Print and Go Back Page 2 [Print without images]

Friday, September 14, 2001
Thoughts on the most dreadful week of a lifetime

By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

At 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, I lugged my laptop into the living room and kicked off my normal morning routine -- reading about eight to 10 sports sections online, sifting through reader e-mails, hitting the relevant sports sites and so on -- with the television blaring (as always) in the background. Usually, I watch SportsCenter until 10, followed by "Beverly Hills 90210" (FX), the "White Shadow" (ESPN Classic) or the BCMA (Best Cheesy Movie Available).

World Trade Center
Those who were at or near the World Trade Center towers can hardly relate what it was like.
For whatever reason, I flipped to "Regis and Kelly" around 9:25, where they were showing video footage of President Bush talking (or so I thought). Thinking nothing of it, I went right back to work, ignoring the TV for a few more seconds until I heard the words "plane crash" uttered.

Sixteen hours passed ... and I was still sitting there at 1:30 a.m., alternately slack-jawed, horrified, devastated and just plain scared. You want to talk about a TV marathon? This was like nothing we've ever seen. Like everyone else, I was flipping channels searching for information, answers, videotapes, explanations -- anything -- and the hours zoomed by at warp speed. Looking back, the day feels like an unhappy, restless blur.

Three days later, my stomach still aches, an ulcer of grief. I keep waiting for that feeling to fade away ... and it just keeps gnawing at me. I can't imagine how the friends and family of the victims must feel.

Anyway, I felt like I needed to write something -- especially when I received so many absorbing, heartfelt e-mails over the past few days -- so I'm posting this the same way I would send a group e-mail along to my friends. Hope it makes sense.

What follows is a collection of random thoughts, comments, reactions and some of the reader e-mails I received during the most dreadful week of my lifetime ...

Prayer in San Antonio
Losing a sense of security has many more people praying and turning to religion.
About a month ago, my girlfriend and I rented "13 Days," a well-done movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis that came out last year. We went out for ice cream after the movie and ended up talking about life back in the 1960s -- how people were living on the edge, how different things were in America with the constant threat of the Cold War -- and I wondered if that absence of fear was the reason that our society de-emphasized the importance of religion over the years. Back in the '60s, everybody went to church. As for me, I couldn't even remember the last time I had attended a Mass.

Anyway, I remember wondering during that conversation if some of those people in the '50s and '60s embraced religion because they were afraid of dying. Nowadays, I said, Americans didn't have anything to worry about ... the world was a much safer place for us. Maybe that was why some people felt like they don't need religion as much, I said.

Little did I know.

Obviously, my own experience from Tuesday couldn't match the one you just read, but still ... I mean, that was the first time I've ever been speechless (as in "no words could come out of my mouth" speechless) in my entire life. Watching those Twin Towers crumble on Tuesday made me feel like I was living in an alternate universe or something. It was simply impossible, wasn't it?

People are saying now that it was one of those defining moments where "you knew you were watching history unfold right before your eyes" and all that crap, but I wasn't thinking of anything like that. I was just sitting there with my mouth open.

You can't overstate how important the Twin Towers were to the Big Apple. When you were driving into the city, they were one of the first things you could see. When you were in the harbor coming by boat from Connecticut or Long Island, the Towers extended into the air like welcoming arms. They were like the Boardwalk and Park Place of the NYC skyline. Hell, everybody who lived on the East Coast or attended college around here has at least one good friend or family member who worked at one of the Trade Center buildings at some point over the past few years.

Seeing those buildings on fire, with the imprints of disintegrated jets on their sides, with people jumping from various floors and plummeting to their deaths, with debris falling, with panicked people bursting out of the lobby in waves... and finally, seeing them crumble like a house of cards... I mean, there were just no words.

A few other things have been haunting me:

World Trade Center
"No one deserves to die like that," wrote one reader.
  • One of those bastard TV networks showed video of somebody plummeting to their death, almost to the point of impact (and they showed it more than once). Another network showed video of people trapped on the top floors of one of the WTC building, leaning out of windows and frantically waving for help. I know the networks were basically ad-libbing things as they went along, but some things just don't need to be shown. Period.

  • Hearing an answering machine message left by someone on one of the top floors -- a man calling to say goodbye to his wife. Heart-wrenching.

  • I keep thinking about those guys on the plane that crashed in Pittsburgh, the ones who found out through the cell-phone grapevine that two planes had already crashed into the World Trade Center. And they knew they were next, so they took a straw poll and decided to rush the cockpit. I can't even imagine.

  • Just thinking about the dilemma of A) being burned alive or B) jumping to your 100-story death, with no choice "C." Chilling.

  • That one video CNN had of the second plane crashing into the Trade Center -- in slow motion, it ripped through like a knife going through butter, so you could actually see the shadowy imprint of the plane leaving a plane-shaped hole in the building before it exploded. I keep seeing it. It won't go away.

  • The face of the terrorist whose mug shot appeared on just about every major newspaper yesterday -- grim expression, black eyes, the face of pure evil. I hate that picture.

  • The fact that everything happened on 9-11-01. 9-11. You couldn't have made that up.