Why I didn’t want to be in the US on 9/11/11

Part of me thought that I could just ignore the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Part of me wants to.  Not because it wasn’t a tragedy, not because it wasn’t a moment I’ll remember forever, and not because it forever changed my life as a human and as an American.

Rather, I want to ignore the 10th anniversary of 9/11 because of this sort of thing….


9/11 “Americana” themed decorations for your home, courtesy of iParty, including a 9-11 sign where the 11 is made of the silhouette of the twin towers

Political ad by Herman Cain, a Republican Presidential hopeful who was busy sitting on his ass as a retired CEO in the South on 9/11 and had nothing to do with the 9/11, the healing process, or the recovery


The reason I’m upset is that this is so typically American….complete, utter, crass commercialization and exploitation of an international tragedy for monetary gain, political advantage, and the highest possible television ratings.  In short, trying to make the best tragedy porn for personal gain.


In general, I’m fairly proud to be an American.  I love that I can have the right, the obligation to criticize my government.  That I CAN speak that criticism without fear of reprisal or jail.  I love Target, New Orleans Jazz, trolley cars in San Francisco, Disney, McDonald’s and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I love to drive and equate a car with freedom.  I often think bigger is better.  I am thrilled to be from Massachusetts; home of the American Revolution, the first public library and public school, MIT, the Red Sox, and the first state to legalize gay marriage.  I want my daughters to share that heritage.

I also love New York with all my heart (except the Yankees…I *am* a BoSox fan, after all–side note for non-Americans; the NY/Boston baseball rivalry is old and taken quite seriously by fans).  I’ve been lucky enough to live in New York for a time–July of 2002 until January of 2003.

Yes, I remember where I was on 9/11.  But you know what?  Apart from my friends and I imagine my daughters, who will one day have to ask me for a school project (much as I was told to ask my parents where they were when they learned JFK was shot), no one cares.

What I want to share is where I was on the FIRST anniversary of 9/11.  I was living in New York City, in Queens.  I woke up the morning of 9/11/02 when my clock radio began to blare.  But instead of Z100’s normal pop, I heard a list of names being called out.  I turned on the tv, where the same list continued to be read.  Name after name of those taken before their time.  Somberly, I showered.  I dressed.  I drove to the subway, and my car’s radio continued the list of names I couldn’t quite bear to stop hearing.  I rode the subway, noticing my fellow passengers all seemed equally subdued.  There was no swearing, no one playing their discman too loudly, no one gossiping with a friend.  Just a subway car of strangers all seemingly lost in their own thoughts.  I got out at my normal stop just before Times Square, where I worked for a Broadway ticket discounter.

Times Square, almost always busting and busy, was practically a ghost town.  When I heard a cab hit their horn, and the noise was jarring, rather than fading into the cacophony that normally was any city block in Manhattan.  The huge tv screen the dominates one end of Times Square continued to show the reading of names, flashing each name at the bottom of the screen as it was read.  This was at least two hours since I had gotten up.

I don’t know how long it takes to read over 3,000 names. But I know how hearing those names made me feel…of the sadness I felt that day.

It was an honest kind of grief.  I had grown up watching NYC on television, reading about it in books and dreaming of visiting it.  I did not live in New York on 9/11, but I came to know those who did, who did lose loved ones.

On that first anniversary, I didn’t feel like I was being sold pre-packaged loss or grief.


I’ve spent the last week hearing “personal stories” of 9/11 widows.  I passed a people magazine cover emblazoned with “9/11 children”…making money off the stories of children whose mother’s were pregnant with them on 9/11 and who lost fathers that day.  There are countless new items, made for tv movies, and “documentaries” competing for the highest ratings.  Every time I turn on the news or check a news related website I can’t escape 9/11. I can’t even go into iParty for Halloween decorations without them trying to sell me some red, white and blue grief tailor made for my home.

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 does deserve remembrance.  But not in this commercial, spoon-fed, pre-digested for the masses way.

I hate that my dominant thought on this anniversary is that I wish I were anywhere but in the US.  Where I could grieve without being sold a bill of goods, a political agenda, or a big heaping serving of nausea at the way my country is defiling its own memory.

Never forget?  As if I ever could.

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15 Responses to Why I didn’t want to be in the US on 9/11/11

  1. V well put! The over the top style patriotism is the least appealing aspect for me of American culture. Even though I am in America, maybe because we are on the west coast, I am not seeing any of that here. For me, I am appreciating discussions on NPR that reflect on the events in a thoughtful and respectful way and found Fresh Air’s interview with two firefighters, one who lost 2 brothers in 9/11 particularly moving. I think I read every single obit in the NYTimes after 911 and that was completely heartbreaking, and not of the manufactured variety.

    • Crystal says:

      I especially hate how the Republican party has co-opted patriotism to the point where it was an issue in the 08 election this one time Obama (?) didn’t wear a flag lapel pin….as if it meant something.

  2. bookjunkie says:

    This was so beautifully written Crystal. I felt your emotion when you talked about the names being read out on the first anniversary.

  3. Kirsten says:

    I love this post so much. I find it more touching that anything I’ve read about 9/11 today. Thank you for writing this.

    I find the tragedy porn incredibly discomfiting because I know that besides American patriotism, it is also in a skewed way feeding hate and revenge and violence into a specific group of people (luckily not ALL Americans, whew!) which is not helping – and is indeed hampering – any recovery process. *sigh*

    It’s the same with why I am uncomfortable to see/hear the slogan “Never Forget”. In certain contexts, it almost seems to be a threat.

    • Crystal says:

      I agree that “never forget” has its negative connotations. It did not escape us that Ravi practically got a body cavity search the second we were flying in the US. The joys of being brown with long hair.

  4. Thanks for putting into words what I had such difficulty expressing. I don’t watch much TV in general, but I refuse to watch today. It *is* disgusting how the various networks are scrambling to win the ratings wars, and the magazines and newspapers all trying to get a piece of the pie. Ugh.

  5. Dawn says:

    There is an upside. Terrorists were hoping, on 9/11, to destroy our spirit and our economy. They partially succeeded; we are still suffering in a deep recession. Any economic stimulus that can be attributed to 9/11, whether it be merchandising or whatnot, could be construed as a strike against the terrorists. As in, ha ha, you thought you could hurt us, but we’re going to make money off of you. While personally I’m not interested in such crap, if people make it and buy it and jobs are created because of it, I’m all for it. Certainly I don’t find it offensive; if I don’t like it I don’t have to buy it.

    • Crystal says:

      Keeping in mind that most of it isn’t made in the US, and thus isn’t really stimulating our economy. The things marked “made in the US” are most often made in places like the Marianas, which are technically US protectorates, and thus legally allow them to place a Made in the US label, but which are made in equally hellish and slave-labor-esque conditions as in any third world nation.

      • Dawn says:

        Well, from just the pictures, I have no information about that. However, the world economy is very much tied to the U.S. economy, and even if the junk is, say, made in China (or otherwise obviously not in the U.S.), at least the store that’s selling it, which is in the U.S. and employs U.S. workers, is making money whenever someone buys it. Don’t get me wrong – I still think it’s gaudy and tasteless – but it wouldn’t exist without some level of demand for it, and it’s not like they’re sending you free samples to your door. 😉

        As for the working conditions in other countries, this is a byproduct of a capitalist system; stores, in order to compete with other stores, must necessarily find the cheapest option, and as long as there are third-world countries with people willing to work for peanuts, stuff is going to be made there. While some people do care about working conditions and whatnot, you can’t control those in another country, and meanwhile, most customers do not care enough to pay a bunch extra for something produced in humane conditions. Therefore, as long as it is legal (and not excessively taxed) to buy from the third-world countries, it’s not economically feasible for stores to do otherwise, especially if quality is comparable. This is not particular to 9/11 memorabilia or any other product.

      • Crystal says:

        The point that I was making about the Marianas and their ilk is that your average American thinks that a made in the US tag means that the item in question was made in the 50 states by American workers making a fair wage and that they’re contributing to strengthening our economy in a different way than they actually are. I’m just pointing out that there is a disconnect between what people believe they are buying and what they are buying. Same as there is a disconnect between buying a flag to prove you’re patriotic and actual patriotism (not to say that people who buy flags can’t also be patriotic, but that buying the trappings of patriotism is not actually the same thing as having patriotism…witness the 08 brouhaha over the time Obama didn’t wear a lapel flag pin…as if that pin was the living embodiment over his patriotism and its lack of presence indicated a suspect agenda). It’s inherently American to oversimplify something down to a retail perspective, such as proving your grief with the purchase of gaudy bunting.

        Personally, I have a very different take on that sort of thing because after seeing what life is actually like in 3rd world countries, I realize that your child working in a horrible factory is still a far cry better than paying someone to purposely maim them to make them a more effective beggar.

  6. Kate says:

    I can’t believe those pictures! That’s insane, and repulsive. On the bright side, I can’t believe anyone is actually buying that crap. I have to HOPE that no one is buying that crap, and in fact it’s just a tacky and thoughtless way for the store to try to move surplus stuff left over from the 4th of July.

    I thought of you and this piece when watching the Memorial on TV (we mainly watched the BBC feed because the anchors were talking less) and listening to them read the names again. Nine years later, I think it’s still probably the most profound and simple way to honor the victims. Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I hope you guys have a pleasant trip back to Singapore 🙂

    • Crystal says:

      Leave it to the brits to go dignified whilst we go crass. Typical 🙂

      Me too…tomorrow is our last full day!

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