The Soldiers at Smith & 9th St

The sign at my subway stop said “by using this station you consent to appear in a film.” On the platform, I found actors in camouflage, holding fake guns, in stone-faced formation. This was 1997. The shot was for the film The Siege. The scene was part of a montage that shows what New York would be like under martial law, following a wave of attacks on the city by Muslim terrorists.

In 2001 I worked for a few months in Israel. When I would leave my office I'd see soldiers everywhere. My company asked me to move to Tel Aviv, to stay on for a year, and I loved the job, so I almost said yes right away. But in Jerusalem I saw bullet scars on buildings, and I began to wonder: all these soldiers, all these guns.

That company closed before I could decide to stay, and I came home on September 18, 2001. There were guns everywhere. A friend and I sat in Battery Park and watched soldiers drive camouflaged trucks, the camouflage green and brown instead of the desert colors I'd seen in Israel—but the rifles had the same purpose.

On a night when they were welding apart the last standing piece of the towers, a friend and I walked around the entire fenced-in area. It took a full hour, and we passed dozens of soldiers. The welding was our compass point, the sparks at the center of the circle.

Today, most of the soldiers are gone, but some still appear, at Penn Station, or at the entrance to the PATH train in the West Village. I don't know what they'll do if they ever see a terrorist. When nerve gas is released bullets won't help. And I don't like this feeling of being under occupation, the sense of being watched, and suspected. I know the reasons for it, and I can understand them. But I don't trust them, and I don't trust the people in power to take this inch, and then not take the later mile.

I met a woman who'd been on the 35th floor of the north tower. A fireman had put her onto a boat. “I feel so guilty about Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said. “We are doing these terrible things, and then I'm ashamed that I am not grateful.”

I saw a friend from Israel, and she said: “Israelis are happy with their lives. They did a survey. I'm happy too. I protest the government, but you can only have so much depression, and shame, and guilt.”

The other night I went to a wedding reception. The couple had held a guerrilla ceremony, going at 10 AM to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, ascending in the elevator with a group of 30 friends, and had taken their vows in the midst of a fog, with Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and New Jersey as witnesses.

The reception was on an old, rusty boat, permanently docked to pier 63 on the west side of Manhattan. The groom wore a green tuxedo, and the bride wore a green dress, and she was the most beautiful thing below 50th St. The boat rocked slowly back and forth in the Hudson as people drank and danced, the stomping of their heels resounding through the hull.

The bride and groom were both fine dancers, obviously exhausted by their day, but finding reserves of adrenaline and enthusiasm as the night went forward. Spontaneously, their friends joined hands around them. I was pulled in, and in a short while about 25 people had made a circle, legs kicking in synchrony. A man filmed this circle of bodies from the inside, face after face. Then he turned the camera onto the newly married couple in the middle, to capture them twisting, shimmying, kissing, their arms finding each other's waists. These were the sparks at the center of our circle. The song ended, and the circle split into its arcs. Then the bride and groom cut the cake, which was in the shape of the Empire State Building, the tallest building in New York City.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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