I did make it to Berlin (thanks to Marlena, Carly and others for the fine travel tips) and woke up early this morning to get some work done before the kids come downstairs demanding quark and schinken.
I got up, it turns out, just as news was breaking across the ocean that Osama bin Laden has been killed in the way we wanted it done: shot in the head, his body recovered. Although, oddly, we then dumped him in the sea, as if Bin Laden had been taken out by Tony Soprano, not the U.S. government.
At our friends’ house in Pankow, we are not all that far from the bunker where Hitler killed himself in 1945, yesterday was actually the 66th anniversary of the announcement of that death. The good news is that Bin Laden, despite his deep desire for importance, never actually came close to becoming the global monster and menace that Hitler was. The bad news, at least for those of us who like to fist-pump, is that Bin Laden’s death, like Hitler’s, isn’t so much a strategic victory as an afterthought. Al Qaeda was already sidelined, as bloodless and routed as the Third Reich in late Spring ’45. What remained of Bin Laden, while he was alive last week and now that he is dead, was just a failed dream of murder.
But things being the way they are, one shadow always comes on the heels of another, and if OBL was irrelevant, it’s because there are graver problems. Here in Germany, there’s anger about Afghanistan, a war that is less and less comprehensible for us or our allies. Things aren’t exactly stable or certain in the Middle East, either, where Syria’s criminal leadership has killed so many people that at least one Syrian told the Times said she’d rather the Jews invaded than live under her current leader, which is, well, an extraordinary statement. Egypt is normalizing ties with Hamas, which is quite abnormal. And Obama, for all the strength of his speech today, still hasn’t found a good way to navigate any of it.
However: today is a good day. As a sheer measure of karmic rectitude, it is a good day. This here blog is made fresh daily in New York City, and anyone who loves our city knows the truth about it: that it is anything but the bullying tower of American hegemony that Bin Laden–the least traveled and most ignorant of all his many, many siblings–thought it to be. It was, on 9/10 and on 9/12, a dazzlingly diverse and energetic city, often a reflection of the best aspirations and works of humankind. Inasmuch as Bin Laden wanted to fuck us, well, fuck him.
Two months ago I met a firefighter in a coffee shop in the West Village. He had a big FDNY-regulation moustache, and a quick laugh. He seemed about as carefree as a man who runs into burning buildings can be. I met him while working on an unrelated story, but when I googled his name–Bob LaRocco–later on, I came across his extraordinary testimony (.pdf) for investigators about how he survived the attacks on 9/11.
It’s a long and at times hellish read–he talks about how it was “raining people”, of calling out to Jesus as the South Tower basically collapsed on top of him. But here is my favorite part of the story, as he had already broken through one door, found a staircase in the darkness, and was finally on the ground floor, with just one more door between him and escape. This one has a happy ending, a survival on a day of death.
I muscled the door as best I could. I was only able to get the door open two or three inches. I could see the sunlight come in through the door. Through the dust I could see the sunlight.
I was able to look out the door, and I saw that everything had collapsed. There was a lot of stuff that had collapsed in front of that door that was blocking that path. Like I said, keeping in mind there’s fires in the area, there’s smoke in the dust. I had to make my way out of these doors one way or another. I didn’t have any tools or anything, so what I did was I maintained the door in its open position, about two or three inches that I was telling you about.
I laid down on the floor, and I put my feet flat on the door and, with my hands, I reached one hand between my feet and one hand above my right foot. With my legs I pushed the door with all the force I had in my body. I was pushing for my life. Even pushing for my life I could only get it open about ten inches.
Believe it or not, I was able to work my way out that door opening there. Once I got out, I was somewhere on the north end of the building. I stumbled around. My visibility was cut by 90 percent because I had all garbage in my eyes. They were burning me. Maybe it was like pulverized sheetrock, the limestone. My eyes were on fire. I could see a little. I was aware that I was outside and whatnot. Perhaps I was a little bit stunned or maybe in shock. I knew I was outside.
So that’s why I’ll be celebrating a bit here in Berlin this morning: LT Bob LaRocco made it outside, and now we know that he has outlived the man who tried to kill him.