“9-01-11 HA HA HA” Really? Really.
How diverse is New York City? So much so that even its Hispanic newspaper was pronounced “oy.” And despite the many non-Jews who use Yiddish words like “Meshugenah” and “Fakackteh” and the non-African-Americans who eat soul food at Sylvia’s in Harlem, with all these shared cultural experiences, have we learned to be tolerant of other folk’s differences? Not really. Not yet, at least.
Being open to diversity doesn’t necessarily mean being tolerant. Tolerance means having respect for those who are different from you. And where else but in The Big Apple can that include almost everyone around you in a subway car? If America is the great Melting Pot, then New York City is the front burner; a hotbed of diversity. Unfortunately it’s also filled with quite a few hotheads.
A few years after the 9/11 attacks, I noticed vandalism on the sides of pay phones and newspaper stands around the Upper West Side. The handwriting, while the same, sent a pretty disturbing message as you can see from the photos.
“9-11-01 🙂 HA HA HA”
The first time I saw that message, its smiley face looking more sinister than happy, I was shocked. The second time, in another location, shaken. Who was writing these messages? A terrorist or a punk with no clue what he was really saying? That’s when I thought, “What’s next, Swastikas?” My grandparents saw those symbols once, years before, and remember all too well what happened next. And that cannot happen again.
Which is why I was shocked when those same 9/11 vandalism messages began popping up recently. With the 10thanniversary this Sunday, it’s hard not to remember that terrible day and the shaky days that followed. For every one of us who worked or lived in New York City, we had to go on like everything was normal, but now normal was different. Normal for me was that constant knot in my stomach that tightened when I woke from a nightmare in which Staten Island was burning or when I was on a packed subway, stopped inside a tunnel as an announcer’s garbled voice said something about an incident at Grand Central or when at a Yankees game wondering in which inning a bomb might explode.
For those who remember that day, normal has been about going on despite the fear. Like my grandparents did at Bergen Belsen. Like we all continue to do. But sometimes I wonder if this new normal has desensitized us for whatever happens next.