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Wednesday, January 7, 2004
Originally from NPR's All Things Considered (in an edited form), Wednesday, January 7, 2004
By Paul Ford
The sign at my subway stop said “by using this station you consent to appear in a film.” On the platform, I found actors in camouflage, holding fake guns, in stone-faced formation. This was 1997. The shot was for the film The Siege. The scene was part of a montage that shows what New York would be like under martial law, following a wave of attacks on the city by Muslim terrorists.
In 2001 I worked for a few months in Israel. When I would leave my office I'd see soldiers everywhere. My company asked me to move to Tel Aviv, to stay on for a year, and I loved the job, so I almost said yes right away. But in Jerusalem I saw bullet scars on buildings, and I began to wonder: all these soldiers, all these guns.
That company closed before I could decide to stay, and I came home on September 18, 2001. There were guns everywhere. A friend and I sat in Battery Park and watched soldiers drive camouflaged trucks, the camouflage green and brown instead of the desert colors I'd seen in Israel—but the rifles had the same purpose.
On a night when they were welding apart the last standing piece of the towers, a friend and I walked around the entire fenced-in area. It took a full hour, and we passed dozens of soldiers. The welding was our compass point, the sparks at the center of the circle.
Today, most of the soldiers are gone, but some still appear, at Penn Station, or at the entrance to the PATH train in the West Village. I don't know what they'll do if they ever see a terrorist. When nerve gas is released bullets won't help. And I don't like this feeling of being under occupation, the sense of being watched, and suspected. I know the reasons for it, and I can understand them. But I don't trust them, and I don't trust the people in power to take this inch, and then not take the later mile.
I met a woman who'd been on the 35th floor of the north tower. A fireman had put her onto a boat. “I feel so guilty about Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said. “We are doing these terrible things, and then I'm ashamed that I am not grateful.”
I saw a friend from Israel, and she said: “Israelis are happy with their lives. They did a survey. I'm happy too. I protest the government, but you can only have so much depression, and shame, and guilt.”
The other night I went to a wedding reception. The couple had held a guerrilla ceremony, going at 10 AM to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, ascending in the elevator with a group of 30 friends, and had taken their vows in the midst of a fog, with Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and New Jersey as witnesses.
The reception was on an old, rusty boat, permanently docked to pier 63 on the west side of Manhattan. The groom wore a green tuxedo, and the bride wore a green dress, and she was the most beautiful thing below 50th St. The boat rocked slowly back and forth in the Hudson as people drank and danced, the stomping of their heels resounding through the hull.
The bride and groom were both fine dancers, obviously exhausted by their day, but finding reserves of adrenaline and enthusiasm as the night went forward. Spontaneously, their friends joined hands around them. I was pulled in, and in a short while about 25 people had made a circle, legs kicking in synchrony. A man filmed this circle of bodies from the inside, face after face. Then he turned the camera onto the newly married couple in the middle, to capture them twisting, shimmying, kissing, their arms finding each other's waists. These were the sparks at the center of our circle. The song ended, and the circle split into its arcs. Then the bride and groom cut the cake, which was in the shape of the Empire State Building, the tallest building in New York City.