If you don’t know what schadenfreude is, you are going to become very familiar with it in the next few minutes. The people of Hazlet love this term, because only when we experience this is something exciting and noteworthy going on in this lovely, vanilla-flavored town. I just love that the Germans gave us this word and did not allow us to Americanize it like we usually do with our butchery of spoken language, because this word flows quite easily off the tongue and is highly apropos. The best definition of this word would be when people take pleasure in the misfortune of others, and I would like to expand that to actually having fun at their expense. Last night, many people were experiencing schadenfreude, when a man took a shotgun and held his wife hostage at their home in the West Keansburg section of Hazlet. Social media immediately blew up with excitement. People were just going bananas over the fact that S.W.A.T teams were called in, and men in camouflage were climbing up peoples’ houses and onto rooftops with sniper rifles so they could have a better glimpse at the perpetrator of justice. People were anxiously awaiting to hear gunshots, which would serve to cap off the night and be the icing on the cake.
Among the many readers of this blog are people who are lucky enough to live in historic cities and towns; Gettysburg and Fredericksburg to name a couple. As for the rest of us, well, we are relegated to living in normal, boring towns, where the history has been swept away by the sands of time…or worse, the plowing of a bulldozer. Most of you know that I live in Hazlet, formerly Raritan Township, if you were to look at an antique map of the area. What annoys me is that there is absolutely no history here (made even more depressing by the fact that nearby towns such as Keyport, Middletown, and Atlantic Highlands are steeped in Revolutionary War and maritime history)—any landmarks or historic sites we had (operative word, had) have been destroyed over time by our own doing.
Let me first preface this by saying that every summer since we graduated high school, on a night where my friend Brett Bodner and I are together, something very strange has happened, usually involving power outages, but is not limited to one strange occurrence per summer. Two years ago, in late August, the two of us took what was going to be a five-minute car ride, to a nearby Target to look at some furniture for his apartment, when suddenly, the power went out. No big deal, right? Except that the human race is so inept when out of their comfort zone, and something so simple as being without electricity for a few hours would drive them to madness. We have become a despicable group of people, who function like chickens who have just been decapitated at a Purdue factory and are stumbling around in their last fleeting seconds before becoming food, when we are without something we think we need.
Today, the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001, is just like that very day: ordinary. We all got up and went to school or work, not giving any thought to what would soon unfold right before our eyes on national television. I was only ten years old at the time and in fifth grade, and looking back on it now, it is hard to believe just how long ago it was. That day has remained with me all this time, and my memories of the events of that day, and the days that followed will most likely stay with me forever.
We were only a week into school and sitting in home-room when the first plane struck. Naturally, no one was made aware of it until later in the morning, and as students, we were never made aware. The first time we sensed something was wrong was during our Art class with a teacher nobody liked, Mr. Maskaly. We had only been going to that class for a few days and we grew to hate it. The teacher was old and mean and never had any emotion. But something was not right with him that day. We walked into class and he was just sitting silently at his desk and then he stood up and announced to us that, “Today is going to be a sad day.” That was the only thing we heard about it while we remained in school until 3:20 P.M.
What we later found out, was that the teachers were told of the events but were instructed to not tell any of the students. Many parents also came in, wanting to take their kids out of school, and it was allowed, no questions asked. During the day, kids were randomly being pulled out, but as fifth graders we could not imagine why. We sat there, still going about our day.
When school ended, I walked to the parking lot with everyone else, expecting to get on the bus. It was then when we were confronted by a large mass of worried parents, who converged on the group of kids. I saw my mom and dad, the latter which I was expecting to be at work. My Aunt Marie was also supposed to be visiting that day, and I was looking forward to seeing her, but she was not there. My parents both looked saddened, so automatically I thought that something happened to my Aunt. I asked if she was alright, and they told me she was. They did not elaborate on anything else on the car ride home. When I got home, it was then when they explained to me what happened. I could not grasp what I had just been told.
The World Trade Center was hit by planes and it was not an accident, but intentional. What does that mean? I heard the words “terrorist attack” being thrown around on the television, but I did not know what that was. To be honest, I did not even know what a Muslim was until that day. All I saw were shots of the streets of New York, covered with debris and dust. The video of the plane striking was replayed over and over again. So this is what happened? I sat there, for the rest of the day, mesmerized by what was unfolding on television. I did not understand half of what was being said, but I watched it anyway.
Later in the evening, before sunset, we headed down to Union Beach which overlooks New York City. It was there where we saw a thick cloud of smoke, emanating from the sky line. I can even remember seeing it from my house, which is miles away from that location. There must have been hundreds of people there, looking out on the horizon, some crying, and some praying; everyone was distressed. A small memorial along the guard rails of the beach had already begun to form. There were candles all over the place.
It was this same place where my mom and Aunt came earlier in the day. The attacks happened before my Aunt left to see us, and she called my mom asking if she should still come, and of course, they decided the best place to be was with each other. So they went down to the beach, and even in the morning, a crowd was already forming.
My dad, who worked at WTC from 1979 to 2001, was let go when his company went out of business just months before the attack. He left work early to come be with my mom. She also worked there, from 1986 until 1990, before leaving after she was pregnant with me. My dad was there in 1993 for the first bombing, and he worked up on the 86th floor. Not knowing whether he survived that first attack, my mom was in a panic. These were the days before cell phones and the pay phones were jammed with people trying to call their loved ones. With me in her arms, at only two years old, she then got a phone call from a friend, saying she saw him pass in front of a television camera and was alive and well. He came home early in the morning, wearing a jacket stained with smoke and soot. The handkerchief he covered his nose with is located in a family photo album. He had to walk down 86 flights of stairs, in total darkness except for a small window at the end of every stair well. Had his company not went out of business, and he would have been at work, he would have most likely been killed in the attacks.
And so it was this same person who informed my mom of good news in 1993 to call in 2001 with the news of these attacks. “Julie, it’s the World Trade Center again!” she yelled into the phone at my mom, not able to express her feelings of what was happening any other way. My mom turned on the TV and saw one of the buildings up in smoke. She then ran downstairs to tell my grandma, who lived with us in a basement apartment at the time, when the second plane struck. My mom waited in the living room, and my grandma came out of the bedroom just in time to see the second plane hit. My mom just threw her arms up in the air.
At the same time, Jeff Huber was informed at his job in Woodbridge what had happened. He admits that he laughed when he heard the news of the first plane hitting, because he thought it was someone in a private plane trying to fly between the two towers, something that was stupidly allowed for many years. But when he heard a second plane hit, his reaction went from laughs to shock. For the first time, everyone realized it was no accident. The nation was under attack.
In the next few days after the attacks, I attended many vigils and services in my town of Hazlet and the neighboring Union Beach. It was simply amazing at how united we all were. Complete strangers were consoling one another, and those who worked or had dealings in the towers were telling stories of what used to be. The fifth graders of Beers Street Elementary School were allowed to talk about it as much as we wanted, to prevent it from building up in side of us. I remember being given paper in English class so we could draw pictures of what was going through our heads. We talked about it in class, we talked about it at lunch, and we talked about it after school.
Everyone was completely obsessed with what happened, and worried if any more attacks were coming. Stories then were revealed of people we knew, losing parents or close friends in the attacks, and that was when it really hit home, days later. And so the days passed, and then the months, and the years. The attacks of September 11 were eventually put out of our minds. I will not say they were forgotten, because it would have been impossible, but we needed to move on in a sense, and get back to our lives which at the time, the biggest worry we had was what game we were going to play during recess.
It is now nine years later, and I try not to think about that day except for when it gets close to the anniversary. There will be countless specials on television today, and in the days ahead and behind. But none of them will come close to affecting me in the way my own memories have.
For our grandparents, they had the attacks on Pearl Harbor, our parents had the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and our generation has the September 11 attacks. I can only hope that we will never forget the events of that day, but not only the attack, but how we, as Americans, responded.
Let us never forget the brave firefighters, policemen, and EMT’s who rushed towards the burning buildings when everyone else was running away.They are heroes and deserve to be treated with absolute respect. Let us also never forget the thousands of innocent men and women who were killed that day, and everyone who lost a mother, father, brother, sister, or friend.
God bless you all, and God bless America.