Professor X
for Ed Sullivan. The air was chockablock with ghosts, girls in beehives and bikinis and women in toreador slacks, older leathery women playing canasta at kidney-shaped tables in between inert dips in the kidney-shaped pool. I swore I smelled suntan oil and Brylcreem. I watched a scuba diving class moving as one in one quadrant of the pool. We came into the lobby from the pool and our wet footprints disappeared into the carpet—oh, the glories of 3M and Monsanto! I was happy to be able to afford this look at the lost glory of America in the Sun and Fun Capital of the World. We meandered through the art deco district, stepping gingerly into an additional level of nostalgia; took in a show of local art at the Jackie Gleason Theater; zoomed up and down the causeways in our rental car, rock and roll blasting, Pepsi tickling our throats.
    At night in the hotel room, we watched the Little League World Series. The Danny Almonte controversy raged. How old, really, was the pitcher for the Rolando Paulino All-Stars, the pride of the Bronx? Fourteen or twelve? All sides of the controversy launched their own investigations. Little League dads who happened to be lawyers issued sharply worded statements. Gumshoes were hired to track down the birth certificate. We watched Danny strike out 16 batters in his victory over Oceanside, California, who couldn’t get anywhere near the ball. We were transfixed. He did look big and overpowering on the mound. It was all so compelling, and so charmingly, dizzyingly, unbelievably irrelevant. Danny Almonte was the last news story that caught my attention before the planes hit the towers. It was on September 1, 2001, that the New York Times reported Danny’s actual age as fourteen; the country reeled at the news. Expressions “of disappointment, anger and frustration came from President Bush, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Little League officials, and others who spoke of the team’s pain and of lessons about honesty in sports,” wrote the paper. An editorial on September 2 reminded us that “the opportunity offered by sports must never be allowed to void all the other opportunities children should be eligible to encounter as they grow up. In a literal sense, Danny Almonte has been defrauded by his father, Felipe de Jesús Almonte. That is the real crime, not the attempt to pass his son off as a 12-year-old.”
    What an affluent and carefree country that we could spend time agonizing about such things. No wonder we were the envy of the world. Who wouldn’t want to be an American, in our Levis and our Ralph Lauren flannel shirts, the sparkling taste of Pepsi dancing on our tongues?
    I wonder if any generation is lucky enough to be spared the trauma of the epochal, life-changing event? My mother talked about two: Pearl Harbor and the assassination of JFK. She remembered both moments in detail, and often noted that she was doing the same thing when she heard about both events: ironing. I couldn’t appreciate the lightning-bolt devastation wrought by both events. They seemed part of the general churning of recorded history. Most news seemed to me distant and small, like scenes viewed through a telescope held the wrong way around. A few events stood out a little to me: Nixon’s resignation, the Oklahoma City bombing, the first World Trade Center attack in 1993—but even that was a byword for incompetence: six people dead and thousands helped out of the towers with nothing more than dirty faces. The newspapers were always full of stuff, but really nothing much ever changed.
    Who can write about September 11? Is there anything more heartrending, nearly a decade later, than the image of those doomed souls at the top of the North Tower, clinging to the broken windows, waving towels? The memory is haunting, pitiable, sick-making. I drove home that day through the cornfields, which I imagined as stretching from sea to shining sea, and marveled at the empty blue sky: not a

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