I may have been the only person in the entire metropolitan area who missed the whole thing when it was happening. I was driving down to Camden to cover jury selection for the rabbi murder trial, and when I got out of range of WFUV, I turned on the CD player and listened to music for the rest of the ride. One of the songs I listened to was Shawn Colvin's "Another Plane Went Down," which gave me a weird feeling. But then that song always gave me a weird feeling. Did I have some sixth sense somewhere that all the molecules in the universe had cataclysmically rearranged themselves? I like to think I did. But at the time, I dismissed all my misgivings as nervousness about getting to Camden and finding the courthouse.
I got to Camden and parked; court was in session; jury selection was going on. I took notes assiduously and was blissfully unaware that the whole world had turned upside down. Then, about 11, the judge asked the lawyers whether they wanted to go ahead in light of the day's news and the thousands of people who'd likely died.
After turning to a lawyer behind me and learning in the briefest terms something about a plane flying into the World Trade Center, I fled from the courtroom like it was on fire. I asked some people outside the building what was going on, and they started to tell me the latest development, but I had to make them back up and tell me the story from the very beginning. They must have looked at the press credentials hanging around my neck and wondered if I was the most clueless reporter on earth. By then, the buildings were already down.
To this day, I'm still afraid to turn on the CD player in the car for long periods, for fear I'll miss some other earth-shattering news.
I'll never forget all the messages on my answering machine -- because my husband was out of town that day too -- as friends and relatives became increasingly nervous when we didn't answer. Or my son's comment after learning the Yankees game had been cancelled that night: "Are we never going to be allowed to be happy again?"
Being a writer of a smart-aleck column in the New York Times, I was tuned very closely to the disappearance -- and reappearance -- of humor. There was the famous "irony is dead" pronouncement. Then the poignant return of Jon Stewart. I first began to sneak some humor into my columns during the great shopping mall terror scare of Halloween 2001, when I was able to poke fun of my own terror at going shopping. In November -- after reading a story about Afghan women, liberated from the Taliban, who'd taken their freedom and gone to wash clothes in the river -- I wrote a column called "One Jersey Girl's Advice to Afghan Women," which imagined the life of the upscale, harried, carpooling New Jersey woman in a similar situation. Though Roz Chast got away with a similar cartoon in the New Yorker, my column drew 10 letters to the editor, mostly angry. A few, though, thought it was the best column I ever wrote.