This is great. World history and global warming in one fantastic and funny timeline. Why didn’t I think of this myself? Why didn’t I write it? Gee whiz! Love it. Hope you will too. Take your time scrolling down. It’s worth the effort.
On September 11, 2001, I had just gotten back from overseas. I’d been in Israel, a business trip. While there, I picked up some kind of nasty bug that kept me very close to home — and a bathroom — and so, I was at home when the phone rang. Sandy and I were in my bedroom, sorting through some clothing. It was Owen — her husband, my son — on the phone.
“Turn on the television,” Owen said.
“What channel?” I asked.
“Any channel,” he said. “Do it now.”
I did. “The World Trade Center is on fire,” I said.
“A plane hit it,” he said. And as I watched, another plane hit the other tower and the world spun round and nothing was the same after that.
We watched, silently. Owen was watching at work, on the other end of the phone line. Then, a tower was gone.
“The tower is gone. Gone,” I whispered.
Then, the other tower fell.
Nothing remained but a cloud of dust and a giant pile of toxic rubble. Information started to come in. One of my co-workers was supposed to be on one of the planes that had hit a tower. I called, but he said he had changed his mind at the last minute. He felt he didn’t want to go on that flight. He’d take a different flight, later.
Close as we were to Boston, everyone was calling friends, family, trying to find out who was where, who was not, if anyone knew something. We watched television, we waited. Garry got home from Channel 7. He said the newsroom had been a very strange place that day. Very strange.
We knew the world had changed. We didn’t know how much.
15 years later, we know. It will never be the same. So many differences, some subtle, most not-so-subtle. It was the end of our belief in our invulnerability. Here was an enemy we didn’t know we had, didn’t know was out to get us. Didn’t recognize the hatred behind the rhetoric.
This is a good day on which to remember who lived, who died. And how hatred is still ruling the world.
Has anything we have done, any fighting in which we have been engaged during the past 15 years made the world safer or in any way better? No? Then we need to start fixing the reasons for war.
Terry Pratchett defined Peace as “that period of time during which nations prepare for the next war.” We need to change that. I do not claim to know how, but I’m not running for President.
Growing up, my favorite theater was the Valencia in Jamaica. No mere movie theater, it was an experience, a Hollywood production its own right. Here with my brother Matthew, I first experienced the glorious, magical world of movies.
It wasn’t my first trip to the movies, but it was my first trip to a real movie palace.
That first excursion to the Valencia was on a rainy Saturday afternoon. With not much else to do, off we went to see Shane with Alan Ladd. It had just opened at the Valencia. It was 1953. I was five, going on six. When I had to go to the bathroom, I became so enchanted by the theater, I got lost. The ceiling of the Valencia was called “atmospheric,” a dark distant sky full of realistic twinkling stars.
Not to mention the fountains and strange Rococo architecture the likes of which I doubt were ever seen in a “real” building and certainly never by me, even in my imagination. I couldn’t pull my eyes away and eventually forgot where we were seated in that vast building.
An usher with a flashlight had to help me find my family.
I wouldn’t meet Garry until ten years later when we were at college, but we probably crossed paths in that darkened theater. We were fated to meet.
The Valencia was in downtown Jamaica, Queens, about 3 or 4 miles from my house. It opened in 1929 and was the first of the five Loew’s ‘Wonder’ Theaters. Others would be in various parts New York, including Astoria, Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. My sister-in-law graduated in the Loew’s Paradise in the Bronx, twin theater to the Valencia.
The decorations are described variously as a mix of Spanish Colonial and pre-Columbian, but that doesn’t do it justice. It was fantasy land, and it was entirely unlike anything in reality. Certainly unlike anything in my reality. The theater was enormous, with seating for 3,554, including a vast orchestra section and several balconies.
Architect John Eberson supposedly based his design on Spanish architecture motifs, using wrought iron railings, ornate tile work, sculpture and murals. I suspect a drug induced hallucinogenic state, but perhaps he just had an amazing imagination.
Its extraordinary combination of brick and glazed terra-cotta outside was purportedly inspired by Spanish and Mexican architecture of the Baroque or “Churrigueresque” period, though I have my doubts about that. Details included elaborate terra-cotta pilasters, cherubs, half-shells, volutes, floral swags, curvilinear gables and decorative finials … and of course within, lay that astonishing “atmospheric ceiling” full of stars.
The Loew’s Valencia was the most successful movie theatre in Queens. Its location in downtown Jamaica, which was then the primary shopping area in the borough and for Long Island before shopping malls changed all that, combined with the theater’s ability (part of the MGM system) to show new movies a week before any other theater in the borough, made it wildly popular.
As for me, I’d have happily gone there even if no movie were showing. The theater was a star all by itself. Just those twinkling stars held me transfixed, hypnotized. I would stand staring up at it until someone asked me if I was alright. I was alright, but I was lost. Lost in those twinkling stars.
The Valencia ended its life as a movie theater in May 1977. Since then, it has been the Tabernacle of Prayer for All People church.
At least it was spared the fate of so many other movie palaces. It was not leveled to make way for yet another cookie-cutter cinemaplex. That’s something. And in a way, it’s appropriate. It was always rather like a cathedral.
“So let them eat cake,” Marie said, merriment dancing in her eyes.
The peasants found her statement revolting. After all, they had no cake. Nor eggs, flour, sugar, or any of those cute little plastic cake decorations.
Instead, they made Marie eat her words. Alas, but they were not a tasty treat.
When a thousand years has past and the archaeologists — or whatever they are called in that long distant future earth — stumble on the tel that was our home, what will they find?
More remnants of dogs than people. Dog toys, dishes, food. Mountains of dog hair.
When they dig up our stuff, it will be a strange mix. Ancient and modern. Chinese and Asian pottery and artifacts. Toys from an earlier time and pottery from earlier millennium.
Technology. Digital imaging equipment, film cameras and computers in all shapes and sizes. Television and oil-burning lamps. A woodstove. Electric lights and oak floors.
Fireplaces and oil heating systems.
Carved wooden cabinets. Sofas, rocking chairs, hand-hooked rugs. Pillows and blankets. Shoes. Boots. Pots and pans.
Glass and plastic bottles. Copper kettles that whistle, and microwave ovens. Cast iron door stops.
Musical instruments. Lutes. organs. A piano. Wood flutes, DVDs, vinyl records. Thousands of bound paper books. Bricks, stones, cement, steel and wood beams.
No flying cars. Not one.
Millions and millions of aluminum cans.
And they will have no idea what it means. None whatsoever.
The odds favor that, if you life a full life, you will witness some event that’s historically important. Depending on your definition of “witness,” you’ll inevitably witness a lot of history. You can’t avoid it. Some is more dramatic and makes better stories. Even if your witnessing was accomplished via television and news reports, you are no less a witness.
My favorite “witness” experience was being in Israel when the Camp David Accords were signed. I had only arrived there a few weeks before. I was still trying to figure out what this place was about. It definitely wasn’t the romanticized venue in the novels I’d read … or even the idealized “homeland” my mother always imagined.
It was far more complicated, textured, and nuanced … which should not have been a surprise, yet sort of was surprising.
I bought a car shortly after I arrived. A Ford Escort. Ford had a little factory in Israel and Escorts were Everyman’s car. Small, and by American standards, under-powered, they were a “best buy” on Israel’s new car market.
The Ford dealership was directly across from the King David. And the King David was where Begin, Sadat, and Carter were meeting and deal-making. As fate would have it, it was also the day on which I was supposed to pick up my car. When I got there, it was obvious bigger events were taking place and my car would wait.
There were armed men everywhere. On the streets, the rooftops, and everywhere else you could look and probably thousands of places you couldn’t easily see. No one was getting assassinated on Israel’s watch. At least, not that day.
Around midday, to the enthusiastic cheering of the crowd, the official limousines swung past, each sporting the flags of its nation It was a sight to see.
There was much celebration and joy. It was one of the happiest, most optimistic times in Israel’s short modern history. Hope that finally, there might be a real peace. Hope that somehow, out of all the bloodshed and wars, this was a meaningful step forward.
Not long thereafter, back in Egypt, Sadat would be assassinated. Ten days later, Moshe Dayan who had crafted the accords, would die too. He had been sick with both cancer and heart disease for a long time, but, personally, I think he died of disappointment.
After that,the optimism faded. The joy was damped down and it was business as usual.
I was there for that brief, bright moment. A witness to one great moment when joy exploded in the streets of Jerusalem. No matter what anyone says nowadays about Israel’s intentions in the region, if you were there that day, you could not fail to see the foundation of everyone’s hopes, was peace.
A couple of nights ago, Garry and I watched an episode of “The American Experience.” It was part two of two and it focused on Lyndon Baines Johnson, Selma, Alabama … and the passage of the Civil and Voting Rights acts.
This is American history, but it’s also part of our personal histories. Those were titanic times. Garry was already a working reporter. I was finished with college and out in the real world.
We remember. It was a very big deal. It was a massive shift in our culture and the reality in which we lived. It was the consummation of centuries of racism and oppression plus decades of the ongoing battle for equal rights — still a work in progress. Of wondering, doubting, if change was even possible.
After John Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson, a traditional Southern politician who had never shown any special liberal or progressive leanings, came forward and decided enough was enough. Of all the presidents I would never have expected to be the one who would make it happen, LBJ did it. He decided it was time, that this unfairness had gone on long enough.
Against all odds and current political wisdom, he succeeded. Not because he was the most honest politician. Not because he was the most popular guy on Capitol Hill. Possibly the reason he could get it done was because he was a practical, pragmatic, politician who did whatever he needed to do to get an enormously important task accomplished. A freshman senator or any of those idealistic pie-in-the-sky guys couldn’t have done it. A newbie wouldn’t even know where to start.
Later, after he’d gotten mired in Vietnam — huge mistake — he knew that his running again would blow up the party, so he did the unthinkable. He stepped aside.
Who in the modern political pantheon would do that? Is there anyone concerned more with America than with his or her own career? Do I hear any names?
We don’t just theorize the possibility that it could work. We know it can. We’ve seen change happen. We’ve been part of that change.
We know politicians don’t have to be the most honest or idealistic to do great things. In fact, often the most effective people are the ones who’ve been around a long time — and know where the bodies are buried.
The system can work. It does work. It has worked. We’ve seen it at its best. Right now, I think we are seeing it at its worst.
That things are ugly is not a reason to give up. Exactly the opposite. Now is the when we need to put shoulders to the wheel and exert some effort to make things better. To elect responsible, intelligent, sensible, practical people who know how to get stuff done and have a grasp of what the issues are. And who believe their first loyalty is to the country and its people.
It’s not “outsiders” who accomplish great things. It’s insiders who care enough to do it.