Well, all kinds of shit blew up today.
I was awakened around 7am Pacific time by a phone call from my mom in Memphis. I asked her what was wrong, because she’d called several times to wake me up, and she said, “Well, it might be the start of World War III.” As she told me what had happened, I responded with various vague, shocked comments: “Oh God . . . oh, no . . .”
My girlfriend, Karen, heard my end of the conversation. Thinking it was some family tragedy, she wrapped her arms around me as I listened to the phone. But it wasn’t my family tragedy. It was that of thousands of people in New York, Washington, and all who love them.
I spent most of the day watching the news. Early on I got a phone call from Thomas Ryng, the playwright who wrote THE KING IN YELLOW, which we published last year. Thom commutes to Seattle each day from Tacoma by train, and having just arrived in downtown Seattle he discovered that the office building he worked in was closed, and authorities were shutting down the rest of the downtown core as well. He called to ask if he could stay with us for a few hours, so he hopped a bus and came on over.
Karen decided to head off to her studio for a bit, but first she got coffee and pastries for us. We watched, horrified, as the towers collapsed live on television.
My friend Mike Daisey is living in Brooklyn these days, far from downtown Manhattan, but he’s often in the city to visit his publisher and so forth. Rather than call him directly, I called his wife, Jean-Michele, who is still here in Seattle for a couple weeks. My call woke her up. I told her first that I was sure Mike was fine, being in Brooklyn, but that these attacks had happened. She said she’d try to reach him. She soon did, and Mike was fine. He was in the heart of Manhattan at a coffeeshop when the planes hit, and soon took refuge in a Wendy’s restaurant with other people, choking on the ash in the air before he eventually walked his way across the Brooklyn Bridge. Amazingly, during periods when he couldn’t get his phone to work, he still had a wireless internet connection and, using the Blogger service, posted a couple of reports on his website about the day’s horrors.
As the day wore on, a few people called. Dennis Detwiller, who went to college in New York and grew up on Long Island, rang up to talk. He was on the Jersey train heading for the World Trade Center back during the last terrorist bombing there. Dennis wondered if this was the prelude to a biochemical attack. Chris Klepac called as well, to see what we’d heard. And Blair Reynolds arrived from Wenatchee, entering the house with a backpack of survival supplies and a rifle because, well, I guess you never know.
Scott made red beans and rice and we ate and watched television. Scott and Thom had a beer.
Watching, I wondered about the hijackers. How had they taken four planes?
But I already had ideas. I’ve done a lot of flying this year, and early in the year I got my first cell phone. Not a single security checkpoint staffer has ever x-rayed or chemical-sniffed my cell phone. I take it out of my pocket and drop it in the plastic bucket with my keys and change, then walk through the metal detector. The guard asks me to pick up my phone and press a button so they can see the display change.
That’s it. That’s all they do.
It’d be child’s play to modify a cell phone to have a partially functional display, then put a knife, a small quantity of explosives, or a modified small-caliber firearm. Perhaps there are security elements in place I’m not aware of. But I feel confident that I could get almost any small item on board a plane just by spending a few minutes removing some of the guts from my cell phone. Authorities in eastern Europe have captured customized cell-phone handguns in the last few months, but this discovery apparently didn’t prompt any changes in U.S. domestic airport security.
Even if all they did was bring a couple of knives on board, they can take a hostage, stab someone, and hold up a random attache case and claim there’s a bomb inside. And it’s easy to bring a knife on board inside a cell phone, or even buried in checked baggage; hell, I’ve brought box cutter knives on board a plane before in my carry-on bags when shuttling to trade shows, along with other booth supplies.
I could hijack a plane this way. As long as you have the right–well, wrong–people, including a pilot, you’re set.
Clearly, our security procedures are insufficient. As little as I like flying now, I bet I’m going to like it even less in the future.
After taking Thom to the train station in the late afternoon to catch his return ride, I went to my studio for a couple of hours to work on the press kit for the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. Once I had a draft together, I emailed it to Andrew Migliore in Portland and then gave him a call. Andrew sounded shellshocked. He said he’d been at work that morning, but after an hour or so the owners told everyone to go home “and love your families.” So he’d been home with his wife and baby son ever since. He was amazed I’d actually gotten the press kit together, but after a day of soaking in misery I had to do something.
Having now come home, had some dinner, and watched yet more misery, I’m ready to give up for the day. I rented a DVD copy of O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? because I’m in the mood for something silly.
Now I’m going to turn off this computer and watch hillbillies go hee-yukking across the countryside. I want to erase this taste from my mouth.