Friday, September 11, 2009


Eight years ago when the madmen struck, I was working as a counselor in a suburban methadone clinic. It was a bad job in a drab place stuck between a warehouse and an animal shelter. I would get there shortly after 5 a.m. to open up, and already the addicts, recovering or not, were queud up and waiting for their daily doses. The dispensing nurse generally arrived at the same time and we would take our respective stations, me behind an inch-thick plate of bulletproof glass, she farther down the hall organizing the tiny cups orange juice and methadone phials.

I took in the money--soiled ones and fives--through an opening in the glass, then buzzed the patients through. I was a dealer, not a counselor because really, there was no counseling. Most of the clinic's clients had been on methadone for years and they had lives, jobs, families. They didn't need to listen to me pontificate about the evils of drugs. They knew they'd get a random urine test, and that if they showed positive for any drug other than meth, they'd lose privileges. Some tested clean, many tested dirty.

When the Islamic madmen struck, I was on break in the TV room with some clients and saw the second plane hit the towers. There was as a stunned silence, followed by, "Man, that's gonna fuck up the dope prices..." This from Billy, a Vietnam vet who once in a while vanished from view only to reappear a month later looking much the worse for wear and with fresh tracks on his arms.

Nineleven is now taught in schools, it is etched in the national memory next to the Kennedy assassination, it has marked this country in ways both obvious and not. Some would call it a pivotal event, a mini Vietnam that firmly established a painful reality: the US was not invincible, indeed, was by its inviting nature an easy, plump target. The repercussions, obviously, are still being felt. Nineleven launched wars, cost many more lives than those lost in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, made us aware for perhaps the first time that vulnerability is not just a word, it is a state of mind, because in many ways, the nation has so changed that the madmen have won. Travel, economics, family life, political philosophy, warfare, all have been affected, generally not for the better.

There are still three things about nineleven I do not understand.
  • Why have our good and wealthy friends the Saudis not given us bin Laden and his crew? The House of Saud is rich beyond description and has contacts throughout the Middle East; it is impossible to believe they didn't know something was up--most of the madmen were Saudis--and bin Laden comes from a wealthy and influential Saudi family. By now he should have been delivered, gift-wrapped, to the White House.
  • Why, with hundreds of millions spent annually on intelligence, didn't we know about this? Where were the CIA, the DIA, military intelligence and all the other experts whose jobs it was to protect the nation? Have we been so hampered by legislation that our intelligence people can't do their work anymore? Or is intelligence gathering a lost art...
  • How does taking my shoes off at airport security make us less susceptible to attack?
Of course, it may be our own ineptitude that got us into this mess. Just this morning, all the news in Washington was about a Coast Guard intervention of three terrorist ships on the Potomac, near where President Obama addressed the Pentagon to mark the anniversary of the attack. Shots, we were told, had been fired, and the news teams scrambled for more info. The Secret Service was mobilized, the Homeland Security folks were on war footing. Turned out it was a Coast Guard training exercise, and apparently the people who should have been notified were not. This is not good. It does not make me feel safer here in the land of the free to realize that the right hand (the Department of Defense, the White House, the information people) did not know what the left hand (the Coast Guard, which is now part of Homeland Security) was doing...

Oh, I forgot to mention. Billy at the methadone clinic was right. Immediately after nineleven, the price of heroin tripled in Baltimore and Northeast Washington. So yeah, the terrorists really did affect us all.

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