Exactly one year, to the day, after I originally planned to finish my Brendan’s Defining Days of the Decade series, I’ve finally done it. (Well, except for the “honorable mentions”, which I’ll write up… er, probably sometime next year.) Yeah, it took way too long — we’re one-tenth of the way through a new decade already! — but we’ve finally arrived at #1 on the list. So, at long last, without further ado, here it is: the complete list of my “Defining Days” of 2000-2009:
(tied) December 31, 2007 and July 13, 2009: The Births of Our Children
It’s the biggest cliché in the world, the most obvious and unremarkable answer to the question, What was the happiest/greatest/most memorable/important/defining day of your life? Virtually everyone with kids will say it was the day(s) when their kid(s) was/were born. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this — from celebrities, athletes, whomever. The rank order always seems to be (1) kids’ births; (2) wedding day; (3) other stuff. Before I had kids, I always thought this was a little lame, perhaps attributable to guys pandering to their wives or trying to be politically correct.
I was wrong. Like many clichéd statements, this one is oft-repeated for a simple reason: it’s absolutely true.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, changes your life — to the point that the word “changes” seems grossly inadequate; “revolutionizes” or “utterly remakes” would be more appropriate — the way having a child does. Everything before the birth becomes instantly obsolete, recalled like the quaint mental remnant of a far distant past. One day, your life is a certain way, and then you have a kid, and it’s a completely different way. Oh yeah, and then you go from having one kid to two kids… and it’s completely different again.
What came before, the life you lived prior to the birth of your child(ren), seems like a fog, an impossibly long-ago and far-away memory. As I recently tweeted, when I think back on the time before December 31, 2007, I feel a bit like Gandalf the White, trying to recall the time before his death and rebirth on Zirakzigil after defeating the Balrog. Yes… Gandalf… that was what they used to call me. Gandalf the Grey. It feels just about that distant.
This might seem to suggest that perhaps 12/31/07 — the birth date of my firstborn child — should stand alone atop this list, with 7/13/09 maybe number two or number three. But, first of all, I wasn’t going to do anything that could be perceived as “ranking” my children. Just not happening. :) Secondly and more to the point, Loyacita’s birth was, in its own way, just as profoundly impactful as Loyette’s. I’ve heard it crudely said that, when it comes to kids, “one is an accessory; two is a lifestyle.” That’s a joke, of course, and as I said, it’s a crude formulation — but there’s also more than a grain of truth to it.
(Incidentally, for any blog newbies who might be reading this, “Loyette” and “Loyacita” are, obviously, not our children’s real names. They’re online nicknames, used in this space to prevent the girls from being instantly Google-able from birth. So, for instance, it’ll at least be a little bit harder for some teenage classmate to someday Google one of their names, find this blog post, and embarrass them with their father’s gushing parental prose.)
Much like Loyette’s birth, Loyacita’s birth also marks a very distinct dividing line between “before” and “after” eras of my life, and our life as a family. For just about a year-and-a-half, Loyette was an only child, and we had one kiddo to dote on, and manage, and take care of, and raise. And then suddenly we had two little goobers, and suddenly Loyette had a sister, adding inexpressible richness to her life and ours. As the P.R. hacks at Apple would say, except in this case it’s actually true: “This changes everything. Again.”
* * * * *
Becky’s due date with Loyette was December 31, 2007 — New Year’s Eve. In the days leading up to that date, we talked, half-jokingly, about hoping the baby would be born by then, not only to alleviate Becky’s late-third-trimester discomfort, but also to get the various child tax deductions and credits for the entire calendar year 2007 (a not-insignificant chunk of change; ultimately, it basically funded our trip to Connecticut for Tim Stevens’s wedding in July 2008). But of course what we really wanted was a healthy baby and a healthy mommy; the exact date, and the tax write-off, were insignificant in the grant scheme of things.
Even so, when Becky and I went to bed late on December 30, after eating dinner with her parents (who had just arrived that day from Arizona for their month-long, help-out-with-the-new-baby visit) and watching the movie “Knocked Up” on DVD, I confess I was ever-so-slightly disappointed that we were still at home, and not in the hospital. Perhaps Becky’s sudden last-minute craving for cashews should have tipped me off that something big was about to happen, but hey, she was a pregnant lady; they have cravings. All in all, the odds now seemed heavily stacked against that tax deduction. It looked like Loyette would be born sometime in 2008.
Before we closed our eyes and went to sleep, the clock struck midnight, and I said jokingly to Becky, “Hey, it’s December 31. If you’ve got a ‘bun in the oven,’ you should be doing ‘ding!’ right now.”
Some joke. Shortly after 2:00 AM, Becky poked me awake and said, “I think my water just broke.”
Never, ever, have I so quickly roused myself from sleep, and on just a few hours’ rest, no less. I’m nothing like Becky’s dad, whose years of medical training and experience being “on call” have taught him how to go from sound asleep to wide awake and alert at the drop of a hat (as I learned when I stepped on that scorpion). But, just this one time, that’s exactly how I was. I snapped into action instantly, practically leaping out of bed, grabbing the phone, calling the doctor, gathering our stuff, and preparing to head out the door. I made the long-awaited drive to Park West Medical Center, where we checked in sometime in the 3:00 AM hour. They promptly confirmed that Becky was, indeed, in labor, and sent us up to the labor & delivery ward.
We sent texts to a handful of relatives and close friends, informing them of the news. And then we waited. At first, Becky’s labor was relatively painless, and progressed gradually. If I remember correctly, I think I was able to catch a few winks, and then I know I went down to the hospital cafeteria and had some breakfast — including a big plate of eggs, the very same “last meal” before becoming a dad that my father (a fanatical egg-lover) had at Hartford Hospital when my mom was in labor with me.
Eventually, the labor sped up, and Becky got quite uncomfortable, quite fast. In the course of maybe a half-hour, she went from wanting to see how long she could go without pain relief, to begging for an epidural ASAP. This led to our most memorable delivery-related story, as I — not Becky, but me — nearly crushed her hand from squeezing it so hard, and almost passed out/threw up, thanks to a major freakout about the epidural. The whole needle-near-the-spine concept always made me a little bit queasy, even when we were talking about it generally at our childbirth/parenting class, so when things went every-so-slightly amiss in Becky’s case, with the anesthesiologist needing to shut down the first epidural and start over from scratch because of a heart-rate spike or some such thing, I nearly lost it. Becky says I turned a whitish-green color and looked like I was about to pass out. I ultimately staggered to the floor across the room, got myself a glass of water, and calmed down. Needless to say, the nurses were teasing me about this for the rest of the time we were in the hospital. :)
In any event, after that minor hiccup, the epidural was successfully inserted, and Becky went from feeling acute pain to just feeling a ton of pressure. Things continue to progress and, before too long, it was time to start pushing. She was a real champ at that, taking only about 20 minutes from the start of pushing to Loyette’s birth.
Loyette was born at 2:13 PM, weighing 7 points, 14 ounces and measuring 21 inches. When she emerged, she initially looked quite a bit like a greenish alien, and didn’t take her first breath for a few seconds. (Thankfully, I’d read all the baby books that explain how normal this is, or I might have been scared for those few seconds.) Then she gasped, made a raspy cough-like sound… and started scream-crying. Not that I blame her: can you imagine how disconcerting that must be, to go from a warm, soft, quiet womb, to the cold air and harsh lights of a hospital room, with all sorts of other creatures poking and prodding and cleaning and testing you? I’d scream-cry too!
Anyway, I promptly went over to where the nurses had taken Loyette to do the initial, immediately after-birth stuff that they have to do before the baby can be brought back to mom (we’re talking just a couple minutes). During that time, I was able to talk/coo at her a little, and it was evident that she recognized my voice, just like the books said she would from all that “talking to the belly” I’d done in the preceding months. My voice really seemed to give her some measure of comfort amid all the strange weirdness that was happening in her suddenly enlarged world. And then I put out my finger, and she grabbed it with her teeny, tiny little hand. That… that was special.
* * * * *
Shortly before midnight, while Becky was in the bathroom and Loyette was sleeping, I realized I had a golden opportunity to use the “HAPPY NEW YEAR” banner I’d bought on a whim at Wal-Mart some time before, and placed in our hospital bag just in case, to create a photo for the ages to post on the blog at midnight. So I took the picture…
…and then set to work on the blog post, which I timed to appear at precisely midnight (and which would get Instalanched). Underneath the photo, it read:
A new year, a new baby, the miracle of new life, and a new chapter in our lives. Never has the turning of the calendar’s page meant so much to us. What an amazing day.
From our family to yours, have a very Happy New Year!!
* * * * *
The second of the two “tied” Defining Days had a much more orderly beginning. Loyacita had been due July 8, 2009, and there was much speculation about a possible Fourth of July baby (given that Becky was born on Flag Day, me on the day before Halloween, and Loyette on New Year’s Eve), fueled by Becky’s strongly held motherly belief that this kid was coming early. But the days passed, and passed, and no baby came. Before we knew it, the calendar had turned to July 13, which had been set some time earlier as our induction date if the baby hadn’t arrived yet. (January 7 was that date for Loyette, incidentally.) So instead of a 2:00 AM wake-up call, we did everything in a planned and orderly fashion, leaving Loyette with Grandma & Grandpa and heading to the hospital at the arranged time in the morning to get things moving at last.
The strangest thing about that stay in the hospital was the very fact of leaving Loyette behind, particularly for the purpose of going and having another baby. In a strange but very acute way, it felt like we were somehow “cheating” on her. To be suddenly toddler-less, and wrapped once again in the hospital cocoon of labor and then delivery and then those intensive first few hours, felt like a completely different world from the one we’d by then grown accustomed to with Loyette at home. Some confused subconscious part of my brain almost thought that Loyette had somehow regressed into a tiny baby again — the idea that we now had two of them was simply very hard to compute with the older one temporarily absent from the picture.
But I digress. Anyway, we got checked in and settled, and before long they started the process of trying to induce labor. This time, there were no epidural dramas, but for a while it seemed like things were stalling. We watched several hours of the Lord of the Rings DVDs that I’d brought to the hospital, in case we needed to kill time. Becky posted a bunch of Facebook status updates. And we waited.
Then, rather suddenly as I recall, things began to speed up, and the next thing we knew, the “pushing” phase was starting up again. This time, it took all of four minutes. Literally, the delivering doctor had only just gotten set up and ready, and suddenly it was time to catch the baby. Loyacita was born at 2:41 PM, weighing 8 pounds, 10 ounces.
What followed is a bit of a blur, as these things tend to be. Again, there was the initial alien appearance, the first cry, the tender finger-grabbing. Then, before long, there were moments like this:
And pictures like this:
* * * * *
Becky was too exhausted for visitors that first day, and thought it would also probably be better for if we waited. So we kept to ourselves and our new baby that night — and then the next morning, Grandma and Grandpa brought Loyette in to meet her new little sister. Loyette was tender with Loyacita, previewing the wonderfully close and sweet relationship they’d develop in the time to come.
But above all, what she really wanted was to see Mommy & Daddy again. Not fully understanding why we’d left the previous morning, despite all our attempts to explain it (hey — she was 17 months old), she was just absolutely beside herself with joy and relief to see us again… and absolutely beside herself with dismay and horror when it was time to leave. Grandma and Grandpa later said she was screaming like a banshee all the way out through the hospital. Poor thing.
When we brought Loyacita home from the hospital the next day, we were nervous about how Loyette would adjust to this new reality. Again, her primary reaction was simply relief and joy that we were home (and clinginess — she didn’t want let us out of her sight for days). I’ve always loved the picture below, taken just a short time after we returned, for how well it expresses that moment in time:
What was amazing, though, ws how quickly, over the course of just a few days, Loyette completely accepted Loyacita as a new member of the family. She used to have a habit of doing a sort of “roll call,” naming out loud everyone in the family (adding, say, Grandma and Grandpa or Papa and Nana during a lengthier visit), and it was almost immediate that the word “Baby” was added to the roll call, symbolically initiating Loyacita into Loyette’s permament world.
That was the beginning of an amazing relationship; watching the two of them grow up and develop their sisterly bonds has been the greatest joy of the last year-and-a-half of my life, culminating in recent weeks with Loyacita finally becoming a confident walker to the point that they are now just constantly following each other around the house, playing together, and generally being incredibly cute in how they relate to one another (like last night, when they were both “reading” books in Loyette’s room for maybe 15 or 20 minutes, and when I walked in, Loyette informed me, “No, Daddy, you have to leave. We need our privacy.” LOL!)
* * * * *
I could go on and on forever about the joys of those little girls. I won’t, because we try not to blog about them too much, and because I don’t want this blog post to become a completely soggy and utterly clichéd mess. But what’s certain, indeed it goes without saying, is how utterly and inescapably central their respective entrances into our lives were to my life in the last decade.
Are there more days like December 31, 2007 and July 13, 2009 in our future? Perhaps. Who knows? We’re young yet. :) But at least for now, those dates are without rival. They represent, without question, the seminal events of my entire life to date. And they certainly belong right at the top of this list: the Defining Days of my Decade.
A year later than originally planned, it’s time — long past time, really — to publish the final two items on my Brendan’s Defining Days of the Decade list. (Of the last decade, that is. Y’know, the one that ended on December 31, 2009. And no, I don’t believe the decade “technically” ends tomorrow. That logic might fly for centuries and millennia, but not for decades. More to the point, if I thought the decade ran from 2001-2010, then 7/2/00 and 11/7/00 wouldn’t be on this list, obviously.)
Anyway… Today, #2. Tomorrow, #1. But first, to review:
(tied) March 7, 2005 and December 30, 2005: Our Wedding Day(s)
All right. So I’m cheating a bit here, by cramming two dates into one item on the list, and calling them “tied.” But it’s worth it, because in order to explain the “tie,” I have to tell a story that’s never been told before here on the blog — and it’s a good one.
It’s the story, in short, of how Becky and I got married for football tickets.
* * * * *
Well, okay, that’s not really right. I mean, we got married because we love each other, because we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, yada yada yada. I’ve talked about thatshmoopystuff a bunch already, in previous Defining Day write-ups, and I’ll do so again a bit later in this post. But to understand how there could be a “tie” for “Our Wedding Day(s)” — i.e., to explain the timing — we definitely have to get into the football-ticket-related side of the equation.
As you already know, Becky and I got engaged on July 3, 2004. Less than two months later, I headed to South Bend, Indiana, to start law school. Then in early January 2005, almost exactly six months to the day after our engagement, Becky left Arizona and moved to Indiana to be with me — but not before, over winter break in AZ, we picked the date and site for our wedding: December 30, 2005, at Gold Canyon Golf Resort.
(Coincidentally, we picked the date and site exactly a year beforehand, on 12/30/04. The place where we’d hold our ceremony was flooded that day, due to a freak rainstorm on the 29th, but we knew Arizona climate well enough to know that wasn’t likely to happen again that time of year, and we had no qualms as we reserved the date & place for our big day, one year hence: 12/30/05.)
Our timing created a bit of a problem, however. Becky would be living in South Bend with me throughout 2005, and she was my fiancée, and she certainly wanted to be able to attend Notre Dame football games with me that fall (my 2L year). After all, if you’re living in South Bend but not going to the ND games, you’re basically missing out on the only redeeming quality of living in South Bend. :) Plus, USC was coming to town in October — specifically, October 15, 2005; you might have heard of it — the only time we’d get to see the Irish host the Trojans during my three years in law school.
But because Becky wouldn’t be my wife until late December, after football season was over, I wouldn’t be able to get her season tickets in the student section, since only a spouse can get guest season tickets to the football student section at Notre Dame — not a fiancée or any other family member, only a spouse. That meant I’d have to scramble to secure Becky a ticket to each individual game (which would be most difficult for the most important game, USC), in whatever section or row happened to be available, and then hope the ushers wouldn’t notice that she wasn’t in her proper seat (which they usually don’t, but occasionally do). Or else I could try to sneak her in altogether, using someone else’s ticket booklet — a sometimes do-able, but always risky, proposition.
Neither of these were particularly appealing options, especially when it would be so simple to just buy her season tickets in a seat right next to mine — if only we were married. Which we would be, very soon, but a few months too late for it to matter.
So, at some point in January or February of 2005, it occurred to us that there was a solution to this problem. We could get legally married a bit early, before football season. That would allow us to buy season tickets together, legitimately. And then we could still hold our big public wedding ceremony in December — “declaring our love before our families and God,” as I’ve often said in explaining this to friends and family — despite being, “technically,” already married.
* * * * *
A few other considerations also weighed in favor of an early legal marriage. For instance, there was some thought of Becky getting on my student health insurance (though we ultimately didn’t do that). I also liked the idea of removing the infinitesimal-but-not-nonexistent possibility that I could somehow get in trouble for violating Notre Dame’s code of conduct by, er, “living in sin” with Becky. (Really — no joke. Premarital sex is against the rules, even in private housing, even for grad/law students. And, although this virtually never happens, you can technically be expelled for it.)
But truthfully, the ultimate decision was almost entirely based on the football ticket thing. If it weren’t for the desire to get Becky season tickets to Notre Dame football, we definitely wouldn’t have gotten married “early.” We never would have even thought of the idea.
Now, admittedly, obtaining football tickets might sound flimsy and insubstantial as a rationale for making decisions related to something as significant as a marriage (though perhaps not to die-hard college football fans!). But the thing is, we already knew we were going to get married; the only question was the timing and the formalities. Keep in mind, we’d been dating since 2000, and were deeply and madly in love, with lots of long experience living together, going through ups and downs together, weathering the storms of life together. So it’s not like this was some snap engagement, and we needed a bunch of time to be sure it was going to work out. We were both 100% sure we were going to get married. We were completely comfortable that neither of us was going to get “cold feet” before December. Thus, there was no real downside to moving things up by a few months (or ten).
Anyway, we discussed the idea between ourselves, and decided we both liked it, and wanted to do it. But we didn’t want to proceed if it was going to upset either of our families. So we talked it over with both sets of parents. Everyone was OK with it. Thus, the decision was made: during spring break in Arizona, we’d find ourselves a judge and get hitched.
* * * * *
So, on Monday, March 7, 2005, we took the plunge, legally speaking. Wearing a pair of my t-shirts — me in my circa-1998 Red Sox shirt, Becky in my lucky Gonzaga shirt — and with a $50 cashier’s check from the local supermarket, Basha’s, in hand to cover the relevant fees, we drove down to the East Mesa Justice Court and, shortly before its closing time at 5:00 PM, walked into the chambers of Judge R. Wayne Johnson. And got married.
Naturally, this being me, the moment was videotaped. The quality, though, was a far cry from that of the professional videographer who we would hire to document our big wedding ceremony almost 10 months later. The “videography” of our legal wedding consisted of me haphazardly placing my point-and-shoot Canon PowerShot digital camera, with its 320×240 video recording function activated, precariously on the judge’s desk, leaning it on some random object to point it in roughly the right direction, and hoping for the best. The resulting video is a bit crooked, and certainly low quality — but it captures the moment when we became husband and wife. And it’s never been seen before publicly. Here it is:
Afterward, we celebrated our newly formalized wedding bliss by… driving to a nearby Sonic and picking up some fast food for dinner. Now, if that’s not a classy “reception,” I don’t know what is. :) And then we headed to north Phoenix to meet for the first time with Jim Hushek, the “married Catholic Priest” who would conduct our December 30 ceremony.
That’s right: as it just so happened, on the very same day that we got legally married, indeed just a few hours later, we met the guy who would declare us husband and wife — again — later that year. We were totally open with Father Jim about what had just occurred, and about the nature of our December 30 ceremony (ceremonial, spiritually meaningful, but not legally binding). He was totally fine with it. We liked him, and promptly chose him to officiate the ceremony — one of several examples of major wedding-planning decisions that we made during spring break, in those initial hours and days after getting married. How many people can say that? :)
* * * * *
So… that was wedding day number one, and the first of the two “tied” dates on the list. I think it’s fairly self-evident why it belongs on my “Defining Days” list — though I’ll nevertheless have some more to say on that topic a bit later. For now, suffice to say, it’s the day I got married to the love of my life and the future mother of my children. It’s the day Becky and I went from college sweethearts with plans to get hitched, to a legally recognized married couple.
(Oh, and it’s the day she became eligible for those football tickets — which she got, of course.)
At the time, however — during that almost ten-month period in between our legal wedding and our ceremonial wedding — we tended to talk about the events of March 7 more as a technicality or formality, and referred to December 30 as our “real” wedding date. We couldn’t wait. Our friends and family were gathering together from distant points all across the country, coming to Arizona to see us get hitched and celebrate with us. Some of them knew the March 7 story; others heard it through the grapevine. It was something of an open secret. Among those who knew, nobody seemed to much care. What mattered was the ceremony, celebration and big ol’ party that we’d be throwing in December.
When I look back now on December 30, 2005 and the days surrounding it, it’s that gathering of all those wonderful people which helped make it so special. Our core group of revelers — i.e., our large wedding party, plus some other close friends who were also staying at the resort — was simply an amazing and wonderful mix of people, family and friends from different stages of our lives (Becky’s high school, my high school, college, law school, etc.), seamlessly integrating into a cohesive group despite, in many cases, having never met one another before. They made our wedding so memorable, and oh so fun. Becky’s mom repeatedly and frequently tells us that it was the second-best wedding she’s ever been to — after her own — and that the attendees from the community where she and Becky’s dad live (basically just down the street from Gold Canyon) still talk about how much fun it was, five years later.
But perhaps more to the point, nearly everyone who we desperately wanted to be there, was there. Our friends and family came from far and wide to, as I put it in my impromptu post-reception speech to the video camera and the assembled partygoers,”tell us that we’re cool because we love each other.” As I said: “We really appreciate all the love and affection and congratulations… We love each other, and we really appreciate you guys coming out to honor us.” It was corny, and not all that well-articulated, and I may have been a little tipsy when I said it — but I meant every word!
* * * * *
Anyway I won’t walk you through the whole story of our wedding day and the events surrounding it, as — unlike the heretofore untold story of the March 7 wedding — it was heavily blogged at the same, and heavily documented since. But since I posted the video of our legally binding vows, I should probably post the video of our ceremonial ones as well:
And then, of course, there was our… unique… first dance, to the song “In Spite of Ourselves” by John Prine and Iris Dement. We first heard this tune playing on some random country radio station in Kansas while driving across the country during college, and instantly fell in love with it. If you haven’t heard it before, here’s a flavor of the lyrics:
She thinks all my jokes are corny
Convict movies make her horny
She likes ketchup on her scrambled eggs
Swears like a sailor when shaves her legs
She takes a lickin’
And keeps on tickin’
Never gonna let her go.
He’s got more balls than a big brass monkey
He’s a wacked-out werido and a lovebug junkie
Sly as a fox, crazy as a loon
Payday comes and he’s a-howlin’ at the moon
He’s my baby
I don’t mean maybe
Never gonna let him go.
Here we are, dancing to it:
And finally, some more “highlights” from our awesome reception. A few specific things to look for: at the very beginning, we’re introduced (by my dad) to the strains of Trojan Marching Band music, and we shout “BEAT THE LONGHORNS!” as we walk in. This was five days before the 2006 Rose Bowl, remember. They were heady times, people. :) At 1:30 of the video clip, the SHA girls (Becky’s high-school friends) serenade us. At the 4:15 mark, don’t miss Uncle Rick’s hilarious message, followed by Uncle Steve “playing” not the spoons, not the forks, but a single fork (LOL). Then at 5:10 come my parents with their song for us — a Irish folk tune, naturally (and one that they also sang at their own wedding in 1977).
It was, to say the least, a day and night to remember. And I daresay we looked a little spiffier than we had in my old Boston and Gonzaga t-shirts. :) Here’s a Flickr photoset of the festivities, including before and after the wedding. A few photo highlights:
Bride & Groom.
Becky and her bridesmaids.
Becky and my groomsmen.
Brotherly & sisterly love.
Everybody! The whole, ridiculously large wedding party, being goofy.
One Ring to Rule…..er, wedding rings. :)
The SHA Girl “family”!
Bride & Groom at Sunset.
* * * * *
Of course, all of this invites one obvious question: which wedding date do we consider our “anniversary”? The answer, perhaps not surprisingly, is a bit complicated.
When we decided to get legally married “early,” we very consciously pondered this very question, and decided that we still intended December 30 to be our “anniversary” going forward. It was, after all, the big ceremonial wedding with family and friends, the one where we’d “declare our love before our families and God.” And indeed, this decision to treat December 30 as our anniversary was, in my mind at least, a crucial element in maintaining the mental notion (some might say fiction) that it, 12/30/05, was our “real” wedding day, whereas 3/7/05 was just our “technical” or “legal” wedding day.
We stuck with that decision for the first couple years of our marriage. But then, we had a kid. And, as it happened, she was born on December 31, 2007 — two years and a day after our ceremonial wedding. Our second anniversary, in ‘07, was just about completely overshadowed by the aftermath of Christmas and the impending excitement of the baby’s arrival. We realized this was going to be a continuing problem going forward, as our anniversary would always be hopelessly sandwiched in between Christmas and Loyette’s birthday/New Year’s.
So we decided to move our anniversary.
Starting in 2008, instead of celebrating on December 30, we decided to celebrate on March 7. So we went from celebrating our second anniversary on 12/30/07 to celebrating our third anniversary on 3/7/08. Our marriage “aged” a whole year in just over two months! :)
Our fifth anniversary, therefore, was this past March 7. And today? It’s the five years to the day since an awesome, utterly unforgettable day in our lives. But it’s not our fifth anniversary. That already happened; we’re coming up on six years now.
Nowadays, Becky sometimes refers to December 30, 2005 as our “reception” or our “party.” When she does that, I invariably point out that we didn’t just have a reception or a party — we had a ceremony, too. Declaring our love before our families and God. I still think that means something, as does she. December 30, 2005 was our wedding day, just like March 7, 2005 was our wedding day.
But in the end, when we look back on December 30, 2005, I suppose she’s right that it’s the “party” we remember above all. It really was a great party, and a wonderful celebration of our love — the love that we had formalized in the eyes of the law almost ten months earlier.
* * * * *
I promised some “shmoopy stuff,” and I’ll conclude with it, because otherwise I risk missing the point a bit here. For as wonderful as the December 30 “party” was, and as amusing as the March 7 “football tickets” story is, neither the party nor the story are, of course, enough by themselves to lift these dates all the way up to the #2 spot among my “defining days” — ahead of 9/11, of the USC-ND game, of the day I found out we were going to be parents, of Katrina, of all the other momentous days on this list.
The party and the story can’t do that. Only Becky can do that. Or more precisely, Becky and me. Us.
My love for Becky, which was formalized in a marriage contract on 3/7/05 and declared publicly as such on 12/30/05, is quite simply the central fact of my life, not just in the decade 2000-2009, but in this new decade and, I can say confidently, in every decade to come — for as long as we both shall live, as they say. Our love, our marriage, is the bedrock foundation of my life, on which everything else builds.
I love Becky, truly, madly, deeply, moreso than I could ever properly express. Moreover, that love is, in a sense, baked into every aspect of our lives. It’s bound up in my feelings about the amazing house and neighborhood and city that we live in together; in my joy at the memories we’ve made, and continue to make, together; and in my inexpressibly profound love for the children we’ve had together.
Of course, love is not just a noun, it’s also a verb, as Becky (channeling Dr. Phil, I believe) has often said. That is to say, love isn’t merely something that you feel, it’s also something that you do, a series of actions and choices that express love, and express themselves as love. That can be a hard charge to fulfill, at times, amid the everyday stress of adult life, with jobs and bills and kids, with a house to keep clean and two adorable but high-maintenance little girls to manage. But we always remember, even if we’re cranky or irritated or downright pissed about something, how much we love each other. And I think we always, in the end, find a way to show it — the verb as well as the noun.
And that, I think, I hope, is the essence of healthy marriage, one that can and will last into all the decades of our lives to come. Love, not just felt but also expressed, necessarily implies all those other things you need to make a marriage work: trust, friendship, communication, respect. I don’t think either of us ever doubts that we have those things.
We are, of course, not perfect. No one is. And yet, in a sense, I like to think that we’re sort of perfect in our imperfection. Which, really, is the whole point of our song. Like John Prine and Iris Dement say:
In spite of ourselves, we’ll end up a-sittin’ on a rainbow
Against all odds, honey, we’re the big door prize
We’re gonna spite our noses right off of our faces
There won’t be nothin’ but big old hearts dancin’ in our eyes.
Above all, March 7, 2005 and December 30, 2005 are defining days of my decade because they are symbolic of that — of us — of Becky’s and my love for each other, and everything that goes with it.
* * * * *
So there you have it. Our wedding days, each highly significant and memorable in their own way, each “defining,” and tied for #2 on the list.
Continuing with my long-delayed Brendan’s Defining Days of the Decade series, we’re into the home stretch now, the Top 3. Unfortunately, in contrast to many joyous days on the list, this one is memorable for all the wrong reasons. But its status as a defining day — of my decade, and probably of yours too — is undeniable.
September 11, 2001: “You Guys, You All Have To Wake Up!”
The second week of September, 2001 — the third week of fall-semester classes of my junior year in college — got off to a decidedly memorable start for me. No, not the Tuesday morning we all remember. I’ll get to that in a second. But right now, I’m talking about the preceding Sunday.
On the afternoon of Sunday the 9th, I was at USC’s newly earthquake-retrofitted Doheny Library, all alone in the underground bookstacks, doing the reading for Howard Gillman’s undergrad Constitutional Law class, learning for the very first time about Marbury v. Madison, when a small tremor hit Beverly Hills and shook the campus.
All around me, imposing towers of heavy books swayed this way and that, and I pondered the frightening possibility that these were merely the P-waves of a strong, somewhat distant but potentially devastating earthquake, to be followed moments later by the deadly, destructive S-waves. (The previous semester, I had taken a geology class all about earthquakes.) I sat, paralyzed with indecision, pondering whether to make a run for the stairwell — and risk being crushed by collapsing bookstacks if the S-waves hit during my mad dash — or sit and wait, hoping not to be buried, alone, two stories underground, where (so far as I could tell) nobody else was around or aware of my presence.
Eventually, I realized the danger was probably past; this had been a relatively weak, nearby earthquake, not a strong one further away, and the initial shaking I’d felt had been the P-waves. I packed up my stuff and, still somewhat shaken, left the library and headed home.
None of which has anything to do with 9/11, really, except this: I figured that the events of September 9, 2001 — my second L.A. earthquake experience, and the first one that was actually somewhat frightening — would certainly be the most dramatic and memorable event of that week, and possibly of the entire semester.
Needless to say, I had no freakin’ clue.
* * * * *
I don’t remember too much about Monday, September 10. But I do know three pertinent details. One, my roommates — big NFL fans — watched “Monday Night Football” that evening, and never changed the channel afterward, so the TV was on ABC when we went to bed for the night. Two, I didn’t go to sleep until shortly after 3:00 AM (or 6:00 AM Eastern, roughly the same time Mohammed Atta was boarding a plane at Logan Airport), and I was planning to sleep very late the next day, because I didn’t have class until late afternoon — POSC-351, Middle East Politics, at 3:30 PM. And three, my phone was turned off, because the previous night I’d gotten a strange, middle-of-the-night hangup call (probably a drunk-dialed wrong number or something), and I didn’t want to risk being awakened again. However, I kept the volume on my answering machine turned up, so if someone actually needed to reach me and wake me up, they’d be able to.
So it was that, when Becky called me Tuesday morning, September 11, at 6:50 AM — that’s 9:50 Eastern Time, more than an hour after the first plane hit the first World Trade Center tower, 13 minutes after the Pentagon was hit, and 9 minutes before the South Tower of the WTC would collapse — I didn’t hear the phone ring, but instead was awakened by the sound of her voice, saying:
“You guys, you ALL have to wake up! Both of the towers of the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon, have just been ATTACKED by TERRORISTS! Iran has just ran terrorists into these buildings and blew them up! Well, actually, they didn’t blow them up — they ran PLANES into these buildings! Wake up! Turn on your TV! Go watch the news! Seriously! This is, like, the biggest terrorist attack in the world! Like, in the history of the United States! Wake up! Turn on TV! Go watch! Seriously!”
Why Becky, amid the fog of war that morning, blamed “Iran” for the attacks remains an enduring mystery. But I didn’t process that detail at the time. In fact, I really didn’t process any of it, I was so sleepy. I heard something about a terrorist attack, and “turn on your TV,” but that was about all I got.
So, without really grasping what was happening — and certainly without having internalized any of the details of the attacks that had been referenced at the very beginning of the message (i.e., planes hit World Trade Center and Pentagon) — I climbed out of bed, stumbled into the living room, and turned on the TV. It was, as I mentioned, tuned to ABC.
What I saw was utterly shocking: smoke rising from the Pentagon. Flight 77 had crashed there just 13 minutes earlier, so this was the biggest “breaking news” of the moment; the WTC attack had been ongoing for a while, but these Pentagon shots were brand new images.
So, for me personally, due to this coincidence of timing, the very first image I saw of the 9/11 attacks was not of the World Trade Center, but of the Pentagon on fire after being attacked. Thus, notwithstanding the unprocessed details of Becky’s sleepily-heard, partially-understood message, I became perhaps the only person in America who learned about the Pentagon attack before learning about the WTC attack.
And you know what? An attack on the Pentagon — the Pentagon!! — was more than enough. Not realizing, in my groggy stupor, that anything at all had happened in New York, I felt that Becky’s “get up and watch TV now!” message was fully justified by what I was seeing: Holy shit! Somebody attacked the Pentagon! That’s huge!
I don’t know exactly how much time passed before ABC switched to a split-screen view of New York and Washington. In my fuzzy memory, it feels like several minutes, but it was probably more like 30 seconds at most. In any event, they went to split screen, the burning Twin Towers appeared on my TV, and suddenly “huge” became simply incomprehensible. They’d hit the World Trade Center, too?!? What the…?!?!
* * * * *
* * * * *
Moments later, my roommate Cameron emerged from the bedroom. (Our other roommate, Brent, was long gone, having had ROTC training starting at 5:00 AM or some such time. So he learned about the attacks there.) Referring to Becky and her message, Cameron said, “Is she serious? Because if she’s joking, I’m going to kill her.” I explained that she wasn’t joking; it was all really happening. Cameron then sat down on the couch next to me, and for a while we just sort of sat there, slack-jawed, and watched.
The next few minutes are a blur. At some point my dad called, expecting to wake me, and opening apologetically with the statement “this is like one of your earthquake calls” — referring not to the incident two days earlier, but my freshman-year ~6am EDT call to tell my parents that the Hector Mine Quake had happened but that I was okay. In this case, my dad was calling to tell me that my mom, who was in New York that day at my parents’ 190th Street apartment in far northern Manhattan, was all right. In point of fact, it honestly hadn’t occurred to me to worry about her, maybe because I hadn’t yet had time to consider the possibility, or maybe just because my mother simply isn’t a Financial District kind of gal, and there’s almost literally no conceivable reason why she would be anywhere near the World Trade Center.
Regardless, I talked to my dad for a few minutes, and I think — though again, it’s all something of a blur — the South Tower collapsed while I was on the phone with him. If so, I suspect he must not have been watching at that moment, or else he’d presumably have had more of an audible reaction that I’d remember distinctly. For my part, I was still so sleepy and groggy, and still trying to process all this impossible information, that I don’t think I really understood the magnitude of what was happening before my eyes. Thinking back on it, I don’t recall being surprised or shocked when I realized it had collapsed; it seemed only natural that of course the burning towers, which, so far as I knew, had only been on fire for a few minutes, would partially or totally collapse. That was the whole point of the attack, right? To destroy the Towers?
In retrospect, the nonchalance of this reaction seems utterly bizarre, but I guess I just hadn’t had enough time to process the initial stages of what was happening, such that I didn’t see this latest horror as really anything new. I certainly didn’t recognize that I was literally watching thousands of people die before my very eyes, pulverized into dust.
The collapse starts at around 4:20 of the video below. This is the ABC broadcast that would have been on our TV at that moment.
Perhaps my initial failure to grasp the enormity of what I was seeing is partly related to the confusion/wishful thinking of Peter Jennings and his co-anchor: “We now have… what do we have?” “It looks like a new, large plume of smoke.” “It may be that something fell off the building. We don’t know, to be perfectly honest.” It’s also possible that I wasn’t actually watching live at that exact moment; maybe I was in my bedroom, answering my dad’s phone call as it happened, and maybe he was away from his TV too. I don’t know.
In any case, I don’t think I heard, live, the on-the-scene report from Don Dahler a minute later — starting at the 5:15 mark of the above video — explaining, “The second building that was hit by the plane has just completely collapsed. The entire building has just collapsed. … It is not there anymore.” — or Jennings’ co-anchor’s reaction: “My God.” Surely, no matter groggy and shell-shocked I was, I would more specifically remember that dramatic, horrifying moment of live TV, if I had seen and heard it live. (Jennings: “The whole side has collapsed?” Dahler: “The whole building has collapsed!”)
* * * * *
* * * * *
Now, remember, it was just a few minutes after 7:00 AM Pacific Time at this point, and I lived in a college apartment building (Troy Hall apartment #126, to be exact), so a lot of people — those who hadn’t been awakened by phone calls from girlfriends, parents or whomever — were still asleep. (Becky, incidentally, lived across campus at Webb Tower, and was only awake because a fellow resident with ties to New York had gone around banging on everyone’s doors, feeling that everyone needed to be awake and know what was happening. That was just a few minutes before Becky called me.)
Gradually, though, the stragglers woke up and learned the news. Two girls who lived down the hall, Amy and Emily, both friends of Cameron’s and mine, came down to our apartment, wanting some company as they watched the horror unfold on TV and dealt with the panicked rumors that were flying at this point. Somebody’s relative in Pennsylvania had heard from someone that there was a plane headed for L.A.; somebody else had heard the Library Tower was a target. Or maybe the Hollywood sign. Or maybe… us? Could USC be a target? I remember actually saying — not as a joke, genuinely trying to be reassuring — that surely, if the terrorists were going to attack a college in L.A., they would choose UCLA. I have no idea what my reasoning for this statement was — because UCLA is a public school? because, this being before USC football’s rise to prominence, UCLA felt more “famous” at that point in time? — but regardless, it seemed like the thing to say.
At some point, it occurred to me to go on the Internet and try to gather more information that way. But, as I wrote in my eighth-anniversary post in 2009, “I remember trying to get news on the attacks via the Internet, and finding that basically all of the major news websites were either offline or stripped down to basic HTML because of the unprecedented traffic load.”
In a sure sign of how shell-shocked I was by the events we were all witnessing live on TV, I didn’t take any pictures or videos on the morning of 9/11 — or indeed at any point that day. My iPhoto Library literally has no photos dated September 11, 2001, which, if you know me, you realize is completely bizarre. For once, I stopped documenting life and simply participated in it. Like so many others, I just sat there for hours, staring blankly at the television and wondering how the hell this had happened, and what the hell was going to happen next.
Eventually, it became clear that no more airplane attacks were imminent, and the sense of panic about what would happen next was supplanted by the slow process of coming to terms with the horror of what had already happened. Again quoting from that 2009 post: “I remember feeling a sinking feeling in my stomach pretty much all day. I’m not a very emotional person normally. But on 9/11, I went around all day, feeling as if I had literally been punched in the gut.”
* * * * *
(FYI – for the rest of this post, I’ll be plagiarizing extensively from my fifth and eighth anniversary posts.)
The attacks hit me harder, or at least I felt like they did, than some of my fellow Trojans who were born and raised in California and had few East Coast ties. I had grown up in central Connecticut, but I loved New York; indeed, it felt like my adopted home city. And I had just been at the World Trade Center on June 3 of that year — one hundred days before 9/11, I later calculated.
In fact, I bought a teddy bear at the WTC on 6/3/01. That bear would become the jumping-off point for my Daily Trojan column about the attack:
I own a teddy bear from the World Trade Center. I bought it from the gift shop on the 107th floor of the south tower on June 3, 2001 — exactly 100 days before the giant building collapsed into a heap of rubble.
That may sound like a triviality in the midst of the nation’s profound grief. But when, three days after the attack, I suddenly remembered about the teddy bear, it brought back a flood of other memories from my final visit to the Twin Towers. The thoughts made me want to cry for hours.
I remember so much about that day. I remember passing through airport-style security and thinking it was odd that a simple skyscraper would require such protection. I remember the long ride up the elevator — an elevator that may very well have trapped a group of people on Sept. 11 as the building around them crumbled. I remember eating pizza in a food court where, on that Tuesday, dozens of people undoubtedly ate their last meals. I remember calling my mother on a pay phone that several people probably used Tuesday to call their loved ones.
I remember the gift shop where I bought my bear. It was a cute little store, set off from the rest of the observation deck by a few steps down and a large glass window. Thinking about it now, I can almost see in my mind’s eye the souvenirs that must have smashed on the ground, the pictures that probably fell off the walls, the employees who surely ran in all directions, as chaos undoubtedly overtook the scene on Sept. 11.
The mental image is awful, but I can’t keep it away.
I remember being torn about what to buy in the gift shop. I think I considered purchasing a small model of the Twin Towers, a souvenir that would have been sorely bittersweet today. I know I wanted to buy a poster of the New York skyline — it would be obsolete now — but it was too expensive. So I settled for the beanbag bear with the New York state logo on his chest. I thought it would be a nice memento of my trip. Little did I know.
I remember the girl working behind the cash register at the gift shop. She was having a rough day. I don’t remember why, but it doesn’t really matter. Just the memory of briefly chatting with her while she rang up my purchase, of hearing her talk about whatever was upsetting her, is enough to implant her humanity firmly in my memory.
I don’t know if that girl is alive or dead today. I never will; I don’t know her name or remember what she looked like. I met her only in the sense that you meet people every day on the street or in an elevator or on a bus, talk to them for 30 seconds, and then part ways, never to meet or think about each other again. Except in this case, I will remember that particular passing acquaintance forever.
I suppose there is reason to believe that she is most likely alive. I was there on a Sunday evening, and I’d guess that someone working the Sunday evening shift on June 3 probably wasn’t working the Tuesday morning shift on Sept. 11. But that gives me little comfort. If the girl who sold me my teddy bear didn’t die in the attack, someone else in her position someone just as innocent, just as human, just as unworthy of such a horrible death did.
And so did dozens, maybe hundreds, of tourists on that observation deck. They were just like me, except that they were there on the wrong f**ing day.
Later in the column, I added: “I remember standing at the foot of one of the twin towers on June 3, looking up in awe at its enormous structure, admiring its seemingly invincible power. It seemed to stretch up to the heavens and beyond. I absolutely cannot fathom the fact that the towers, and so many people who were inside them, are gone from the face of the earth.”
* * * * *
I would later make what you might call a “pilgrimage” to New York, and write about that for the DT as well. (I misquoted the airfare, though: it was $139, not $189.) But back to the events of 9/11 itself.
As hard as the attack hit me, it wasn’t really personal for me, even if it kinda felt that way. Becky’s family, on the other hand, had a far more direct, personal stake, thanks to a much bigger scare than my non-scare regarding my mother being in New York. Becky’s brother Casey was in New York that day, for a noon job interview at the World Trade Center. He had been planning to get there early, and go up to the observation deck or maybe Windows on the World to watch the sunrise. But he ended up in Midtown instead, because he belatedly realized he had forgotten his dress shoes and needed to buy new ones. (It was subsequently suggested that he should bronze the shoes that he’d accidentally left behind in Los Angeles. They might have saved his life.)
Thankfully for her sanity, Becky only knew that Casey was in New York, and thus was only mildly worried; she didn’t learn the WTC-related details of his plans until she already knew he was OK. Their parents, by contrast, did know the details, and were understandably freaking out — until Casey managed to get a very quick phone call out through the city’s busted communication system, saying little more than “I’m OK” before he got cut off.
* * * * *
I only had one class on September 11, 2001. As I mentioned earlier, it was a Political Science course titled Middle East Politics, at 3:30 PM. The professor, Mideast expert Richard Dekmejian, was fielding calls all day from local and national news organizations, but to his everlasting credit, he didn’t cancel class. He could have put the media attention ahead of his undergraduate students, but instead, he showed up and gave us a hastily conceived “teach-in” on the three groups who he felt could potentially be behind the attacks: the Iraqis, the Palestinians, and Al Qaeda. At that point, of course, we really had no idea which it was. But he gave an excellent, brief lesson on all three, with a projection of CNN’s live broadcast soundlessly displayed on a big screen behind him.
(In a rare moment of levity, snickers broke out in the classroom when CNN played — perhaps for the first time, certainly one of the first times — the now-famous video of Andy Card whispering in President Bush’s ear that a second plane had hit the WTC. Absent sound and thus devoid of context, Bush looks rather silly in that video, sort of like a monkey-faced deer in headlights when he gets the news, and several students laughed out loud when they saw it. Professor Dekmejian initally looked confused — why the heck were people laughing? — but then he turned around and saw Bush’s face on the screen behind him, and immediately gave a look which seemed to say, “Oh, you’re laughing at him. Well, yeah, that makes sense.”)
As long as we’re talking politics: I remember missing Bill Clinton for a while that day, when President Bush kept making unsatisfying statements (like, as Becky paraphrased it in her phone message, “we’re going to get those folks”) and then disappearing from view. I remember thinking that Karen Hughes’s statement was actually more forceful than the president’s.
I also remember feeling that Bush redeemed himself with his excellent speech that evening — and again, many times over, with his superb address to Congress nine days later. (“We are not deceived by their pretenses to piety. We have seen their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th Century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions — by abandoning every value except the will to power — they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way to where it ends: in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies.”)
Of course, by far the best quote of 9/11 itself came from Tony Blair: “As for those that carried out these attacks, there are no adequate words of condemnation. Their barbarism will stand as their shame for all eternity.” John McCain is a close second, for a statement made on the Senate floor that I recall one of Becky’s friends wrote on his apartment-door whiteboard: “I say to our enemies: We are coming. God may show you mercy. We will not.”
* * * * *
At some point during the day, while en route to or from campus, I stopped at University Village and bought a cheap portable TV at one of the shops there. I felt an urgent need to be connected to the news at all times, so that if something else happened, I wouldn’t be stranded with only the limited information that my primitive cell phone at the time could provide. Relatedly, I also remember that, in the days following 9/11, I subscribed for the first time to CNN and BBC breaking news alerts on my phone, so word of any attack would reach me quickly. And I started religiously reading the online editions of the New York Times and the Washington Post every night before going to bed — the next day’s front-page articles would appear in the early wee hours Pacific Time — to keep up with the news. I’d always been a news junkie, but in the days and weeks after 9/11, being informed became an obsession. Those days were just so momentous.
But back to Tuesday again. (As an aside, go back and read news articles from the days immediately after the attacks sometime, and note the references to “Tuesday’s attacks.” It sounds so strange — we’re all so used to talking about the “9/11 attacks,” but back then, the worst terrorist atrocity in American history had simply happened on “Tuesday.”)
As night fell, the most pronounced local effect of the attacks on L.A.’s everyday life became extremely noticeable: there were no planes in the sky. That fact may not seem terribly significant to those who have never lived in Los Angeles, but see, the L.A. sky doesn’t really have stars. Instead, it has planes. The light pollution is so bad that it’s almost impossible to see anything except airplanes in the night sky — but LAX is so busy that there are virtually always several planes overhead, in any given direction, at any given time. So the absence of planes was downright eerie.
Even more eerie was my experience walking back from Ralph’s supermarket — where I had gone in hopes of finding a copy of the L.A. Times’s “Extra” edition — late that night, under that strange, blank sky. I felt this overwhelming sense of eerie quiet, like the entire city was hunkered down. And then I had this bizarre, split-second thought that a car turning into my path — well, turning onto the side street that I was about to cross — was perhaps aiming for me. This didn’t make any sense at all, and I immediately shook it off as absurd, but the mere fact that such a thought would even cross my mind was a perfect manifestation of the fear and paranoia that I think we all experienced that day.
* * * * *
I mentioned earlier that, on 9/11, “for once, I stopped documenting life and simply participated in it.” And that’s largely true. But I didn’t completely stop being myself. I remember expending quite a bit of energy, sometime in the evening, trying to guess what the next day’s New York Times headline would be, even writing out sample possibilities on an old Times that was lying around. But I was way off the mark, because I was thinking of a three- or four-line monster headline — typical of a “regular” huge news story — rather than the one-line, “MAN WALKS ON MOON” font size that’s reserved for once-in-a-generation historic moments. I never thought of anything as simple as “U.S. ATTACKED.”
The grief of 9/11 also didn’t completely stop me from engaging in snarky media commentary. Having gotten up very early (by my standards) on Tuesday after not quite four hours of sleep, I was nevertheless up quite late Tuesday night, as was Becky. We were almost literally unable to look away from the TV coverage. So it was that, sometime in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Becky and I and a couple of friends in her apartment building were still watching CNN, long after its first-, second- and third-string anchors and correspondents had all finally gone to bed after a long, grueling, horrible day. We joked, in another “rare moment of levity,” that the people left on the air were a bunch of “interns.” And one of those “interns” seemed to have a rather overactive penchant for symbolism, stating at one point that a particular piece of paper, floating through the air in Lower Manhattan, “says it all.” The American-Beauty-paper-bag-esque absurdity of this statement struck us much funnier than it should have — blowing off some steam amid all the tragedy and heartache, I guess — and we all completely lost it, laughing hysterically at that “intern.”
* * * * *
Needless to say, there was a lot more crying than laughing in the days that followed. But above all, for me, there was this weird sense of numbness. My first post-9/11 class was Constitutional Law on Wednesday the 12th, and I remember that I had a really, really hard time concentrating. The aforementioned Professor Gillman specifically announced at the start of class that he was going to do his lecture as normal, because — as he candidly acknowledged — he really didn’t know how else to process what had happened, or what else to do. It was the Rudy Giuliani approach (everyone get on with your lives, or you’re letting the terrorists win), a few days early.
Meanwhile, an impromptu memorial sprung up at Tommy Trojan, and American flags and patriotic sentiments were everywhere on campus.
I wanted to create some sort of memorial / patriotic tribute myself, so I made a “GOD BLESS AMERICA” sign, and hung it from my apartment’s front porch, along with an American flag that I bought, if memory serves, at the Noticias 32nd Street Market. The resulting display might seem a bit hokey in retrospect, but at the time, it felt almost important to do. Becky, for her part, made a sign that said “PRAY 4 NY” and placed it in her sixth-floor window.
* * * * *
On Friday the 14th, a memorial service was held at Bovard Auditorium. At the end, the assembled masses broke into a semi-spontaneous rendition of “God Bless America,” following the lead of Congress on Tuesday.
That same Friday, President Bush made his famous visit to Ground Zero, when he grabbed the bullhorn and addressed the relief workers — the highlight of his presidency, in retrospect. He was really in his element there, and no other president in my lifetime would have done nearly as well. Anyway, Becky and I were watching live on the little TV that lived on the couch in her tiny apartment. As I recall, the sound quality of the live broadcast was terrible, but the money quote was clearly audible: “I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” Becky literally pumped her fist and exclaimed “YEAH!!!” when he said that.
Much later, that sound clip would become part of the climax of what I called my 9/11 anthem, a montage of sound clips set to the Battle Hymn of the Republic:
* * * * *
It took me a good long while for me to even begin to grasp what this all meant, and how different the 9/11 attacks — excuse me, the Tuesday attacks — truly were from, well, everything else, ever. From the very beginning, everyone was saying, of course, that Tuesday had “changed the world,” and words like “war” were being tossed around. But at first, in my head, I was thinking of the attacks as sort of the Oklahoma City Bombing writ large: very different in degree, certainly, but not necessarily different in kind. I figured they would lead to a period of national mourning, and a president “feeling the victims’ pain,” and an effort to bring the direct perpetrators to justice. And that was it. That was all I knew how to conceive of.
Even after the creation of the “Bush Doctrine” on the evening of 9/11 itself, I still didn’t really “get it.” It wasn’t until I saw the front page of Friday morning’s New York Times, headlined “BUSH AND TOP AIDES PROCLAIM POLICY OF ‘ENDING’ STATES THAT BACK TERROR,” that it really sank in. Oh: they were serious about that “war” thing.
And indeed they were. The cliché that 9/11 “changed the world” has proven, of course, to be utterly correct. I titled this post “You Guys, You All Have To Wake Up!” — a quote from Becky’s phone message that terrible morning, but also an apt description of the impact that the atrocity had on the nation’s attitude toward the extremists who had, years earlier, declared war on us. We were unquestionably right to “wake up” to that threat. Whether each specific response to that threat has been correct is a separate question, but I don’t want to start a political debate on this post, in this context. Suffice to say, 9/11/01 was a “defining day” for the world, and I daresay for most of the people in it, one way or another.
* * * * *
On Saturday, September 15, Becky and I drove out to a restaurant in Malibu to get some lunch. We made the drive up the coast in large part because we wanted to “get away,” to put the cares of an awful week behind us and just focus on each other’s company, and a beautiful view of the ocean, for a few hours.
We’re smiling in the pictures above, but in my memory, I associate that otherwise pleasant afternoon with a strange sense of melancholy. We had a nice lunch, but there was no escaping thoughts of what had just happened to the country.
Not even a week had passed since the earth shook while I was studying in Doheny Library, but the seismic events of the intervening days had changed everything. September 11, 2001 was a pivot point in history, the rare sort of day that causes you to almost subconsciously categorize everything into “before” and “after” categories. That’s true of events in the world at large, and it’s true of events in my life, too. Becky’s and my first two cross-country road trips? Pre-9/11. Our third cross-country road trip? Post-9/11. Becky’s sister’s wedding in Germany? Pre-9/11. Our acquisition of our first cat, Toby? Post-9/11. And on and on.
I wish I could have ranked some more pleasant memories, like, say, the USC-Notre Dame game, or the day I fell in love, ahead of September 11, 2001 on this list. But there’s no denying that awful day its rightful place. 9/11 was a “defining day” like no other, and I’ll remember it forever — feeling echoes of that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach each time I really think about it. (Watching any of the videos, in particular, brings that feeling right back, as if nine years ago were a mere nine minutes.)
As they say: Never forget.
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(Photo by yours truly, taken from Staten Island on 9/11/03.)
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Defining Days #2 and #1 will be less depressing, I promise! But I make no promises about when they’ll be published. Hopefully sometime this month? This year? This decade? :) I’ve been working on #4 and #3, on and off, for months, but haven’t even started on #2 or #1 yet. So it may be a while.
It’s been almost four full months since my series on Brendan’s Defining Days of the Decade — of the previous decade, that is — came to a screeching halt. We’re now almost a third of a year into the 2010s, which means 3.2% of this decade is already over! And yet I’ve still got four “Defining Days” posts to go. This is what happens when I don’t have a concrete deadline. :)
But hey, better late than never, right? Anyway I figure I’d better get on with it, before the NCAA decrees that the topic of this post, Defining Day #4, never happened. Ahem.
You may ask how a mere football game — albeit an epic, instant-classic clash between two archrivals who also happen to be my co-alma maters, which I personally attended as a Trojan fan embedded in the Irish student section — can possibly rank so high as a defining day of my decade.
Or, you may not ask; indeed, if you know me well enough, you may be surprised it’s not number 1. :) I certainly talk about it enough, probably more than any other single day in the 2000s.
The answer calls for a quick review of the principles underlying my list. At the outset of this project, I said I’d be using an unscientific, Potter Stewart-esque “I know it when I see it” standard to rank my Defining Days, based on a mishmash of criteria involving some amorphous combination of contemporaneous memorableness and noteworthiness, emotional significance, historical importance and future implications for my life.
Admittedly, October 15, 2005 barely registers in terms of those last two categories. But with regard to “how contemporaneously memorable and noteworthy each event was,” October 15, 2005 is — crazily, irrationally — very, very close to the top. I was there, watching this overwhelmingly engrossing, epic, I’ll-tell-my-grandkids-I-was-there game, from a totally unique perspective. It was incredible. It was unbelievable. I’ll never, ever forget it.
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A fuller explanation of October 15’s overwhelming, outsize memorableness, noteworthiness and emotional significance to me, personally, must necessarily begin with an understanding of my unusual position as an “Irish Trojan” — i.e., a USC alumnus and, at the time, a Notre Dame law student.
Whatever my intentions may have been initially, in terms of my rooting interests, Notre Dame ensnared me as a fan in my very first game as a Domer, when the Irish upset a Top 10-ranked Michigan team and we rushed the field in jubilation afterward. The pomp, the pageantry, the camaraderie, the tradition: I couldn’t help but love the Irish.
But of course, I was a Trojan fan first and foremost, having attended USC from 1999 to 2003 — suffering through the last throes of the miserable Hackett years, then riding the wave as the Trojans rose to national glory in my senior year and beyond. Traveler, Conquest, the Olympic torch, Tommy Trojan. Pete Carroll, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush. There was just so much to love about USC, and my loyalty was unwavering.
Hence, I became a Notre Dame fan who roots for the Irish 11 out of 12 games each year. USC, I always root for.
So, flash back to October 2005. In the season-and-a-half of football since my arrival in the land of the Golden Domers, I had embraced this strange role with gusto, enthusiastically straddling two diametrically opposed worlds of fandom. Indeed, the week of each year’s ND-USC game, I would wear nothing but Trojan apparel to the law school each day, talk trash to my friends about the team I otherwise root for, and generally relish my glorious, irritating status as an “Irish Trojan” with unabashed, unrestrained impish glee.
But October 15, 2005 was always going to be unique. It was the day — the one and only day in my three years at Notre Dame — when my two worlds would collide right there in South Bend. So the date was circled on my mental calendar pretty much from the moment I enrolled at ND.
As the big day approached, it became clear that, for the first time in a while (and, as it would turn out, the last time in a while), Notre Dame had a really good team capable of challenging the mighty Trojans. I joked that if USC lost, I’d have to drop out of law school, the (richly deserved) ribbing from my classmates would be so intense. Rarely, if ever, have I been so emotionally invested in a sporting event, even before it began. An absolutely enormous amount, in terms of pride and bragging rights, was riding on this one game.
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If the game was overwhelmingly hyped in my own mind, the hype in the wider sports world was only slightly less intense. I’m not sure there was another single regular-season college football game in the 2000s that had the same level of national build-up. Maybe Michigan-Ohio State 2006, but that’s about it. Regardless, this game was huge, and the crescendo of excitement on Notre Dame’s campus was simply tremendous. Would the Irish wear green jerseys? Would Notre Dame bust up another huge winning streak? (USC came in on a 27-game tear, stretching over three seasons.) Would Charlie Weis wake up the echoes? The game was the only thing that mattered — everything else in the wider world was secondary.
The closer we got to Saturday, the more it felt like South Bend had become the undisputed gravitational center of the sports universe. GameDay was coming. Bon Jovi was rumored to be coming. Maybe Bruce Springsteen, too. The Goodyear Blimp was there (from, like, Thursday on). ESPN personalities and sports celebrities were everywhere. Digger. Rudy. Joe Montana. The Trojan horse. The pep rally was held outdoors — and it was televised live on national TV. The pep rally!!
The evening before the game, I went out to Corby’s and the Backer — a classic Notre Dame night — with some of my law-school classmates. I distinctly remember that one of my friends, a committed Irish fan who shall remain nameless (NOT the one pictured at right), confided, after more than a few drinks, that he didn’t think Notre Dame could or would win the next day, but he was looking forward to the game anyway because it would be great to see USC’s amazing athletes up close and in action. And hey, you never know.
This is, of course, the sort of thing you don’t admit when you’re sober. But I think the underlying sentiment — the Irish can’t really win, but dammit, let’s hope against hope they do — was probably pretty common in South Bend that night, and all that week. The pre-game excitement around campus was more like a giddy, suspended-disbelief hope than actual solid, confidence-based bravado. It’s a bit like how UConn fans felt heading into the 1999 title game against Duke. Sure, we’re a good team, and sure, we’re putting on a brave face, but can we really stop the juggernaut? Probably not. But, as the Domers would say, “what though the odds be great or small…”
Naturally, when Kirk picked ND, the crowd went wild; when Corso put on the Trojan helmet, less so. But whoever they might have picked, no one could have predicted the amazing game that was now just a few hours away.
We headed back to our apartment after GameDay to, among other things, unload my camera’s memory card and recharge batteries. We also met up with Adrienne, our friend and fellow Trojan for whom we had secured a ticket in the Irish student section, alongside our regular ND season tickets. About an hour before kickoff, at 1:30 PM local time, we headed out to the tailgate lots. After a brief pit stop there, we took our seats in the stadium — creating a little island of red (or rather cardinal) in a sea of gold.
We got there in time to watch the tail end of the teams’ warmups. (When they exited to head into the locker room, Notre Dame was wearing its usual blue jerseys.) Then, out came the Trojan Marching Band. It was an absolutely perfect, gorgeous day for football, as you can tell from the photos:
A while later, the Irish emerged from their locker room. But wait, something was different about their jerseys. My double-Domer friend Lisa and I had just been conversing about the USC Song Girls’ shoes, which Lisa observed were bright red, when I spotted the Irish players and, almost at a loss for words, momentarily confused Lisa by shouting, “GREEN! GREEN!” Then they came out of the tunnel, Lisa grasped what I was talking about — and the crowd erupted.
It was the first real sign of what a special day this would be. For the first time in ages, Notre Dame had busted out the “lucky” green jerseys, and the crowd reaction was absolutely electric.
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I won’t bore you with a play-by-play account of the game. You can get that elsewhere. Instead, here are some pictures from the first half, followed by a slightly modified version of my first-anniversary account of how I experienced the contest that unfolded before my eyes.
The game was tense throughout, a real back-and-forth affair, and man, was I nervous. Never in my life had I been so emotionally invested in a sporting event. I spent much of the afternoon and early evening with my hands clasped together in front of my face, as if in prayer, only removed when it was time to cheer — and then right back to the prayerful pose. I felt like my personal pride was at stake on that field — and I also just really, really, really wanted the Trojans to win.
A funny thing happened in the final minutes of the game, though. As intense as it was, I went from being a nervous wreck to being remarkably sanguine about the game’s outcome. I know that’s counterintuitive, given how incredibly close and exciting the final minutes were, but the closer we got to the end — especially after Brady Quinn scored the go-ahead touchdown and the entire crowd went so unbelievably crazy that I was literally hearing static because it was too loud for my ears to really process the level of sound — the more I realized, you know what, no matter who ends up winning this game, it is just so freakin’ cool that I am here.
As I watched the full moon rise over the eastern side of the stadium, and listened to the crowd scream its collective lungs out, all the while witnessing a truly epic battle unfolding on the field below, I realized that I would literally someday tell my grandkids that I had been at this game.
And then it got better.
I don’t need to remind y’all of what happened in the final minute-and-a-half of the game; you already know. A few phrases should get the point across, like: 4th and 9. Leinart to Jarrett. Holy s**t. Then, 0:00 on the clock. The crowd rushes the field. The crowd rushes off the field (amazingly fast). A season saved by the luckiest fumble in the history of the universe. No timeouts. No spike. No fear. The Bush Push. A touchdown. A USC victory. Somehow, a USC victory. Holy f**ing s**t. Not quite Cal-Stanford, but… wow. WOW.
That’s (mostly) from my October 15, 2006 post, looking back on the game. For those who don’t know the final sequence, here’s how it unfolded.
The Irish trailed by four points with just over two minutes left, but Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn — Mr. Two Minute Drill — was leading them down the field on a perfectly executed, Elway-esque drive. As it turns out, it was too flawless and efficient; he needed to take a little more time.
But when, amid an explosion of flash-bulbs like I’ve never seen, he scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:04 left on the clock, few of the 80,000 screaming fans — and I mean screaming; I wasn’t kidding when I described the noise level as “static” (and Notre Dame Stadium is not an acoustically intimidating place) — were thinking about that.
They were just thinking about the score:
The Streak was almost over. Just play a little defense and Notre Dame would have its biggest win since 1993, or maybe 1988. And voila, they’d instantly be in the hunt for the national championship.
And they did play a little defense. In fact, they played a lot of really good defense. They got USC down to 4th and 9 from their own 26 with 1:32 left. I was convinced it was over, and turned my camera toward the Notre Dame students all around me, simply wanting to document their reactions when — not if — the Trojans were stuffed and the Irish clinched their epic upset.
And then, Leinart-to-Jarrett happened.
That video clip — which gives me goosebumps whenever I watch it — gives away the ending (“TOUCHDOWN USC!!! With 3 seconds to go! The Trojans have scored! Matt Leinart has scored! And the Trojans will win the ballgame!”), but leaves out a key piece.
In between Leinart’s out-of-bounds fumble with 9 seconds left and his game-winning, “Bush Push”-assisted touchdown with 3 seconds left, there was the totally bizarre, unbelievable, unforgettable moment where the clock erroneously kept running and time expired, Notre Dame thought it had won, and thousands of Irish fans rushed onto the field, only to just as quickly get off the field when the public address announcer said the Irish would be penalized if they stayed. (I’ve often joked that this was the only possible threat that could have worked in that moment. “The National Guard will come out and beat you up” wouldn’t have been nearly as effective as “Notre Dame will be penalized.”)
In my compilation of video clips from the game, below, you can hear nearby ND students screaming and pleading with the field-rushers to “GET OFF THE FIELD!!!” The NBC cameras missed almost all of this, but let me tell you, the scene was absolutely freakin’ crazy. Totally surreal. The relevant sequence starts at around the 2:53 mark.
As you can see in both of the video clips, time was (correctly) put back on the clock, USC was allowed to run one more play, and — at around the 4:20 mark of the clip directly above — Reggie Bush pushed Matt Leinart into the end zone (technically illegal, but as numerous knowledgeable folks have attested in the years since, that call is never made), and the Trojans won the greatest game I’ll ever see, 34-31 over the Irish.
Ever the consummate nerd, immediately after Leinart’s touchdown, I turned to Becky and said, “You do realize, we just witnessed one of the most amazing moments in college football history, right?”
Her response? “THAT WAS SO F***ING AWESOME!!!!!”
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We were, as I’ve mentioned, embedded in the Notre Dame student section — I was, after all, a Notre Dame student, and Becky had a season ticket right next to mine — and there had been a fair bit of good-natured trash talking throughout the game. That it remained “good-natured” (well, mostly) is a testament to the general friendliness of Notre Dame fans, and also to the fact that graduate students understand the whole dual-loyalties stuff better than undergrads; if we had been in the senior section, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have survived.
But after the final sequence, and our initial celebration, Becky and I realized we needed to sort of quiet down and lay low. People all around us were literally crying. The die-hard Irish fans were crushed… absolutely crushed. And these were my friends. I’m not usually one to feel bad for the vanquished foe, but in this case, I did. I was glad USC won, very glad, but at the same time, I felt bad for my friends, and the Irish players. It’s hard to imagine a more heartbreaking way to lose, particularly in that setting, with everything that had lead up to the moment of their… near-victory.
When the game ended and Notre Dame came off the field, it was a really touching and memorable moment, as there were thousands of students on the field (having prematurely rushed it, then retreated to the sideline), greeting them and applauding them for their incredible effort. Becky and I cheered and applauded, too. The Irish played a great game.
And when the band played the Alma Mater, I tapped my friend Dmytro on the shoulder and asked if I could link arms with him and sing along, as is tradition for ND fans –and players — after games, win or lose. I knew that the emotions were perhaps too raw for some of the folks around me to allow a Trojan to participate in that ritual, but I knew Dmytro would understand, and he did. After all, once the clock hit 0:00, I was back to being both a Notre Dame fan and a USC fan. And I was proud of “my” Irish.
It was a really weird moment, and threw my dual loyalties into sharp relief. I’m not sure how to describe it. Bittersweet jubilation? Is that even possible? In any case, I don’t know that I’ve ever been prouder to be both a Domer and a Trojan.
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For those who still don’t quite understand how all of this adds up to a “defining day” of an entire decade, perhaps this excerpt from my October 15, 2007 post, written exactly two years after the game and two-and-a-half months before my firstborn daughter entered the world, will help:
I’ll never forget October 15, 2005 — and, specifically, the USC-Notre Dame epic that was the centerpiece of that madcap day of football mayhem — as long as I live. If I ever go senile, it’ll probably be one of the last things I remember: I might forget my own name, what year it is, and where the hell I am, but you can be sure the employees at the nursing home will know all about Leinart-to-Jarrett and the Bush Push.
More imminently, you can bet that eighteen years from today, our teenage daughter will roll her eyes as her 43-year-old dad starts waxing nostalgic again about the Greatest Game He Ever Saw, 20 years ago that very day: the hype and build-up; the pep rally with Joe Montana and Rudy (but not, alas, Bon Jovi); the green jerseys; the nail-biting first three quarters; the full moon rising over Notre Dame Stadium in the fourth quarter; the surreal, larger-than-life, echoes-awakened atmosphere of those final minutes, like something out of a movie and yet so much better than any movie; the flash bulbs popping from one end of the stadium to the other; the impossibly loud, ear-shattering screams of eighty thousand Irish fans when Brady Quinn scored the go-ahead TD; the insanity of 4th and 9; the delirious, premature field-rushing; our jubilation and the crushing heartbreak all around us moments later; how we stayed put and let the stadium clear out before we left, and then steered clear of Turtle Creek on our walk home, lest our USC sweatshirts provoke drunken Domers like a matador’s cape provokes an angry bull; and so on, and so forth. I know, Dad, I know. You’ve told me all about it a million times. Can I borrow the car?
Oh yeah, and one other thing happened in there. At the tail end of my all-nighter, around 12:30 PM on Monday the 30th, I found out that Becky and I were going to have a baby.
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We’d had suspicions, for the better part of a week, that Becky might be pregnant. But, I mean, c’mon, those were just suspicions. She now claims she was pretty sure; I, however, was anything but. Sure, I had crunched our budget numbers, trying to figure out what a hypothetical baby would mean for our bottom line, but I was by no means convinced it was really gonna happen. This was just a pregnancy “scare.” Surely the test would come back negative.
Mind you, I put “scare” in quotes because it’s not like we regarded pregnancy as a bad thing, per se. Yeah, it’d throw a monkey wrench into our finances. But we’d been married since 2005, and while we weren’t actively trying to have a baby, we weren’t actively trying not to have one, either. (Which, ahem, basically means we were trying to have one, biologically speaking, I guess.) So, whatever was going to happen, was going to happen, and that was okay.
Did I feel “ready” to be a daddy? Hell no. Was I ever going to feel “ready,” until it happened? Probably not. And I think I knew that, sort of.
In any case, around 12:30 PM on Monday, April 30, 2007, Becky took a home pregnancy test. We were in our Clover Ridge apartment at the time. I don’t remember exactly what I was doing when she headed off to the bathroom to take the test; I’m not even sure if she told me that that’s what she was doing. I think I was sitting on the couch, toodling around on my computer. My memory is probably fuzzy in part because I had gone approximately 29 consecutive hours without sleep.
All I know is that she came back with the sort of utterly mind-blowing, life-altering news that’ll jar anyone out of sleepiness for at least an hour or two, and eliminate any thought of an imminent nap: the test thingy had a “plus” sign on it. She was pregnant. We had a baby on the way.
In an instant, my attitude shifted from conflicted and ambivalent, which is how I’d felt about the hypothetical prospect of possibly having a baby, to unabashedly and uncomplicatedly overjoyed the moment that possibility became a reality. A baby! We were going to have a baby! I wanted to dance for joy, throw a party, shout it from the rooftops. I was thrilled. Now that I knew it was going to happen, hell yes, I was ready for it to happen. Woohoo! A baby!
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Of course, this changed everything. Instead of going to East Tennessee, for my clerkship in Judge Susano’s chambers, with the intention of living it up and emulating a friend’s “bar tour” of the best 100 bars in her city, we’d be shopping for baby clothes and decorating the nursery. Instead of saving up money for post-bar-exam travel adventures, we’d be saving that same money for diapers and whatnot. Instead of being just another stop on our decade-long journey as a couple, Knoxville would be the birthplace of our firstborn child. Our whole outlook for the next year of our lives and beyond, and all of our plans, changed in an instant. Suddenly, we knew we’d spend the next eight months preparing for our new arrival, and then after that, welcoming him or her into the world. And it was going to be great. I suddenly couldn’t wait for something that, five minutes earlier, I hadn’t even been actively hoping for.
But while the news of Becky’s pregnancy felt like it changed every aspect of my life in an instant, it didn’t alter my immediate schedule. I still had a massive Electoral College paper due the next day, Tuesday the 1st. After that, I still had four finals to study for. I still had 16 credits to earn, in order to graduate three weeks hence. So after taking a few hours to talk with Becky, process the amazing news, and make our initial phone calls, I went to bed around 4:00 PM — concluding my 33-hour all-nighter — before waking up at 1:30 AM Tuesday and resuming my labors.
Specifically, Tuesday was my day to put the finishing touches on the Electoral College paper. I sequestered myself in the law library, and buried myself deeply in research, writing, revising and proofreading. This had the remarkable result that, periodically throughout the day, I’d emerge from this self-induced academic reverie, return for a moment to reality, and re-remember the still brand-new discovery that, oh my goodness, I’m going to be a Daddy! It was like learning the news anew a couple dozen times.
In the days that followed, I continued my exam preparations with the weight of this stunning, incredible news on my shoulders. It was such a strange experience, finishing up my law-school career — in typically procrastinating fashion — while still absorbing the realization that my life was about to utterly change in ways I couldn’t yet really begin to understand. And to further complicate matters, I couldn’t tell anyone!
It was, of course, very early, so I certainly couldn’t blog about the news — that didn’t happen until June 23 — and we weren’t even telling most of our friends and family. We did tell each of both sets of parents (soon-to-be grandparents), and our friends Shannon and P.J. (Specifically, Becky told Shannon, who shouted the news to P.J., who demanded to grab the phone from Shannon and have Becky hand it over to me, so that he could give me the following timeless congratulatory message, from one father to another: “Dude!!! Your boys can swim!!!”) But that was it.
I did make a few additional, er, unintentional exceptions, though, on the evening of May 11, or rather the wee hours of the 12th. Bursting with joy, and booze, after my very last exam and our ’70s-themed “10 Days Party,” I, ahem, may have made a few statements along the lines of “I’M GONNA BE A DADDY!!!!” to the assembled masses at The Backer, sometime between 2:00 AM and 3:00 AM that morning. Heh.
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When I started this Defining Days list with my college graduation, Becky asked if my law-school graduation — May 20, 2007 — would be on it. I answered that it wouldn’t. (It’ll be on the honorable-mention list.) There are a few different reasons for this, some related to my overall attitude toward graduations, as mentioned in the college-graduation post.
But one big reason is what had happened three weeks earlier. May 20 really felt like something of an afterthought, given the enormity of April 30. More than the culmination of the previous three years, commencement felt like the starting point for the next eight months and beyond. As I celebrated my graduation with my lovely wife and our parents, the life-changing realities ahead were never far from my mind.
I was a law-school graduate, yes, and that was awesome. But, holy crap, pretty soon I was gonna be a Daddy. And that was really awesome.
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FULL DISCLOSURE: Again, the top photo was not taken on the actual day in question. It was taken three days later, May 3, at a state park on the shores of Lake Michigan, where Becky and I went for me to study — and for us to hang out together and contemplate the future. (See also the picture of Becky at right.) The photos of us there are the first pictures taken after we knew we were going to be parents.
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Up next: Number Four. Getting close to the finish line now! I may not get these all done in 2009, but I should be finished by the end of the first weekend of the next decade. :)
Andy Warhol famously said that, in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. Well, my 15 minutes of fame began in the unlikeliest way, with a simple blog post, composed in a government office in South Bend, Indiana, a little less than 72 hours before Hurricane Katrina’s eventual landfall on the Gulf Coast. In that post, I warned of the potential for an “unprecedented cataclysm” if the latest computer model tracks (above) were borne out, and added that “if I were in New Orleans, I would seriously consider getting the hell out of dodge right now, just in case.” The date was August 26, 2005.
When I wrote those words, I wasn’t saying anything exceptional or extraordinary — I was just responding to what seemed like a self-evident threat of calamity. I never could have imagined that my words would start a chain of events which, in the days and weeks that followed, would temporarily transform me into one of the world’s most discussed bloggers, landing me on national TV and radio and in the pages of the New York Times (and various other newspapers around the world), earning me a nomination for a national magazine’s “Blogger of the Year” award, and ultimately gaining me a part in a Spike Lee movie. But that’s exactly what happened, and it makes August 26, 2005, a defining day of my decade.
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Having said that, my personal Katrina story — which, I hasten to point out, is an utterly insignificant footnote to the profound story of tragedy and outrage that is Hurricane Katrina’s legacy — actually began almost a year earlier, on September 14, 2004, with a post titled “Ivan: Worse than 9/11?.” The seeds of my hyperactive, hair-on-fire Katrina-blogging were planted that day, by Paul at Wizbang and his post titled “Pray.”
I’d known for years, of course, that New Orleans was the most vulnerable city in the country to a devastating hurricane strike. Everyone remotely familiar with U.S. disaster scenarios knew that. But I didn’t fully comprehend just how catastrophic a direct hit on the Big Easy could potentially be, until, with Hurricane Ivan threatening the Gulf Coast, Paul linked to a 2002 Times-Picayune article quoting experts who believed that a worst-case strike on New Orleans could “turn the city…into a lake as much as 30 feet deep,” shut the city down for 4-6 months, and kill as many as 100,000 people. “Jesus,” I wrote.
Hurricane Ivan turned right, as expected, and hit the Florida Panhandle, not New Orleans. But I filed away the contents of that Times-Picayune article in my brain, to be recalled the next time New Orleans was threatened.
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That next threat arrived late on a Thursday night in August 2005 — the 25th of August, to be exact — when Hurricane Katrina, after its first landfall in the Florida peninsula, “turned southwestward and sped up a bit” while over land. The result? Katrina weakened less than expected (because she spent less time than expected over land, and much of it was over the wet, flat Everglades), and the trajectory of her future track changed enormously. I wrote: “What makes me nervous is that Katrina’s southwestward turn and refusal to weaken makes a New Orleans doomsday scenario considerably more plausible than it seemed just a few hours ago. Still unlikely, but more likely than it was.”
The next day, August 26, at 11:06 AM in Indiana, I quoted a reference in the latest NHC meteorological discussion to some computer models making “a large jump to the west over Louisiana.” I wrote: “My New Orleans nervousness increases.”
That nervousness transformed into outright alarm when, while at work at my work-study job at the U.S. Attorney’s office in downtown South Bend, I read this post by weatherblogger Charles Fenwick, published at 1:00 PM EST (2:00 EDT). Fenwick noted that “every global model plus the GFDL shifted its track to the west” in the mid-morning computer model run, and thus the models’ “[f]orecasts are now in a fairly tight cluster between eastern Louisana and Mississippi.” He added: “While it is generally unwise to hop onto one run of the models as the gospel, it is meaningful when every model makes the same type of shift. This definitely shifts the area of concern much further west than I had been figuring. Shreds my forecast track thinking as well as that of the NHC.”
Fenwick’s post directly inspired the most famous blog post I’ve ever written, published at 1:57 PM EST on August 26, 2005, titled “New Orleans in peril.” This is the post whose opening paragraph I would eventually read aloud as the intro to Spike Lee’s movie When the Levees Broke. It began:
At the risk of being alarmist, we could be 3-4 days away from an unprecedented cataclysm that could kill as many as 100,000 people in New Orleans. Such a scenario is unlikely — the conditions would have be just right (or rather, just wrong) — but IMHO, it’s not nearly unlikely enough to feel good about things. If I were in New Orleans, I would seriously consider getting the hell out of dodge right now, just in case.
I added some analysis of the latest computer models and what they could mean for a likelihood of a “worst-case scenario,” then added a caveat: “Hurricane forecasting is an extremely inexact science, especially when we’re talking about what will happen in 72+ hours. Hence my statement that the New Orleans scenario is ‘unlikely.’ … Katrina is going to hit somewhere along the Gulf Coast, but the actual odds of her taking any particular track, even the most likely one, are still quite low, because there are just so many possibilities. But despite that fact, if New Orleans is anywhere near the center of the risk area, residents need to prepare as if there is a 100% chance of a direct hit.” (As I would put it in a post the next day: “If you knew there was a 10 percent chance terrorists were going to set off a nuclear bomb in your city on Monday, would you stick around, or would you evacuate? That’s essentially equivalent to what you’re dealing with here.”)
Four hours later, after work, I added a philosophical post titled “Humbled by Katrina.” That was 5:54 PM. At 9:44 PM, I griped: “Residents of New Orleans and the surrounding areas need to realize now just how serious the threat from Hurricane Katrina really is. Much of the media seems convinced that this is still exclusively a Florida issue, which is just not true. Drudge’s headline is ‘Katrina could be Cat. 4 at second Fla. strike’ which is ridiculous, considering the current expected landfall is along the Alabama/Mississippi border, and that’s on the eastern edge of the computer-model guidance. That’s not to say a Florida landfall isn’t still possible — it certainly is — but people need to be making preparations RIGHT NOW all along the northern Gulf coast, especially New Orleans.” A few minutes later, at 9:56 PM, I followed up with a post on the latest NHC discussion, titled “Models ‘cluster’ on near-worst-case track.” It included the new NHC forecast track at right, which I described as “very, very close to being the doomsday scenario for New Orleans.”
In between those last two posts, in an effort to spread the word about the growing threat — in the face of what I perceived as the MSM’s bizarre slowness to recognize the potential of imminent apocalypse — I sent Glenn Reynolds an e-mail at 9:47 PM, titled “Katrina-blogging and the threat to New Orleans.” Glenn had linked to my hurricane-blogging of various storms before, and I figured another Instalanche could allow my warning to reach at least a few folks in the threat zone. I wrote: “If you’re looking for some hurricane-blogging of Katrina, I’m on it. … I’m specifically focusing on the potential threat to New Orleans, which is the real story right now, as much as Drudge and others want to make this about Florida. … This could be The Big One; the city could literally be destroyed if everything comes together right (or rather, wrong).”
I didn’t realize until later that my link-whoring had been unnecessary. Glenn had alreadylinked to my homepage back at 8:23 PM EST (9:23 EDT), saying simply, “KATRINA THREATENS NEW ORLEANS: Brendan Loy is blogging.”
The initial traffic surge from Glenn’s link was relatively muted by Instalanche standards, probably because it was being well after business hours on a Friday night in August. Even so, InstaPundit had put my Katrina coverage on the national radar, and that would ultimately lead to everything that followed.
At the time, however, I figured this was my one and only chance to expound my views about the New Orleans threat, and the need to take action immediately, to a national audience. So I followed up with a new post, titled simply “Evacuate,” containing this straightforward bit of advice:
I’m not a meteorologist. I’m just an amateur weather enthusiast, a law-student blogger who happens to be a hurricane buff. But if I lived in New Orleans, I would definitely leave at this point. Tonight. Barring a major change in the forecast, I expect the evacuation orders to come tomorrow. That will produce massive traffic jams and general confusion. My advice? Beat the rush; get out now. For it is imperative to get out. Katrina probably won’t destroy New Orleans — but it could. So if anyone in New Orleans is reading this, I’d personally advise you to get the hell out of dodge.
* * * * *
That brief update — which would become known as my “Get The Hell Out” post — was timestamped 11:22 PM. It was my last post of August 26. But I was awake for several more hours, eventually writing at 2:28 AM: “I’m going to bed now; by the time I wake up, I expect [Katrina] to be a major hurricane.” I was right — and 2:28 AM would be, by far, my earliest bedtime for the next several days.
The weekend that followed is a blur of sleep deprivation and almost ceaseless blogging about the impending calamity — and about what I perceived as the continuingslowness of government and media to adequately react, until it was too late to do anything except panic and pray.
By overnight Saturday into Sunday, as Katrina exploded into a Category Five monster, and the track continued to make a beeline for New Orleans, it became clear that I was witnessing, in what felt like slow motion, what would certainly be the greatest U.S. weather disaster of my lifetime. The most memorable moment of my own personal experience from those days occurred just before I lay down for a “nap” on Sunday morning, after pulling a bloggy all-nighter, as I watched Mayor Nagin finally order a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans (about 24-36 hours too late, in my view). As I wrote at the time: the “live footage of cars streaming out of the city on both side[s] of the interstate, with the Superdome and the city skyline in the background, superimposed on CNN’s split-screen with the mayor and the governor ordering everyone out of the city, is really very, very eerie, strikingly apocalyptic.”
I said “apocalyptic” for a reason. I wasn’t worrying about a death toll in the low four figures, and severe damage to an American city and the surrounding areas, as ultimately occurred; I was worrying about a five- or even six-figure death toll, and the near-total destruction of the city of New Orleans. And I felt helpless to do anything about it.
Except, of course, to blog. So blog I did, sleep be damned. And my audience grew and grew.
* * * * *
On August 25, a pretty typical day for my blog in what I would come to think of as its “pre-Katrina” era, I received 972 “visits,” per SiteMeter’s definition. On August 26, thanks to that late-night Instalanche, the number jumped to 1,241. On August 27, the total was 2,381, courtesy of the prior Instalanche and another one late in the day. These were OK numbers, especially for a weekend, but certainly not unprecedented in my blog’s history — I’d gotten more than 15,000 visits in a day for a goofy post about Joe Lieberman back in January.
On August 28, though, something extraordinary happened. My all-night vigil of blogging about Katrina’s rapiddeepening into a Category Five behemoth, and the concomitantly deepening threat to the very existence of New Orleans and environs, earned the blog a strange new respect when morning broke. Suddenly I wasn’t just getting occasional Instalanches and links from other regulars; everyone started linking to my blog. While I napped, the Irish Trojan’s Blog was basically anointed by the blogosphere’s traffic tycoons as the go-to source for Katrina-related information. (It would ultimately be declared “the most frequently cited hurricane-related blog” on the Web.)
To wit: between 5am and 6am on Sunday the 28th, I received “just” 75 visits. (That was the last time I’d have a double-digit hourly total for the next two weeks.) By 7-8am, my hourly visit count was in the 300s. By 10-11am, it was in the 500s. By 6-7pm, the 700s. Between 9pm and 10pm, I received 1,278 visits — more than I’d gotten all day long two days earlier. In the days that followed, quadruple-digit hourly totals became commonplace. The record? 3,269 visits between 10am and 11am the next day, as Katrina’s eye was making its closest approach to New Orleans.
My daily total for Sunday the 28th was 11,811 visits. On Monday the 29th, landfall day, it was 31,139 (an hourly average of 1,297). The next day, Tuesday the 30th, I received 34,278 visits, still my highest daily total ever. Here’s a chart of the hourly traffic on those five days — the days that transformed my blog into an object of national discussion:
The unprecedented attention inspired me to keep going — I didn’t want to let down my legions of new readers by cutting back on updates. Besides, this was the biggest domestic weather story of my lifetime. So I continued to blog, and blog, and blog, basically putting my law-school life on hold for a week (the second week of my 2L year, as it happened) and adopting the mantle of full-time Hurricane Katrina blogger.
All of that might have been enough to put August 26, 2005 on my decade list as an honorable mention. What elevated it to the lofty perch of #6 is what happened next.
* * * * *
My status as the blogosphere’s go-to Hurricane Katrina source got me some limited national attention outside the Interwebs, from a handful of local radio stations and blog-connected outlets like Hugh Hewitt’s national radio show, which had me on a couple of times. But things moved to a whole different level on Friday, September 2. That’s when I got a call from Andrew Adam Newman of the New York Times. He wanted to do an article about me and my blog.
One of the earliest and perhaps clearest alarms about Hurricane Katrina’s potential threat to New Orleans was sounded not by the Weather Channel or a government agency but by a self-described weather nerd sitting on a couch in Indiana with a laptop computer and a remote control. …
Mr. Loy’s ["unprecedented cataclysm" post] that Friday afternoon came three days before the hurricane struck and two days before the mayor of New Orleans, Ray C. Nagin, issued an evacuation order. Posts over the next several days, in aggregate, seem now like an eerie rewriting of the tale of Chicken Little, in which the sky does in fact fall.
As I pointed out in a retrospective post later that day:
[M]y early dire warnings that Katrina could destroy New Orleans do not suggest some sort of amazing predictive ability on my part, nor am I some hack who had a hunch and made a guess that just happened to come true. This was no fluke. I was basing my statements on solid, publicly available information — National Hurricane Center advisories, computer models, etc. — combined with a long-standing, well-justified apprehension about hurricane threats to New Orleans. I say “well-justified” because the catastrophic potential of a major hurricane striking the Big Easy had been widely known for many years. So when I saw Katrina turn southwestward last Thursday, I was immediately concerned, and when I saw the computer model predictions shift westward on Friday morning, I was downright alarmed. When the official National Hurricane Center track caught up with the computer models at 10:00 PM Friday, and the NHC declared the new, New Orleans-centered track a high-confidence forecast, I knew this was the gravest threat to New Orleans in my lifetime, and it was time to start seriously thinking about evacuations. This was Friday night, and what’s extraordinary isn’t that I saw the gravity of the threat, it’s that so many others seemingly didn’t. …
[Moreover,] [a]s horrible as the catastrophe has been, please realize that it actually could have been far worse. What occurred was not the long-feared “worst-case scenario,” which involved not a levee breach equalizing the water level in Lake Ponchartrain and “Lake New Orleans,” but rather a storm surge over-topping the levees and causing the water level in “Lake New Orleans,” hemmed in by the still-intact levees, to rise substantially higher than the water level in the lake. If the storm had wobbled a meteorologically insignificant 20 or 30 miles to the west, and/or had not weakened from a Category 5 to a Category 4 at the last minute, that scenario would have occurred, and instead of a slowly developing 10-20 foot flood, New Orleans would have suffered a rapidly developing 30-40 foot flood. (Jackson Square would have been underwater, whereas in the real-world scenario it remained high and dry.) The whole thing would have happened Monday morning, and at the same time as the city was rapidly and massively flooding, the devastating winds that demolished the Mississippi coastline would have been tearing New Orleans apart instead. All of those attics where people took shelter would have been either submerged or shattered to bits. The French Quarter would have been swamped, instead of mostly surviving the flood. Second-floor generators in hospitals might well have drowned. Bottom line, there would be a lot fewer refugees and a lot more corpses.
All of that explains my focus on the pre-storm failures (by Nagin et. al.), rather than the post-storm ones, which would have been largely irrelevant in a true worst-case scenario. And it’s all even truer in retrospect, given that post-storm analysis revealed Katrina was “only” a Category 3 when it made its closest approach to New Orleans, and brought only Category 1-strength winds to the city. As we now know, the levees should not have failed in such a storm, but they did not work as designed.
* * * * *
In any event, despite my insistence that my blog warnings were nothing extraordinary, and that plenty of others (though not certain key government and MSM types) were saying the same thing, the New York Times article caught the eye of the rest of the MSM. A Brendan Loy media boomlet ensued, based on what I’ve described as the “why-did-this-nerd-see-it-coming-when-George-Bush-didn’t” meme. More newspapers and radio stations called. On two different occasions, I was scheduled to appear on Fox News, but both appearances were ultimately canceled for logistical reasons. However, two days after the Times article, I appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on MSNBC:
That same day, the South Bend Tribune published an article about me, which was then picked up by the Associated Press. The AP article went ’round the world, and was published or summarized in such far-flung places as France’s Le Monde and newspapers or websites in Spain, Denmark, Norway and South Korea, as well as all over the United States. It also led to a new wave of phone calls from local radio and TV stations.
Thus, even as I, and pretty much every other 2L, was in the midst of the “OCI” (i.e., “On-Campus Interview”) season for law-firm jobs, I was also fielding media interviews left and right. A couple of times, I mentioned I had an “interview” that day, and my friends would tease me by asking which type of interview, law-related or blog-related. CNET News reported on the craziness of it all.
Gradually, things got a little less hectic, but I was getting media attention even into October, courtesy of The Washington Post, among others. And my Katrina coverage was praised by everyone from Mickey Kaus, who said my blog should be in the Smithsonian, “if you can put a blog in the Smithsonian,” to Michelle Malkin, who said I should get a Pulitzer, to GOP operative Patrick Ruffini, who wrote, “Brendan has made what is undoubtedly the greatest contribution to the blogosphere in its short history.” I’m thinking that was a bit of exaggeration, but I’ll take it. :)
Later, in early 2006, The Week magazine made me a nominee for its 2005 “Blogger of the Year,” and said I “became the definitive online source for information and commentary about the storm’s devastation and political failures it exposed—citizen journalism at its finest.” That was pretty cool.
And then Spike Lee called.
* * * * *
Actually, it was his producer, Judith Aley, who first contacted me, sometime late in 2005. Spike, she said, wanted to interview me for his upcoming movie about Hurricane Katrina, which would ultimately be titled When the Levees Broke.
After some discussion — in which I made clear that I don’t buy into the more inflammatory, Kanye-esque interpretations of Katrina’s legacy, and Judith made clear that Spike understood where I was coming from and wanted to hear a variety of viewpoints, including mine — I agreed, and Spike Lee’s people flew me to New York for an interview on January 28.
On August 21, I made my motion-picture debut, as When the Levees Broke premiered on HBO.
As a consequence of this, I have an IMDB page. :) Oh yeah, and the whole Katrina mess also resulted in me having my own Wikipedia page (though I sometimes wish I didn’t).
* * * * *
Anyway… I’ve gone on long enough, if not too long, in expounding the significance of August 26, 2005 to my decade. And again, I’m well aware that my personal Hurricane Katrina story is downright trivial when compared to the “defining days” experienced by the countless thousands of Americans whose lives were permanently changed by the storm. They suffered a horrible tragedy; I just got on TV and in some newspapers, and a bunch of people read my blog. Big deal. Needless to say, I wish the events leading to my “15 minutes of fame” had never happened. But, even so, I can’t deny the significance of those “minutes” to my life over the last 10 years.
My 15 minutes of fame are now over. The blog that started it all, Irish Trojan, is defunct, and my current blog,.The Living Room Times, gets far less traffic than Irish Trojan did, even pre-Katrina. And I’m fine with that. But certainly, the events of fall 2005 had a huge impact on my decade. And all of those events — the NYT article, the MSNBC interview, the Spike Lee movie appearance, all of it — flow directly from that 1:57 PM August 26 blog post (and the posts surrounding it), and from InstaPundit’s link to me that day. If not for my blogging on August 26, none of the subsequent media craziness would ever have happened. So it was certainly a defining day of my decade.
I’ve done twoposts so far about events related to Becky’s and my relationship, both recalling our transition from college boyfriend & girlfriend to something substantially more serious. Now, for this “defining day,” I go back in time — back to the origins of our love.
(Warning: Extreme sappiness ahead. Romantics will love it, but cynics beware!)
* * * * *
Becky and I lived in the same dorm, Trojan Hall, during our freshman year at USC, and I developed a crush on her very early on, way back in the last decade, in the fall of 1999. At first, she regarded me as a total dork, not worthy of her romantic attention. Given that my “love life” up to that point had consisted of a long series of unrequited crushes, this seemed perfectly normal to me. But Becky and I soon became friends — and then I began to slowly whittle away at the “not worthy of romantic attention” part (if not the “total dork” part).
Still, it took some time for Becky to come around to the whole dating thing. Our “first kiss” — on the cheek — was at Disneyland, on Splash Mountain, on my 18th birthday, October 30, 1999. We had our “first date” on December 1, 1999, but it was a “date” only in retrospect; really it was just a field trip with my astronomy class to do some stargazing, which I invited her to, and which let to some keep-out-the-cold snuggling. But our initial efforts at romance in late December flopped.
Finally, in February 2000, shortly after Valentine’s Day, we got together. Our first real kiss was on February 19. Our official “anniversary” was February 25. (The photo at left shows us going to a dorm dance on March 24, the night before our first “monthaversary.”)
We quickly became a pretty serious couple. I met her parents in mid-May. If you’d asked me then whether I was in love with Becky, I might have said yes, or at least “I think so.” But in fact, there would soon be a single, clearly identifiable day — indeed, a moment — when I would fall absolutely, unalterably, undeniably, head-over-heels in love with her. And it happened only after a period of absence, which, as they say, made the heart grow fonder.
* * * * *
On May 21, I saw Becky off as she departed from JFK for a summer abroad in London. At right, you see Becky going through airport security — my last view of my first girlfriend for the next six weeks.
We were separated by an ocean for 42 days — almost half the entire prior length of our relationship (86 days). We kept in touch pretty regularly via her phone cards and trips to the nearby Easy Everything Internet cafe, not to mention snail-mailed care packages accompanied by sappy letters and sentimental mementos. But we weren’t sure when we’d actually see each another again. I didn’t yet have concrete plans to visit her in England, though I hoped to convince my parents to let me do so (and pay for it, natch).
My borderline-obsessive talk about Becky (or, as my Dad put it, “beckybeckybecky”) during our family vacation to Nova Scotia in late May and early June — I even converted my old dorm whiteboard to a “shrine to Becky,” pictured at left, and brought it with us on the trip; I kid you not — helped convince my parents that this girl, and this relationship, were important enough that a trip to England might be justified. In June, they agreed, and I bought my plane tickets. I would depart JFK on July 1 and arrive at Heathrow on July 2 for a two-week visit.
My anticipation of the trip was overwhelming. As I walked down the streets of Connecticut’s small towns each weekday, going door-to-door as part of my summer job as a “canvasser” (i.e., fundraising lackey) for the Ralph Nader-founded lefty organization ConnPIRG, I would hum the song “Hooked on a Feeling” as I thought about Becky and pondered how I’d put the money I was earning toward my trip to see her. Each night, I counted the days remaining till I left. I couldn’t wait.
But nothing could prepare me for the feeling I’d experience on July 2, when I finally reunited with Becky.
* * * * *
It was, of course, a long and exhausting flight from New York to London, a transatlantic red-eye. Then, once the plane had landed, I had to go through the ritual of filling out forms, going through customs, etc. Normally I handle such things with relative aplomb, but knowing that Becky was waiting on the other side — that my six-week wait would be over, just as soon as these damn Brits would let me into their damn country — made the delay excruciating.
Finally, finally, they stamped my passport, they cleared me, they let me through, I wandered into the meet-and-greet area for international arrivals … and there she was, wearing a fluorescent pink shirt, some sparkly makeup, and a subtle, sexy little smile (sample in photo at right, taken a few days later). She was, at that moment, the most beautiful sight my eyes had ever seen — the girl I loved.
That was the moment I fell in love with Becky. I instantly knew it: I loved her. There was no more doubt, no “maybes,” no “I think so.” I was absolutely, without any question, truly, madly, deeply in love. We walked up to each other, embraced, and shared a very long kiss, not caring who was watching, or what they thought about PDA.
Becky, my first girlfriend, the first girl I’d ever kissed, had become the first girl I’d ever loved. (And, as I now know, the last.)
* * * * *
It probably goes without saying why this makes July 2, 2000 a defining day of my decade, but I’ll try to give a brief explanation anyway. My relationship with Becky was, and is, the central fact of my decade, the core foundation of the last ten years of my life (and of all the years to come). So the day I fell in love with her is certainly a defining day of the decade. How could it not be?
Becky and I started dating at the very beginning of the decade; we got engaged roughly a third of the way through it; we got married just after its halfway point; and we spent the final quarter of the decade having, and starting to raise, our kids. For me, the 2000s are all about Becky.
Another way of looking at it is this: almost every other item on this list involves Becky in some way. (Her fingerprints will be all over my long list of “honorable mentions,” too.) In some cases, like our engagement day, this is obvious; in others, like Election Night 2000, it’s less so. Yet she was there that night, in the Daily Trojan newsroom, helping me put together the DT’s election coverage. Other such examples will follow in the coming days.
The only real exception is the blackout, which happened when I was living by myself in NYC, during Becky’s and my post-graduation period of relationship uncertainty. But even then, I called Becky on my cell phone to tell her what was happening, as I was walking toward Times Square. She has been, in one way or another, a part of — if not the central figure in — just about every significant event that’s happened in my life over the last ten years. Indeed, in a real sense, this is not just my decade that I’ve been reminiscing about over the last several days; it’s our decade. And that’s part of what makes the creation of this list so interesting and fun for me.
* * * * *
Having said that, there’s another, more microcosmic reason why July 2, 2000 belongs on this list. The emotion I experienced that day, the overwhelming feeling of pure, unadulterated love for another person, washing over me like a tsunami, is something that’s just absolutely wonderful. That it happened to be the first time I’d ever fallen in love — and that it was with the person I would ultimately marry — only makes it more special. But the feeling itself, in its own right, is probably enough to cause this day to make the list regardless.
The rush of falling in love the way I did on June 2, 2000, is something I can’t really put into words adequately, but I hope everyone reading this has experienced it, or else experiences it at some point. It’s greater than any Hollywood movie cliché or hackneyed country song or even a glorious Shakespearian sonnet. It’s indescribable. It’s incomparable. It’s a thing unto itself. It’s… love.
* * * * *
FULL DISCLOSURE: The photo at the top of this post was not actually taken on July 2, 2000. It was taken four days later, on July 6, on a hiking trail in Scotland, where Becky and I spent a weekend during my visit to London. I don’t actually have any pictures of Becky from July 2. And maybe that’s a sign of just how overwhelming and unprecedented the moment of seeing her again really was: I didn’t even take a picture! :)
* * * * *
SCHEDULING NOTE: I’m re-re-revising my planned schedule for the remainder of my Defining Days of the Decade. :) It was harder than I anticipated to get these things written while I was in Arizona for Christmas, and now I’m in Connecticut for a very quick visit, which I don’t want to squander writing blog posts. I expect, however, to have a significant amount of downtime on Monday, what with my Newark-Phoenix flight, followed by my several-hour wait at PHX for Becky & the girls to arrive for our flight together to Denver.
So, in light of that, here’s my new schedule. I’ll post nothing tomorrow. I’ll post #6 and #5 on Monday, 12/28. I’ll post #4 and #3 on Tuesday, 12/29. I’ll post #2 on Wednesday, 12/30. (If I can’t manage four posts on the preceding two days, then #3 may bleed into 12/30 as well.) And I’ll post #1 on Thursday, 12/31. As for the Honorable Mentions, I’ll post those whenever I can — possibly between #3 and #2, possibly between #2 and #1, or possibly on sometime during the weekend of January 1-3, after the Top 12 list is completed.
To explain the context of day #8 on my decade list, it probably makes sense to pick up where day #12 left off in terms of the evolution of Becky’s and my relationship. During the six months after graduation, we indeed lived apart — Becky in Buffalo, then Mesa, AZ; me in Newington, CT, then New York City — though we managed to spend quite a bit of time together nonetheless. Our exact status as a couple was undefined (if we’d been on Facebook in 2004, we probably would have fallen into the category “It’s Complicated”), but regardless, when we weren’t physically together, we were in constant contact: I remember one month in the summer of 2003, I used 998 of my cell phone plan’s 1,000 “anytime minutes,” mostly on conversations with Becky.
In retrospect, it’s clear we were doing a lot of that vaunted “growing up” in those six months. And instead of growing apart, we were growing together, despite being on opposite sides of the country much of the time. So in October 2003, when I quit my job in NYC, I decided to move out to Mesa to be with Becky. Very shortly thereafter, everything just sort of clicked. By the beginning of 2004, what had long been obvious to our friends and family had finally became clear to us as well: we were going to be together forever. Now it was just a question of when and how we’d formalize that fact.
Initially, I was steadfast in my desire to delay getting engaged until after my first semester of law school. We were going to be living apart again during that semester — Becky would be finishing her Master’s in History at ASU while I started as a 1L at Notre Dame — and I wanted to get through that potentially difficult period first. But as spring turned to summer, my feelings on the matter changed. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when or why, but it just started seeming increasingly pointless to wait, and I felt more and more that I wanted to make Becky my fianceé before leaving for law school. We both knew we were going to get married, so why wait to make it official? I also figured this was my last chance to really and truly surprise her, before we got into “Is he ever going to freakin’ propose?” territory. :) And I already had a diamond — a family heirloom — so I could afford to do it without months of advance planning. So I made up my mind to propose before departing for South Bend.
The question thus became: when, and how? I decided the latter question first. Because I was saving some money on the ring, I wanted to go all-out with the proposal. I considered a number of ideas, but ultimately settled on the whole airplane-banner thing. The only problem was, we were living in Arizona at the time, and post-9/11 restrictions on air travel over stadiums — including by planes carrying advertisements — had basically put that whole industry out of business everywhere except on the coasts (or so I was told when I looked into hiring a plane in Phoenix). To do an aerial proposal in Arizona, I would have had to hire a plane to fly in from Southern California, and I’d be on the hook for all the travel hours to & from, making the whole thing ridiculously expensive.
But then I had a brainstorm. We were already planning to travel to L.A. on July 4 weekend. Out there, because airplanes with advertising banners could still fly over beaches and whatnot, I could get a plane easily and locally. I enlisted Kristy (who lived in Santa Monica at the time) as a co-conspirator, settled on a nearby July 3 fireworks show as the perfect excuse to get Becky outside at a known place and time, and proceeded with my plan. I reserved the plane. I had the diamond set in an engagement ring at a jeweler near my office in Phoenix. And then… I waited.
* * * * *
When the time came to leave for L.A., disaster almost struck. Becky wasn’t feeling well, and was making noises about possibly canceling the trip. Obviously, I couldn’t let that happen, but I also couldn’t explain to Becky why it was so important that we go. Luckily, she came around without me having to give anything away. On Friday, July 2, we hit the road.
Early in the afternoon of Saturday the 3rd, we went for a short hike with Kristy up in the foothills overlooking L.A., then headed down to Santa Monica Pier. While at the Pier, we saw a bunch of airplanes with advertising banners flying overhead. Uncomfortably enough, the conversation somehow turned to those planes. But Kristy and I both managed to refrain from dropping any hints.
The appointed moment grew closer. We met up with Andrew and Bea, and, together with Kristy and her then-boyfriend Eddie, left at around 6:30 to walk toward the stadium at Santa Monica College where the fireworks were to take place at nightfall. My plane, carrying a banner reading “BECKY WILL U MARRY ME? [LOVE] BRENDAN,” was scheduled to fly overhead at 7:00 PM. We set up our picnic blanket across the street from the stadium, in the front yard of John Adams Middle School. And again: I waited.
What happened next, well, you can see for yourself, courtesy of my appointed videographer, Kristy:
Note that I first focused Becky’s attention on the airplane by saying, in reference to our earlier discussion of the advertising banners over the beach, “Hey Becky, look, it’s one of those planes.” Heh. Becky swears her that first, split-second thought upon seeing the plane’s banner was, “Wow, there’s another couple here named Brendan and Becky?” The first actual words out of her mouth, though, were simply, “Oh my God!” — which she said while whacking my leg. Then I got down on one knee and gave my stumbling, bumbling will-you-marry-me speech, which I only wish was less audible on the video. :) The important thing is: she said yes.
* * * * *
Not that her answer was in doubt. I knew she’d say yes — I wasn’t nervous about that.
I was, however, extremely nervous about whether the whole airplane thing would go off without a hitch, and whether Becky would be surprised. What if the plane was late? What if we were somehow unavoidably delayed in getting to the fireworks site? What if someone accidentally let something slip?
The latter was the biggest concern, as not just Kristy, but everyone else there (Andrew, Bea and Eddie), as well as Becky’s two other closest friends, V and Shannon, and both sets of parents, knew what was going to happen. V knew because Kristy needed someone to confide in; Shannon knew because V needed someone to confide in. As for the parents: I told mine, and a few weeks before the big day, while visiting Becky’s parents in Arizona, I asked for Ted’s blessing to ask for Becky’s hand in marriage. (He replied, “You’ll have to take the rest of her, too.”) So lots of people knew. And of course I, myself, am not known for my subtlety and ability to keep secrets, while Becky is pretty darn clever. So I was very afraid she would figure out something was up, thus spoiling the surprise — which was a big part of the point, as I mentioned.
But she had no clue, and was, of course, delighted. (Here’s a video clip of Becky calling V to tell her about it.) So were the people around us, when they figured out that they were sitting right new the couple referenced by the airplane. On the video of the proposal, you can hear a woman nearby saying, “Hey look! It’s Brendan and Becky!” Heh. That was pretty cool. And then we had a fireworks show to celebrate our engagement. How many people can say that? :)
Anyway, that’s how July 3, 2004 became a day Becky and I will never forget, and most assuredly a defining day of my decade.
Tomorrow (or maybe even later tonight, if I have time): Defining Day #7.
September 15, 2008: The Economy Implodes — And I Get A Job
This item on my decade list is unique, in that I’ve literally never blogged about it — at least not its personal aspects — before. Because of my “no blogging about work” policy, as well as simple common-sense discretion, I was exceptionally tight-lipped about my job search in 2008. So the fact that I had a crucial callback interview in Denver, at the firm where I am now a second-year associate, on the very day that Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, is something I’ve never discussed before on my blog.
I’m still not going to discuss the professional aspects in any detail, of course. But there are a few key salient facts that I can now reveal, which help explain why this remarkable confluence of events is #9 on my list of the decade’s defining days.
First, regular readers know that I took, and passed, the Colorado bar during the summer after law school, then headed to Knoxville for a judicial clerkship. What you may not know is that, in February 2008, when Loyette was not quite two months old, I took the Tennessee bar, with the idea being to expand my range of job search options. I passed it as well, so when I started job-hunting in earnest in the spring and summer, I applied to jobs in both Knoxville and Denver.
I had various interviews in both cities — the Denver interviews were the reason for my frequent, vaguely explained trips to Colorado during that time period — and although ending up in Denver was my preference, by September I was more than willing to take a position in Knoxville if the right offer came along. And wherever we landed, we were likely to stay put. Thus, much more was at stake in my job search than just a job. The geographic future of our family hung in the balance. Would we stay in Tennessee, and raise our family in the South? Would we go west and settle down in Colorado? It all depended on the vagaries of the job market.
My best prospect, as of late summer, was at a firm in Denver where I’d had an initial interview in July, followed by a phone interview, and finally by a callback scheduled for September 15. I knew this was serious, that I had a real shot at the job. So I headed out to Colorado on Sunday, September 14 — and, as I flew across the country, I had absolutely no idea of the convulsions that were rocking the financial world at that very moment.
I remained totally oblivious to the Wall Street drama until late that evening, when, while relaxing at Kristy and V’s apartment, I visited the Drudge Report, saw some alarming headlines, perused some scary-sounding stories, and whipped up a blog post titled “Sunday ‘crisis’ on Wall Street portends ‘day of reckoning’ Monday.” Even then, I didn’t really comprehend the magnitude of what was happening. As I went to bed Sunday evening, ready for an interview the next day that I hoped would land me my first job as a practicing lawyer, I had no concept whatsoever that the global financial system was about to enter into a downward spiral that would send it to the verge of a catastrophic collapse, and that this near-collapse would in turn give us the worst recession since World War II.
On Monday morning, Lehman Brothers formally filed for bankruptcy, the vultures turned their attention to crumbling A.I.G., the stock market began a single-day drop of more than 500 points — and I went downtown for a 10:00 AM interview. By 11:30 or so, I had been offered the job, and I started making arrangements to spend the next day apartment-hunting. It was official: we were moving to Denver. One of the worst days in world financial history was the day I finally got hired as an attorney, and our family’s long period of geographic uncertainty was finally settled.
Oh yeah, and one other thing happened that day. I saw Obama. Almost immediately after my interview, I hit the road for Pueblo, where the President-to-be was holding a campaign rally late that afternoon. In his remarks, Obama excoriated McCain for his tone-deaf statement earlier in the day that the “fundamentals of the economy are strong.” Obviously, the collapse of Lehman and its immediate aftermath would prove to be a huge political turning point, so, in a sense, you could say that I personally witnessed the beginning of the end of the 2008 presidential campaign on September 15. (And I even got in the paper — namely, the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News — in the process.)
But although standing a few hundred feet away from The One — ahem, that is to say, the next President of the United States — was certainly a thrill for a political junkie like me (and finally put an end to my complaining about just missing big election-related events), it isn’t the reason September 15, 2008 shows up on my decade list, or even a significant part of the reason. The combination of the Lehman collapse and my job offer are what make this day a real turning point in my life.
If I hadn’t gotten a job that day, who knows what would have happened? I know one firm where I had been under active consideration instituted a hiring freeze on September 15 because of all the financial uncertainty. Other firms’ hiring departments undoubtedly went into hibernation as well. And of course, massive layoffs followed in subsequent months, in law and in every other industry, as “Main Street” followed Wall Street into the economic abyss. Indeed, the strange coincidence of my hiring on financial D-Day is heightened by the fact that I actually started my new job in November, the very month when the bottom fell out of the job market. For a while, it almost felt like I was living in an alternate universe — a very lucky one.
In any event, as I mentioned, I spent the next morning and afternoon apartment-hunting, then headed to the airport in the evening — where I picked up a copy of the day’s Wall Street Journal, scanned at the top of this post, at a newsstand — and flew back to Knoxville, where I finished out my clerkship and began to prepare for our big move to Denver. The rest is history. Becky are I have settled down in the Mile High City, and we’re thrilled about it. We own a home. We have every intention of staying put. Our decade of wandering the country, in which we moved a combined total of 27 times in 10 years, and lived in 7 states and 11 ZIP codes, is over. And our final stopping point was decided on September 15, 2008.
A day late, but hopefully not a dollar short, I’m finally ready to continue with my “Brendan’s Defining Days of the Decade” series. (Link goes to a page displaying all posts in descending order from #12 to, eventually, #1.) But first, let’s review where we’ve been:
Much like the Election Day 2000 — and unlike my Graduation Day three months earlier — the day of the blackout makes my decade list not because of some profound impact that it had on my life going forward, but simply because it was a really, really memorable one-off event in its own right.
But why so memorable?, you may ask. It’s a reasonable question. The three-word answer is “I was there,” but that still doesn’t really explain how it’s in my top ten days of the entire decade, for goodness’ sake. To understand that, you need to know a little bit of background about me.
First, there’s the generic fact that, as I put it in my 2005 retrospective, I’m “someone who really, really likes to be ‘there’ when interesting things happen,” and the blackout was “the ultimate ‘I was there’ moment” for me.
But it’s more than just that. The blackout didn’t merely appeal to my general sensibilities. It also satisfied a very specific desire that had been festering inside me for a number of years — namely, the desire to witness a massive New York City blackout. Yes, that’s right. If I’d had a “life’s to-do list” in 2003, this would have been on it, albeit in the subcategory of “stuff I’d love to do, but will almost certainly never get the chance.”
Sometime when I was a kid — I don’t remember exactly when, or in what context; maybe from a TV show, maybe from one of my dad’s childhood stories — I learned about the Great Blackout of 1965, which had plunged New York City (and much of the Northeast, but like in every disaster movie ever made, New York is the only city that matters) into darkness, resulting in an eerie night without lights in the City that Never Sleeps, and memorable photos of the darkened NYC skyline on the next morning’s New York Times, the next issue of Life magazine, etc.
As a news junkie and New York-lover, I thought this sounded awesome, and was insanely jealous I didn’t get to live through anything so cool. (I didn’t know as much, if anything, about the Blackout of ‘77, which resulted in considerable looting. The ‘65 blackout was peaceful.)
This odd feeling of jealousy was similar, and perhaps related, to my overall jealousy (referenced in my Election 2000 reminiscence) of my parents’ generation for having grown up in such interesting times. Darn it, I wanted to live during an interesting era in history. And darn it, I wanted to be in New York City during a massive blackout.
Enter the Great Blackout of 2003, which just happened to coincide with my exceedingly brief stint as a New Yorker. (I lived in Manhattan from July-October ‘03.) It was like divine wish fulfillment: I’d always wanted to see a massive NYC blackout, and here one was, falling right in my lap.
And I’d been correct in my juvenile assessment: it was awesome.
* * * * *
I’ve told the story many times before, both in blog posts as it was happening and immediately afterward, and also in retrospectives around the blackout’s anniversary in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008. And of course, you can listen to my live, in-the-moment account, via contemporaneous audio blog posts, in the embedded audio player below:
When the lights went out at 4:15 PM that Thursday afternoon, I was up on the 13th floor of the building in Tribeca where I worked at the time. My workplace was a large loft apartment in which my boss, Lyn, and her husband, Richard, ran two separate small businesses out of their home, with a combined total of maybe 7 or 8 employees. When the power went out in the office where I, and the rest of Lyn’s employees, worked, I initially thought maybe it was just our side of the apartment. So I strolled out into the living room — which had a gorgeous view of the Midtown skyline — to see whether Richard’s employees were affected too. I quickly ascertained that they were; the whole apartment was without power.
Moments later, Richard proclaimed — I have no idea where he got his information — that the “whole building,” a 17-story structure that was also home to Mariah Carey, had lost power. This seemed like a pretty big deal. I went back to Lyn’s area, and started typing out a mobile blog post on my cell phone, announcing that our office had lost power, and that we had reports the whole building might be out. Hey: that’s newsworthy, right? A whole building in Tribeca without power!
As I was typing this, Lyn came in and said that, according to one of Richard’s employees, the whole city, plus Long Island and New Jersey, had lost power. My immediate reaction was extreme skepticism. But then, when I tried to upload my planned blog post, my phone wouldn’t connect. I proceed to dial the audioblog phone number, hoping to post the news that way, but I couldn’t get through. I tried this repeatedly, with no luck. Suddenly it began to seem a bit more plausible that maybe the whole city was indeed without power — and that, like on 9/11, everyone was reaching for their cell phones at the same time, jamming the networks.
Without TV or Internet, and with the cell networks jammed, we initially lacked a reliable source of information. (It took quite a while before somebody thought to get a battery-powered radio out.) But it quickly became clear from the glut of traffic, the honking, and the sirens that were visible and audible on the streets below, that something was most certainly happening, beyond just our building. Richard, Lyn, and all of their employees gathered in the living room, staring slack-jawed out the windows at the surreal scene unfolding 13 stories down.
The full extent of the blackout didn’t become clear, however, until I finally got through via phone to my dad, who still had power in Connecticut. In what one of my co-workers later described as a “surreal moment,” I repeated aloud, to everyone in the living room, the names of affected cities that my dad was reading to me from a CNN article: Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, Albany, Toronto, Ottawa.
Holy crap. It wasn’t just New York, we all suddenly realized. It was the entire freakin’ Northeast!
* * * * *
Naturally, we speculated about terrorism a bit — indeed, one of the very first things I did after the blackout started was glance out the living room window, to be sure the skyline was intact — but for the most part, the mood in the office was quite light. Someone quickly suggested that we break out the liquor, before the ice melts. We also joked about price-gouging: Richard said he would drive any of us home for $10 per quarter-mile, or something like that. And we all looked on with amazement as an incredibly long line of buses began to back up further and further down Sixth Avenue, ultimately stretching all the way from Canal Street to Ground Zero and beyond.
Eventually we realized it was possible to go up to the roof, above the 17th floor. This seemed like it’d be fun, so the employees who were left — most of Richard’s people had already walked down the 13 flights of stairs and headed for one of their nearby homes — walked up there. It was a beautiful view, and we could really see the chaos: absolutely crazy traffic (even by New York standards), tons of helicopters flying overhead, pedestrians everywhere.
After traipsing up and down the stairs a few times, the rest of us decided to call it a day. I joined up with my co-workers Scott and Will, and started walking in the general direction of Greenwich Village. Scott was apartment-sitting for a friend there, and offered to put us up for the night, as Will and I both lived much further away. (My apartment was in Manhattan, but all the way up on 190th Street — almost 10 miles from Tribeca!) I was undecided on that, but decided to walk with them for at least for a while.
As we made our meandering way toward the Village, we stopped at a grocery store where they were giving away all sorts of perishables for free or very reduced prices, trying to unload their inventory before everything went bad. We got a ton of free milk, several salads, and a bunch of other stuff for a total of $1.90. We then headed over to the Hudson River, where we sat for a while, drank milk, and marveled at the incredibly long line of people waiting for a ferry to New Jersey. We also people-watched as the seemingly endless line of folks walking south, presumably from jobs north of Canal Street towards homes on the southern tip of the island, streamed by.
Finally, as the sun began to set, we started walking in earnest toward Scott’s friend’s apartment. But, despite some trepidation about wandering around a potentially lawless city on what promised to be a very dark night, I decided that I simply couldn’t hole myself up inside just yet. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, an experience I had literally dreamed of, and I wanted to really experience it. Here at last, against all odds, was my chance to see New York City in the dark, and dammit, I wasn’t going to just hunker down and let it pass me by. So, without any clear idea where I would be sleeping, how I would guarantee my safety, or what I would do once it got fully dark, I started walking toward Times Square.
* * * * *
Along the way, I passed through the heart of Greenwich Village — which had turned, as one passerby put it, into a huge block party — and walked right past Penn Station, where literally thousands of people were just milling about, waiting for transportation, or for the lights to come back on. It was incredible to see that mass of humanity, just sort of wandering around aimlessly, unable to go anywhere or do anything except… wait.
Of course, as was endlessly observed in the blackout’s aftermath, the milling masses were totally peaceful. The better angels of human nature, and more specifically of New York’s nature, definitely prevailed that day. People were content to accept their predicament, and try to make the best of it. After all, we were all in this together.
All up and down Seventh Avenue, the same remarkable scenes — an ever darkening cityscape filled with thousands of stranded people — played out. I took my iconic Empire State Building photo, reproduced at the top of this post, during my walk north. Finally, just as complete darkness was setting in, I arrived at my destination, the Big Apple’s beating heart: Times Square.
Now that was an incredible scene. The always-on Jumbotron, off. The neon signs, unlit. I actually had trouble finding my bearings, and practically stumbled into the square, not even recognizing at first that I’d arrived. How do you know where you’re in Times Square when you can’t see all the gaudy lights?
Interestingly, I was most definitely not the only person who had walked to Times Square simply because I had to see it in the dark. I chatted with several other people who were doing exactly the same thing. We looked around in amazement, snapped some pictures, gawked at the various news crews, and generally just took it all in.
* * * * *
After maybe a half-hour of this, I finally started considering more seriously what to do next. Although it was totally dark, I felt quite a bit safer than I had anticipated that I might, thanks to the amount of light cast by car headlights, flares and generators; the masses’ generally tranquil disposition; the number of cops out on the streets; and the sheer number of people on the streets as well (there can be safety in numbers in a situation like that, when the vast majority of people are harmless). However, this feeling of personal safety didn’t solve my principal dilemma: where to go now.
My 190th Street apartment was roughly 150 blocks away — and of course, the subway wasn’t running, and I didn’t have enough money to get a cab, if I could even find one. (I had literally $1 to my name. I had been planning to visit the ATM after work that day, to take out some cash. D’oh. So much for that.) Alternatively, instead of going north to my place, I could head back south to Scott’s friend’s place in the Village, roughly 30 blocks away. I was torn. Part of me really wanted to get home, but although I’d heard city buses were free, I was also hearing all sorts of nasty rumors about very crowded buses and excessively long lines. And the Village was obviously walking distance, whereas my apartment clearly was not.
Ultimately, however, my mind was made up by the fact that my camera’s batteries were dying. They were AA rechargeables, but of course, I couldn’t recharge them without power, and I couldn’t buy any new AAs because of my lack of cash. I knew it would drive me nuts to spend any more time out in the city (potentially a whole ‘nother day), in the midst of this historic event, without being able to take pictures of what I was seeing. So I figured my best bet was to try and catch a bus home, where I could install spare AAs from the supplies I had there.
Unable to find the M4 bus, which goes directly to my neighborhood, I finally hopped on an extremely crowded M2 — filling what very little space remained in the stepwell — which I knew would drop me off approximately 25 blocks from home. That was okay with me. My main goal, frankly, was to get through Harlem on a bus, rather than on foot. This bus route accomplished that. I was willing to walk the rest of the way.
As the bus drove through Harlem, I saw several garbage cans on fire, but for the most part, things seemed quite calm. There were people on the streets, but they were mostly just sitting around with candles and whatnot, enjoying the outdoor breeze on a warm summer night. This held true throughout the city. And there were cops and firefighters everywhere, with flares at every major intersection (and some minor ones).
Meanwhile, on board the bus, a group of multiracial, multiethnic, multilingual riders did their best to help each other out. At one point, a white guy who clearly spoke no Spanish successfully managed to convey to a Latino family that clearly spoke no English that, at the next stop, they needed to get out and cross the street to get on a Bronx-bound bus that would take them home. That was a real New York moment.
Eventually, I disembarked at the bus’s final stop, and started my walk home — through a veritable street party, all up and down the Dominican areas of Broadway. People were outside with their battery-powered boom boxes, listening to music, talking with friends, even grilling some food. Although a few shops (those with generators) were open, most were closed, but the street was very much alive. And again, there were police everywhere, keeping the peace (though people seemed content to remain peaceful regardless). It was really pretty cool.
There was a final, dicey moment when I walked into the lobby of my apartment building — which, unlike the relatively well-lit streets, was pitch black — and proceeded to drop my cell phone, which I’d been using as a flashlight. When the phone hit the floor, the battery fell out, and I was forced to get down on my hands and knees and feel around for both phone and battery, so that I could put them back together and generate enough light to see the keyhole and open the door. But I found ‘em, I got inside, and finally, around 11:15 PM, I walked into my apartment, very glad to finally be home after the longest “commute” I’ve ever had.
* * * * *
The power came back on at 8:20 AM the next morning in my apartment. It stayed off much longer elsewhere, including my workplace in Tribeca, and in any event, the subways were royally screwed up for some time, so there was no possibility of going to work the next day. So the blackout’s after-effects essentially meant a long weekend for me.
Power was restored to the rest of the city by Friday evening, and by Monday, I was back at work and life had returned to normal. And therein lies the beauty of the blackout as an “I was there” moment: it was that rarest of breaking-news events to live through, the kind that’s all-encompassing and overwhelming in its magnitude, that makes you feel like you’re truly living in an historic moment, but that isn’t a tragedy.
The cliché “no news is good news” exists for a reason: usually, when something truly newsworthy happens, it’s something bad. Thus, hoping to be at the epicenter of a big news story usually means, in effect, hoping for tragedy and calamity. Journalists and news junkies live with this tension all the time. But on August 14, 2003, for just one day, that tension disappeared. Here was an event breathtaking in its scope, yet almost totally benign in its results. The power went out for a while. Whole cities shut down. Millions of people were stranded. Then, eventually, the power came back on, and everyone went home. The End.
Of course, when I put it that way, it seems rather mundane. But in the moment, it was anything but. On the contrary, the Blackout of 2003 is, as I’ve said before, “one of my favorite events to reminisce about,” indeed “one of my very favorite life experiences, period.” And that’s why August 14, 2003 is on this list. It was the day the lights went out — and I was there.
* * * * *
Later today, or maybe tomorrow, or possibly early Wednesday — depending on how much free time I have — I’ll reveal Defining Day #9. Stay tuned!
Today, for number 11 on the list, we’re going back in time to a tremendously memorable event during my sophomore year at USC. Drumroll please…
November 7, 2000: The Election of a Lifetime
In the morning and early afternoon of Election Day 2000, I was a busy guy. As the Daily Trojan Assignment Editor during a semester when there was no City Editor, I was essentially in charge of coordinating the newspaper’s election night coverage. As a political and elections junkie with a passion for being at the center of breaking news, it was a role I took on enthusiastically. But it meant that, pretty much whenever I wasn’t in class on that Tuesday, I was in the newsroom, prepping for that night, trying to make sure everything would go as smoothly as possible. Our layout needed to be ready; all our non-election stories need to be done; we needed to get to the point where we could just fill in the blanks.
Because of this, I didn’t manage to make it to the polls, to cast my own vote — my first-ever vote for President — until pretty late in the day. But finally, by around 4:30 PM, everything was as ready as it could be at the DT. So I headed out to the polling place.
* * * * *
At this point, I should probably pause and point out that, in November 2000, I was a much more ideologically uncomplicated liberal than I am nowadays. So there was never any doubt who I preferred between Gore and Bush. My choice, to the extent I had to wrestle with one, was between Gore and Nader, as the campaign posters on my wall (at left) attest. Dubya never entered into the equation, except as an object of mockery. Twice during the campaign, I listened to Nader speak in person, but I ultimately took the pragmatic route and decided to vote for Gore (whom I also heard speak — see photo at right — thanks to his inexplicable decision to hold a rally in California — CALIFORNIA!! — on November 2, an example of political malpractice by his advisers if ever there was one).
Meanwhile, at least as important to this discussion as my political leanings is the fact that I was (and remain) a serious elections junkie. Having grown up the son of an elections officer for the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s office, I’ve always been a huge nerd for this stuff — in particular, the mechanics of elections, as well as their political side. But all the presidential election nights I’d watched in my young life (1988, 1992, 1996) had been effectively over before the polls even closed on the West Coast. They were all landslides, in other words. This one promised to be different, and I was stoked. Little did I know, of course. Little did any of us know.
* * * * *
Anyway, back to my election-night timeline. Remember, this is California, so it being after 4:30 PM, the polls had already started to close on the East Coast. No results had yet been announced from any of the key swing states — but, as I half-listened to a local AM radio station on my walkman while strolling across campus with my fellow political-junkie friend Dane, the vibes I was getting weren’t good. Listening to the pundits break down the race, I was trying to read the tea leaves and determine, based on their tone and tenor and vague comments about this and that, what the exit polls were showing. This, of course, was before the days of leaked exit polls numbers appearing on Drudge and whipping around the blogosphere in five seconds flat, but that didn’t mean there weren’t leaked exit poll numbers — it was just that only a select few had access to them. So you had to listen to the talking heads, and try to guess what they knew that they weren’t telling us. And based on what I was hearing from the pundits on the radio, my guess was: Gore’s losing. They sounded like a bunch of crestfallen liberals. This made me, too, a (provisionally) crestfallen liberal. I think Gore’s gonna lose, I told Dane. The people on the radio aren’t saying it yet, but it doesn’t sound good.
After walking together for a few minutes, Dane and I parted. He, having already voted earlier in the day, was heading back to his apartment; I was heading for the polling place, at the Felix car dealership on Figueroa Street. So we said goodbye, both feeling relatively pessimistic, and I kept on walking, and listening to the radio. I turned onto Figueroa. And then suddenly:
“Breaking news – Al Gore has won the state of Florida.”
This news hit me like a bolt of lightning. I leaped into the air, then pumped my fist two or three times while bounding down the street, all the while shouting “YES! YES!” to anyone and no one. Holy crap. I was wrong. Gore’s winning. Florida was the toughest of the Big Three states everyone said were crucial for him — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida. If he’d won the Sunshine State, he was probably gonna be President. I hesitated for a moment, then spun around and started sprinting back toward Dane’s apartment. I had to catch him before he got inside, and be the one to tell him the news.
To get to Dane’s apartment, I had to run past the Shrine Auditorium — and there was a Christina Aguilera concert at the Shrine that night. So there I am, sprinting like a maniac, and probably smiling like a buffoon, running past a long line of girls in sequin dresses and whatnot, none of whom had any idea who won Florida, nor any inclination to care. They probably thought I was on drugs or something. Anyway, I spotted Dane down the street just as he was about to disappear into his apartment and, still within earshot of the Christina Aguilera fans, shouted at the top of my lungs: “DANE!!!!” (He heard and looked at me.) “GORE WON FLORIDA!!!!” He raised his arms in celebration.
Then I turned around and headed back toward the polling place. By this point, it was almost 5:00 PM Eastern. The top of the hour, with poll closings up and down the East Coast, hit as I was waiting in line, and the radio told me Gore had won Michigan, too. OMG. That was 2 out of 3, and surely Pennsylvania would follow. I was casting my ballot for the winner, I thought as I stepped into the booth and confidently, exultantly voted for Gore and Lieberman.
* * * * *
I don’t remember exactly what I did next — I think I had an errand or two to run — but eventually I headed back to the newsroom, ready for a long and exciting night, but thinking it was going to end with the good guys winning. So you can imagine my surprise when I looked at the electoral-vote tally, and saw that Gore had somehow lost votes, slipping from 197 to 172. I asked what the heck was going on. I was told the TV people had retracted the Florida call. The Sunshine State was now up in the air. My initial, wild, ridiculous celebration on Figueroa had been for naught.
The next few hours are something of a blur, as election results and DT article drafts came in, and we tried to get the paper ready for publication. As our usual final cutoff time of 11:00 PM inched closer, it became increasingly clear that we might not know the result in time to put it in the paper. When we printed “final proofs” at around 10:00, the partial headline was, as you can see in the photo at the top of this post, “Election closest in ______.” We tried out different possibilities: “Election excruciatingly close,” “Election breathtakingly close.” We played around with the “closest since Reconstruction” meme (referring to 1876). But mostly, we waited. Who was the winner? When would we know? It was apparent that Florida would decide the election, and folks on TV — and in our newsroom, including some politically inclined non-staff-members who’d come up just to be part of the excitement — were analyzing the results as they came in over the Internet, trying to figure out what was going to happen. But it was impossible to tell.
11:00 PM arrived. Still no final result; still no front-page headline. We convinced the production staff to give us a little bit of extra time. 11:05. 11:10. 11:15. Still no winner in Florida. We were running out of time. We had to put the paper to bed.
And then they called it. Bush had won Florida. Bush was the next president.
After perhaps a few partisan groans (hey, we’re a bunch of liberal journalists-in-training, what do you expect?), this news led to an immediate frenzy of last-minute edits and tweaks, and a final debate over the front-page banner headline. The proof doesn’t even show the one we used, because it occurred to me on a whim, I shouted it out, everyone immediately agreed it was perfect, and it was simply typed straight onto the page on the computer screen. The headline was: “At the eleventh hour, Bush wins.”
We sent the paper off for publication. It was done. The election was over. We had our headline, and Bush was our president-elect.
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Once the newsroom drama was over, I allowed myself a moment of unbridled partisan angst, climbing out onto the newsroom’s balcony and shouting, from the fourth floor of the Student Union building out into the empty night, to nobody in particular: “EVERYONE SUCKS!!!” The night had been thrilling, but the end result was depressing: Bush. Bush!! Ugh.
After a good bit of socializing and post-morteming, I packed up and headed for home. It was after midnight (after 3:00 AM on the East Coast) by this point. The walk from the newsroom to Becky’s and my apartment building was 15 or 20 minutes, and we were in no particular hurry. After all, the election was over — there were no new results to rush back for. So we ended up having a lengthy, half-hour conversation with the editor-in-chief in our underground garage. I wasn’t listening to my radio anymore, and I didn’t have a cell phone back then, so I was completely out of touch with what was happening in the election. By the time we finally strolled into Becky’s apartment, it was after 1:00 AM (after 4:00 AM back east).
We walked in to find several of our usually non-politically-inclined friends huddled around the TV, staring at it as intently as if they were watching the final, decisive play of the Super Bowl. But they were watching the news. About the election. What’s going on? I asked. One of them turned to me and, with an utterly thunderstruck look on her face, said: “They took back Florida. It’s too close to call.”
Rarely have I felt such an instant surge of intense, diametrically opposed emotions. On the one hand: OMG! Gore might win! Maybe everyone doesn’t suck! … On the other hand: The newspaper is wrong! Our headline is wrong! Noooooo!!! At the twelfth hour, Bush didn’t win! We’d have been better off if we’d put the stupid thing to bed at 11:00, instead of waiting the extra 20 minutes!
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We all remember what came next: 34 days of counting and recounting, uncertainty and doubt, argumentation and litigation, overheated talk of a “constitutional crisis,” speculation about Larry Summers or Janet Reno becoming caretaker president, etc. etc., all of it ultimately resulting in the United States Supreme Court effectively ending the recount on December 12 and, for better or worse, anointing Bush the winner.
Rarely, if ever, has there been a more exciting news period in my life. As an election fanatic, this was heaven for me. For years before 2000, my dad and I had speculated about when the next “inversion” between the electoral and popular votes would be — a spectre we could invoke in casual conversation with one another simply by saying, “1888!” And, in the early days after November 7, we indeed referred to the 2000 election as “another 1888.” Then, as the dispute continued, we started referencing “another 1876.” Finally, when SCOTUS stepped in and effectively decided it, we acknowledged that there was simply no precedent to reference anymore. It wasn’t 1888; it wasn’t 1876; it was simply 2000.
As a teenage news junkie growing up in the 1990s, I had often lamented that I had the misfortune of living in a relatively boring time period. If only I’d been young in the 1960s, when things were interesting!, I thought. Of course, I would soon learn — less than a year later — why that ancient Chinese saying about “living in interesting times” is considered a “curse.” But on Election Night 2000, and in the weeks that followed, it felt like the newfound interestingness of my generation’s moment in history was something to celebrate. Sure, my parents’ generation had grown up in a time of profound upheaval and change. But in the course of two years, we’d had the first presidential impeachment since 1868, and now the closest and most contentious election in American history. It was a great time to be a political nerd and news junkie. And November 7, 2000 (bleeding into the wee hours of November 8) is most certainly a day and night I will never forget. Which is why it earns the #11 spot on this list.
With all the best & worst of the decade lists floating around the Interwebs right now, as we await the imminent end of the 2000s and beginning of the twenty-teens, I thought it might be fun (at least for me!) to do a personal decade list. I’ll call it Brendan’s Defining Days of the Decade.
This project is especially fun because it’s been such a momentous decade for me. When it started, I was a skinny, dorky, 18-year-old college freshman with plans to be a print journalist, with my parents’ house listed as my “permanent address,” and with a crush on this pretty blonde girl who lived across the dorm courtyard from me. As it ends, I’m less skinny, just as dorky, 28 years old, and married to that pretty blonde girl. What’s more, I’m a homeowner (!), I’m a lawyer (?!), and I’ve got two daughters (!!!).
In between times, I’ve earned a B.A. and a J.D.; I’ve had my 15 minutes of fame (and made my national television and motion picture debuts); I’ve lived at thirteen addresses in seven different states (CA, CT, NY, AZ, IN, TN, CO); I’ve traveled to three new countries and have driven cross-country, or close to it, ten times, such that I’m now one trip to Sarah Palin’s stomping grounds away from having been to all 50 states; I’ve voted in three presidential elections; I’ve seen my sports teams win four national championships (USC ‘04 & ‘05, Red Sox ‘04 & ‘07); I’ve started & stopped & started & stopped & started & stopped & started my own blog; and I’ve fallen in love with three girls (Becky, Loyette & Loycita).
The 2010s promise to be a momentous decade, too, in their own way. By the time they’re over, Loyette will be 12 and Loyacita will be 10 1/2. (And who knows, maybe they’ll be joined by a little Loy Boy or Loyelle.) Becky and I will have been married for 15 years. I’ll be knocking on the door of my 40s. I’ll have been practicing law for 11 years. A lot of things will be very different, and there will be many milestones, memories, and new experiences along the way. But my life will probably (hopefully?) never again see a decade with the tremendous upheaval, change, and frenetic excitement of the 2000s. This is the decade I’ll be thinking of when, God willing, I sit on my porch as an old man and reflect on the “good old days.” Ah, to be young again — to be back in the aughts!
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Anyway, on to the list! The criteria for my “Defining Days” rankings are, necessarily I think, a bit ill-defined and imprecise — some combination of how contemporaneously memorable and noteworthy each event was, how historically important (in the sense of my personal history) it was, how emotionally significant, and how suffused with massive implications for my future — with the end result being something of a Potter Stewart standard. Which is okay, because this is supposed to be fun, not scientific.
Anyway, I’ve come up with a Top 12 list. I’ll reveal one per day, starting today, taking a break on Christmas Day (because nobody reads blogs on Christmas) and another break on December 29 (to reveal the “honorable mentions”), and finishing up with #2 on December 30, and #1 on December 31. Whether those dates might be hints as to the identity of the top two items on the list, I’ll leave to y’all to guess. :)
Now, on with the show. Number Twelve!
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May 15, 2003: Becky and I Graduate From College
To be honest, I was initially hesitant to put this day on the main list at all, as opposed to giving it an honorable mention. After all, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I would earn a college degree — it’s not like I’m one of those up-from-poverty, first-college-graduate-in-my-family type of stories — and, as I’ve said before, the actual graduation day itself is more about taking pretty pictures, and about reflecting on four years of accomplishments and memories, than about new memories or experiences specific to the day itself.
This, incidentally, makes my college graduation quite different from my high-school graduation. June 22, 1999 would unquestionably have been near, if not at, the top of a similar list from the 1990s, if I’d made one. But that was a truly unique experience, a “cloud nine” sort of moment for me, as reigning Homecoming King, town journalism nerd, camera boy, media monoplist, and quasi-celebrity of my class, who got several specific shout-outs during the ceremony itself and received the loudest cheer of any graduate walking across the Bushnell stage. In other words, it was the ultimate ego boost. :) My graduation from USC was decidedly ho-hum by comparison.
And yet, upon reflection, I decided that May 15, 2003 belongs on this list because it (and the days immediately surrounding it) truly represented a crucial juncture in my life, and Becky’s life, and most importantly, our life together. For one thing, graduation was the first time our parents met each other (and it went absolutely splendidly, no hitches at all, somewhat to my surprise at the time). For another thing, graduation meant leaving L.A., which was a great place to be for 4 years, but which we were most definitely ready to move on from. And of course there is the fact of graduation itself: despite what I said above, the significance of being awarded a Bachelor’s Degree from USC can’t be ignored. It was a great accomplishment, for both of us, and a fine celebration thereof.
But most significantly, May 15, 2003 was the day Becky and I “graduated” from the easy comfort of a college relationship to the far more challenging reality of figuring out what the heck our future held. We’d been together for three-and-a-half years, and we were very much in love, but would that be enough? She was headed for grad school in Arizona; I was headed for a “year off” back east, followed by law school in either New York, Boston or South Bend. Whether we would stay together was very much an open question. Indeed, truth be told, when we took photos like the one at left, I had the idea in my head that this could be something of a last hurrah for us — that I might look back on these pictures someday as the coda to a lovely chapter of my life called “My College Girlfriend.”
Yet something about the experience of going through Graduation Day together, with our parents — both sets of them — by our sides, changed my thinking ever so subtly. I still probably would’ve had a hard time believing you if you’d told me that, just over a year later, we’d be engaged, and that roughly 2 1/2 years later, the graduation photo at right would sitting in a frame on a table outside the site of our wedding reception. But looking back, I think I started to get a stronger sense on May 15, 2003 that maybe, just maybe, Becky and I were truly meant to be together forever — that, really and truly, my first girlfriend might very well be my last, my one and only.
I used to joke that all of our friends & family realized we were going to get married long before we realized it. In May of 2003, my head was telling me it might not work: we both still had a lot of growing up to do, we were going to be living far apart — and besides, who nowadays marries their first kiss, for chrissakes? :) But on Graduation Day, my heart told me something different. And it didn’t take too much more “growing up” before I realized that maybe I should listen.
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Tomorrow: Defining Day #11. It’ll be less sappy, I promise!
Brendan Loy is a 31-year-old attorney, erstwhile journalist, and veteran blogger in Denver, CO. He formerly blogged as the "Irish Trojan." Brendan's wife, Rebecca Loy, also 30, is a stay-at-home mom in Denver. Brendan and Becky have three daughters, whose blog nicknames are "Loyette," "Loyacita" and "Loyabelle." More info here. Several others blog here in The Guest Room.
The Living Room Times is named after Brendan's old school newspaper, circa 1993-1999. All viewpoints are welcome and vigorous debate is encouraged, but to combat spam and trolling, you must be registered to comment. You can read the "blog rules" here. View alternate mastheads here.