September 11. Nineteen years ago but it still feels like it was just the other day. Its cascades have reshaped the world, from a hallucinatory war on terror to shoes and belts at the airport. Flag pins, surveillance, drone strikes, and half a million dead in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. Last I checked, there were still camouflaged soldiers with submachine guns at Penn Station and Grand Central. These things don’t seem to get undone. I can’t imagine the cascades this year’s pandemic will bring.

I spent a lot of time driving around the country after September 11, talking to strangers and trying to get my head around things. Somewhere in Wyoming, I saw a mural of burning towers on a train trestle in the middle of blank countryside. Not a soul in sight. That’s when I understood we were heading someplace dark.

When I told people I was from New York, they wanted to talk about that day. Was I there? Was I scared it would happen again? Those bastards need to pay, they’d say. I’d mumble something vague, hoping to change the subject. “Let the tigers come with their claws,” I’d say. I picked this up from The Little Prince, and it sounded heavy enough to stop the questions. But I still remember a night in Memphis when a boozy woman in a pink pantsuit kept going: “We’ll be a target, just you watch. We got some major attractions like Graceland here and in a year or two they’re gonna attack us. You wait and see.” There was no fear in her voice, only screwy pride. She got angry when I tried to reassure her. She wanted me to agree that, yes, her city would be terrorized. And I think I understand this: we want to be at the center of things.