On September 11, 2002, I found myself in a place as strange as Vegas. I was there to speak at a web conference. They must have gotten a good deal on the rooms, it being the first anniversary of the attacks.
“They’re holding a conference on September 11th?” I had shouted aloud on receiving my emailed invitation to speak at the show. “How could they?”
And how could I, as a New Yorker, respond to such an invitation?
But people told me if we couldn’t hold web design conferences on September 11th, then the terrorists had won. People said many stupid things back then and still do. I don’t know why I heard wisdom, or the call of duty, in this sophistry. But off I went, persuaded that I was somehow taking a stand against the people who had so grievously harmed us.
On September 10th, I gave my talk to a roomful of hungover IT professionals. On September 11th, I slouched around the conference site at Caesars Palace feeling absurd and unreal and painfully missing the woman who is now my wife. (I love you, honey.)
In New York, George Bush was laying a wreath at Ground Zero. In Las Vegas, I was lying on a sedan chair, watching the animated flag on the JumboTron outside the Bellagio. The pixelated call to patriotism felt not merely inadequate but crazily beside the point. Its 60-second cycle seemed to proclaim that our enemies may fly our planes into our buildings, but damn it, we have big-screen animation.
Many of our subsequent responses to 9/11 have felt like that giant LCD—gung-ho about the wrong things, a garish distraction to keep us from seeing and solving our real problems. But on September 11, 2002, I only knew that it was not patriotic or wise to have left my woman alone in New York City on that day.
At home during this same period, our daughter outgrew last month’s clothes, began swimming, got a big-girl bed, attended and graduated summer camp, stopped being even slightly afraid of school, hung out with her grandma, and advanced so much intellectually and emotionally that it would qualify as science fiction if it weren’t the lived experience of ’most everyone who has kids.
Between all that came the usual tumult of client meetings, client projects, and potential new business, giddily intermingled with the publication of two A List Apart issues. Make that three issues as of tomorrow.
If I had to pick an image to symbolize the month, it would be me on a rerouted slow Amtrak train from Boston to New York, using an iPhone and one finger to peck out a strategic response to an 80 page RFP.
That would have been the image, but now there’s a new one. For now there’s today.
On the calendar it is Happy Cog New York’s moving day. Today I pack up what for 18 years was either my apartment or Happy Cog’s New York City headquarters (and was most often both).
I hit bottom in this place. Ended a short-lived, tragically wrong first marriage. Rebuilt my life one cell at a time. Found self. Found love. Became a web designer. Found the love of my life. Married well, had a magical child. Wrote two books. Made money and lost it a couple of times over. Founded a magazine. Co-founded a movement. Worked for others. Freelanced. Founded an agency. Grew it.
It all happened here.
This gently declining space that has been nothing but an office since December and will soon be nothing at all to me, this place I will empty and vacate in the next few hours, has seen everything from drug withdrawal to the first stirrings of childbirth. Happiness, anguish, farting and honeymoons. Everything. Everything but death.
Even after our family moved, the place was never empty. The heiress to an American fine art legacy came here, to this dump, to talk about a potential project. Two gentlemen who make an extraordinary food product came here many times to discuss how their website redesign was going.
When I wasn’t meeting someone for lunch, I went downstairs to this wonderful little place to take away a small soup and a sandwich, which I ate at my desk while reading nytimes.com. Helming the take-away lunch place are three Indian women who are just the sweetest, nicest people ever. The new studio is just far enough away that I will rarely see these ladies any more. I will miss them.
I will miss Josef, the super here, with his big black brush mustache and gruff, gently-East-European-accented voice. He will miss me, too. He just told me so, while we were arranging for the freight elevator. We were kind to him after his heart attack and he has been kind to us since he arrived—the last in a long series of supers caught between an aging building and a rental agent that prefers not to invest in keeping the place up. The doormen and porters, here, too, some of whom I’ve known for nearly twenty years, my God. Can’t think about that.
I will miss being able to hit the gym whenever I feel like it and shower right in my workplace.
And that is all.
This is the death of something but it is the birth of something more. We take everything with us, all our experiences (until age robs us of them one by one, and even then, they are somewhere—during the worst of my mother’s Alzheimer’s, she reacted, however subtly, to Sinatra). We take everything with us. The stink and glory of this place will stay on me even when we are set up in our slick new space. It will be with me long after the landlord’s collection letters have stopped. This place, what happened here, will live until my head cracks like a coconut, and then some.