I recently used a long flight to catch up on my bad movie viewing and so settled back to daydream through the summer blockbuster San Andreas. I admit to having been initially interested in the movie, having been, as a child, very keen on the 1975 film Earthquake, complete with Surround Sound. And while there were certain similarities between San Andreas and Earthquake – and every other disaster movie ever made, with its vapid focus on collapsing things, screaming people and heroes impossibly triumphing through it all – this film is almost solely derived from images of our mass-media natural disaster consciousness, The 911 Attacks in New York and Thailand’s 2004 Tsunami most of all. These traumatically ingrained images have been transformed into moments of cartoonish fun, which years ago would have been blasphemous and now are just a vehicle to profits. Kind of like the manner in which we cope with global warming – something to spin and from which to derive short-term profit.
It was that plane – that was it – vanishing, a plane into a building and then that smoke billowing out, that sideways hole, and the other, turning as it hit, nose out perfectly and fireballs, screaming on the ground and crap everywhere and watching and watching, the building coming down, its radio antennae like a hat, a boy’s hat, and puffing out, all of it sinking, the dust of it, bits sticking up. And then everyone saying childish things because that’s all they had and listening and waiting for better angles and thinking it might mean something, to give it meaning, something like this, this thing, impossible and obvious, and not doing anything, just watching, footage, pictures, and thinking that it must be something. 9-11. A phone number, nothing. * (*From All In)
My last novel, All In (2005), centers on a character killed at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The book is told from three different voices (his brother, niece and wife) months and years after the events. The most powerful voice is, of course, that of his wife, Cheryl. We argued. That’s how I left him. I walked away because I wasn’t listening. It was ridiculous. It wasn’t even an argument. And then I was on the elevator. There was a stout woman across from me; she had folds in her arms, bulging layers at her elbows and shoulders. It was ridiculous how I never said what I wanted. I was angry at him, and I didn’t know why. It was all so ridiculous. I waited in the sky lobby. There was an attendant there from the restaurant; the express wasn’t working. Her fingernails were red. I wasn’t going to call him. He would call me. And then I heard it; it was a vibration and then much louder than that. I stopped and was going to turn to see what it was. I knew it was somewhere else, this sound coming in. I held myself there, twisted against the ground. I couldn’t move. There was only the light on the floor and my hand out in front of me. I was on my side. I couldn’t hear anything and then it was sharp and bright, knocking me flat again so that I was holding against myself, thinking of what I must have broken and where my purse had gone. I was looking across, how the light was orange and grey, and there was the woman, the attendant with red nails, hunched and then standing. I wasn’t going to move. And then I was sitting and trying to think. I smelt gas. It was something they would have to fix. I could see out the window, and there was smoke or fog, something that made it so I couldn’t look out without my hand on my eyes. I couldn’t understand why no one was here. And then my phone was ringing. “Hello?”