Kausfiles Special

Four Easy 9/11 Pieces 

Mickey’s Assignment Desk Strikes Back 

Are you beginning to think that all the 9/11 stories, aside from breaking news, have already been written? Think again! Some stories that were un-writeable close to the event (because, for example, they would have seemed callous and unfeeling) are coming within reach as time passes. Here are four 9/11 angles I haven’t seen covered:

  1. The Paddington Possibility: How many desperate men and women—but it’s more likely to be men—saw in the WTC catastrophe the chance for a new life? It’s happened before. A terrible 1999 train crash at London’s Paddington station killed 31 people and also produced 11 hoaxes. Some of the latter “involved elderly people ringing in to say their long-lost relatives were on the train,” according the Independent newspaper. But at least one involved a man who seized on the disaster to launch a second life unencumbered by his (mild) criminal past. His relatives were left to attend the memorial service thinking he was dead. If all this happened in London in a disaster that killed 31, what about in this much larger disaster in streetwise New York? To someone trapped in a bad marriage, or saddled with ruinous debts, the fireball might have seemed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go AWOL while his family collects life insurance. At least a small part of the vast discrepancy between the police estimate of the missing and the much lower press estimates of the likely dead may be accounted for by hoaxes. Note to Hollywood: Here’s your 9/11 movie! Just give the vanisher a good reason to vanish, and have him save a few lives on the way out. …
  2. The New Urbanist Angle: I lived a block from the World Trade Center and for two years spent a good deal of my life shopping in it, eating in it, and passing through it on the way to the rest of the city. I still haven’t seen a really frank exposition of what an architectural disaster area the place was. Vast areas of concrete, a soulless franchised mall, a plaza inaccessible to most pedestrians from three of its sides, swept by gale-force litter storms, etc. A place only the New York Times’ “progressive” architecture critic Herbert Muschamp could love. But he didn’t have to live there.
  3. Gratitude Gridlock: New York firemen must be in the middle of some schizo heaven-hell disorientation. Many of their comrades are dead. But those who survived are being love-bombed beyond their wildest dreams. A colleague in southern Manhattan occasionally reports to me on her friends at the local firehouse: One day they’re given a private evening concert by a gorgeous young chanteuse. The next night models from the Fashion Institute of Technology arrive to cook dinner. The kitchen, center of firehouse life, shows jarring signs of continuous female presence. Someone with a sure libidinal sense could write a very funny “scener.” Assigned to: Rick Marin, Phil Weiss, Joel Stein, John Leland.
  4. The Parallel Gore Universe: Richard Berke of the New York Times tried to start this controversy two weeks ago, when he called up “15 prominent Gore loyalists” and “not one … said their candidate would have done a better job” than Bush has done. An anonymous “former Senator who was a staunch Gore backer”—smells like Kerrey or Boren to me!—said Gore “would have tried to micromanage everything.” But this only scratches the surface of the vicious lessons inherent in a good anti-Gore “what if” piece. Start with the evidence of Gore’s decision-making style in the Florida recount—a not-unmilitary campaign in which the vice president made fatally bad strategic decisions (e.g., to not ask for a statewide recount) after listening to bad advice (from Warren Christopher and others). Second, get some real Gore staffers, not just anonymous ex-senators, to talk about Gore’s know-it-allism. Third, imagine how the nation would have reacted to the leadership of Gore’s likely appointees. Would you follow Chris Lehane and Leon Fuerth into battle? It’s not a cheap shot, as long as Gore’s still in the running for 2004. Assigned to: Joe Klein, if Michael Kelly doesn’t get to it first.

Credit-Apportioning Update: Alert kausfiles readers have noted the following pre-existing pieces, which touch on—but do not kill!—the above assignments. Assignment #1: Several executives of an investment firm with offices in the World Trade Center have apparently gone missing along with $105 million in cash. But nobody seems to think they’re dead—and you get the impression that this would have happened without the attacks. Assignment #2: Eric Boehlert’s excellent early Salon piece, “New York’s Most Disliked Building?” has a good paragraph on the WTC’s “off-putting, five acre concrete plaza.” But it’s not the full-bore, pedestrian-centered Muschamp-damaging attack that’s needed. Assignment #3: This  enjoyable scener in the British Spectator mixes Gratitude Gridlock with the general explosion of “terror sex.” It also has a bit of the too-good-to-check quality of so much Brit reporting on America. Tanya Corrin  got the girls-chasing-firemen story from the girls’ vantage point, but not P.O.V. firemen.