The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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Thursday, September 13, 2018 -- Sitting in a dentist's chair, 39 stories up on a mostly drizzly Manhattan Tuesday, the conversation was numbingly familiar: Sports and the eternal antipathy between Mets and Yankees fans. Trump. The struggle to care for aging and increasingly infirm parents. And, hey, isn't that Dinah Washington on the music stream?
But then the dentist's assistant moved from his perch in front of the window and the dentist almost reflexively blurted out, "Hey, the sun and blue skies. Haven't seen that in days!"
I turned my head to the right, looked out and, even with a clamp around one of my teeth, said what I've said about a million times in the last 17 years: "I've never seen the skies so blue in New York as it was on 9/11."
Nods, murmurs, brief recitations of who was where the moment they learned about the planes and the towers. Then silence. The dentist finished his work, the assistant removed the clamp, he urged a rinse and suggested I shouldn't eat until the local anesthetic wore off in an hour or two.
In the elevator down, I wasn't thinking about Dinah Washington, but Janis Ian.
I learned the truth at seventeen, I thought to myself.
Janis Ian was singing about teenage angst, not 9/11, in her 1975 masterpiece of a single.
But it's 17 years since 9/11 now and I have despaired of learning the truth. At 17 or anytime.
We know almost nothing of what 9/11 means to us as a community of business travelers because we don't talk about it. Not to outsiders. Not to our families. Not even to ourselves.
We're too angry. Too afraid.
It's just too painful. It's still too real.
9/11 owns us and we'd just as soon not admit to that fact.
Of course there have been endless words and endless pictures and endless video about 9/11. Every year the news networks dip into a few minutes of the memorial services at the 9/11 Memorial or Shanksville or the Pentagon. There'll be newspaper stories, as there were this year, about a subway station beneath Ground Zero or why the five suspects in the attack have yet to be tried.
But business travelers like us don't talk about 9/11. We've always made believe. Whattaya gonna do? What good is talking about it?
We shrug our shoulders, think about something else. We ignore. We deny. As the years have gone by, we've even forgotten that we've forgotten to talk about it.
The world is a different place now. Airlines are nastier. We're more cynical. The TSA is worse than ever. Business travel is grubbier and more disheartening. We rage against the machine and fight against the dehumanizing effects of business travel. Seen those awful lavs in those new American 737s? How 'bout that Marriott-SPG merger? Any upgrades lately?
But 9/11? Let's not go there. What would we gain? It's a long time ago.
I'm no different than you, of course. I've written my share about 9/11, of course. But I've never looked another business traveler in the eye and discussed it, flyer to flyer. I've even gone out of my way never to do an in-person interview about that day. Only on the phone.
I get it. What would be served, especially at 17, by sitting down, eyeball-to-eyeball with another business traveler and talking about that day, those hours and the days that followed?
There's another Janis Ian tune I admire much more than At Seventeen. It's off the same album, too.
They'll tell you that the darkness is a blessing in disguise, she sings. You never have to notice if you're sighted or you're blind. And they'll do their best to keep you from the light.
We haven't spoken the truth to each other even at seventeen. We probably never will. The darkness and the silence is a blessing. We do our best to keep ourselves from the light.
I get it. I understand. I am complicit. What would we learn by talking, finally, among ourselves about that awful day?
Still, whenever the sky is blue and the sun is shining in New York, I look up and I remember.
That was the most beautiful sky I ever saw in New York.
Until the planes came and the towers fell.
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