Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 and the Other Life Changing Event

Today is the ninth anniversary of 9/11.

There are two dates embedded in my memory that I know exactly where I was when I first heard those life changing events.

The first event was John F. Kennedy's assassination.  I was 22 years old and working at Lipsett Steel Products in Coatesville, PA.  Lipsett Steel was a scrap metal company.  I was the accounts payable clerk in the small, dingy office located in the scrapyard.
It was a Friday afternoon and I was finishing posting invoices to a ledger.  This was back in the day before computers.  Everything was done by hand.

My office manager, Charlie Ashe, called out of his office next to mine and said "Kennedy's been shot!"  My first reaction was that I couldn't believe it.  My second reaction was:  would this interfere with my Friday night that I was planning to take the train to Philadelphia and hang out in the Westbury Bar with my friends, Ron and Ed?  Sounds selfish, and it was.

I tried to call my Mother to tell her that I heard that Kennedy was shot.  I couldn't get though the lines, they were jammed.  This is the first time I ever experienced that situation.

I called my friend Ron, who worked at Girard Bank in Philadelphia and told him the news.  He had already heard.

You know it's funny now, but I don't remember if Kennedy's assassination did interfere with my Friday night plans.  What I do remember is the wall to wall news coverage that weekend.

I remember very clearly that it was a rainy Sunday morning and I was ironing my shirts.  I had the TV on and would look up occasionally at the TV screen.  Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused gunman, was being transferred from his cell to another location.  The time was about 9:30 am.  As I was ironing my shirt I heard a gunshot and looked up at the TV and saw a lot of commotion.  I thought it was acting.  Someone had shot Lee Harvey Oswald!  I could not believe it.

Fast forward to that crystal clear, bright and cool day on September 11th, 2001.  I was now working at the Hampton Inn in Lionville, PA.  This morning was my first morning as a sales assistant.  My training was to begin on the computer.  I was at the computer, ready to learn new functions (prior to this I was a front desk clerk at the hotel) when Cathy, the breakfast hostess called over the front desk and said "A plane just flew into one of the World Trade Center buildings."  Beth, the manager who was going to train me, left and turned on the TV in the corner of the room so we could see what had happened.

The first thing I thought was that I couldn't believe it.  The second thing I thought "Was this going to interfere with my training today?" Sounds selfish and it was.  I hadn't changed much over the years.

Everyone gathered around the TV that was mounted high up in the corner of the back office room and watched the smoke billow out of the World Trade Center tower.  Yes, this was going to interfere with my training.

While I sat at the computer waiting for Beth to come back, another plane crashed into the second tower!  Now I knew this was no accident.

Forget the training.  My life and everyone else's life had just been permanently changed forever.

Today, as I look back over my life of 68 years I realize that I have always lived under some kind of threat.

When I was growing up it was the threat of the atom bomb.  I remember being told that if the A-bomb or, even worse the H-bomb (how could it be worse?  Aren't all bombs bad?) that we children in elementary school were to huddle under our desks.  Even then my ten year old mind realized that huddling under my wooden desk with metal legs wasn't going to provide me with much protection.  My ten year old mind quickly figured out that I would be burnt toast if a bomb was dropped.  I was more concerned with hurting myself by squeezing in between those sharp edged metal desk legs that the East Ward Elementary School had at that time.

As I became a young man my next concern was being drafted into the Army and being forced to shoot somebody.  I didn't want to do that nor did I want anyone to shoot at me.  I decided to join the Army so I at least could have some say as to what I would do in the Army.

After I got out of the Army and came out as a gay man there was the Vietnam War that seemed endless.  Just as growing up the Korean War seemed like it would never end.  Now the war in Afghanistan seems like it will never end.

Because I joined the Army I wasn't drafted to go and fight in Vietnam like many of my peers, some of whom never came back alive.  I dodged that bullet.

Then there was the window of relative peace and tranquility for me.  The years from 1969 to 1980.

My job at Girard Bank in Philadelphia (my friend Ron got me in there) was one that I liked and it paid well.  I was out as a gay man and lived in Philadelphia.  Thus I enjoyed all the benefits of being young, attractive and within walking distance of all the popular gay night spots.  I took full advantage.

Then came a time of 1980.  A new malady was sweeping through the gay community.  It was called "GRID" which was an acronym for "Gay Related Immune Deficiency."  It was rumored that gays caught it by sniffing poppers.  I sniffed poppers.  Acquaintances and friends became ill and suffered horrible deaths.  We're not talking "Love Story", Reclining On a Pillow Deaths here.  We're talking ugly, painful and terrible deaths.

I figured I was getting a little long in the tooth to still hang at the bars and besides, I was losing interest anyway.  There was more than one night when Last Call was called that I wondered why I was in a smoke filled bar, boozed up looking for I don't know what.

 I decided at 37 years old to chuck that "lifestyle."  I told Bill that we had to sell our home on Naudain Street in center city Philadelphia.  I wanted to move out in the country where I could breath.  I also wanted to live near my parents in case they needed as as they got older.

We sold our townhouse in Philadelphia and built a two story gambrel roofed farmhouse on 6.875 acres of land in East Brandywine Township, in Downingtown, PA.

We lived there for twenty-five peaceful years.  My only concern was holding onto my banking job as the banks merged and my former secure banking job was now in jeopardy.

I did eventually lose my job at the bank and was collecting unemployment when I decided to apply for a night auditor job at the Hampton Inn in Lionville.  When I had got out of the Army my first job was as a night auditor at the Pittsburgh Hilton in Pittsburgh.  I thought to myself "I can do that job."  The only reason I didn't stay at the Pittsburgh Hilton was because I was homesick for my family in eastern Pennsylvania.  In Pittsburgh I was five hours away.

I applied for the night auditor job at the Hampton Inn and was hired immediately.  It wasn't too long that I was asked to also fill in for some of my co-workers at the front desk.  The next thing I knew I was a full-time front desk clerk.  Then I was also asked to help the sales manager.  That was how I came to be sitting at the computer on 9/11/2001 waiting for Beth Mancini, the hotel manager to begin training me as a sales associate.

Now here I am nine years later living in Delaware.  Bill and I sold our house in Pennsylvania because I could no longer afford to pay the ever increasing school taxes of Pennsylvania.  Plus, I always wanted to live "near the water."

This is where I am now.  I am living near the water.  The Atlantic Ocean is two miles from where I am sitting right now.  Every morning I drive the six miles to Rehoboth Beach to "walk the boards."  This is my exercise of both body and brain.  It is amazing how refreshed I feel after walking up and down the boardwalk four times, for a total of four miles.

I recently began this wonderful, life affirming activity.  I feel fulfilled after I return home at about 8 am in the morning.  However, I think it is so ironic that in all my years I am still living under a threat.

Of course the most immediate threat is again one of nuclear annihilation.  Not of a long range Russian bomber plane but of some nut bag suicide bomber who drops a dirty bomb in Times Square.

My second threat is economic.  I never thought in my retirement years that I would have to worry about our elected representatives taking away benefits that we were promised and that we paid for.  I remember very clearly having FICA taxes deducted from my pay for over fifty years.  In fact, it is still being deducted.  And yet our wonder lawmakers remind us that there is "no money left in the Social Security trust fund."  That's because they spent it all on wars and their pet projects.

I was promised lifetime medical care, if I needed it, when I joined the Army back in 1960.  When I lost my job at the bank I needed medical care.  I had to have two surgeries and I had no medical insurance.  The Bush administration tried to disallow my earned VA medical eligibility because I wasn't a disabled veteran.  Thank goodness they never got that law changed.  But, because they tried to screw me, I changed my party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.

I was a lifelong Republican (my first vote was for Barry Goldwater) but I didn't recognize this Republican Party anymore.  Especially since the 1992 Republican Party Convention that was held in Houston, Texas. Pat Buchanan gave a speech in which he  equated homosexuals like me with what the Republican Party was against.  When I saw those lily white, well dressed, Republican men and women the audience wildly cheer and raise their fists in approval, a chill went down my spine.  I thought "I am not wanted in this political party anymore."  In fact, those cheering "Good Republicans" reminded me all too much of those grainy pre-World War II films in which "Good Germans" give the "Heil Hitler!" salute to Hitler as he passes by during one of those big production number Nuremberg Nazi rallies.  I didn't know these people, those white, clean cut, smiling Republicans cheering Pat Buchanan during and after his hateful and divisive speech.

So here we come to today.  I voted for Barrack Obama and "change we can believe in."  Now I am coming to the realization that that was just empty rhetoric to get him elected.  Barrack Obama is against same sex marriage.  Barrack Obama has done nothing, not even a stop-loss, to prevent gays and lesbians being kicked out of the military.  Barrack Obama passed a health care bill without a public option.  This is a phony bill.  The only thing that has changed for me is that my premiums have gone up.  Now Barrack Obama is getting squishy on letting the Bush tax cuts for the rich to expire.

For the first time in my adult life I don't think I will vote in the next election.  The Republicans are dangerous and only have their own self interests at heart.  All they want to do is have tax cuts and deregulate.  The "Every man (and woman) for themselves" philosophy.  The Democrats are spineless.  They are also controlled by special interests.  They are part and parcel of decimating the middle class (of which I consider myself a member, the bottom rung.)  They care nothing for people like me, a gay male of the lower socio-economic ladder who doesn't have children and isn't a member of the "Good Old Boy's Club."  Neither political party cares for people like me.  They are only interested in maintaining their power base and they do that by appeasing their special interest groups who fund their campaigns.

Every morning now I drive in the dark (I get up at 4:30 and leave by 6) to Rehoboth Beach.  Except for a few other hardy souls on the boardwalk, I am in my own world.  I listen to the waves crash on the sandy shore of the beach.  I hear the seagulls looking for their daily meal.  Other early morning sounds are the sound of sneaker clad feet pounding the boardwalk of those souls who think running is better than walking (I'm not one of them.)  For a few peaceful, tranquil moments I am soothed.  All is right with the world.

I walk.  I listen.  I appreciate the fact that I have lived a good life in spite of the many threats that have loomed before me during my Journey.  If I should die tomorrow from an illness or an accident or a terrorists attack, I will die knowing that I have beat the odds.  Too many friends and family have died or are dying. Either by luck, skill or a combination of bought, I got this far and I intend to keep going.

The sun will rise again tomorrow.  Peace to all.


  1. Anonymous9:52 PM

    Hi Ron,

    The picture at the top of your blog is amazing. The first two things I noticed immediately were the sky & the shadow of yourself.

    The video was amazing. The sun seemed to burst on the horizon. I felt like I needed my sunglasses toward the end.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share these wonderful, peaceful moments with all of us. Your photography skills are very appreciated!

    Everyone should have the opportunity at least once to see morning begin at the ocean.


  2. Thank you Fran for your generous compliments.


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