Tuesday morning when I got up at 6 a.m., I decided for the first time in several months not to watch the news. Instead, I turned to C-Span where a program on the environment was in progress. The CEO of some big company in Texas had become an environmentalist and was explaining the dangers of our way of life. I remember he said that we eat only three times a day and breathe thousands of times. Yet we are more concerned about what goes in our stomachs than what goes in our lungs. If we continue to pollute our air, he said, we are headed for extinction.
Just then a friend called and said, “Are you watching the news?” I turned to CNN and began watching the horror unfold. When I saw people trying to protect their lungs from the dust, smoke and debris of the decimated World Trade Center, I couldn’t help thinking about the environmentalist’s words. War of any kind is bad for the lungs.
Sometime during the morning I surfed through various channels — mainly foreign language stations — to see what they were covering. All of them were reporting on the tragedy unfolding in New York. Then I clicked on the food channel. There was Molto Mario cooking and explaining Italian dishes as only he can. I thought about the phrase, “comfort food.” I wanted to keep watching Mario, to just pretend that there was nothing more important on the TV than learning a recipe. I wanted to find the comfort I always seem to find watching people cook. It is curious that of all our basic needs, only food is associated with the adjective “comfort.” There is no such phrase as “comfort air,” or “comfort sex” or “comfort sleep.”
I switched back to a channel with the repeated image of the World Trade Tower collapsing in a cloud of killer dust and debris and thought that many people would find great comfort in a bit of fresh air. I hoped that there would be many more who survived that evening, and would be able to eat mashed potatoes, or spaghetti sauce, or a taco, or a hamburger, or peanut butter or chocolate — whatever would comfort them.
In the afternoon I returned to the food channel. Instead of the happy picture of a capable cook making delicious looking food, there were these words on a black background: “Due to the nature of today’s tragic events, Food Network is suspending programming. Our thoughts go out to the victims and their family.” So do mine.
This was my column the Friday after Sept. 11, 2001. Today is the Friday after the 11th anniversary of 9/11. The world and my life have changed since 2001. The friend who called me was Bill White, a dear friend, who has since died. An earthquake made my apartment building unliveable, and I now live on the west side of town in Sabana Norte.
The first year after 9/11, I walked over to the park where the American Embassy was holding a memorial but was told it was only for invited persons.
This year I tuned into the memorials on TV. I also saw on the news that an Israeli had set himself on fire in protest that the government’s social services were failing him. He was afraid that he would soon be homeless. There evidently is a wide gap between the rich and poor in Israel. There are also citizens protesting the possibility of a war with Iran.
The Food Channel is no longer available on Amnet, so at 11 a.m. I tuned in to The Chew and there was Mario Batali still cooking. This time the members of the Chew were making their sample of All American food. All but Clinton, who made macaroni and cheese, chose sandwiches, which, according to a food critic named Simon, is the signature American dish. Mario chose to make a bacon and lettuce sandwich.
That sounded good to me so I called my friend and neighbor Doug and ‘borrowed’ two slices of bacon and two slices of bread and made one for myself.
As I munched I thought about the speeches at the plane crash sites. It was a comment by the Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, that I remember. He said, “We be