The VigilanceVoice
Saturday-- April 27, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 228

The Bully Terrorist
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

        GROUND ZERO, New York City, April 27-- Nothing angers me more than a bully, especially a bully Terrorist.
       The world has enough of them.
       Bullies range in size and stature from Osama bin Laden,  to the shadows in a child’s mind who huddles alone in the dark of his or her bedroom.
        Bullies thrive on Intimidation, Fear and Complacency, feeding ravenously on each as a tapeworm robs the body of healthy nutrition before it can be absorbed.  Bullies go out of their way to search out those they can inject fear upon, or intimidate, or drive them into a state of complacency to sate their hunger for authority, dominance and self aggrandizement.
       Time Magazine recently ran an article about bullies, noting their primary mission in life was to Terrorize others, and how the parents of children of deny their child is one.
       I ran into one such bully Terrorist last night, Friday, April 26.  He disguised himself as a Sentinel of Vigilance and tried to use the sanctity of Nine Eleven to club me into submission with guilt and shame that I was somehow violating the solemn memory of the heroes of September 11, stating I was soiling their memories with the lens of my camera.
      The event, however, was another lesson in Vigilance for me, a prompt to continue my quest to fight Terrorism of all shapes and forms.
      The evening started out peacefully.   It was a cool, brightly lit full-moon Friday night.  Nature was at her best offering clear skies and an iridescent moon begging for those of us trapped in apartments to stroll along the bustling sidewalks and enjoy the freedom of Spring’s transition into summer.
        My wife and I met in SoHo at book store where I had been reading the history of  Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel and how his critics tried to bully him out of the commission to do the work because he was a “sculptor” not a “painter.”  They wanted  Raphael to do the job, considering him Rome’s greatest talent to immortalize the ceiling.  Michelangelo would not be intimidated and  won not only the battle but the war, proving himself not only a great sculptor, but also one of the world’s greatest painters.
       Perhaps it was learning how hard he fought for his right to be the Sentinel of the Vigilance for the Sistine Chapel that fueled my ire that night.  I never know where the energy to fight Terrorism on such a broad scope as I have shouldered comes from, but if I do credit anyone for the events of last night, I choose to lay my palette of Vigilant paint at the feet of  the 16th Century painter, sculptor and architect.
       Earlier that day I had been writing and carving and taking pictures of the remnants of flags saluting the heroes of Nine Eleven.   As time grinds the past into fine dust, there are still some who fly the flag of Vigilance, standing out of a crowd of growing Complacency that the events of September 11 should never be forgotten.
       One such group was a construction crew working a front-end loader on Spring Street.   As I walked by I noticed that American flags were flying proudly from the machine that was moving large plates of steel over holes in the street where workers had dug down to repair the arteries of the city’s bloodstream that pump water, electricity and steam to millions.
      As I always do, I began to click photos of the men and equipment, framing the flags so they took preeminence in the foreground.   One of the workers was looking at me curiously, and I paused and told him what I was doing.   That I published a web page daily on Terrorism, and promoted as often as possible the symbols of Vigilance such as the flags that flew on their machine.    The worker told me how the crew had worked at Ground Zero for months, and how the events had changed their lives.  I shared with him I had been there when the buildings collapsed, and I too felt the same as he.   I gave him my card and told him to look for the pictures, I would be posting them soon.   He suggested I stand in front of the front end loader for a better picture, and I did.
        As my wife and I left the bookstore, I saw another flag.   Unfortunately, it passed by faster than I could draw my camera and fire it up to capture the shot.  It was a taxi with a large, tattered black MIA flag flying from its antenna.   I was excited.  Over the past few months I had become irritated the 11,000 taxi cabs and 44,000 drivers zigging and zagging out of traffic in the city had stopped flying flags.  Their reasoning was that once their first ones wore out, they didn’t buy any more.  Flags, they said, were expensive.   So too, I thought, was forgetting to remember.
    We walked around SoHo and decided to have dinner at a funky diner called Great Jones located on Great Jones Street in the East Village near our apartment.   As we approached the restaurant, famously known for its garlic potatoes, a film production company was set up outside the local fire station, Engine Company 33, formed in June, 1899.   There were lights, cameras, people milling about and the production company had turned the clock back in time.   In front of the station house were rows of candles and flags and memorabilia, symbolizing what it was like immediately following the tragedy.
       I knew the scene well.  Each morning I passed by Engine Company 33 on my way to a morning meeting with friends on Sullivan Street.   I had taken many pictures of the front of the station house, and watched as the flowers and candles and signs dwindled as the months passed until the front of the station house was void of signs of the past.
      My wife suggested I take a picture for my files.  I told her I had countless pictures already, and felt a little uncomfortable taking pictures of the fire station being faked into its previous state by the production company.  I prefer real pictures, not manufactured ones.  Besides, I mentioned, it bothered me that the reenactment was commercializing the event, and that they were exaggerating it and exploiting the memories.
       She  prodded me again to take a few pictures; reluctantly, I did.   A very nice woman in the production crew asked me not to use a flash, which I hadn’t planned on.  I agreed.    I stood behind the cameraman who was blocking the shots to be taken.  People were scurrying about, lighting candles, rearranging flags, trying to make fantasy a reality.  I clicked away, trying to get the right angle to match my original pictures so I could compare the two versions—the production company’s version versus what it was really like.  But I had no intention of doing a story on it.  It just didn’t seem newsworthy to report a film crew trying to recapture the horror of Nine Eleven.  In fact, it seemed macabre.
       Unfortunately, for any photographer there is no such thing as “just one picture.”   We have to take as many as we can, from as many angles as possible, to insure we get the “just right one.”  Bill Biggart knew that.  He was the only photographer who was killed at the World Trade Center, for he loved to shove his camera right in his subject’s faces.   He died with firemen, taking their heroic pictures.
         I was swept up in my picture taking and nearly backed into the street where passing cars were shooting by.    I had fought a bull years ago in Spain and nearly had my guts ripped out.  A cab whisked by so close I could feel its presence against my back.  It  reminded me of that helpless feeling when the bull charged and I stepped on my cape, unable to swivel my hips out of “horn’s way.”   The bull had hit me head on, tossing me in the air, fortunately missing me with its spear-tipped horn.
        I decided I didn’t want to die under the wheels of a taxi cab not flying the American flag, so I thanked the lady for letting me shoot pictures and joined my wife on the sidewalk.  We were asked to move toward the end of the walk and complied, unaware extras were positioned to start walking in just a few minutes.   As we passed the walk-ons, we smiled and wished them luck, and then ducked into Great Jones diner just a few steps away to see if we could devour some delicious hamburgers and garlic potatoes.
        The place was jammed.   A forty-minute waiting period was the standard; our stomachs were growling.  We decided to head up to Union Square to get some color ink for our printer, and then enjoy a nice dinner along some sidewalk café on the way back.    We crossed the street, opposite where the production company was filming to avoid interfering with anyone.    Cars and taxis sped by as we stopped and looked at the set from a non-obtrusive location across the street.
       “You ought to get a long shot of the fire station and filming crew, Cliff,” my wife suggested.   “Why not, “ I replied.
        I pulled out my Kodak 3400 digital and clicked off a couple of pictures without the flash, so as not to disturb the filming.   Suddenly, a big, square shoulder young man in his early to mid thirties—a bouncer kind of guy—swaggered over to me and stood directly in front of my view of the set.
        “I’ve seen you taking pictures here.  This is a solemn event.  We’re filming something special about Nine Eleven.   This is isn’t for tourists to take pictures.  This is a solemn event.”
         At first I was amazed.  This guy had come all the way across the street, past the cars shooting by, to the edge of the sidewalk to chide me, belittle me, intimidate me that I was in violation of some sacred sanctuary privy only to the production company.  He put his hand on his hips defiantly and repeated in a growling Voice, “this is a solemn event…you’re taking advantage of it...”       
        My amazement turned to anger as he jutted his chin, a posture not recommended when trying to bully a six-foot-four-inch 270-pound guy like me who isn’t into anyone telling me what I can or can’t do.
        Keeping the growl in his Voice he continued… “you have a right to take pictures, I can’t stop you, but this is a solemn event and you’re mocking it with your camera…”
        That did it.
        I glared back at him, eyes narrowing, hackles stiffened.
        “You are damn right I have a right to take pictures, you fat ass!”
        I don’t know where the word “fat ass” came from.  I just know that it could have been much worse.  Every ounce of my Marine Corps combat training was on edge, and I was surprised I didn’t tongue-lash him with a tirade of gutter-born expletives.  He was surly and truculent, way over the line, imposing himself upon me in the guise of some moral gargoyle to defend a commercial production geared to capitalize on the tragedy of lost souls.  I wanted to puke. 
        Our eyes burned into each others—the old bull facing off the young bull.   My muscles coiled, ready for anything, counting on nothing.   Finally, he turned and sauntered away.  The words “fat ass” again came out of my mouth again.  He swiveled around, glared and made a move toward me.  I was ready.   He checked himself.   I was infuriated by his arrogance, his presumption of power, his abuse of false guardianship over false sanctuary.  I knew the true Sentinels of Vigilance were pissed too.
       But I was proud of my restraint.  I didn’t lash him with my own authority, humiliate him with the truth of my rights which far exceeded his by a hundred fold.
        I had been at Ground Zero that day. Bodies fell  near me.  Rubble exploded.   I grabbed people and helped them survive the cusp of death when all around it seemed  the end for us.   I had even walked back into the rubble after the first Tower fell, and was near the epicenter when the second Tower crumbled.
       What he didn't know was I was searching for my daughter, a federal law enforcement officer stationed nearby.  Or that I was a combat correspondent, veteran of death and destruction far beyond what happened at the Twin Towers, bent on capturing the tragic event with words so that history, from my perspective, might be captured..         He had no fathom of knowledge that over the past seven months I have written over a quarter of million words on Terrorism and Vigilance, publishing daily articles and stories to bring awareness to the unaware, spending not earning money to get the message out.
       Nor did he have an iota of concern that I had thousands of photographs honoring and saluting the heroes of Nine Eleven.  But I do know he understood I knew a bully when I saw one.  Bullies retreat in the face of a greater challenge.  They run when the chips are down or the odds are stacked against them.
       I knew about guys like him that took authority and misused it—they are called Terrorists.  They use their size and authority to strip others of their freedom, their security, their rights under the guise of some “holy crusade.”  I saw Osama bin Laden in this guys' eyes.  He was a temerities ego maniac who had crossed the street to impose his will on me and to tried to hide behind the Shield of Vigilance as a false excuse to lift his leg and urinate on me.  Terrorists, under my definition, are those who try to employ Fear, Intimidation and Complacency on others.   He fit the bill perfectly.
      “Fat ass,” was a minor retort compared to the words that roiled in my gullet.
       He did score a blow, however.  He blocked me from taking a good picture of the scene of the fire truck entering the station.  His sneak attack came when I least expected it, just as the Engine 33 fire truck was coming down the street, lights flashing, to enter the station.   By the time I got my camera back to my eye—after he had walked away—the best shot was gone.
      I used to like to grind guys like the bully Terrorist  into the ground, but as I’ve matured. I’ve come to realize such bullies bury themselves and need little help in becoming a midget among giants.   After the incident my wife exclaimed:  "What was that all about?  Who does that guy think he is?"
       "He's a nobody trying to be a somebody," I replied.
       We went on about our evening, talking about the insanity of Terrorism, and how people who go out of their way to provoke others and use Fear, Intimidation and Complacency are Terrorists of degrees, some worse than others, all bad examples of human compassion and harmony.
       I regretted not tongue-lashing the young man, reminding him that his arrogance was fatal.   One who presumes the right of confrontation without knowing who they are offending and without justification suffer a great flaw in their character.   They think they have power when they have none, and display their ignorance for all to see.  My wife told me after the event that the boom camera had shot the scene.  I was glad it was on tape and hoped the young Terrorists' friends would review it and see what a fool he had made of himself.
        Of all the people he could possibly accuse of violating the solemn nature of Nine Eleven, I certainly was the least likely candidate.   Few have lived the events daily as both a survivor and historian and reporter of Terrorism as I have over the past 265 days, and 6,360 hours.  I awake each day at 4 a.m. with my mind geared to battling Terrorism, and go to bed around midnight each night, preparing my mind for the next mornings words that might expose its underbelly.
       What I found ironic was the production company was filming the scene in hopes of selling it to Third Watch, the television weekly program.  
       After dinner I had my wife go back and get the name of the company and what they were filming.   I didn’t want to go myself for fear of stirring up a hornet’s nest.  Vigilance for me was not finishing what the young man started.
       My wife asked a lady what the production was filming. She explained they were the Open City Films company out of Tribeca, shooting footage for a CNN Nine Eleven show and hopefully would sell it also to Third Watch.
       I didn't think that answer was in keeping with the young man had proclaimed:  "That he was protecting a solemn moment."
       Instead, I viewed him as a guy with a chip on his shoulder.  I was about as random a victim of his wrath as those in the World Trade Center were the Terrorists’ planes.   He was the type of guy who had to elevate himself and what he was doing at the expense of others, without discrimination, without compassion.
        It was the word “solemn event” that aggravated me most.   A solemn event for me was standing watching human beings leaping from windows, seeing bloodied bodies strewn on the streets, clutching a group of woman against a wall as they cried:  “we’re all going to die,” as the buildings around us collapsed.
        Solemn moments aren’t conducted in the wash of floodlights with directors and actors and prop-set candles flickering and staged American flags fluffed so they look shiny and bright to the camera lens and then sold to the highest bidder.  Solemn moments are when you hold your buddy in your lap as he bleeds to death on you from a severed throat where a piece of shrapnel sliced the life out of him, and you clutch him closely so he knows your warmth as he passes from light to eternal darkness.
        But the young man taught me one lesson I can ill forget..  He reminded me how quickly we are all to judge another, and how fast we can impose our righteousness on others and assume a godship over events in their lives.
        My search to understand Terrorism has revealed the multitude of ways one can  impose his or her will on others without consideration of their "human rights."  The parent who tells a child to "shut up," or the person who believes another is less than because of some ethnic or religious difference is just as guilty as any Terrorist for putting themselves above others.   The lesson the bully Terrorist taught me is to remember to stop before I act and think through what I am about to do to check my intentions, and to ask, am I trying to instill Fear, Intimidation or Complacency in this person at his or her expense?
        So often my ego—as this young man’s did—gets in the way of true humanitarianism.  I  fight the urge to "take charge" of the world, to promote my own agenda at the expense of others.
        I knew it wasn't the bully Terrorists'  job to cross a street and offend another human being.   But he did.   I understood his actions because in my own youthful arrogance I've done similar things to sate my own power agenda, as perhaps we all have..   I know how self-importance can blind one to the impact of his or own Terroristic nature.  Nine Eleven taught me that.
        Perhaps the young man thought that filming a scene from the tragedy of Nine Eleven to sell it to others was a solemn moment.  If he did, he hasn’t lived enough yet.    And, if he owes anyone an apology for his arrogance and insolence, it isn't to me-- it is to the victims of Nine Eleven, for using their memory in vain.


 Go To April 26--Courage To Kneel For Vigilance

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