Scars

18 Aug

It’s late on a Sunday evening, and Scott and I venture into the Patriot bar for a six-dollar pitcher. We’re tired, but we justify spending the six dollars on the cheap beer, and listen to the stiff American country and blues that is blaring out of the jukebox. At some point, an elderly man complains to us that he put in too much money and can’t choose any more songs, and asks us to pick. We oblige. Chatting to the bartender, we notice she has a tattoo of the outline of New Jersey, her home state. I mention the possibility of getting a tattoo in some of the places I travel, mementoes that won’t weigh me down.

A drunken man stumbles over, and murmurs something about ‘tattoos’ and ‘travelling’. His breath is sickly, acidic and very alcoholic.

‘You know what yer should get?’ he bleats. ‘Yer tattoo.’

‘What?’

‘The Twin Towers.’

It takes me a little while to digest this. Politics aside, it would make an ugly tattoo.

‘Why should I get that?’ I ask him, politely.

‘Because. Because, on the day, on nahn-eleven, ever’body wen’ dahn there. Ever’body helped. Y’all should ‘member this. People came from all over, from Jersey, upstate, Long Island, and came down and helped.’

Now, I would never think about getting a tattoo commemorating 9/11. I wasn’t there, it would be ugly, and it’s a little more difficult for me to understand than a seasoned New Yorker who spent the days afterwards scraping his way through rubble, finding bodies, but no survivors.

But 9/11 does sum up New York, in a way. It is a bloated scar on its history, a terrible event that literally changed the way New Yorkers, Americans and the Western World think. But the thousands of people that died are honoured in such a way. Fire trucks have the names of the firemen they personally lost emblazoned on their doors, and the fire station literally next door to Ground Zero proudly displays their new motto: ‘Still Here.’ They are building reflecting pools (Americans love reflecting pools) where the old towers stood, and a 9/11 memorial and museum, and the new ‘Freedom Tower’ (which will conveniently stand at 1,776 feet high). Each police precinct has pictures of all the policemen who died, and there are murals all over, with captions like ‘Never Forget’, and ‘With Us ‘Til We Die’.

So, I won’t get a tattoo of the World Trade Center. Ever. But it will stick with me, in as permanent a way as a tattoo ever could.

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