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9/11 Journals, Part One

by Jason Bentley

Since I started archiving some of my writing on, I've

tried to figure out how I was going to approach putting on the site
selections from my journals and writings from the days immediately
following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and
the Pentagon. I am not a fan of online journals. I certainly don't mind
reading them, but typically reading them only convinces me further that
as a personal choice, I should make no use of it. I'll explain in
detail another time, but suffice to say that for me, journals are a
very personal exorcism of feelings, events, emotions, and perceptions.
They help me to talk to myself, to find out things that I otherwise
might have lost to a fleeting thought.

While my journals are filled with my perceptions of others, I don't

believe in the idea of the journal as a one-person public newsgroup for
discussing friends and enemies. It was very clear that if I were to put
portions of my journal online, there would need to be some heavy
editing. I am not interested in a Biloxi Blues scenario. As for the
material germane to the terrorist attacks, I tried to edit as little as
possible, leaving the emotions - even the ones that now make me
uncomfortable - intact. The name the company that I worked for at the
time, as well as the names of my coworkers, have been redacted due to
contractual obligations.

I had to write some expository material to both clarify points and

explain factual errors in the original text. Expository material
written in 2002 is presented in Dark Red.

Original journal text written just after September 11, 2001 is

presented in standard black.

Here's some background:

On September 11, 2001, I was living in my apartment in Cupertino,
California with Gary, my boyfriend of nearly a year and a half. I
developed documents for an Israel-based and owned software company that
was a late-comer in the field of corporate knowledge management. The
1.0 release of the product would be launched later in the year. Our
employees, myself included, regularly traveled to Israel to work with
the development team there. In July, I had spent nearly a month in

I didn't write anything on September 11. I first sat down to write two
days later, and wound up sitting for several hours, running down the
chronology of the day as I remembered it, along with my emotions and
actions at the time.

This journal entry written on September 13, 2001. Part two, featuring
the Semptember 14 entry, will be posted as soon as editing is complete.



Armageddon came late. We were all waiting for it when 2000 rolled
around. It's been two fucked up days - two days since I woke up into
something that - for whatever this means, doesn't seem real. I'm not
alone in feeling like this, though. My coworkers are looped out - my
boss, K----, moved here from New York. She called me on Tuesday morning
freaking out - "Can you believe this?"

The World Trade Center is gone. I mean really gone. Not heavy damage,
not just property damange and sustained causalities - it's now a
burning pile of rubble covering the old Radio Row. Accepting it isn't
so much the problem as just believing it happened at all. The United
States was - suddenly and deliberately - attacked by some group
somewhere, and well - wasn't this not supposed to happen again? I'm
trying to imagine now all those poor WWII survivors who have to go to
the big bed with the notion, after watching the Pentagon burn, that,
well shit..."I thought I had kept the world safe for democracy." I
think now the only thing that keeps the world safe or democracy is good

I'm a nest of emotions and concerns right now - I'm still trying to
sort out how I feel about the attack, about work, about my safety,
about my future, about me. To say I'm tense is an understatement - to
say I'm angry wouldn't be overdoing it - to say I'm confused and
uncertain would be right on. Is this shock? PTSD? I'm trying to not let
my Detroit-hewn war-zone fatalism take over.

Going back to work was no more comforting. Finding out that on

September 12, most pending sales were dropped is a bit of a pisser.
First thing - no one's buying anything right now, no one's selling
anything right now and no one's in the mood to work. Hell, even the
Stock Exchange is closed. Who knows when that will open again? I doubt
anyone's gonna be interested in early-beta 1.0 knowledge management
software right now.

N-- [a former coworker] is taking the whole world situation hard. He's
a sensitive guy as it is, and this was the worst kind of blindside.
Lionel [my company's French/Israeli CEO] is stuck in town now, is very
annoyed about it, is barking dismissive, tone-deaf nonsensicals in a
cloud of cigarettes, coffee, and cologne about how (and I'm
paraphrasing) "Israel goes through this all the time. It's not a big
deal. Shut up already."

Um, excuse me?

One of my immediate visible casualties is patience. I've never been one

to graciously suffer fools, but since Tuesday I might as well me Martha
fuckin' Stewart for all the barking and bitching I'm doing to people. I
shouldn't even be dealing with the general public. I feel like Bill
Maher guest hosting Ricki Lake. Cats have the right idea: After trauma,
go into exile to regroup and re-evaluate, and only after some respite,
come out into the light of day and try to make sense of the rest of the

Perhaps mental balance will return now that the airplanes are allowed
to fly again today and we can return to our normal noise and air
pollution baselines. Since Tuesday morning all air traffic has been
grounded at the airport and they're sort of limping back into operation
airport-by-airport. It's been weeeirdly quiet.

I'm supposed to be working from home right now, but I can't work - I
feel more inside a colossal experience than I could have imagined. I
seem to be getting tired of watching the news. There are so many
horrible images that just keep repeating and repeating. I can't watch
those people and their MISSING posters. It's achingly pathetic and I
just want to turn away. I can't see them finding anyone in all that
smoking rubble. Earlier today they pulled five firefighters out of the
rubble. Five. Only 4,700 more to go. This does not look good at all.

I worry that Tuesday is one of those singular events that will change
things in radically unexpected ways. In a superficial way, it smacks of
the Wall Street Crash of 1929; only the 1990's were the 1920's and so
we're now potentially about to enter the analog to the, um, vibrant
optimism and economic thrust of the 1930's. I wonder if in two or three
years everyone will use Tuesday as a big giant fiery stick between
wildly different "eras" or "ages." Will they talk about the "innocence"
we lost (news flash - yesterday was always "a time of innocence…"), or
a time when we had the luxury of kvetching over, oh, Survivor? Bill
Clinton's dick? Uhhh… Chandra Levy? Who's that? Was she Indian?

I don't know - I'll be back later.

09.13.2001 - Later

Okay - I've declared a personal 12-hour moratorium on television news

of any kind (barring any unforeseen major events). I've happily
surrendered the television to cooler heads and Buffy fans. Buffy will
save us all. Which leads to another random thought - boy, did Tuesday
make comic book superheroes look impotent in the face of a well-stocked
platter of spicy fundamentalism / poverty / box cutter masala? America
has a million unknown kryptionites and the world is bursting with well
funded-Lex Luthors. MISS TESCHMACHERRRRR!!! We have a problem.

So rather than turn everything into Weekend Update with Dennis Miller
(wait - did I just do it again?) - I'm going to pause a moment. I seem
to have a tendency to let myself write in the same smarter-than-thou,
holier-than-nobody Silicon Valley / The Simpsons patois that, given all
favorable conditions, manages to convince one or two people in real
life that I know what I'm talking about at that particular moment. In
light of some real-life life going on right now across the country, my
life feels a tad fake and lazy and greasy. Stop, breathe.

Moving on, I'm setting aside a bunch of time to write. I wanted to put
down what happened to me and Gary on Tuesday, the day of the attacks. I
haven't written anything about it yet and I think I should before
things fade. Actually, I guess I should start on Monday the 10. Like
everything at E-----, planning and scheduling of projects is slipshod
and arbitrary. At the Monday meeting I had a bunch of writing editing
work - copy for the website, flash demo, info glossies, and everything
for the launch - dumped squarely in my lap. No warning, no heads up
during the requirements phase.

So, superincredibly pissed off and knowing I had zero recourse, I left
the meeting and head back to the home office to sort this shit out and
to try to fit it in the project plan in such a way that doesn't impact
the later dates. Bravo.

Well, in truth I got into a snit over very little, because ultimately
the changes didn't take long. The rest of the last day of the world as
we knew it was spent unconstructively in front of TiVo, watching
various episodes of the Simpsons and Star Trek: The Next Generation. I
made his favorite dinner staple to date, seasoned pork chops. Gary
worked at his desktop, on the coffee table I made some last minute
tweaks to the project plan and chatted with friends. Our routine
schedule demands a 6 AM alarm, so we went to bed around 10.20, both got
off, and went to sleep. It was a quiet evening.

When I woke up on Tuesday I wasn't conscious of a date - I never am. I

was barely even conscious of the day. The day started in a series of
fragments and ended in horrible Technicolor Cinerama.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 - All times are PDT.

The first plane flies into North Tower of WTC in NYC.

Gary's alarm goes off. Gary hits the snooze button, and we both fall
back to sleep.

The second plane hits the South Tower of the WTC.

Gary's alarm goes off again. Gary jumps out of bed, gathers the day's
clothes, and heads to the bathroom. I decide to lay in bed another few
I get out of bed and open the curtains onto beautiful morning. I head
to my home office space to check the news and morning e-mail. After
repeated attempts, I'm unable to reach neither nor
Assuming network issues, I check the cable modem, which appears fine. I
ping my third-party account - and it's fine. As a last resort, I try to
login to, and after long pause page resolved and I first
read something strange.


My first reaction was to look at the clock, that read:

I then checked the date, making it the first time I was conscious of
September 11, 2001. It must be some single engine Cessna or something.
Then, a headline further down the page:


Wait, a second plane? A jet? Something had told me to expect it to read

April 1 - April Fool's Day - and that headline was a very strange joke.
It was a weird reaction. I ran into the living room immediately tune to
CNN. One minute before, the FAA had just shut down all the airports in
the US. CNN was breaking the story. This wasn't a joke.

They quickly recapped the news so far: they had no idea how many planes
were still in the air, how many planes were targeted at cities. For the
first time, I saw an image of a giant jet, smoothly and calmly gliding
into the Tower. That's when it began, for me, to become slightly

After a couple minutes I realized that Gary still had no idea what had
happened and what was happening and I dashed into the bathroom where he
was still in the shower.

"Gary!! Gary! We're under attack!"

Gar, entirely confused, "What?"

"Two hijacked plans have hit the World Trade Center in New York and
they're on fire. They don't know how many hijacked planes there are.
They just shut down the airline grid! Every airplane in the country has
to land at it's nearest airport, stranding people or not" Gary pops his
head out of the shower.

"Are you serious?"

I'm practically jogging in place. "C'mon, dude, it's all over CNN. No
joke, I couldn't get into my acocounts this morning." I don't know if
Gary'd heard the last, because I was already on my way back to the

I returned to see Aaron Brown, some CBS transplant. The guy doesn't
even have his CNN show yet. Good morning, Aaron Brown, welcome to your
CNN debut on the worst day in US history. I'm sitting on the couch,
transfixed, one hand permanently affixed over my mouth - some nervous
reaction. As they began to loop the image of the second crash, for the
first time I considered implications and ramifications of what I was
watching. This is like Pearl Harbor, I thought. I wasn't the only
person thinking it.

Gary made his way out into the living room and watched the towers burn.
Jeremy called from work to say that they'd called off work for the day,
stay home, stay home. He seemed near panic. He said Peter had been
stranded in Israel; he had been due to come home and now he couldn't.
When the first plane hit, everyone was still at the office, it was
15.45. I remember imagining the Israelis in the office staring at
Peter, the only American there, as he was personally shown through the
door of their club, live, right in front of them. Fuck.

Gary and I watched together in stunned silence as CNN reported event

after event. The president's first announcement of a terrorist attack.
The epic scope of what was going on was almost unfathomable. It still

People were jumping - jumping from windows in the highest stories above
the gash in the side of the building. One of the networks showed some
brief clips and it was horrifying to watch. Worse than that wedding
floor collapse in Israel. One after the other they jumped. I think how
it must have been inside that tower to choose that as a preference. It
seemed increasingly unlikely that anyone on the top floors could
survive. They cut to people watching on the ground watching the
jumpers, some mortified wide-eyed and still, some silently crying, some
wailing in terror. A black woman screamed "God!! Save their souls!!
They're jumping...Oh, please God!!! Save their souls!!!"

Then things started moving really fast.

Judy Woodruff on CNN broke off a talking head to report a tremendous
explosion in the direction of the Pentagon and that sources say it may
have been a plane crash. Now it was a hit on Washington, DC. I turned
to Gary and said, "Well, if it wasn't before, it's war now." They
started evacuating the White House. I kept waiting for word that they
hit it or the Capitol. Even the anchors looked worried now. This isn't
blowing over. Nor is it some military ship in Yemen. Some of the
anchors and reporters were being very reactive on camera, which was
good to see, actually.

The south Tower of the WTC collapsed right before my eyes. CNN cut to
Aaron Brown who said it was some "huge explosion," and shortly
afterward, saying something like, "there's a lot of smoke, but I can't
see the tower back there." Gary had been distracted by getting ready
for work and didn't see it. Immediately I thought of all the people
that must've just died - and how they just died. My whole self seemed
to get darker. I could almost visualize this tremendous electric
shockwave of horror rolling across the country. Cell phones going off,
pagers, parents taking their children to school making a u-turn and
coming home, e-mail everywhere, web hits, the net sagging, servers
crashing, stocks falling. Way, way beyond epic. Welcome to the fucking
planet. This is where we really live.

Shortly after, Gary left for work. I flipped to all the news networks
and some were already rolling tape of the mammoth walls of debris and -
this still freaks me out - people rolling through the canyons of New
York, humanity fleeing like in every disaster movie ever. The
associations were inevitable.

Just as CNN reported that the side of the Pentagon that had been hit
had just collapsed as well, in came another report of a giant fireball
in a field outside Shanksville, PA. All indications were of another
plane crash. CNN was being tentative and saying "we can't confirm that
it's related to the attacks on NY and Washington" but there didn't seem
to really be a question.
They started evacuating everything then, and eyewitness reports from
both Washington and Pennsylvania confirmed that plans had crashed. That
made four. CNN reported of a fifth flight being tracked that was
possibly another hijacked plane. Nobody knew what the fuck was
happening, or who was next.

Not only was this an act of terrorism, but considering that the only
way this could have happened was through some elaborate plan - this was
abject humiliation. We were being attacked and exposed. CNN had started
reporting that passengers on the planes had called on cell phones and
said they hijacked these plans with those little utility knive/box
cutter things you can get anywhere.

This is actually one thing about this nightmare that really does make
me angry. I think of those dotty screeners at SFO, most of them
geriatric southeast Asians - these people are as clueless and
disinterested as they come. They're often chatting aimlessly with each
other as bags just float by like so many groceries at a check out
stand. It's that way at every airport in the US. I've flown through
most of them. Dallas? Orlando? Forget it. You can get shit onto the
plane easier than kids can sneak into a multiplex.

When I went to Israel, the security was un-fucking-believable. Here I

was, a well-dressed white guy on business with a letter of introduction
(in Hebrew) from my company. Still, I got a thorough search.

This is a bit from my journal in Israel:

Airport security at Ben Gurion is no bullshit.

There's nothing like it. They made me open my
suitcase, turn on my laptop, do something with it.
She asked me a laundry list of questions - "Why are
you in Israel?" "How long will you be in Israel?"
"What is your job function?" "Why can't your job be
done by an Israeli?" "Are you a Jew?" "What are
you, then?" She did not smile. She did not make any
comments outside her interrogation. The senior
security officer had to come over and examine my
letter of introduction. Both had guns. Everyone had
guns. This would never fly in America.

Well, I might have been right then, but the attack really sheds a new
light on airport security and the threat of certain people entering the
country. It will be interesting to see if we go the Ben Gurion route.
It's like getting a driver's license in California, they only issue to
qualified drivers, but the qualifications are lowered to the lowest
possible denominator. It's essentially a comfort charade. A security
blanket, not security.

So here's one for the all the airport screeners who let those clever
men get by you. You were the sleeping guard at the gate of the fort.
And boy did you fuck up this time. Thanks to security cameras, you will
individually know who you are, and that's a damn good thing - cuz that
means that you can now enjoy many years living with this. I hope the
faces of the other passengers come back to you in fever dream loops,
along with the first moment you heard that one of the planes was your
responsibility, the indelible image of your flight slicing through the
box or burning on the ground, the plume of the fire, and the spray of
debris. Now you can contemplate 2000 degrees Fahrenheit in less than
two seconds. Go ahead, time it. You certainly won't be able to remember
the items you breezed over on the monitors, but you'll never again
forget the images of that moment, and you'll replay them in your head
every night, whether you watch another newscast or not. And to the
airport administrators who, after repeated reports and complaints,
force us to put dubious trust in the same people who likely couldn't
get the clearance needed to make daytime teller at a local bank branch.
And to all of the people in public service who are on watch to detect a
conspiratorial meteor of this size hurting straight toward our cities.
Where were you? This wasn't a redneck in a Ryder truck. These were 19
non-Americans hijacking American airliners from American airports,
flying them into American landmarks and killing who knows how many
thousands of Americans. The years ahead will trace a trail straight
back to you, and so to you, a big fuckin' toast. This isn't your crime,
friends, but it's certainly your fault.

I was surfing through channels when the second tower collapsed. I
stopped on, I think, MSNBC and people were running again from another
debris wall. I quickly snapped back to CNN, and Aaron Brown was staring
at the tower as it fell straight down on top of itself, as smoothly as
a controlled demolition. Debris plumed outward. "There are no words," Brown said.

The camera panned into the horror, and Brown's microphone picked up the
ambient roar of a fiercely wounded city: the wail of sirens close to
CNN's position as they sped toward the roaring collapse. Immediately I
thought of Orson Welles' 1938 broadcast of "The War of the Worlds," a
program I knew well from having listened to it countless times as a kid
- of the reporter on a rooftop overlooking New York City as the Martian
machines approached, destroying buildings and spreading toxic smoke
over the entire city, decimating the population. The reporter stays at
his post and calls out street after street as they are consumed by
death, the smoke eventually consumes him too, and he dies on the air,
leaving the open microphone to pick up the distant sirens and screams
and boat whistles as they faded away one by one.

I started surfing channels again and finally saw Rudolph Giuliani

telling people to get out of Lower Manhattan. He looked dusty and
roughed up, but focused. Some of the news anchors had been speculating
earlier that he might have been killed at some point, since there was
an emergency management office in the Trade Center. A lot of the
reporters close to the carnage were filthy and dazed. MSNBC had a
reporter close to things and she had some incredible footage.

CNN started airing footage by some doctor named Marc Heath who was
really close to the tower when it collapsed. As it roared down, he took
cover underneath a car, saying over and over "I hope I live! I hope I
live!" A truly honest prayer, indeed. He did survive, and he recorded
his trek through the post-collapse nightmare. It looked like nuclear
winter had come to Manhattan.

I called my mom. She'd called my cell phone right after the first Tower
was hit, but I'd inadvertently left it set to vibrate when I put in its
charger in the dark before going to bed - hey, that was the last thing
I did on September 10. Like me and most of America by this point, she
was glued to the television. She kept telling me it was good to hear my
voice. Throughout my career in California, I've traveled a lot for
various jobs, and she imagined it easily having been me on one of those
flights. I'd called her more than once from the in-flight phone, just
for the novelty for her of getting a call from me above some state. We
didn't talk long. We were both hungry for more information, and it
really wasn't the time to discuss much else.

I thought about Jerry, staying over at Micah's, but he always sleeps

well into the morning and afternoon. I figured if he hadn't heard
already, he'd hear plenty when he woke up. It was kinda nice thinking
he might still have lots of time left on his extended September 10.
The news networks began reporting stories of passengers aboard the
airplanes calling loved ones before they died. I find it hard to even
think about that. In the titanic scope of what was happening, there
were so many individual stories of terror and death that I'll never
know. I'll never know if the passengers had a moment of peace before
they crashed into the side of the Tower. What would I say to Gary if he
cheerily picked up the phone, happy to hear from me while I'm away and
didn't know I was calling to tell him that I was about to die? "I love
you more than anything, take care of Simba?" I couldn't say all I would
want to. I wouldn't have the time to write a list of things to say to
Gary and to others. It would be so fuckin' long. I wonder how many of
those who died lived alone with cats?

They shut down SFO and a few minutes before announced the evacuation of
LAX. The flight that crashed into the ground in Pennsylvania was headed
for San Francisco. Fuck. Fuck me. Now, on Thursday, I still don't know
if I knew anyone on the flight.

They weren't saying where Bush was other than he was "somewhere above
the United States." Apparently, Dick Cheney and a bunch of other
officials were in a bunker somewhere. They kept reassuring viewers,
"the government is functioning." I figure with Cheney pulling the
strings, there's at least someone who's done this before calling the
shots, and that's good. I hope.

The networks are reporting between 42-45 planes left in the air. I went
out on the deck to see something completely alien: a clear sky devoid
of any and all air traffic. No airplanes anywhere over the San
Francisco Bay; no line of jets queued up for landing over the
mountains, no KCBS Sky 1 traffic copter, no Stanford medevac, no Moffet
Field cargo planes - nothing. The ambient noise change was noticable.

Local stations reported the evacuation of the Transamerica Tower and

several other buildings downtown. The Golden Gate was completely
closed. Seems to me the Golden Gate screams out to be a target. It's
got that symbolic value going for it. If they destroy the "World Trade
Center," think of what throbbing symbolic double meaning "Golden Gate"
has. It doesn't matter that crippling the Bay Bridge would be far more
logistically disastrous. But except to locals and bridge geeks, the Bay
Bridge is, well, the solid functional workhorse it is, while the deco
Golden Gate is swaddled in phrases like "grand old lady" and "portal to
America." God help it.

My neighbor Vix called out from our driveway into my open window and
asked to come up. She was alone in her apartment and just needed to
hang out with someone, which was totally fine with me. We sat and
talked between reports that still filtered in one by one from various

We had the displeasure of watching Bush make a flaccid reassurance

where he asked for prayers and swore retribution for "these cowardly
acts." He should learn that reassurance comes when it doesn't appear to
have been cobbled together from the GOP speech template phrasebook - a
jumble of disjointed phrases that seem out of perspective with the

Following Giuliani footage with Bush footage is not a good idea.

Giuliani is making Bush look like the confused, non-leader he really
is. What amazes me is that it's Rudolph fuckin' Giuliani that's doing
it. Don't I thoroughly dislike this prick? Events bring out the best
and worst in people - this is Giuliani's best, I guess. Giuliani is on
TV, charging through the dusty streets, barking orders, reassuring
people. I can totally visualize Bush in the airplane flying from place
to place, panicked on the phone with Cheney, "Dick! Dick! Where do I
go? What do I do?"

"Just practice the speech, George. We'll call you when we need you."

How cool would John McCain have been at this moment? Faith in Bush is
necessary, but desperate. Faith in Cheney and Rumsfeld and Powell is
easier for me to come by.

Vix and I also saw the first introduction of Osama Bin Laden as the new
Hitler of history. Apparently government sources were saying they had
some kind of credible information that this guy and his network were
behind the attack. They're similar to the attacks in Kenya and
Tanzania, too. Coordinated, specific, symbolic. On the 13, this has
pretty much been confirmed in the eyes of the government. There are
lots of calls for an attack on his bases around the world, mostly in
Afghanistan. Great. Afghanistan. I guess we're suddenly contemplating
the idea of really going into some kind of war.
Vix left after a half hour or so. I think she felt better just knowing
someone was around who was as scared as she was.

Giuliani was keeping the public informed as best he could through
regular TV broadcasts. He made a statement sometime before noon about
how many of those lost were firefighters who were going up the stairs
as building tenants went down. Jesus. And how it's way too early to
estimate the dead.

Now, on Thursday, this has become a big thing over the past couple
days. The firefighters - hundreds of them were lost in the Towers and
the entire town is grieving. It seems like a massive-scale version of
The Sweet Hereafter. Everyone is frozen in an ice block of grief and
shock, walking around dazed or weeping. I can see the parents in that
story easily putting up MISSING flyers of their children on the trees
near the spot where the bus crashed through the ice. I don't think
there is much healing from something like this - just living with deep

CNN started reporting that the plane that crashed in PA was likely also
headed for some place Washington but were uncertain why it crashed. I
was watching Ashleigh Banfield on the street in New York City when WTC
Building 7 also collapsed. That's the whole complex now, I think.
Fuckin' amazing.

More and more video poured into the news organizations, and Christ,
some of the footage is terrifying. Ground level shots running from
skyscraper high walls of debris, this one woman took refuge in a deli
and kept thanking the owner for saving her life. More amateur video
than I've ever seen for a news event.

Gary came home and we spent the rest of the night together, watching
the news unfold. As the night went on, the news groups and government
teams were clearly trying to regroup and breathe. Second-shifters
replaced those who covered the actual attacks. While I made dinner,
Gary and I didn't talk much. What was there to say?

I called Micah and found out his sister was something like a few blocks
away from the Towers when they were hit. Two blocks.
Okay, that's it. I can't type anymore. Moreover, by brain hurts. It's
nearly 10, and Gary will need to had to bed soon. What will tomorrow

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