Within 24 hours of the 9/11 incidences, people already had t-shirts, mugs, and other bootlegged memorabilia as far as Jersey City, New Jersey where (if standing along the pier or in The Heights) one could see the catastrophes or even as close as Ground Zero, where I would discover I’d have to walk through rubble with a face mask, yet still smelled burned flesh and hair for nine months to get to work. No one knew if the air was clean. We were told it was okay. But it wasn’t. I’ll never believe it was.
September 11 should have been a special day for me where my life would change for the better.
I woke up thinking I was going to a job interview at an academic publisher, thinking that I would finally get a break from (what I assumed to be) struggles of living in such an expensive area with no family and no friends to fall back on. In my heart, I knew I had that job in the bag. And, I think that since so many years have passed and I’ve remained somewhat silent on my experiences, except for one or two write-ups about it, I can sit back and truly say that I was right–it was indeed a day my life would change forever in ways that even my fellow NYCers who went through what I went through that day would never understand. After all, everyone’s experiences are different and the way we cope with them are unique. Whether my life changed for the better is still debatable.
However, beyond all of the Missing Persons photos online and all over the city, one of the main things I remember was a t-shirt stand selling memorabilia. A t-shirt stand that sold low-end t-shirts that (beyond the ghetto-fabulousness of them) caught my eye. A t-shirt stand that was just a simple card table set up along all the dust and rubble, about 3 blocks from Ground Zero, and close to my then office. It stood out among the rest. And that was when I saw the t-shirt that most people will never believe. The t-shirt had a picture of the World Trade Center emblazoned across the chest with Lisa Left-Eye Lopez’s (from singing group TLC) and singer Aaliyah’s (who both passed away close to the WTC tragedies) image floating in the skyline. At the top of the shirt the headline stated “More than a woman” with a subhead as “Never Forget” (which ultimately became the WTC slogan–Never Forget, as if we ever can).
As tacky as the “memorabilia” shirt was, and despite the poor timing, I found it humorous to even try to relate Aaliyah and Lisa Left-Eye Lopez with the WTC. And, I’m sure there are still people, perhaps from the surrounding boroughs of NYC who still own their t-shirt. Regardless, the next day, I saw a slew of NYPD cops arresting the poor man and seizing his shirt business. This was a time when everyone was protective of the WTC, the tragedies behind it and profiting off of it. This was a time when anyone trying to profit or take advantage of those affected by the events that day were reprimanded. However, this was also a time when a large number of people were not arrested for looting the dead bodies for credit cards and cash and jewelry. And, only a hand full of people that were not involved in the recovery efforts know about this.
And then we have today, a beautiful wonderful day when the 9/11 Museum has officially opened. When all the advertisements of it started, I immediately went into my secret dark place where I could not read newspapers or watch the news–a yearly tradition to avoid any 9/11 coverage as a coping mechanism. But this time it happened earlier. Much earlier than normal. I was highly disappointed. This year I have to go into my dark place twice–now and then again during the real September 11, 2015. But what truly disgusted me this time around was the museum marketing and media coverage about it and the gift shop there. Also one of the controversies which happened last week was the remains from the unidentified who died that day were moved to the museum as well. Ah, such a strategic way to lure in schools, private businesses, and just the curious–primarily those who were never involved that day or experienced it or the aftermath are so eager to pay anything to get inside this museum and see it as NYC profits from it. The National September 11 Memorial Museum website states that it’s $24 for an adult to visit this museum–a family of 4 could easily be almost $100 to visit the museum. Also according to the site, admission is free for all visitors on Tuesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The last entry is at 7 p.m. A limited number of tickets are available for online reservation two weeks in advance of each Tuesday evening.
And, this is okay–charging for it, right? This is okay that NYC can profit off of it but the small man selling those boot-legged t-shirts can not? Reports state that items like a Keychain, bookmark (who uses these anymore?), and magnet are for sell there for $4, $12.95, and $4 respectfully. The man on the street from years ago, 2001, selling his home-made t-shirts that was arrested, supplies and money confiscated, probably wasn’t selling many. And, importantly, he was probably selling just enough to pay for a cell phone bill or to keep his electricity shut on. In NYC, we learn to hustle for a buck; hustle to stay afloat; hustle to stay alive and support ourselves and our families. We learn that struggle is normal. That is okay. That is what this man was doing. And what makes him different than those who are profiting from the museum?
I never made it to the job interview that day at the academic publisher. I was forced to stay at the same job and my struggles continued like every other New Yorker at the time. But I was lucky I was alive and I had a job to return to, despite its location and the daily reminders as I walked through Ground Zero to get to the office. My electricity never got shut off and at the time I didn’t own a cell phone to worry about keeping serviced–many people didn’t have one at this time. Technology was just surfacing. I also never profited from my experiences that day like NYC is from dead sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers, nieces and nephews. I just kept struggling until the struggle finally ended; and I will keep living until I have my last breath. Many aren’t so lucky.