Ground Zero: Death of the Businessman

 It’s the end of the world. I was excited by the whole situation. Well, if everybody is going to die, die hard, shit, but what do I know. Is this an atomic bomb—the end of the world—the end of the millennium? No more fear of being fired—for typos or tardiness—digressions or recessions—and what a way of being fired—bursting into flames—without two weeks notice—and without six months of unemployment—and without sick leave, vacation, or comp time—without a word of what was to come—on a glorious morning—when nature ran indifferent to the course of man—there came a point when that sunny sky turned into a hellhole of a night—with papers, computers, windows, bricks, bodies falling, and people running and screaming.

I saw a torso falling—no legs—no head—just a torso. I am redundant because I can’t believe what I saw. I saw a torso falling—no legs—no head—just a torso—tumbling in the air—dressed in a bright white shirt—the shirt of the businessman—tucked in—neatly—under the belt—snuggly fastened—holding up his pants that had no legs. He had hit a steel girder—and he was dead—dead for a ducat, dead—on the floor of Krispy Kreme—with powdered donuts for a head—fresh out of the oven—crispy and round—hot and tasty—and this businessman on the ground was clutching a briefcase in his hand—and on his finger, the wedding band. I suppose he thought his briefcase was his life—or his wife—or that both were one because the briefcase was as tight in hand as the wedding band.

I saw the wife of the businessman enter the shop of Stanley, the cobbler, with a pink ticket in hand. The wife had come to claim the shoes of the businessman. After all, they had found the feet, and she wanted to bury the feet with the shoes. There, I was talking to Stanley, the cobbler, because I too had left my shoes, a pair of pink boots, in Stanley’s cobbler shop. He told me—you won’t believe what I saw. I saw Charlie, the owner of Saint Charlie’s Bar ’n Grill, watching the burial of the 20th century. Charlie goes out to hang the sign, closed for business, he looks up, and jet fuel burns and melts him down. And do you know how, how the torso hit the ground, how it landed. What I saw hitting the ground was a little bubble of blood, a splash that hardly felt itself, soundless, and dissolving into the cement, and melting without a sound. I saw a passenger hanging on the edge of a bridge—with his feet in the air—his legs kicking—and both hands holding onto a steel girder hanging loose from the bridge—about to collapse—with the passenger—kicking his legs—as if he could peddle his way to the other side—where there is sand—sand and water—deep water—as if he could swim to shore and survive. The sand and the era of the camel are back. The era of the difficult. Now you have to climb sand dunes of brick and mortar. The streets are not flat, but full of barricades, tunnels and caves, and you have to walk through the maze, and sometimes you’ll get lost inside, finding no end—and no exit—and you’ll fall into despair—but you’ll see a dim beacon of light—appearing and disappearing—and when it fades away—your hope will fade—and you’ll be amazed—because your pace will change. I used to be Dandy Rabbit and now I am Tortuga China—not that I have lost my way—only my pace—because of the dead body I carry on my back—on the hump of the camel—in the desert storm—with no oasis in sight—but the smiling light of the promised land.

I saw the hand of man holding the hand of woman. They were running to escape the inferno—and just when the man thought he had saved the woman—a chunk of ceiling fell—and what he had in his hand—was just her hand—dismembered from her body. Now we no longer have the Renaissance concept of the Creation of Man—those two hands reaching out to each other on the Sistine Chapel—the hand of God and the hand of man—their fingers almost touching—in unity of body and soul. What we have here is a war—the war of matter and spirit. In the classical era, spirit was in harmony with matter. Matter used to condense spirit. What was unseen—the ghost of Hamlet’s father—was seen—in the conscience of the king. The spirit was trapped in the matter of theater. The theater made the unseen, seen. In the Romantic era, spirit overwhelms matter. The glass of champagne can’t contain the bubbles. But never in the history of humanity has spirit been at war with matter. And that is what we have today. The war of banks and religion. It’s what I wrote in Prayers of the Dawn, that in New York City, banks tower over cathedrals. Banks are the temples of America. This is a holy war. Our economy is our religion. When I came back to midtown a week after the attack—I mourned—but not in a personal way—it was a cosmic mourning—something that I could not specify because I didn’t know any of the dead. I felt grief without knowing its origin. Maybe it was the grief of being an immigrant and of not having roots. Not being able to participate in the whole affair as a family member but as a foreigner, as a stranger—estranged in myself and confused—I saw the windows of Bergdorf and Saks—what a theater of the unexpected—my mother would have cried—there were only black curtains, black drapes—showing the mourning of the stores—no mannequins, just veils—black veils. When the mannequins appeared again weeks later—none of them had blond hair. I don’t know if it was because of the mourning rituals or whether the mannequins were afraid to be blond—targets of terrorists. Even they didn’t want to look American. They were out of fashion after the Twin Towers fell. To the point, that even though I had just dyed my hair blond because I was writing Hamlet and Hamlet is blond, I went back to my coiffeur immediately and told him—dye my hair black. It was a matter of life and death, why look like an American. When naturally I look like an Arab and walk like an Egyptian.

United States of Banana by Giannina Braschi, AmazonCrossing, 2011

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