Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11, 2001

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I woke up early because I was on the courts beat at the Palm Beach Post and had to check the courthouse docket.

I turned on Howard Stern on my car radio, because I liked to hear him make fun of the news. Within minutes, he switched from talking about the hotness of Pam Anderson to yelling that planes had hit the Twin Towers.

"It's terrorism!" Stern said. 
He was right. 

I called into the newsroom, thinking it might be a joke. Jane Smith was the day editor and answered the phone. It wasn't a joke, she said. It was real.

I called Lisa L. Colangelo, my friend at the NY Daily News who covered City Hall. It was primary Election Day and she was still home because she was working the late shift. She hadn't turned on the news yet.

"NY is being attacked!" I yelled into my cell phone. "Put on your jeans! Get extra pens and granola bars! You won't be home for hours!"

"Wait, why hasn't my editor called me about this?" Lisa asked, confused. This was because all the phone lines in and out of Manhattan were down. She went to work. She wasn't home till 36 hours later. Her beloved city was under attack.

I started interviewing people in the Palm Beach County Courthouse for man-on-the street reaction. A woman in the Law Library told me the State Department building had been bombed. That turned out to be false, but I didn't know it at the time.

My stomach turned. My brother worked in the State Department building. I called my brother at work and home. Couldn't get through. Then I called my Mom, Barbara Wetzler. She was watching TV and saw the second plane crash into the WTC. The tone of her voice was awful. I called my Dad. He hadn't heard from my brother either.

I called into the Post newsroom and burst into tears with emotion from it all. I stood on a street and cried. Because I sounded somewhat whacked out, they sent Christine Stapleton out to the courthouse to work on the story with me.

I pulled myself together; I was a journalist and had work to do. Lisa called me, with a note a horrified disbelief in her voice.

"Kath, can you believe the Twin Towers collapsed?" she said. "They're gone. They're gone."

I said something reassuring like "I am sure everyone got out in time." Because I could not fathom - who could fathom - that they did not. That they were dead. That the dust cloud spreading over Manhattan was full of their bodies and souls and dreams.

In the courthouse, one prosecutor told another that the Pentagon had just been hit. I tried my brother again. Couldn't get through. An hour or so later, my brother called my Dad and said he was okay. His office got evacuated and he had to walk home, to Virginia. But he was okay.

I called my friend Jill DeForte in New York City. She was okay, but shaky and sad. I called my friend Maryanne Murray Buechner. She lived in Brooklyn but had been uptown that day with her young son. Her husband, Terry, was still in their apartment in Brooklyn and saw the towers collapse from their window.

Back at the office, it was full of purpose and pressure to get out the story. Only later did we find out all the very many Florida connections to this tragedy. Some of the hijackers trained at flight schools in Florida. They lived nearby. They went to restaurants and bars and had been among us. (The next month brought deadly anthrax to the National Enquirer in Boca Raton and fears of biological terrorism. We didn't know that then.)

My very best college friends - Tina, Chris, Luci and Nancy - were supposed to visit me that upcoming weekend. All the planes were cancelled. They couldn't come.

My most vivid memory was scrolling the Associated Press wires. There were so, so, so, so many stories. My mind could barely keep them straight. Four planes down. New York, Pennsylvania and D.C. Each city, each plane had a story. Later, each victim would have a story.

Eventually, I had to tune it out and write my story and go about the rest of my work day. But deep day, something had shifted. I liked my job, but didn't love it. I liked living in Florida, but missed my hometown of Philadelphia. I kept thinking: "If I had died today, if it had been me, what would I regret?"

Within 10 months, I started a new career as a college journalism professor at Rowan  University and moved back to the Philadelphia area. I love my job. I love being in my hometown.

To the dead of September 11, I say to you: I remember you. I think of you today. I hope you are at peace.

"The Dead of September 11" by Toni Morrison

The Dead of September 11 - Toni Morrison

Some have God's words; others have songs of comfort
for the bereaved. If I can pluck courage here, I would
like to speak directly to the dead--the September dead.
Those children of ancestors born in every continent
on the planet: Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas...;
born of ancestors who wore kilts, obis, saris, geles,
wide straw hats, yarmulkes, goatskin, wooden shoes,
feathers and cloths to cover their hair. But I would not say
a word until I could set aside all I know or believe about
nations, wars, leaders, the governed and ungovernable;
all I suspect about armor and entrails. First I would freshen
my tongue, abandon sentences crafted to know evil---wanton 
or studied; explosive or quietly sinister; whether born of
a sated appetite or hunger; of vengeance or the simple
compulsion to stand up before falling down. I would purge
my language of hypberbole; of its eagerness to analyze
the levels of wickedness; ranking them; calculating their
higher or lower status among others of its kind.
Speaking to the broken and the dead is too difficult for
a mouth full of blood. Too holy an act for impure thoughts.
Because the dead are free, absolute; they cannot be
seduced by blitz.
To speak to you, the dead of September 11, I must not claim
false intimacy or summon an overheated heart glazed
just in time for a camera. I must be steady and I must be clear,
knowing all the time that I have nothing to say--no words
stronger than the steel that pressed you into itself; no scripture
older or more elegant than the ancient atoms you
have become.
And I have nothing to give either--except this gesture,
this thread thrown between your humanity and mine:
I want to hold you in my arms and as your soul got shot of its box of flesh to understand, as you have done, the wit
of eternity: its gift of unhinged release tearing through
the darkness of its knell.

Originally published in Vanity Fair magazine.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Boomerang: A Short Story

Once upon a time, Little Dude got a boomerang. His Mom bought it for him at the Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. It was multi-colored and all the way from Australia.

He can only play with it outside. This makes him sad. He would like to play with it inside.

Little Dude let Twerpy Neighbor Child play with the boomerang.

Twerpy Neighbor Child threw the boomerang in a tree. His Dad got it down.

"Do NOT throw the boomerang near the trees or the neighbors or the roofs!" Mom told Little Dude and Twerpy Neighbor Child.

They listened, for a bit. Then they threw the boomerang at the front glass door of the 86-year-old neighbor lady. She was not pleased.

Today, Little Dude could not find his boomerang after Twerpy Neighbor Child came knocking, asking to play with it.

"Where is the boomerang? Where is the boomerang? Where is the boomerang??" Little Dude cried.

"Look around," Mom said. "Keep track of your toys."

He looked and looked and looked and couldn't find the boomerang. He was sad.

Mom found the boomerang. It was in the living room, next to the computer, in the open.

"Do not throw the boomerang near the trees or the neighbors or the roofs!" Mom said.

Five minutes later, Little Dude came in.

There was a problem. The boomerang "somehow" landed on top of the neighbor's roof.

"We should get a ladder!" Little Dude said.

Uh, no, Mom said. You were told not to throw the boomerang near the trees or the neighbors or the roofs. And where is it now?

"On the roof," he said.

Mom and Little Dude went to the neighbor's house to tell him there was a boomerang on his roof and when it eventually fell off, to please let them know.

This did not satisfy Little Dude.

"We need to call 911 and ask the fireman to get the boomerang down!"

Uh, no, Mom said. You were told not to throw the boomerang near the trees or the neighbors or the roofs. And where is it now?

"On the roof," he said.

And that is where it will stay, Mom said, until the wind blows it off.

"When will that be? When will it rain? when will there be wind?" Little Dude asked.

Soon, Mom said.

She hopes.

Meanwhile, she is keeping Little Dude away from ladders and roofs. Where the boomerang remains.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Very News 2 Christmas

My journalism student, Ashley Cline, wrote a Christmas Carol for me! 
It is about writing an assignment for our News 2 class at Rowan University.

Enjoy and hum along!

T’was the night before deadline and all through the house, 
Frantic fingers tapped the keys and clicked on the mouse.
Notes were strewn across the desk without a single care, In hopes that
a nutgraph soon would be there.

The sources were nestled all snug in their beds 
While visions of  retractions danced in Journo’s head.
 And editors getting nervous, and Journo needing a nap
 Will never finish this STORY, wait why’s that in CAPS?

 When out on the desktop there arouse such a clatter
 Journo minimized Word to see what was the matter.
 Away to Facebook student flew like a flash, 
Closed out of Twitter and clicked on the dash.

 The notification square on the little blue globe 
Let Journo realize, “I’m not forever alone!”
 When, what to the wandering eye should appear 
But a much needed video of a kitten’s cute cheer.

 With over a million Youtube hits
Journo knew in a moment, “this must be legit.”
More adorable than babies and time passing quick 
Youtube became priority and Journo a lunatic.

Now laughter, now distraction, now diversion and recreation!
To the top of the search bar, to the most watched clips Now watch all
the videos, watch all the contents.

As it so often does, minutes began to fly by 
And Journo sat on Youtubenot minding the time.
So up until midnight, the Interwebs chugged 
And produced content unrelated to the story’s slug.

And then in a second, of mental reprieve 
Youtube gave way to Twitter and memes.
As the clock continued to wind down and down 
Journo’s story sat out yet another round.

Having only 100 words, with a sidebar still due The Internets, 
Journo would soon come to rue.
A bundle of quotes, thrown out and ignored 
With deadline approaching as well as the morn.

The lead— how it lacked and used a cliché
 The following paragraphs in disarray!
The sole little byline, italicized for show 
The headline wouldn’t stick, not even with Velcro!

The coffee cup clanking, and hitting Journo’s teeth 
Alerted, the student knew that there’d never be sleep.
Youtube and Twitter and Facebook all closed 
As Journo opened the story and dawn arose.

A quick study and pumped, filled up with coffee 
Journo set out to finish writing the story.
 A blink of the eyes and a crack of the knuckles 
Alerted Microsoft Word that it was time to hustle.

Speaking not a word and without going berserk
 Journo soon sorted through all the paperwork.
 Sources were quoted and facts were made clear 
It appeared as though Journo had nothing to fear.

Reread and revised, the article was written and set 
Meeting deadline Journo succeeded, defying all bets.
But with a sigh, Journo swore, “never again will I procrastinate”
Then looked at the calendar and said “When’s my next deadline? Oh yeah, that can wait.”

Monday, March 19, 2012

"How Did I Get Here?"

In the car, driving on Tyson Avenue, coming back from the doctor.

 "How did I get here?" Dad asked.

 "Where? Tyson Avenue? I didn't want to take Bustleton the whole way," I said.

"No, to this place I'm at," Dad said.

 Ah, a more existential "How did I get here," coupled with memory loss. He meant how did he wind up in an assisted living home.

 "Well, you were having trouble with the steps in your house. You kept winding up in the hospital for your tube and bag (catheter). You fell down the steps. You weren't eating right. And you didn't like being alone," I answered.

 I left out the part about him being robbed in the middle of the night.

"Oh, I see," he said.

 "You were very stubborn," I told him. "You didn't want to leave your house. You told me 'They are gonna have to carry me out of here!'"

 "I did?" he asked.

 "Oh yes," I said. "You did. But you like where you are. You like your room and TV and the meals and the nurses."

 "That's true," he said.

 "It was just hard getting you there," I said.

 "I am sorry about all that," Dad said. "I'll remember you in heaven," he joked.

"That's good, Dad, but while you are up there, send me some winning lottery numbers, too," I said. "That would be a bigger help."

"I'll see what I can do," Dad said.

Life As A Sandwich

Here is an essay I wrote for "Rowan Glassworks," the graduate literary magazine at Rowan University. It's about being part of the "sandwich generation" - women who care for their young children as well as their elderly parents. My essay starts on Page 9:

They asked the writers to reflect on their essays:
"Life as a Sandwich" My essay, "Life As a Sandwich," came out of my daily experience caring for my young son and my elderly father. The phrase "sandwich generation" is often bandied about as an apt description for those of us who care for children and parents at the same time. I remember thinking to myself: "This is a rotten sandwich."I just re-read the essay and am struck how honest and blunt I was. That is how I am as a journalist, but I usually write about things from my own life with a veil of humor. I am glad this essay came out as raw as it did. Clearly, I needed to say it. And people in my life needed to hear it.

An Open Letter

To Rutgers-Camden I wrote this essay for WHYY/Newsworks a few weeks ago about the proposed merger between Rutgers-Camden and Rowan Universities. The Newsworks editor already had an essay from a Rutgers-Camden prof. He needed one from a Rowan prof and asked a fellow journalist friend if she knew anyone to write it. I volunteered to do so.

Boy, was that a mistake!

I learned two things: The faculty at Rutgers-Camden are too angry to appreciate my sense of humor and they don't appreciate the word "cooties." Oh and a couple of the faculty are jerks. That is the third thing.

Well, you can read all that in the comments below the essay. However, I like the essay and am proud of it. I meant everything I said and I was a lone Rowan voice in all this anti-merger furor. There was a legislative hearing today about the merger. Maybe we will all know something soon.