The morning of September 11, 2001, I awoke excited. I was buying my new car that day, a ten-year-old Volvo, all black with leather seats and an aftermarket spoiler I couldn’t wait to remove.
I’d spent the previous months backing out on the concept of college after graduating high school because 18-year-old me placed an irrationally heavy emphasis (100% sexual) on having a car in college. Having totaled my Dad’s Volvo by exiting a freeway without the aid of an offramp (that’s paraphrased from the police report), my days consisted not of learning to smoke weed or appreciate the Dead in Santa Cruz, but two jobs: repairing golf clubs and stringing tennis rackets for chump change, and hustling golfers on courses and putting greens for significantly more. 8 months after becoming car-less, I’d made enough (half the actual amount, thanks to a loan from my parents and a tap-in birdie worth $760) to buy another.
I popped out of bed, too excited to shower. I flew out of my parents’ door and walked up 29th Street to my bus stop, ducking into my childhood McDonald’s because I had a few extra minutes as a result of not showering. I grabbed a #1 (Egg McMuffin, hash browns, OJ) and waited for the #7 on Pico. As I sat on a bench near 30th, a homeless man covered in excrement (or an extraordinarily done excrement-esque pattern) approached me. This wasn’t your typical Santa Monica homeless man, the “sleeping under a freeway, drunk or high at 9 AM on a Tuesday” variety– but more along the lines of the “tragically aware doomsday homeless man”; the only thing he lacked was an apocalyptic proclamation of my godlessness on sandwich boards.
“Gimme that Egg McMuffin and I’ll blow you mind!” he shouted, marching over.
And just like any other Tuesday morning (or Friday night, or Sunday afternoon), I dismissed him as if by instinct. “Look, if I give this excrement-covered hobo with a promise of blowing my mind my Egg McMuffin, I’ll have to give every excrement-covered hobo with a promise of blowing my mind an Egg McMuffin,” I thought to myself.
So, I didn’t. He stopped, turned, and stormed off in the other direction. “G’fuckyaself, man, they just blew up New York!” was all I could make out.
I didn’t make much of it at the time, sitting by myself on that bench, waiting for my bus, eating my breakfast. When my bus arrived, it wasn’t particularly full, nor was it particularly loud; certainly not tense, let alone somber or devastated. Mind you, this was 2001, “olden times” during which we still used our voices to call each other, dated people we’d initially met in person, read the news on actual paper. I finished my McMuffin on the bus, suddenly felt guilty about that excrement-covered homeless guy, and left my hash browns in the bag on my seat when I got off.
When I stepped into the shop, I had no idea I was entering one of the most common scenes across America that day: co-workers standing still as gravestones, hands glued to their backs of their necks like stock brokers in a recession still years away, necks craned upward to a developing loop of the most terrifying, ominous, awesome visuals I’d ever seen.
I’d end up buying the Volvo a week later than planned, but by then it had become a formality, not a coronation. Much like the rest of the country, I judged everyone a little more closely that day. Not on a racial or ethnic or socioeconomic basis, just anyone who came in to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on golf clubs and hit free balls into a net while lower Manhattan disintegrated.
Them, and excrement-covered hobos with a promise of blowing my mind.
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