The Heat Of The Moment

GORDONVILLE – I like it hot.
Come the winter, can’t crank the heat enough. There are not enough layers, when the temperature dares to plummet around the freezing mark, to keep me from looking like an Eskimo.
Ice is my Kryptonite. Snow is one of the four-letter words you can’t utter in Gordonville without drawing a fine for using profanity in public.
In the summer, well, no diving into a cold pool for the thrill others get from an instant chill. A hot shower, even on a hot day, is a must.
Don’t believe in iced coffee or tea or anything of the sort. They are monstrosities, each of them. You might as well have a warm soda or lemonade (drinks of the devil that this diabetic can’t have anyway).
So, it was no surprise that I found myself in hot water this past Wednesday.
But this time, too much heat to feel comfortable.
It was one of the most solemn days on the calendar, Sept. 11. It was the 12th anniversary of the worst attack on United States soil, which left around 3,000 dead and a nation changed.
The fact that it was the 12th anniversary, not the 10th or 15th, placed it a notch down on the national consciousness meter.
Why does an anniversary have to end in a zero or a five to have enhanced meaning?
That’s just one of my pet peeves that have grown so numerous that, in my steady march to being a grumpy old man, I now need to rent a warehouse to store them.
Another peeve, more directly connected with 9/11, is the growing parlor game of people telling each other where they were when they heard the news of the planes striking the twin towers.
It’s better than blowing it off altogether, but it has grown a bit monotonous and outdated.
I saw a thread on Facebook, sighed, and was going to let it go. Then someone wrote they were at the dentist, getting their teeth cleaned and added that he will never forget it.
Actually, I got my teeth cleaned Wednesday. I’m not going to forget it either; rarely do.
So I jumped in, exercised my right of free speech and dropped in my old “it doesn’t matter where you were then. Where are you now?” line that hoped would get the masses to repent upon themselves.
No dice.
Instead, people just got offended. I played a little defense – I have this thing about getting the last word – but I felt the healthier approach was to start a thread on my own page that also ruffled feathers (although my responses there were a tad more measured and eloquent).
I didn’t want to alienate or belittle anyone who was at least taking the time from happily wandering through another day with not a care about anything but saving their own asses to reflect, albeit in a vacuum, but that’s how I came across to most.
And I really don’t like to be misunderstood.
To clear it up, I made an analogy, saying it was like a script or a book, where the story line needs to be advanced toward its natural end. My point was that just saying where you were, without taking it a step further in how it affected you in a post-9/11 world, is like repeating the opening scene of a film or re-reading the first chapter of book.
I was challenged by one pretty intelligent person, the son of the source of the original post, to lay out such a script.
I couldn’t do it there, in the space provided – not to mention while typing on my iPad – but I’m going to try here without going past my self-imposed word limit for a blog post.
The indie flick – “Where Were You Then? Where Are You Now?” – would take place in a fictitious Anytown, U.S.A. kind of a place. This town, which we’ll call Wellsboro, is past its Glory Days. The factories that made it what it was in the post-Depression years are either closed or slowed to a serious crawl. However, the peace and prosperity of the Bill Clinton presidency gave it a bit of a bump, with some companies and pharmaceuticals moving in and even spurring some new real estate development.
The film will begin on Sept. 11, 2001 and depict the reactions from varying perspectives of people around town, including that of a large family in the working class neighborhood of well-kept twin homes and a towering Catholic church that is the epicenter of all activity.
The church is so large, in fact, that it obscures the sunlight — or the effect of a full moon — in the working class part of town (gotta love symbolism).
An emergency meeting is called at the newspaper on how to cover the attack with a hopeful intent of blending national and international coverage with local reaction.
With 10 reporters all pulled off their regular beats and made what the editor called “free agents” for the day, the objective is easily met.
One reporter covers a prayer vigil at an African-American church. Another goes to a nearby Army reserve barracks and also talks to a recruiter situated at a shopping mall. There is a side bar on local World War II veterans, many of whom came home to work in Wellsboro’s factories, and how the attack on Pearl Harbor changed their lives. Another story is written on a bomb threat at a preschool, which turns out to have been called in anonymously to close the school early.
Another reporter goes around town and asks people where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news, a story which captures the raw emotion of the day.
The staff wins an award for its coverage.
As the script moves along through the subsequent years, the current events are seen through the headlines of the local paper – as well as real television clips – to show the changes from the initial sense of national unity to skepticism.
But in the working class neighborhood, where money is short and pro-life families are large, it is common for young men – and women – to enlist in the military. With the price of college too oppressive, the job prospects next to nil and the chance to march the same footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers too alluring, they willingly leave their families with one less mouth to feed for the chance to come home in one piece and tell war stories at the local VFW.
The local paper does its best to write stories about the soldiers, putting a human face on a war that seems eminent when President George W. Bush makes his case for war in Iraq, and also covers as many homecomings as possible.
After this campaign is declared a “mission accomplished,” there is premature adulation and the paper pretty much declares the war won.
Years go by, the casualties of the open-ended war hit locally, particularly with the family that is featured in the film, as a son is killed and his sister seriously injured by a bomb blast while working as a medic. Moreover, a cousin comes home with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
The price of war, in dollars and sense also takes its toll in Wellsboro. The bubble bursts, the McMansions built on the outskirts of town have foreclosures and the factories – as well as many shops – are shuttered. Rough economic times lead to disharmony between ethnic groups that had gotten along for decades, while the growing Hispanic population becomes an easy target for hate.
At the paper, there aren’t layoffs. Instead, when people leave, they aren’t replaced. The reporter staff that did so well covering relevant stories on 9/11 dwindles from 10 to seven to four.
Because of less ads – 30 percent is the standard – the paper is smaller. Still, with so few reporters, smoke and mirrors replace quality and thorough journalism.
Even though the crime rate skyrockets, the paper misses a lot of the stories because of lack of manpower, instead filling the space with feel-good pictures without accompanying stories.
This is exemplified in our movie when Sept. 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary, rolls around and the only option – in lieu of more blanket coverage – is to solicit readers to write or e-mail their remembrances of where they were and what they were doing.
It is a cheap trick, and they know it, but they get enough to achieve the objective and get through the event.
It then becomes a standard method, come each 9/11.
Despite the wounds the event created in Wellsboro, the local news source never picks at the scab.
The final scene is 2014, the 13th anniversary. There is a small and rather unimpressive ceremony in the town square. It pales in comparison to those of the previous years, and the leaders of Wellsboro promise something better for the 15th anniversary in 2016 while quietly hoping they are no longer on the hot seat of being on the council of a town that became so economically depressed as a direct result of the war years.
A well-intentioned and wide-eyed new reporter, who was 8 years old in 2001, asks her editors if she should do a man on the street interview – which is the standard approach – about reaction to the news that Haliburton made 30 billion dollars from the Iraqi War.
The editors laugh at her, telling her instead to go to the town square and ask people for very brief responses to the standard “Do you remember where you were on 9/11?” question. When she asks what “very brief” means, she is told no more than one or two sentences.
Since she was so young at time of the attack, she is relieved – even if it goes against the grain of everything she was just taught in college.
She is also reminded to goad people into Tweeting their remembrances for a Social Media presence on Twitter, but to remind people of the character limit of a Tweet.
Displeased with the lack of depth from the answers she is getting, the reporter keeps trying.
Off alone, on a bench at the edge of the town square, she encounters the mother of the family hit so hard by the events that followed 9/11.
The reporter approaches, and asks for a brief remembrance.
The mother, whose hair has turned completely gray in the subsequent years, stares at the reporter with eyes that show no more life and then asks back if she can talk about it now and it has affected she and her family.
The reporter apologizes but says the responses have to be specific and brief but adds that the woman has the option of Twitter, but adds that there is a character limit of 117.
She hands the woman a card, which the camera shows dropping to the ground and blowing away as the Steve Earle song “Rich Man’s War” begins to play and the final credits roll.
I know it’s kind of cold, but sometimes that’s what we need to wake the heck up and realize that everything – and I mean everything – is a link in a chain.
To drive the point home, after the final credit, we’ll show a graphic of the war casualties — and the war’s prize, which directly caused the economy to fail — and then the meaning of cause and effect.
Where were you? 
That’s the cause. 
Let’s start eyeballing the effect, and think about where you are now.
I know people don’t want to hear it.
I know it means donning those uncomfortable thinking caps.
And I know this puts me back on the hot seat.
That’s cool.
I like it hot.

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