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Photograph by Lauren Barack

Can we talk about something else?

By Lauren Barack and Michael Learmonth

Editor's Note: Former Metro writers Michael Learmonth and Lauren Barack live seven blocks away from the destroyed World Trade Center. This is the third in a series of weekly dispatches.

THREE WEEKS AFTER the terrorist attack that coated us in soot and threw us temporarily into a 19th-century existence (no electricity, cable, phones, Internet or cell phones), we took our first trip outside the disaster zone, or "crime scene" as it is now known. If Rudy Giuliani can put the disaster aside to attend a wedding, so can we.

The couple married outdoors, under a towering oak tree, on the edge of Washington D.C.'s Rock Creek Park. Passenger jets soared by to little effect. Afterward people spoke of jobs, problematic neighbors and dogs. But for the visitors from New York, there were obligatory questions about the attack. "I asked because I knew I was supposed to, but I really don't want to hear it anymore," one guest admitted. We stopped cold just before launching into our standard oral history that usually begins with what we were doing on that steely blue morning and ends with the rancid smell that continues to waft into our apartment. Too much information. Three weeks into it we're still a little raw for polite company.

The attack, which our nation watched on television, unfolded differently for those who watched from their rooftops, sidewalks and living rooms. It was different for those who could smell the burning smoke. We always knew that New York wasn't safe. We just never knew how unsafe we could feel.

A friend who lives in Greenwich Village went to her parents' in upstate New York the Saturday following the attack. During a party a guest asked her how she was doing. Susan began to describe how she'd been feeling since the events, until the woman touched her arm. "Let's not talk about that on such a nice day," she said and proceeded to tell Susan all about her daughter's successful run on Broadway.

"Was I wrong to be irritated?" Susan asks a few days later over coffee.

New Yorkers are, if nothing else, a bunch of talkers. We talk to our therapists, our cab drivers, and to the Portuguese woman who pours coffee at the deli downstairs. We make movies about it like My Dinner With Andre and Annie Hall. During the first week after the towers fell, it seemed as if Mayor Giuliani talked to us five times a day and we talked to each other on the phone, by email and on the street. Bored cops guarding the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, bottles of Gatorade at their feet, are happy to talk. The counselors are even encouraging us, as if New Yorkers needed the nudge. We are a city of loud opinions. And while we held the nation's attention for a few weeks, suddenly we are even irritating our own.

The jokes are beginning to leak along the streets. ("Have you heard the new drink at Starbucks? It's Osama bin Latte.") There is irritation at the columns from Brooklyn-based writers who try to spin something meaningful from their experience.

Few will admit it, but the reappearance of network sitcoms and sports events is a welcome relief from the litany of local news channels bringing us "America: Rising." Or "America Fights Back." Even Giuliani's makeshift effort to finagle a third term has quietly petered out. Now Senator Chuck Schumer is trying to scam the Super Bowl. New Yorkers, you've got to watch 'em every minute.

We may have experienced the attack differently. We may be experiencing the aftermath differently as well. But for goodness sakes, it's time to quiet down and find some meaning in it alone.

Graydon Carter from his Vanity Fair perch announced in the days following the attack that irony was dead. Even the talk show hosts waded tepidly back into comedy waters. It's not that irony is dead, it's just been stunned like the rest of New York with a sharp blow to the cranium. But to demand we all deal with the experience without humor is as hard as remembering that not everyone wants to hear every sharp detail of that day. Sometimes "We're fine" is the best answer. And we are.

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From the October 4-10, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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