Mike Moore is a Crikey hero – albeit well to the left – and his Awful Truth programs are inspiring. This lastest column captures his emotions and the mood of New York after he’s driven all the way from LA.
The drive across New Jersey has been the longest portion of this trip across America. It is only 60 miles to New York City and I am having trouble keeping my eyes open. I had just pulled off the road in Allentown, PA, to throw some cold water in my face. Kathleen and I have grown very silent. It is the dread of what is ahead.
As we cross the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan, the plume of smoke from the lower part of the island hovers, bright blasting searchlights attempting to crash through it. The college radio station from Fordham is playing Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.”
Instead of making the turn south to go home down the West Side Highway, I go north and head toward the town where our daughter goes to college. It is one in the morning, and when we arrive on campus we note that every single light in the dorms is on (when do these kids sleep?).
We call Natalie and tell her we have made it home. She directs us to the nearest gate where she is with some other young women who are working on the school paper. We pull up, she comes out… and this is, as it always has been, the happiest moment of our lives. We hug her, and hug her again. She is happy to see us, and she generously, good-naturedly, tolerates our weepy parental doting. She is, after all, the only reason we have made this drive. Nothing else matters at this point.
We eventually leave her to her own life and head toward New York City. It is now deep in the middle of the night and the radio plays “O Superman” by Laurie Anderson (“Here come the planes – – they’re American planes!… hold me in your arms… your military arms…”) and then the DJ says that he is going to play a song that they have never let him play before on the station. What an odd thing to announce, I think, considering we live in a free country where you can play whatever music you damn well please.
I recall the email I received the night before from a radio station manager in Michigan. He passed on to me a confidential memo from the radio conglomerate that owns his station: Clear Channel, the company that has bought up 1,200 stations altogether — 247 of them in the nation’s 250 largest radio markets — and that not only dominates the Top 40 format, but controls 60% of all rock-radio listening.
The company has ordered its stations not to play a list of 150 songs during this “national emergency.” The list, incredibly, includes “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Peace Train,” and John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Rah-rah war songs, though, are OK.
And then there was this troubling instruction: “No songs by Rage Against the Machine should be aired.” The entire works of a band are banned? Is this the freedom we fight for? Or does this sound like one of those repressive dictatorships we are told is our new enemy?
The song the college DJ goes ahead and plays is, “Hey, War Pig,” by Katrina and the Waves, and he dedicates it to the “all the war mongers out there.” Yes, there is hope, the kids are all right.
We arrive at our apartment building and I am too tired to drop the vehicle off at the rental car place, so we unload, head upstairs, and hit the sack.
I awake at noon. A horrible stench has filled the apartment. I did not notice it a few hours earlier, but the winds have shifted. It is the odor others had warned me about. It is a smell I have never smelled. I am told by someone in the building that it is a combination of chemicals, rubber, sheetrock, and… he pauses. He does not want to list the final ingredient, and I do not want him to.
I thank him and go back upstairs and close all the windows. I look at the cereal box I had left half-opened before our trip to L.A. I stare at this box for a long time. Nine days of ash has descended on the city. It is everywhere, microscopic, invisible, non-discriminatory in where it has landed. No part of the city is untouched, and all are treated equally to the smoke and stench, regardless of station in life. There is no way to turn away and ignore it.
I take the rental car back. As I park it, I look across the street and see our neighborhood firehouse consumed in flowers and candles. “They lost nine firemen,” the rental woman tells me. “It’s a pretty sad place.”
There’s a firehouse every few blocks in New York. Back in Michigan, I grew up across the street from a fire station and I have always loved the sound of that screeching siren. The (mostly) men who work down the street from us now in New York are our neighbors in the truest sense of the word.
They are quintessential New Yorkers, right to the bone, and when they are called to do their job (for which they are grossly underpaid), they never stop for a moment to think of themselves. I always enjoy shooting the breeze with these guys, and when possible, I’ve put them on my show, as they are natural-born comedians and wiseguys. I have never once complained about the wail of their fire trucks as they barrel down my street.
I walk across the street to pay my respects. A lone fireman spots me coming and approaches me, arms outstretched. He grabs me and hugs me. He says, “Mike, thanks, thanks for everything you do for the…” I am stunned and embarrassed by this, and I cut him off. “Stop,” I say, “I haven’t done shit. I am here to thank you and to tell you how horribly sorry I am…” He cuts me off. “Shutupwillya! Lemme say what I need to say…”
He continues to thank me, I can’t take this — I HAVE DONE NOTHING BUT RETURN A DAMN RENTAL CAR — and I break down in tears. “Oh, don’t go gettin’ mushy on me, Mike — c’mon, we’re Irish!” He laughs, I laugh, I grab him and hold him and these two big Irish lugs and crybabies make for quite a sight in the middle of a Manhattan street. Kathleen and I sign their book and we take down the name of the fund for the nine families of our neighbors. “Don’t forget,” our fireman friend says as we leave, “We need your prayers more than we need the donations.”
I cannot go to work. But I have a film to finish. Our editor has been unable to make it in from New Jersey, but he is there now waiting for some word on what to do. I can’t even think about this movie. I don’t WANT to think about it because if I think about it I will have to face an ugly truth that has been gnawing through my head…
This started out as a documentary on gun violence in America, but the largest mass murder in our history was just committed — without the use of a single gun! Not a single bullet fired! No bomb was set off, no missile was fired, no weapon (i.e., a device that was solely and specifically manufactured to kill humans) was used. A boxcutter! — I can’t stop thinking about this. A thousand gun control laws would not have prevented this massacre. What am I doing?
My wife does not want to go down to the memorial to the victims that has spontaneously taken over Union Square in the Village — she is still in too much shock having returned to this sullen city — but she encourages me to go, and I do.
The Square is filled with hundreds of people. But, more importantly, the walls and fences around Union Square are covered in a blizzard of “MISSING” posters of loved ones. Thousands of handbills, flyers, photos, notes — all pleading to contact them should anyone know the whereabouts of their mother, father, son, daughter, infant.
Yet, all of us who stare at these faces, we know their “whereabouts.” And the smoke, the ash, the odor is much thicker down here, just 20 blocks from The Site. The faces of the victims, culled from wedding photos, birthday party home videos, vacation snapshots, are striking in their diversity. Easily, the majority are African-American, Arabic, Hispanic, Asian, Jewish.
Their jobs at the World Trade Center are listed. They were clerks, secretaries, janitors, security guards, assistants, dishwashers, waitresses, receptionists — all the people who HAVE to be at work first thing in the morning, the lower wage workers. The wall is also filled with the faces of brokers, lawyers, managers, accountants, insurance agents — it is endless, it is everyone, it is America.
I am told that there may be over 500 “illegals” — those less-than-minimum wage workers that the commerce of America depends on — who are also among the dead, but there are no photos of them. Citizens from over 80 countries are victims of this attack and, remarkably, the country that seems to have the most people who were killed is the Muslim country of Pakistan.
For two hours I walk through Union Square, listening to the debates that rage in various small circles, between hippies and Army guys, Israelis and Palestinians, those for war and those against. They are heated, passionate — but never do I sense the threat of violence between them. No police are in sight. “We are self-policed,” one kid tells me. Others are singing or rapping, many are quietly crying.
I leave and go down to Canal Street. It is as far as they will allow civilians to go. The odor is now nearly unbearable. I tell the officer I would like to volunteer, to do anything that is needed — carry buckets, lift, haul, relieve, whatever. He tells me that no more volunteers are needed. He says that, right now, they do not expect to find anyone alive.
The job they are doing is one of recovery of the dead and the removal of all the steel and concrete, and they have left these jobs to the professionals. I can’t help but think they could still use an extra pair of hands — surely, at least ONE person could still be alive! I remain upset and appalled that Wall Street has ordered its employees back to work — to trade stocks! — next-door to a mass, open graveyard of yet unburied bodies. How cruel is this to the workers who must walk by, or to the dead who are treated to this sacrilege? And, in my mind, what IF someone was still down there alive? How can you be running around a stock market floor when you should be on your hands and knees digging out the possible survivors? I just don’t get it…
As I sit here in the early morning hours of Saturday, September 22, 2001, I cannot untangle much of the past 24 hours. I am exhausted from the trip, from all that has hit me upon returning to New York. I have to unpack eventually. What was it exactly I had packed all these bags for in the first place? Oh, yeah, The Emmys in L.A! Big friggin’ deal now, eh? I tick off the list of everything that no longer matters.
I watch Bush speak in front of Congress, but I cannot answer him right now, I am tired. The mayor has drastically upped the death toll. My phone rings off the … whatever phones ring off of these days. Calls from the BBC, CBC, Canal+, ABC (Australia), Swedish TV, Dutch TV — all want me to appear live on their national primetime newscasts. Not a single American network has called.
Frankly, I don’t want to be on anybody’s TV show no matter where they are from, but I cannot help but feel this sinking feeling in my gut that the rest of the world wants to hear what I have to say, yet in my own country, I am to have no voice in the media (other than through these letters on the Web). This is MY country. I love MY country. Every channel and it’s the same damn repetitive drumbeat WAR WAR WAR WAR WAR…
And yet, I have just driven 2,944 miles, a drive that began on the corner of Wilshire and the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California. I have heard the voices of the scores of fellow Americans I met, the average Joes and Janes, who are NOT screaming WAR WAR WAR! Why can’t their voices be heard?
Forget about me, I can barely utter a sentence anyway; I don’t wanna go on no TV. But where is Noam Chomsky, or Howard Zinn, or the editors of “The Nation” or “Tikkun” or “The Progressive” or the thousands of college kids who protested at noon on Thursday on 148 American campuses? Don’t they count? Is this still the America we believe in, the one we are being asked to defend?
Coming home tonight, I noticed a strange sound in the city. I did not hear a single car horn being honked! I have never heard that sound in New York City. No one was yelling, it was quiet and peaceful.
I called my dad on my cell phone. He tells me of things getting even worse back home in Flint, the city now bankrupt, the state preparing to take it over. The fire department has had to lay off over 50% of its firefighters. Fires now are just allowed to burn because they have neither the trucks nor the people left to fight them.
Then he said, “Mike, that guy you call ‘The Boss’ — he’s singing right now on TV!” The nationwide telethon for the September 11th victims has started. I could hear Bruce Springsteen singing in the background. My father (bless him and his Big Band soul at the age of 80!) knows how much I love Bruce and says, “let me hold the phone up close to the set so you can hear him,” and he does, and I hear Springsteen sing these haunting words: “My city is in ruins, my city is in ruins… c’mon, rise up!”
I love my dad and my mom, my sisters, my wife and my daughter, and I am grateful for this life and for the privilege I’ve been given to live it with all of them. I come upstairs and Kathleen and I watch the rest of the telethon. Neil Young appears at one point, alone at the piano, and he does not sing one of his own songs. Rather, he sings the banned “Imagine.” The Walrus had to have loved that one from where he was watching!
My wife looks over at me. The tears won’t leave my eyes. I tell her what I was told today.
“Woody (our assistant editor) saw a rescue truck going down the West Side Highway to help in the relief effort,” I tell her.
“On the side of the truck, it read ‘FFD.'”
The Flint Fire Department.
All the way from our home.
To our home.
It was more than either of us could bear.
Yours, Michael Moore
Now, this is one of Mike’s earlier interesting – albeit still very left wing – updates to his subscribers:
Us record is pretty ordinary, so let’s change things
I was supposed to fly today on the 4:30 PM American Airlines flight from LAX to JFK. But tonight I find myself stuck in L.A. with an incredible range of emotions over what has happened on the island where I work and live in New York City.
My wife and I spent the first hours of the day-after being awakened by phone calls from our parents at 6:40am trying to contact our daughter at school in New York and our friend JoAnn who works near the World Trade Center. I called JoAnn at her office. As someone picked up, the first tower imploded, and the person answering the phone screamed and ran out, leaving me no clue as to whether or not she or JoAnn would live. It was a sick, horrible, frightening day.
On December 27, 1985 I found myself caught in the middle of a terrorist incident at the Vienna airport-which left 30 people dead, both there and at the Rome airport. (The machine-gunning of passengers in each city was timed to occur at the same moment.)
I do not feel like discussing that event tonight because it still brings up too much despair and confusion as to how and why I got to live. a fluke, a mistake, a few feet on the tarmac, and I am still here, there but for the grace of god.
Safe. Secure. I’m an American, living in America. I like my illusions. I walk through a metal detector, I put my carry-on’s through an x-ray machine, and I know all will be well.
Here’s a short list of my experiences lately with airport security:
* At the Newark Airport, the plane is late at boarding everyone. The counter can’t find my seat. So I am told to just go ahead and get on-without a ticket!
* At Detroit Metro Airport, I don’t want to put the lunch I just bought at the deli through the x-ray machine so, as I pass through the metal detector, I hand the sack to the guard through the space between the detector and the x-ray machine. I tell him it’s just a sandwich. He believes me and doesn’t bother to check. The sack has gone through neither security device.
* At LaGuardia in New York, I check a piece of luggage, but decide to catch a later plane. The first plane leaves without me, but with my bag-no one knowing what is in it.
* Back in Detroit, I take my time getting off the commuter plane. By the time I have come down its stairs, the bus that takes the passengers to the terminal has left-without me. I am alone on the tarmac, free to wander wherever I want. So I do. Eventually, I flag down a pick-up truck and an airplane mechanic gives me a ride the rest of the way to the terminal.
* I have brought knives, razors; and once, my traveling companion brought a hammer and chisel. No one stopped us.
Of course, I have gotten away with all of this because the airlines consider my safety SO important, they pay rent-a-cops $5.75 an hour to make sure the bad guys don’t get on my plane. That is what my life is worth-less than the cost of an oil change.
Too harsh, you say? Well, chew on this: a first-year pilot on American Eagle (the commuter arm of American Airlines) receives around $15,000 a year in annual pay.
That’s right — $15,000 for the person who has your life in his hands. Until recently, Continental Express paid a little over $13,000 a year. There was one guy, an American Eagle pilot, who had four kids so he went down to the welfare office and applied for food stamps-and he was eligible!
Someone on welfare is flying my plane? Is this for real? Yes, it is. So spare me the talk about all the precautions the airlines and the FAA is taking. They, like all businesses, are concerned about one thing-the bottom line and the profit margin.
Four teams of 3-5 people were all able to penetrate airport security on the same morning at 3 different airports and pull off this heinous act? My only response is-that’s all?
Well, the pundits are in full diarrhea mode, gushing on about the terrorist threat and today’s scariest dude on planet earth-Osama bin Laden. Hey, who knows, maybe he did it. But, something just doesn’t add up.
Am I being asked to believe that this guy who sleeps in a tent in a desert has been training pilots to fly our most modern, sophisticated jumbo jets with such pinpoint accuracy that they are able to hit these three targets without anyone wondering why these planes were so far off path?
Or am I being asked to believe that there were four religious/political fanatics who JUST HAPPENED to be skilled airline pilots who JUST HAPPENED to want to kill themselves today?
Maybe you can find one jumbo jet pilot willing to die for the cause-but FOUR? Ok, maybe you can-I don’t know.
What I do know is that all day long I have heard everything about this bin Laden guy except this one fact-WE created the monster known as Osama bin Laden!
Where did he go to terrorist school? At the CIA! Don’t take my word for it-I saw a piece on MSNBC last year that laid it all out. When the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan, the CIA trained him and his buddies in how to commits acts of terrorism against the Soviet forces. It worked! The Soviets turned and ran.
Bin Laden was grateful for what we taught him and thought it might be fun to use those same techniques against us.
We abhor terrorism-unless we’re the ones doing the terrorizing. We paid and trained and armed a group of terrorists in Nicaragua in the 1980s who killed over 30,000 civilians. That was OUR work. You and me. Thirty thousand murdered civilians and who the hell even remembers! We fund a lot of oppressive regimes that have killed a lot of innocent people, and we never let the human suffering THAT causes to interrupt our day one single bit.
We have orphaned so many children, tens of thousands around the world, with our taxpayer-funded terrorism (in Chile, in Vietnam, in Gaza, in Salvador) that I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised when those orphans grow up and are a little whacked in the head from the horror we have helped cause.
Yet, our recent domestic terrorism bombings have not been conducted by a guy from the desert but rather by our own citizens: a couple of ex-military guys who hated the federal government. From the first minutes of today’s events, I never heard that possibility suggested. Why is that?
Maybe it’s because the A-rabs are much better foils. A key ingredient in getting Americans whipped into a frenzy against a new enemy is the all-important race card. It’s much easier to get us to hate when the object of our hatred doesn’t look like us.
Congressmen and Senators spent the day calling for more money for the military; one Senator on CNN even said he didn’t want to hear any more talk about more money for education or health care-we should have only one priority: our self-defense.
Will we ever get to the point that we realize we will be more secure when the rest of the world isn’t living in poverty so we can have nice running shoes?
In just 8 months, Bush gets the whole world back to hating us again. He withdraws from the Kyoto agreement, walks us out of the Durban conference on racism, insists on restarting the arms race- you name it, and Baby Bush has blown it all.
The Senators and Congressmen tonight broke out in a spontaneous version of God Bless America. They’re not a bad group of singers! Yes, God, please do bless us.
Many families have been devastated tonight. This just is not right. They did not deserve to die. If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, DC, and the planes destination of California-these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!
Why kill them? Why kill anyone? Such insanity. Let’s mourn, let’s grieve, and when it’s appropriate let’s examine our contribution to the unsafe world we live in.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Yours, Michael Moore