Blinking my eyes open in the white sheets, I make a neat little swim move to get to the phone. It’s not a freestyle crawl stroke, per se, but the kind of thing a defensive end might do when he’s hunting quarterback. I drag the phone out of its cradle and say “Hello” before I get it to my ear.
The most recognizable noise ever: a dial tone.
What fucking time is it? Pivot to the LCD clock on the other side of the bed.
And who on earth is calling me at 7 a.m.?
The caller ID on the phone reads: (619) 486-2110 JIM BLANK
And what, I can’t wait to ask him, is the big fucking deal calling at this hour?
Torn between checking to see if he left a message and just calling him back right away, I push the receiver into the pillow and move onto my side, easing the tension in my bladder.
I call the voicemail, which is actually accessed by calling my own number and entering a semi-secret code (really, what’s secret anymore?).
Jim’s message goes like this:
Have you seen any of TV? It looks like your guy. Fucking unreal. Gimme a call.
After I pee, I go to the kitchen to put on some coffee. Because I like it so much and can’t wait to have it when I wake up – and because I am a compulsive spastic – I put the water, filter and coffee in the machine the night before so I only have to flip the switch when I get up. I pull up one of the blinds in the kitchen: gray, for a change.
For a reason I was still too sleepy to fully comprehend, I walked all the way to the television instead of hitting the remote. Perhaps unconsciously, I thought the proximity of the set would enhance the immediacy.
As the set warmed up and I stood there waiting, listening to the coffee get going in the other room, I hammer-pressed the channel down button, watching it go from 48 (Comedy Central) to CNN at 31.
Everything all over the screen, too much to make any sense of. These networks with the tickers and weather maps and stock quotes and celebrity birthdays and crisscrossed headlines, the anchor’s head a button in the corner, the CNNs and FOXs peppering the pixels. You can’t see anything, a thousand colors.
You have to fasten yourself onto the TV for it to make sense, overcome the fact that your ever-diminishing attention span is ill-equipped for the task. And then, finally, when you’re about to change the channel, it hits:
The cover of the Delillo book, Underworld
. The tower and the church. A seam cut into the middle. Smoke coming from one of the towers. My friend works right there, I wonder what he’s doing.
White noise scrolling across the bottom of the screen. Air space. Pentagon. American Airlines. President. Pointing in the mad skies of Manhattan, a plane – everyone said it looked out of place – circling the skyline behind the smoke flow, disappearing. The TV person losing composure, the pitch in his voice rising to AVERAGE CITIZEN. A second plane has hit. A second plane has hit. Black tears, running cell phones, dust.