From a couple blocks away we could hear the screaming. It was a loud bellow rumbling through the spaces between skyscrapers, the unmistakable sound of a jubilant crowd at a sports stadium. Except this wasn’t a sports stadium ? it was Ground Zero, minutes after Obama addressed the nation to tell us Bin Laden was dead. The people trickling towards the site began sprinting as they got closer, running straight into a teeming mass of young people. A wall of college students. The scene was unmistakably one of a frat party ? most of the thousands there couldn’t have been older than 12 when 9/11 happened.
I had bought a bouquet from a shop on my way down, and I clutched the flowers close to my chest as petals were torn off by the teeming throng pushing past. A young guy approached me and pointed to the flowers ? “What’d you bring those for?” he said. He had a point ? I was out of favor with the masses, and couldn’t see another bouquet anywhere around me. A beer would’ve been more in order ? above our heads, a few young men grasping forties in one hand scaled a traffic light as high as they dared to go, leading the crowd below in a drunken chant of “USA USA,” occasionally alternating into “F*** Osama, F*** Osama!”
Most people had their backs to the Twin Towers site, as they watched the frat-like spectacle on the light pole and cheered on the acrobatics. We pushed our way, through the media who were everywhere, and the teens clothed in American flags, finally making our way to the yellow fence separating us from the dark, empty pit. There was plenty of room to breathe next to the actual site ? no one was looking at it. A handful of police stood quietly off to the side. They seemed somber, and a little annoyed that they were stuck supervising college students tonight. Aside from two bouquets stuck haphazardly in the fence, there was no other sign of memorial ? except a hastily print out sign paying homage to a famous Charlie Sheen line. “America: Winning” it said.
Flags were everywhere. As bright news cameras would shine on the crowds, they would start screaming and chanting, thrusting the stripes and stars into the sky. A friend of mine told me later she saw little moments of remembrance ? a few people carrying candles, a NY firefighter crying. Despite canvassing the crowd from front to back, I didn’t see any of those things.
The mood was jubilant, drunken, expectant. People seemed to be waiting for something ? a show, a performance of some sort. The crowd moved restlessly, turning towards each new chant as it arose, focusing their attentions on crowd surfers and frat boys dangling from poles, looking for their symbol. Finally, at last, Dan Choi, the gay soldier who served in Iraq and fought so hard for Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, strolled through the crowd in full uniform. I’d wager that none of the college kids around knew who he was, but his dress code was cause for worship. At last, a hero has come to commemorate the moment. Those around him cheered and shouted. A few people were hoisted into the air and went crowd-surfing. No one was crying.
International journalists kept coming up to us ? probably because of the flowers. “What does this mean for you?” they’d ask, “Did you lose someone here?” They seemed a little baffled by the show ? clearly they don’t realize that America is now “winning.”
Where were the families, where were the people who devastated by 9/11? The only answer I could come up with was that it was midnight ? maybe everyone was in bed before the news got out. Instead, it was a throng of kids. There was no need to bring flowers because no one there could remember the loss ? only the victory.
Carmel deAmicis can be reached at email@example.com