Realizations will inevitably hit you in that matter-of-fact way Moe hit Curly. Sometimes they’re instant and other times they build. Often they are both. I guess you can say it hit me while I was glancing through the pictures in the Times. The stuffing had just finished and my wife was ordering our son to stop running around like the Indians he saw on TV.
These were better pictures than the ones I took. Other New Yorkers had helicopters and cranes, expensive cameras and well-situated apartments. A year removed, I can see the potential in that moment and envy those who initially saw profit. They cashed in. A few of my friends sold their shots to international newspapers and covered a year’s parking in the transaction. Mark from Accounting received fifteen hundred for the snaps he took from my office. “Fifteen hundy just like that,” he said, peering through an invisible camera held up like quotations marks. “Plus overtime.”
Most of the photographers were lucky, in the right place at the right time. Others were just prepared. Jealousy aside, they were great shots. Two F-16 fighter jets circling a prodigious balloon, swooped heavenward by an unlikely gust of wind to its precarious fate. It was like this, poetic.
The situation had a weight to it though, a certain incalculable gravity that grounded others starch and stiff in our own awareness. F-16s have that affect. With such weight, a sonic boom fell upon the city during their initial flyover. As if a talisman, the roar incanted parade goers into a secular reverence irreproducible in its authority. It let us know someone had made a decision. A tough decision albeit necessary. An accidental and unlikely situation had developed and although its immediate responsibility burdened an unknown party, it allowed countless others to step windy into soliloquy.
For a while people on the street below stood still, muttering. There was something to say and everyone shut up. Treading for a less obstructed view, the lonely bent toes standing on the anxious, rubber tips of their shoes. A few of them fell off balance into strangers and apologized in their softest, sincerest tone. But no one seemed to be bothered. Hung above us in the grey autumn sky was something generally acknowledged and we held it between us in the type of solemnity that often precedes an honest remark.
I was outside with my wife standing stagger footed in nonchalance, my body language as if to say “huh.” Initially I thought it was funny. That’s just my disposition. “Bizarre” is how I described it to my brother in Wichita. Bizarre was the right word. I took pictures with the digital camera we got last year as a wedding gift. Later I intended to email them after Thanksgiving dinner.
People assessed that hour differently though.
Others were initially nervous.
In his neuroticism the President shined. Proudly deferring decision to consequence, he explained the F-16s as a sort of maternal adherence. “Just looking out for the safety and well being of New Yorkers,” he said, masking relief with austerity.
MetLife couldn’t have asked for better product placement. Though for a fraught time calculating legal obligations, they soon realized the gold mine they were floating on. Back dropped with the Manhattan skyline and fighter jets reconnoitering their icon, the company looked larger-than-life, volatile, even if they were in the business of selling life insurance.
But it took me a while to see it this way, to get scared. Fifteen blocks away, with maturing bonds and a 24/7 doorman, I thought could afford that staggered nonchalance.
My son came running out onto our balcony and attempted to tackle me from behind. He tugged back on my knees. I lifted him from his armpits and stood him on our patio table. My wife made him get down. “Right this instant” she ordered, shifting glares between the two of us. “And git back inside!”
A year later, the scene returns on the third page of The New York Times. The photo is clear and proportioned, supplemented with the stalwart wit of journalism in its caption. The caption is just wit though, cowered from the weight of its form. Instead I hear “right this instant.” I see my wife’s jaw tightening against her cheeks, her words seething between clenched teeth as if ventriloquising a mad puppet.
I’ll tease her about it now and then when she’s angry with me for small things like not taking off my shoes or the stack of papers piled up on the kitchen countertop. “Right this instant!” I’ll joke, playfully elbowing her in the side. She won’t say anything back. Instead she’ll look out the screen door where Woodstock used to bobby in the sky. She’ll make a moue I insist is cute, why I married her. A year later that’s what I remember. Not the news clips, the SNL satire, or what the elderly man said to his wife on their adjacent balcony, “I hope we don’t burn the bird.” I remember those words. “Right this instant!” her cadence overriding the perchance value of a parade’s mistake. And that’s what I’m thankful for now, that my transient search for felicity has resolved itself a year later. It’s clear now. The picture is not that funny, her moue no is not that cute, it’s something we need to talk about.