It's Worth It
9/11, 9:42 AM – Turn on your television. We appear
to be under attack.
Five years. Today I opened
up the e-mails I haven’t read in five years, and re-lived that hellish
day and the days that followed. That first e-mail I got from my dad. My
little girl was home from school with a fever, and while she napped on
the couch, I was editing some photos I’d taken. Then I got that
e-mail, and went upstairs to turn on MSNBC. In one minute, my whole day
– our whole history – had changed. I didn’t hear from my father
for two days. He just didn’t feel up to it. I didn't blame him, then
9/11, 1:08 PM – Dan, TC? You guys out of hell?
I sent that one, to my two close friends in Manhattan.
I’d stayed with Dan when I did the Manhattan
research for New York Breweries, TC is my son’s namesake and
godfather. Thankfully, they were both fine, though I wouldn’t hear
back from them for an agonizing 20 hours. I spent the rest of that
Tuesday glued to the TV screen, running downstairs to check Web news,
listening to the radio, and calling people.
I comforted my children.
Nora was still young enough that she just wanted to
cuddle up next to me and have my arm around her. When Thomas came home,
I had to explain the whole thing to him: the school had kept mum about
the whole thing to keep the kids from panicking. He was concerned; not
scared, but concerned, and I talked history to him. I talked about how
the young republic had scoured out the Barbary Pirates; and I told him
about smoking, salted Carthage. I was not in a forgiving mood, nor was I
But I did tell the kids
that sometimes it was a pretty good thing to live in
a small, unimportant town, and that they had nothing to worry about. I
got them quieted down, and when Cathy came home we broke out some beers
and talked quietly in the kitchen about what the nation might do to the
terrorists. "They have no idea how badly they’ve f---ed
up," she said, savagely. Those words have haunted me recently.
9/12 – Yeah, had a clear view of the entire debacle.
Saw the north tower go down - it was surreal. Co-workers saw the second
plane crash. Luckily my brother-in-law was late to work and was not in
I finally heard from TC, who worked in midtown
He was okay, at least physically. We’d all rebound
eventually, but TC, like me, was staggering on 9/12. We’d been numb
the day before, but now we were trying to get a grip on everything. And
it wasn’t working.
9/12 – I’m still numb. In the shower this morning
I remembered a discussion at Chumley’s between Tom, Dan and me on
whether it was reasonable during Desert Storm for 200,000 Republican
Guard to die for maybe 10 Americans. Now just a short distance away we
lose maybe 50,000 americans to a few fanatics. I say ‘salt the earth,’
Old Testament style judgement. Maybe start with those dancing
Palestinians. Even now it still seems unreal, like some Hollywood hoax.
My friend Bobby sent that,
and we were all thinking the same way. Well, mostly.
I sent an e-mail to my sister that day about telling Thomas about
Carthage, and confided to her that I’d been thinking about what I’d
said. "People still remember Carthage after 2,000 years, and
shudder," I wrote to her. "Do we want to be remembered as a
nation that would commit Carthage? It’s all very complicated."
9/13 – I still can’t believe that both towers are
f---ing GONE. My damn skyline is CHANGED! Those bastards actually
managed to change the sky…
We heard from Dan on Thursday, in typical Dan fashion.
His skyline. OUR skyline. Our sky changed everywhere.
At any hour of the day or night, I can stand on my back deck and see
three jetliners in the air, headed for Newark, Philadelphia, JFK, and
the local West Trenton airport. There were none, not so much as a
single-engine Piper. It was quiet, and it was frustrating. They took
away our wings, they actually managed to change the sky!
Nobody was laughing yet.
We would, but we were still reeling. I hadn’t done
any work in two days. Life went on, but it was different.
9/13 – This morning I stopped by my son’s school
to sign some forms. As I was leaving, I saw two kids with U.S. and state
flags in the hall, waiting around after a school assembly. The boy was
dinking around, talking, and the U.S. flag was drooping to the ground. I
walked up behind him, put my hand on his shoulder, and as he turned
around, lifted the flag with the other hand and said: "Son, today
of all days, take care not to let our flag touch the ground." I
smiled, he went wide-eyed and lifted the flag further, and said,
"Okay!" "Thanks," I said, and left.
Sounds kind of patronizing today,
but I don’t regret doing it. We all gave a damn a
lot more those days. It’s all very complicated now, but then flags
sprouted everywhere, and we were willing to do what had to be done.
Where we may have screwed up was in doing what didn’t have to be done.
9/14 – I work at home. I’m not getting a lot done
this week because it’s extremely hard to focus, particularly on
something suddenly so trivial as writing about beer. And... this IS my
water cooler. I have nowhere else to go, and it’s making me nuts.
I was using the beer newsgroups as a way to reach out
from my basement office, from the disheartening
situation in which I found myself. FBI agents were tracking terrorist
movements, CIA and Special Forces were moving into Afghanistan, the
military in general was bending towards that country, the police and
fire departments and construction workers in New York fruitlessly raced
to find possible survivors. Even my wife was working on potentially
life-saving drugs. And I was supposed to write about beer. Bullshit, I
9/14 – One of my nephews worked in the upper floors
of the first building to be hit and has undoubtedly died. I was hoping
to be in the chat room tonight but I am going to be with my sister.
Dear God. I knew that nephew. I know his brother. I
know the uncle.
I cried. I just cried again. This is not easier after
9/19 – How you doing, otherwise? I’m still freaked
out and useless, especially at work. It’s just this unthinkable blight
somewhere in back of my mind; and the moment I focus on it, I remember
that the unthinkable is now thinkable.
Dan again. I heard what he said here, and I thought
the very same thing. Freaked out and useless.
9/19 – Nora’s been crying a lot, losing her cool
very easily. Thomas ran out to catch Cathy at the curb this morning,
begged her not to go to work, he was worried about her.
We coped, we cared. And it was finally my family that
brought me back,
pulled me together, with a little help from John
Trogner. I was making a few lackadaisical calls for my Ale Street
News column, and I called Tröegs. I told John how I just wasn’t
getting it back together. For God's sake, I said, I write about beer. I
just don’t know why I’m doing this. It seems so pointless and
"I know what you mean," John said. "I’m
'just making beer.' But you know, we still have jobs that need done, and
people that are counting on us. We still have families that need fed,
mortgages that need paid." It seems almost over-simplified now. But
it was just what I needed at the time. People are counting on us.
My job hasn't gotten any more important in the five
years that have passed. I still just write about beer -- er, beer
and whiskey. Realistically, my wife feeds the family and pays the
mortgage. I cover the real estate taxes and take-out Chinese,
approximately. But we do what we have to do, because people are counting
People tell me that my writing entertains them,
that the points I make are good ones, that the questions I ask are
interesting and difficult. People tell me that my books help them find
great beer and good times, and that makes me feel great. I'm no great
novelist, I'm not the historian I once thought I would be. I don't even
'just make beer.' But I'm still doing what I have to do, and it's worth
Brewers, distillers, wholesalers, retailers: what
you do is worth it, too. You make people smile, you make people feel
good, you make people's food taste better, and you make their good times
happy. Don't ever question that what you do is trivial.
Thanks to everyone who supports me in what I do.
My family, my colleagues in the beer-writin' biz, the editors and
publishers, and all the brewers and distillers who give me something to
write about, and friends, and colleagues, and yeah, drinking partners.
And a special thanks to John Trogner. It's worth it.