Thursday, September 25, 2003


I had planned to write about death this week, but of the celebrity variety--Warren Zevon, John Ritter and Johnny Cash passing in one week (the latter two on the same day, 9/11) was too concentrated a dose to let go by without comment.

But I don't feel much like talking about death right now. I don't feel like talking about much of anything, really. Not now that Lottie is gone.

Maybe someday I'll go through the blow-by-blow of what happened over the past weekend. Not this minute, though. This hurts too much for me to go into detail. But, when boiled down to its essence, the story is this: It looked like Lottie had a nasty case of diarrhea, but it turned out to be a bowel obstruction caused by a large growth in her abdomen; exploratory surgery on Sunday revealed that there was nothing that could be done for her and rather than make her suffer any more than she already had, I gave the surgeon permission to have her put to sleep (or, more accurately, not to let her wake up from the surgery).

This all happened in a short amount of time--just over a month from the day I noticed anything was wrong with Lottie to the day she died. The brevity of the situation doesn't make it easier to take.

Parents will tell you they love all their children equally, even when it's obvious that they have favorites. Pet owners will tell you the same thing about their dogs or cats or ferrets or whatever. But there is usually one more dear to them than the others. Their favorite. Their baby. Lottie was my baby.

I love Ms. Christopher to pieces and have been doing my best to be there for her these past few days--petting her, throwing rings from milk cartons past her head, getting her loaded on catnip, etc. She's been wandering La Casa del Terror, looking under couches, behind doors, in the litterpan, wherever for Lottie, her sister, her friend, her constant companion since leaving the womb ten years ago.

But as much as I love Christopher, Lottie was the one I was closest to. The more sociable one. The more intelligent one. The more intuitive one. Lottie picked up on my moods and would appear at my feet, rubbing against my legs, butting her head against my hand, looking up at me with eyes huge and bright and meowing as if to ask, "What's wrong, buddy? Why so sad? Anything I can do to help?"

As I sat in the lobby of the vet hospital, trying to occupy my mind with anything but the poking and prodding that was no doubt going on a few doors down the hall, one of the attendants brought Lottie out and gave her to me. "The doctor thought she'd be more comfortable out here with you," she said, straining not to drop Lottie on the floor as she handed the big girlie over. Lottie sprawled in my lap, butting her head against the cradle of my arm, purring loudly enough to feel through the leather jacket, looking up at me with those same intelligent eyes and meowing as best she could. The damn cat was dying, but there she was, comforting me because she could see, could feel, that I was sad. That made me cry that much harder.

But that's just how Lottie was.

Rest in peace, my Girlish Girl.

P.S...My thanks to everyone from all over--Chicago, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Orlando, Minneapolis--who either called or e-mailed condolences or expressions of sympathy and support. It really does help.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

A Day to Remember

That Tuesday morning started off like just about any Tuesday morning had or has or ever would. Shave. Shower. Feed the circling furbags meowing at my still-damp feet. Pull on clothing. Push out the door and onto the Brown Line. Fall in love half a dozen times before the train even reaches the curve before the Belmont stop, where it sits without a word of explanation from the conductor for minute after minute. Same old same old.

But something was off as the train rolled on. A vibe. A buzz. Something. Two women in business suits standing near the doors, swaying and jerking with the turning and swerving of the Brown Line, talking to one another. Scattered words make it through the throng--"Didyouhearohmygodisn'titawful?"--but not enough to provide any meaningful context. Just enough to make me wonder. Just enough for me to make a mental note to log on to as soon as I got into the office.

As soon as I stepped into my cube just outside the men's room and threw myself down before Bridget, my Bondi Blue workplace iMac, I hit my bookmarks and tried to get onto the Tribune Web site. Tried. The site wouldn't come up. Shit. That meant one of two things: Either the site was down for whatever reason--maintenance, virus attack, sunspots, etc.--or there was too much traffic for their server to handle. Whatever had happened to cause the buzz on the train must have been big. Globally big. I decided to try the Sun-Times site instead. Less traffic. Less flashy graphics. Better chance of telling me what the bloody hell was up.

I hit the bookmark. Bridget churned and buzzed for a few seconds. The Sun-Times site came up straight away.

Ho. Lee. Fuck.

There, on the Sun-Times home page, in color as vivid as deep real blue the New York morning sky behind them, was the World Trade Center, holes ten stories tall punched in each one, black tangles of smoke pouring up and out of them, like an enormous, fiery giant had come along and shoved his flaming fists through them. I stared at the photo for one very long minute before I even read the headline beside it. Commercial jets had flown into each tower, minutes apart. Okay. One plane? Flying into one tower? Horrible. Tragic. Catastrophic. An accident? Possibly. Just possible. But two planes? Hitting two towers? No accident. Terrorism. War.

I couldn't sit still. A TV was on in an office up the hall, Dan Rather's faded Texas twang cutting through the unnatural silence in what would normally be an office thick with activity at the beginning of a work day. Normally. Not now. Now there were several co-workers crowded around the TV, trying to make out the signals that the skyscrapers around us would let through. CBS ran what footage it had of the towers afire, of the thousands trying to escape the conflagration, of emergency personnel rushing to the scene, always returning to the black smoke blooming from the towers' wounds. "Motherfucker," I muttered to no one in particular, regardless of a vice president at my right and department managers fore and aft, all women. They weren't listening to me anyway. They were staring at the snowy pictures.

I watched for a minute or two, then crossed the hall to Red Secretary's desk. She was there, busily typing away, and looked up to give me her usual, bright "Good morning!", a latter-day Louise Brooks with smiling gray/green eyes in place of Lulu's black gaze. Which thoroughly confused me. (Like that's difficult.) I asked if she knew what was going on. She knew something had happened. That there had been a plane crash or something. But she really didn't know what. I envied her that. Didn't stop me from breaking the news, though.

Her face drained of all color, and the smile abruptly left her eyes. "What?" I repeated the news. We crossed the hall together. We watched more reports. Then, we watched the first tower fall.

It wasn't like something out of Independence Day or War of the Worlds or anything anyone at Industrial Light & Magic could ever conceive. It was brutal. Dirty. It reminded me of being in the alley behind our apartment building on Ohio Street and covering a sheet of cardboard with topsoil from the nearby empty lot--the same empty lot where I used to scrounge for nuts and bolts in the hopes of someday building my own robot-- and tossing the whole lot in the air and watching the resulting mushroom cloud with awe. Except for the "awe" part. There was none of that watching the first tower fold in on itself, story after story, life after life. That was one of the tallest buildings in the world. Filled with thousands of workers just arrived for just another Tuesday at the job. Just people. Just like me and RS. Just like us.

I tried to go back to my desk. Tried to surf the Net. Tried to damn near anything but think about what was happening in Manhattan. But I couldn't just sit there. Restless. Shaking. Had to get up and stalk the halls. Passed empty office after empty office until I came to the main conference room. Filled with what looked like most of the company. All staring at the TV in the southwest corner of the room. All with exactly the same expression on each of their faces.

Disbelief--utter, complete, everlasting disbelief.

Info started filtering in. Some of it strictly rumor. "There are hijacked planes headed for Chicago," one co-worker reported with authority. "Cut that out," I snapped back. "You don't know that for a fact." "But I heard it on the radio...." "That doesn't matter...they don't know what the fuck's going on any more than we do." No planes headed for Chicago other than those already in flight looking for a place to land. No car bomb outside the State Department, either. But some of it grim fact. A jet slamming into the Pentagon. Another, likely headed for D.C. as well, going down in Pennsylvania. I have a dear friend in Gibsonia, just outside Pittsburgh. I hoped that she and hers were all right.

More info. Red Secretary's then-boyfriend, Czynsk, called her to say that the building he worked in was being evacuated. That was directly across the street from us. Reports were coming in that the skyscraper two doors south was emptying out, too. And we were still there...why?

Just before 10:30, one of the office admins came around to announce that workers had the option to leave if they wanted to. It took me and RS about, oh, five seconds to exercise our "option." Why stay? Even if we weren't in danger of attack, we couldn't concentrate on work anyway. And I admit it. I was nervous about being in a tall building at that exact moment--like being in a grove and hearing there's a forest fire raging not far away. (Strangely, some workers opted to stay and labor away--until the city evacuated all downtown buildings early in the afternoon.)

I suggested that we avoid the trains, which would undoubtedly be packed like rolling sardine cans, and grab the Grand Avenue bus out of downtown--we'd be more likely to get a seat, and we could swing by the drug store where Mom worked. I could let her know I was okay. More importantly, I could give her a hug and tell her I loved her. Something thousands in New York and D.C. and Pennsylvania no longer had the option of doing. RS readily agreed, and we shot out of work and onto Michigan Avenue.

These scene below was surreal. Michigan Avenue is usually busy. Buses. Cabs. Shoppers. Tourists. Panhandlers. Rollerbladers on cell phones. Crazy. But now, everybody seemed to have their heads down in determination, walking fast, like everyone was late for the same appointment. There were more vehicles than usual for that time of day. The strangest aspect, though, was the sky. No passenger jets. No private planes. No traffic copters. Not even a lousy cloud. For the first time in my lifetime, the sky above me was completely clear.

RS and I caught a bus pretty quickly and grabbed seats at the back. The bus filled quickly and made slow progress west. As we passed beneath the elevated tracks, a Brown Line train lumbered by. No daylight could be seen through its windows. Standing room only and beyond. Everyone was abandoning the Loop. Headed home. Seeking shelter. Or information. Or the embrace of a loved one. The bus continued on through the heavy traffic, and every so often I'd turn back and look to see whether the skyline was still there.

Eventually, traffic cleared just enough that the bus was able to move at something slightly faster than an arthritic retiree deprived his walker. We got off at our stop, walked the three blocks to the drug store where Mom was a cashier and walked through the automatic sliding doors. Inside, we were greeted by long lines of shoppers stocking up on supplies. Bottled water. Canned goods. Batteries. Booze. Anything to outlast Armageddon. Mom was busy checking out customers. I swung around her line to try and sneak behind to say hi. All the TV sets behind the electronics counter were tuned to the networks. Evereyone glanced up at the screens, down at their baskets, up at Mom, back at the screens.

After a couple of minutes, between checkouts, I tapped Mom on the shoulder and she turned around. We hugged. Exchanged I Love Yous. "Just wanted you to know I was okay." "Thank you. I was worried...." I turned to introduce Mom to Red Secretary...but RS wasn't there. Nor was she anywhere in sight. Mom laughed. "You never could hold onto a woman!" she said. Loudly. Loudly enough that every shopper in every line stopped glancing at the screens and their baskets and the checkout clerks and fixed their stares straight on me.

RS suddenly appeared, I brought her over, made a hasty intro and headed for the doors, with one middle-aged woman in like calling after me, "Yeah, why can't you hold onto a woman?" Back out under the alarmingly clear sky, I told RS why I'd run for it so abruptly. She thought it was funny. Me? Not so much. (Mom apologized later that evening. "I'm sorry, honey," her voice heavy and sad. "I didn't mean to embarrass you in front of your friend. I love you. You know that." I knew that.)

After another long, slower-than-usual bus ride, Red Secretary and I parted company for our respective apartments, both anxious to get somewhere with at least the veneer of safety. I still made a side trip to a neighborhood gyro stand, though--comfort food was definitely called for--and wound my way through side streets toward home.

Then I heard a sound that made me stop, stand, stare at the blue above--the unmistakable roar of an airplane. For what was likely only a minute but felt like a few hours, I stared. I shouldn't have heard that roar. All planes were supposed to be grounded. Maybe the reports of hijacked jets headed for Chi-Town were true after all. Stare. Stare. Rotate in place. Stare...nothing but blue, blue and more blue. Walk a few more steps. Another roar. Another stare. Another nothing. A few more steps. Another roar. Lather, rinse, repeat. This time, I spotted a small white jet far above me, way too small to be a commercial airliner. Found out later that it was an F-16. A fighter jet. Patrolling Chicago's airspace. Ready to shoot down anything deemed a threat. Jesus.

I made it home. Popped a tin for the Girls. Stroked their fur more than usual. Plopped myself on the loveseat. Worked the remote for the next few hours. Watched the same horror show play over and over and over some more. From different angles. From varied eyewitness accounts. From seasoned reporters, all of whom looked shaken, no matter how close to or far from the carnage they were.

Just before I went to bed, one of the networks ran silent footage, provided to them by French filmmakers who happened to be in the Big Apple shooting a documentary on the city's fire department, of the first plane slamming into the first tower. At that moment, I realized why the whole day had seemed skewed, discolored, off ever so.

That image was just like something straight out of a dream. Or a nightmare.

Went to bed. Didn't sleep a second. A few hundred million others did the same.