Who to blame?
It hit me when I found myself shouting “kill the dirty Arabs” at the TV set one night during the early reports of the invasion of Iraq.
Although my tavern sat within eyesight of the space vacated by the fallen Twin Towers, I never before saw myself as particularly patriotic. I imaged myself immune to the wave of passion that overtook the country after 9/11.
I thought – in some deep lace in my mind – I was still the same long-haired hippie freak who had crossed county in a VW van in 1967 to spend my summer in San Francisco dancing in the park and getting high.
Back then I assumed that’s all there every would be to life and looked forward to a carefree existence.
Then the oil shortages came – followed by the beef shortage and inflation, after which I actually had to get a job.
I never forgave all those fools who had sold me on drooping out, though I never thought I would ever wave a flag – let alone scream “Kill, Kill, Kill.”
I felt a little like the character from the Arlo Guthrie movie who tried to prove his meddle in an Army induction center by showing how vicious he could become.
But I wasn’t the only one waving a flag.
My tavern catered to an odd mixture of people.
In the mornings, we get the World War II era eye-opener folk, old men mostly (although we get a woman or two) who stumble in for that first drink of the day, stay till noon, then wander off in time for the office clerk lunch time crowd, who in turn flee back to their offices to make room for the afternoon flood of hard hats. By night, we get yuppies and artist wannabes.
Before 9/11, you couldn’t get one group out fast enough without risking a fight. Clerks hated the windows. Hard hats hated the yuppies. During transition, if someone said something odd or looked at someone else wrong, I was dialing 9-1-1 for the police.
After 9/11 a lot of that stopped.
For a few weeks, everybody looked shocked, as if they could still taste the dust. Some even brushed off their sleeves as if the dry cleaner or washing machines had missed a spot.
The hard hats and winos got the flags first – patches on their shoulders, pins on their lapels, or stickers on their helmets. Nearly all of them mumbled “we ought to kick somebody’s ass for this.”
Then the clerks and yuppies got them, too, or wore those little ribbon-buttons that said “Support the troops” though really meant “Let’s kick ass,” too.
I expected trouble from artist types, who looked confused at first, but took on ribbons or flags like the rest.
Then someone noticed I didn’t have a flag up in the bar or a picture commemorating the fallen Towers, and asked if I was a radical or something.
Actually, I hadn’t thought about it a lot.
Seeing the Twin Towers fall had made me drink more – a few more night caps after closing so I could get to sleep.
I wanted to forget not wave a flag.
Business was brisk enough. Other people took their frustrations out on the bottom of a bottle as well.
But over the weeks and months, I started to notice that some of the faces I had seen before the Towers fell hadn’t come in afterwards.
I didn’t know names so much as faces and the drinks associated with them. They were “Bloody Mary” or Gin and Tonic to me, and I was always “Bartender” to them.
So I asked people I remember seeing them with.
These people never looked me in the eye when they answered either staring down at something at the bottom of their glass or something that suddenly interested them in the mirror. They always mumbled the name of the tower and the floor.
After a while, my place felt more like a morgue than a tavern so I stopped asking.
But by then, I knew what the missing faces meant and I got mad.
Yet I didn’t realize how mad I was until I caught myself shouting at the TV set.
That’s why I’ve decided to sell the place.
I can’t stop seeing those missing faces behind me each time I look in the barroom mirror and all I want to do is get even – I just don’t know with whom.