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Postcard From Riverside Drive

This is the text of an email that I sent to some friends on the first anniversary of 9/11. I mentioned it in this blogpost, and a commenter suggested that I should post it, so I dug it out of an old hard drive, and here it is. I haven’t edited it or updated it (“Governor McGreevey!” “The West Wing!”) except to delete three specific references to friends who were among those I sent the email to. It wasn’t intended for a wide readership, which is why there are a few inside jokes and so on, but I’ll let them stand. Having not looked at this for 7 years, it’s amazing how different it is than I remembered—another example of the failures of memory that I noted in the other post. The subject line of my original email was “Postcard from Riverside Drive,” so I”ve kept that as the title here. Without further ado:


I dislike days like today—I dislike watching politicians outdo each other to prove their somberness, as if it excuses them for being so crass the other 364 days of the year. I dislike the public displays of what I prefer kept private. I dislike the fact that Governor McGreevey chose an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence instead of the Constitution for the ground zero ceremony (the Declaration says that all men are created equal but also says that native americans are “merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and children.” The Constitution is far more relevant to what distinguishes us from al-Qaeda). I dislike the fact that the West Wing is being supplanted by a Laura Bush-hosted “concert for America” on NBC (although I recommend the haunting CBS documentary from 9 to 11 if you missed it the first time around). I dislike the fact that our president formally proclaimed today “Patriot’s Day” instead of any other name Karl Rove could have chosen for him. In other words, all this commemorative stuff makes me slightly queasy.

But we all know that every jaded misanthrope is really a sentimental romantic in disguise (ask Moliere or Oscar Wilde if you don’t believe me) and if there’s one thing these days are good for—the Jews have always known this, that’s why they have the best holidays—it’s the chance to step back and take a look at one’s life, one’s world, one’s hopes and fears, one’s failures and successes, and of course my favorite of all, one’s regrets. I thought I’d use this occasion to send an annoying mass email telling a little story. (I don’t have a blog so a mass email has to fill that role for me.) I was in my apartment on Saturday, doing a crossword puzzle and watching the US Open semifinals, and I heard a jazz band outside. I opened the window to see what was up, and I saw two horses, both white as snow, pulling an ornate carriage with a glassed-in box on top and flowers piled around the box. Behind the carriage—which was a horse-drawn hearse, I realized—there was a crowd of a few hundred people walking and dancing down the street, with a jazz band in the middle of it playing a jubilant rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Turns out this jazz funeral passing right down my block was for Lionel Hampton, and Wynton Marsalis was playing the trumpet. The funeral had been at Riverside Church (which sits at the top of my street) and they were heading down to the Cotton Club (which sits at the bottom of my street). I and everyone else on my block leaned out our windows to watch, and as I watched the party drift by, all I could think—here comes the mawkish stuff—was: THIS is what I love about New York, and THIS is is what I love about America. I literally smiled for the rest of the day (even after I learned that George Bush the elder had been at the funeral—apparently he and Lionel Hampton were “old friends” from the days when Bush ran the CIA. Don’t ask.)

What’s the point? Well, there are many points: that I’m a cheeseball deep inside (but you all knew that before today), that jazz funerals are pretty damn cool, that despite the out-of-touch left-wing nutcases I choose as my friends I’m more of a patriot than I’d like to admit, and my left-wing nutcase friends probably are too. And the main point of the story is that—watch out, here comes another sappy thought—tragedy can be met with hope instead of despair, and sadness and joy can be as symbiotic as conjoined twins. It may not be easy all the time—or even most of the time—but if they can do it in New Orleans then they can do it in New York, in California, in Massachusetts, in Oregon, in New Mexico, and—who knows—maybe even in Washington DC someday if we’re lucky…

But I’m really sending this to tell you all that whether you’re changing the twins’ diapers in Oakland or changing a patient’s IV in Boston, you have my love and my thoughts. I mentioned regret up above, and I regret being so out of touch with so many of you. But I hope this awful anniversary is treating you all okay, and I hope to see you all soon. I have a picture of my nephew up on my desk. He’s not smiling, but he’s beautiful and he has a big silly straw hat on, meant for an adult. He looks wiser than his 2 years in the photo, and whenever I find myself thinking “What’s the point of it all?” then I look up at the picture. The expression on his face gives me a pretty good scolding for asking such a silly question. Sorry for the interruption, and I’ll now return to my regularly scheduled cynic pose.