Second Thought: Wednesday, September 10, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Cloud City

Sifting 9/11 memories through the sieve of time and culture.

By Jarid Nidal Manos

I’m still a primitive monkey. I don’t like loud noises. I also don’t find recreation in throwing myself off cliffs, out of planes, or through twisting, upside-down loops of crazy-ass rides at Six Flags Over Texas. Why would I? Although, if I’m to be honest and share too much information, when I was a little mug I was sure I’d eventually check out with a high dive at sunset or twilight from the top of a building, even a five- or six-story one. I’ve always had excellent form.

“It was sickening,” my homeboy Priestly said recently after riding the new vertical Superman thing at Six Flags. “Never had my stomach do that before. It was like I was falling up.”

Me, I’ve always stayed outside the fence. Riding the bike trail past Six Flags in Denver two years ago this October, I slowed and cocked my head at the screams. People were happily throwing themselves into violent freefalls, secured to high-crane wires or roller-coaster bucket seats. Another Colorado High Plains summer was humming into the richness of a warm early fall. Sun-baked prairie grasses along the Platte River glistened. Momentarily, there was no sense of a nation stricken.

You discover the real story of something through its small details.

The young guy in the Associated Press photo diving headfirst from Tower One still had his backpack on. In New York City, people often wear small backpacks to work, making easier the subway ride and city blocks walked. He appeared to be a brother, with urban hiking boots and a jacket, casually dressed for his office job. He was not screaming; he seemed calm upside down, arms at his side. But he’d just dived into his death’s freefall, an act totally without hope. Moments earlier, just arrived at the office, his concerns may have been a blueberry muffin and orange juice, or trying to switch Tuesday-morning-commute thoughts from his girl to his job.

A majority of the thousands killed were in their 20s, 30s and 40s; over 80 nationalities worked in the Twin Towers. People high up said they used to watch storms below them. This plainsman ended up in NYC for a couple of years. Once I went to the top, with a fellow criminal named Calvin. The sprawling metropolis looked “like something was really going on down there.” Sensory overload. We only knew the city from its underbelly streets, looking up.

When a hurricane would creep up the coast, uptown ’hood rats joked about the towers snapping off and falling into New Jersey. I’ve been surprised to hear that some architects thought the Twin Towers were ugly. Despite my younger disdain for civilization, I was privately awed with their silver sleekness and stature. They didn’t just provide an instant compass point south when emerging from a maze of subway stairs. Although I’m a primitive monkey about technology, I imagined the towers anchoring a “Cloud City” of futuristic possibilities, like those in Calvin’s sci-fi films.

I’d stream down into Central Park from Harlem, cross the creeks and wooded gorges of the North Woods, and emerge onto a large grassy field, its open space, sky and bike trails reminding me of out West, or of Hiawatha stepping from his primeval forest onto the prairies. But to the south, a many-spired skyline rose, the World Trade Center at the island’s tip looming above all else. At twilight, skyscraper lights would slink on, and jetliners high above the curve of the Earth would flash an orange reflection of the setting sun while down here it was almost dark. “The twilight is the crack between the worlds,” Yaqui sorcerer don Juan once remarked.

After the attacks, faces on tv exclaimed, “How could it happen here?” I thought instead, “How dare they — in the name of God — kill all those innocent people?” As if they were the U.S. Army and settlers on the Great Plains in the 1800s, or Columbus and the Hispanic conquistadores, or the colonial mid-Atlantic slave traders. Terror did happen here. Before.

On Sept. 11, my friend Kanae, who lives across the East River in Brooklyn, looked up and saw her sky filled with pieces of paper falling like charred white doves. In Denver, as I watched the tv replays of the second jetliner exploding into the second tower and heard the freefall, end-of-the-world spectator screams off camera, I noticed a pigeon flapping away across the top of the tv screen, startled.

Maybe city pigeons — formerly called rock doves and imported from England — are still birds of peace. After all, they’ve been around guns for hundreds of years now. Loud bangs are bad.

Jarid Nidal Manos is executive director of Great Plains Restoration Council. He is currently working on his upcoming book Ghetto Plainsman.



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