean you don't know?"

"No," I said, suddenly horribly worried.

And then she told me. Sometimes when I tell people this story, I say I thought she was pulling my leg. But looking back, I'm not sure what I thought -- not at first, anyway. If you told me any day prior to 9/11 that terrorists had hijacked airplanes and flown them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and that another one had crashed mysteriously in Pennsylvania, and that there were rumors of a fire on the Washington mall, it would have sounded like a joke. But Sara didn't sound like she was kidding, and I think I knew from the start that it really had happened.

She described what was being shown on television, and I decided that I didn't really want to watch the news just yet -- partly because it sounded so heartbreaking, and partly because I wanted to make sure my friends and family were OK before I threw myself into making sense of the world situation. This was a mistake: If I'd watched TV right then and there, I would've learned that the towers had collapsed in on themselves, rather than -- as I'd naively imagined it -- toppling sideways onto Manhattan, crunching half the city into oblivion. And so I started e-mailing everyone I knew in New York and Washington, to find out if they were OK.

At some point, I started looking at news sites, where I discovered an op-ed in The Washington Post by the neocon writer Robert Kagan. "Congress, in fact, should immediately declare war," he had written. "It does not have to name a country." The idea of declaring a war against no one in particular struck me as legally dubious, not to mention ridiculous, and I realized that we were going to be bombarded with a host of similarly useless suggestions over the next few days, months, years. I mentioned this to my editor, and he asked me to do a quick piece for our website making that point. I took a break from my e-mailing and wrote the article, guilelessly employing language that launched me into a debate I didn't know was transpiring, over whether the attacks were a sign of "war" or simply a "crime." Angry partisans of the war scenario then sent me a fusillade of messages taking me to task for a position I didn't necessarily hold, and my e-mail load grew still heavier.

I hope that doesn't sound like whining. As we all know, that was hardly the worst problem anyone faced on that day.

Over the next couple of days, my friends and relatives wrote or called me, all of them safe and sound. I wrote another article about the crisis, and it was much more well-received. I told another co-worker, Brian Doherty, about my strange morning, and he declared that I was probably the last well-informed person in the country to learn about the attacks.

That was a polite way of putting it. I'd say I'm just not that well-informed.


posted by Jesse 5:45 PM
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