On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at work in a café in St. Paul. For reasons unknown, the place was news-themed, so we had two televisions mounted in a corner, tuned to CNN and constantly muted, running closed captions all day while we played Tammy Wynette and Blackalicious. The first plane came as a curiosity; I gawked at the fiery hole while I carried out plates of pancakes. With the second we entered some other air. We turned off the music and stared at the television. It was the meth-addled assistant manager who identified the genre of the event: not malfunction, but terrorism. Customers came in knowing nothing; we enlightened them, if that’s the word. Chastened, they ordered coffee, no mochas, no raspberry anything. It was a strange day at work. When the Towers fell, I was behind the espresso machine, trying to put together or fathom my emotional reaction. Mostly, I remember reading the captions, impersonal and voiceless in their all-caps, yet wrought with error, stutters, and the sheer deviance of the thing from any expected event or syntax.
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