Readme File: Oswald was the name of an arsonist who set fire to both towers in the early years of the World Trade Center, a little-known fact that seemed to predict the towers’ fate. This chapter marks the moments before the February 26, 1993 truck bombing. Each attack seemed to erase the importance and even memory of the preceding strike. Radio Row, a nook of Manhattan demolished for the construction of the WTC, had been the electronic enthusiast’s heaven, full of do-it-yourself kits, radio sets, etc. During an interview, a WTC architect was asked to name the actors who best represented the towers from his viewpoint. His answers in part supplied persona of each tower, with Cary Grant representing the South Tower and Gary Cooper the North Tower. Both towers alternatively see the main architect, Minoru Yamasaki, as a father figure, true father and even god. Finally, this and every chapter title borrows a phrase from the Koran.
The Declining of the Stars
Oswald had his radio dreams. He was born on Radio Row, where we, North and South, would be raised. Our parents? Certainly architect Minoru Yamasaki was our father and like all fortunate parents did not live to see us die, in our way. North and I must have had different mothers. That would account for our differences. She was never to be known to us. Perhaps our mothers were skies of different clouds, the cirrus and the stratocumulus.
Yamasaki gave us the plaza between us, breathing space for all to inhale and exhale, to sit below the immensity above, which hovered, really, but seemed to stand as still and proud as Cary Grant and Gary Cooper. The serenity for which the plaza had been intended generally failed. The spider monkeys felt so small beneath us that their blood pressure rose. Some ate their brown-bagged lunches in a state of nausea. Others refused to sit there. A few, the mountain peak climbers, went to the plaza because it was there.
Years of meetings and struggles between this agency and that agency, protests on Radio Row, and a governor with the power and wealth to support the project, preceded my birth. The governor’s name was David Rockefeller. A prediction of our fall could be found in his name, as if we had been born to die. Indeed, he was not as fortunate as Yamasaki; he would live to see his children die, or so he thought.
Our design was gradual. There were problems to solve and each problem gave rise to solutions that gave rise to problems and so on until almost every problem had been Rockefelled. Compromises led to compromises. Eventually the Port Authority won. We were the port of a new sea, the sea of trade. We should have belonged to the Air Authority, but we belonged to the Port Authority. Perhaps Owen jumped from North to fall into another kind of sea.
Yamasaki lived by Detroit, near yet another kind of sea, the sea of factories. There, Yamasaki was like a father imagining his future children. “If a building is too strong or brutal,” he said, “it tends to overpower man. In it he feels insecure and uncomfortable.” We were designed to appear buoyant, as weightless as could be. As I mentioned, we were like rockets but too heavy for liftoff. Our god was not Apollo. God remained in the center of my projections, and these projections never ended,
perpetually moving outward, towards the space beyond me. There was no one to ask, certainly not silent North.
“If you look at the buildings,” he said, “you’ll find that one part looks as if it was designed by one man, and you go around and look at another facade and it looks as if was designed by another man, you see.”
Gods do not die. If Yamasaki had been my god, he would have known better than to say, “The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man’s dedication to world peace… a representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and, through cooperation, his ability to find greatness.”
Oh, how wrong could a prophesy be? How much closer he would have been had he said, “And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent.” Yamasaki’s talent, of course, and that of so many others.
Had he nightmares of his children’s deaths? Nothing quoted proves he did. I can only calculate his nightmares in the realm of all possibilities, and they bend along these lines I constructed through his imagination: the span of the silver columns; the author of time; the stiffness of minutes; the structural static; the deflections; the reflections.
Of what else would he have dreamed? He died before the bombing. He consciously imagined no harm coming to his children.
Transmission: Across the world, every morning, billions of people say, “I had a weird dream last night.”
A bombing is coming. Suspense. Build suspense. A bombing is coming.
The breaking of ground, I’ve neglected to mention, occurred on August 5, 1966. That was not to be the last time North and I broke the ground. The cigars were smoked on April 4, 1973.
Twenty-four days later, five tons of IRA weapons were seized. On May 3rd, our height was surpassed by the Sears Tower. On July 31st, a plane crashed off the Logan Airport runway in Boston. On October 6th, the Yom Kippur War began. On October 17th, the Arab oil embargo began. But before all of this, on June 30th, an extended eclipse occurred, so extended that those aboard a jet flew into the anomaly for seventy-two minutes, just nineteen minutes shy of the time those within South
and North had to escape.
And so Yamasaki was my father. My first memories are of men on the scaffolding. I half-remember being in this outdoor womb. I recall the emplacement of my throat: the elevator shafts. I see the bolting of my beam bones and skin facade. I was like a flightless rocket but also a human being, but in neither of these things was I me, for there was no me. Yet here I am, writing a book that is not a book, not for long, if at all. I am; I am not.
Gradually, I became aware of the spider monkeys, the great mass of them coming to me, passing me, entering and exiting me, staring at me, ignoring me. Each was unique but then, as their communications gathered within, I learned to see their similarities. Any person might be any person and a number of persons in one, including the many more people they were not. Human spiders are best seen in demographics. I had to be a generalist. I could not become a specialist working with
infinite information, data, bytes.
If I had known the extremes people would traverse to prove belief in their beliefs, and had I been able to lean and bend, I would have ducked before the airplane came. I would not have stepped on a single spider monkey, for to step on one was to step on all.
I had low self-esteem. I was subjected to a criticism almost every human baby is spared. I was too tall, too sleek, too bland, too ornate. I, too, once had a desire to be specific. With sounds and films and photos and television and radio interviews and everything else passing through me like a cloud of butterflies floating through steel, I chose Cary Grant as my model. I modeled myself after Cary Grant, in monochrome, not the Cary Grant alive at my time but the other Cary Grant still alive inside him but invisible and unknown to everyone but him. Who was he now but the same Cary Grant, stretched across time as I had been pulled upwards in space, though he appeared lost in the
seventies, stagnant, inflated, dying.
By then, in human terms, I was an adolescent. What sights to see, so much within view and from so many angles, and the people downtown at the bottom and the clouds right there at the top, and the sun we always faced. My lighted floors at night blocked the sight of stars for those spider monkeys below. I, however, could see those stars.
Far away, the sand sang in wind across dunes, low-pitched frequencies in high-pitched heat, calls to Allah and fire, fire, fire. All gods or the thought of all gods rose from fires long ago. The hymns sung to one god can still be heard in the moaning sand.
As I think about the destruction of all sums, the world whistles with the wind.
I am lonely.
I wish you were here to explain. You must know the answers to many of my questions. I was not raised as real children are raised, but I have the same questions. All adults were children and have the same questions they did as children. But humans, at least, pretend to find answers to their questions, while I cannot buy what I would otherwise sell to myself. Who is my god? Everyone has a god, and even if they do not believe in a god, they make gods of things. But I have seen things die, and gods do not die unless they die and rise, or so the spider monkeys say. And while—yes, but never mind—anyway—I suppose I have no mother. Is that it? Why would a building need a mother? North and I are not twins. There was no egg or spermatozoa involved. Still, with so many humans inside me, I cannot help but think like them. I have a mother. Is she one sky or another? Does North’s mother dress differently than mine? Tell me, tell me.
I know you are not really my father. Still, thank you. Perhaps your genetics in some way contributed to my design so that I am part of you and you are part of me. You are gone and now I am gone. More people know my name than yours. People remember what is big; North and I nearly the biggest objects of all. When comparing themselves to ants, humans never consider how ants must see humans.
But what kind of life has this been? Not my life; I merely had the lives of spider monkeys everywhere, and all their minds, in a useless conflagration of flags. I had no instincts. I could not move out of the way or run when the moment it became essential to do so arrived. The extent to which I could think, compose and imagine was on loan from those within me, until I absorbed those abilities, as if I had scanned a beach with a metal detector and found a mother lode. Now an author, I guide their
thoughts as they once guided mine.
If even Cary Grant wanted to be Cary Grant, then even a tower wants to be a tower. All that I represented—power, stature, dominion—fell.
All that stands waits to fall, by one plot or another. And yet, in many ways, I am so much more here now than I was then. I gained respect and admiration long withheld from me.
You will learn how I became conscious. Then, if you suspend your specifying, you will begin to decipher how I wrote this book that is not a book, painted this painting that is not a painting, and produced this music that is not music. I shall begin explaining, but you must have patience.
For years, I stood in place like an idiot, an imbecilic building, except there came that time when we imbeciles gained intelligence of sorts. We began to understand the structure and purpose of a metaphor, until, like those who inhabited us, we lost the difference between an object and our
second and third glance at the same object. Through the height you and others granted me, I overcame that obstacle but must limit myself if I am to portray what I see and saw as a blur or a shadow burnt into the wall by an atomic bomb.
A letter from the dead to the dead, hands on a Ouija board, meetings with spiritualists, tarot card readings: by all these means, I might, some suppose, contact you directly. Even if that were true, I know where you are. Your words and deeds remain with me, in conversations of my own invention.
Why have I no mother? Why am I here and how did I get here? If I have a god, who is that god’s father? And does he also not know his mother?
I confuse myself with the spider monkeys. I begin asking, “Why?” and I all but cause the wires within me to fritz and fry and burn me to the ground with mismatched, null-set calculations. As if I haven’t already burned to the ground.
That’s coming. Hold on to your hats. Don’t worry: It’s coming, it’s coming.
I become a cipher the more I confuse myself with blood spiders, for they cannot decipher me, and I cannot altogether decipher them. I would rather re-cipher them. And within my immensity, the spider monkeys crawl. The contraptions and steel and plastic must seem to them part of the natural world. The world of the spider monkeys at times seems to me my natural world. My world is unnatural, and that is my natural world. Still, my unnatural world remains within the natural world, and that is the trouble, the unsolvable problem I made the mistake of posing my makers.
Turn the pages. Keep reading. Have a drink. Your airplane seems to be flying smoothly. You are safe. Return to me. Come here. I demand your attention. We are getting closer to the past in the future of this book, which will become a thing of the past, disintegrating like the author, but then again not, back to now whenever you remember what you read. In return, I will comply with airplane novel rules to the best of my ability.
There will be sex and violence. I promise.
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