I like coffee.
It probably comes as no surprise that I’m fond of coffee mugs. In my kitchen cupboard are a dozen some-odd mugs in various styles and colors. One is black and bears the cheery visage of Darth Vader. One has a yellow Star Trek symbol on it.
Tucked away on a top shelf is a mug painted red, white and blue with the words Don’t Mess with Texas painted inside the outline of the Lone Star State. I got that one in 1994. I haven’t used it since Justin Timberlake was in diapers. Guess where it came from?
I’ve never messed with Texas. It’s a safe bet I probably never will.
This isn’t about my fondness for a steaming cup of java.
Mixed in amongst the stable of coffee mugs currently in use is a white one with a blue NYPD shield painted on the side. I also have a keychain with an NYPD shield, made of tarnished bronze metal. Both items have a special meaning, and not because of the logo they share.
I purchased the mug and the keychain from a gift shop in New York one bitterly cold December night in 1999. This shop wasn’t much different than the other gazillion gift shops in the City That Never Sleeps. It’s just the first place I saw that sold them.
Ten years later I visited New York, but the gift shop wasn’t there, nor the building that housed it. It was pulverized out of existence on Sept. 11, 2001.
The gift shop was on the top floor of the World Trade Center.
I remember how the city’s rich aroma assaulted my nostrils as I stepped off the subway. I can’t identify all of the nuances, but it involved hot dogs and sewer. I remember being in Central Park and gawking like the rube I was at the Statue of Liberty. I remember schlepping what felt like miles around town to see the Twin Towers. I vaguely remember riding the elevator up to the top floor. I remember shivering in the cold as I stood outside on the roof, clutching my jacket around me. I remember how I felt as I turned and saw the glittering lights of the Brooklyn Bridge miles below me. I’ve experienced that feeling only once in my life, as a five-year-old boy on Christmas morning many moons ago.
It’s all gone now. The gift shop. The elevator. The stairs to the roof and the sign warning me not to go up there. The restaurants. Business offices. The Twin Towers. All gone.
And 2,606 human souls.
This is not a political commentary on a tragedy that left a gaping wound in America’s soul. This is about remembering what once was, not only the towers that fell and the lives lost, but who we were. There was a time when most of us shelved our petty differences and got along with each other. We called a truce. We looked beyond skin color and political party and religious affiliation and we said, “You are my brother/sister. I’ve got your back.”
We were all friends for a while. Remember when that happened?
Right after 9/11.
Why can’t we do that again? 78