Friday, September 2, 2011

Where was I on 9-11-01?

I was in my office on this clear, cool, sunny morning at 9 am gathering my thoughts for the day. I usually had WDET on, a public radio station, which had (HAD!!!!) an interesting alternative/world music program in the morning interspersed with NPR programming and local traffic (I listened carefully for reports of accidents on the path my son would take on his long commute to work though at this point, he would be up at his college). There was a report of a small plane crashing into the World Trade Center. The reporter was puzzled as small planes travel by sight and it was so clear out. How many in the plane? A pilot and maybe a passenger or two? Maybe some casualties in the WTC? One of the  tres amigos called to ask what tests his then 15 year old son should take in preparation for college. (the son now is in med school getting married this month). As I am trying to answer that, I hear about the second plane and stop talking. As with everyone else who heard that report, terrorists came to mind. I told my friend what I heard and hung up and informed the lab. My co-worker's sister changed trains every day beneath the WTC. She should be at work already but she is not answering his calls. What happened if she were an half hour late that day, can I answer that? as I tried to console him. (she was fine though she had a very difficult time trying to get back to Staten Island). People hung around the radio as the reports got worse. My friend's daughter e-mails that she saw the first plane hit as she was walking to class at NYU. By the time she got to class, the other had hit too and classes were cancelled. She couldn't get back to her lower Manhattan apartment for several days. Not much work is getting done. The boss man shows up spouting some inanity about the terrorists winning if work is disrupted. This really annoys my co-worker with the still missing sister who just goes home for the day.
I am left alone in the lab with the task of the day, purifying my stealth compound. I hadn't been working on this project long, a very difficult one made even more so by the fact the compound had no chromophore. (almost everything I dealt with up to that point had one. What is a chromophore? Something you could see either by the naked eye (rare) or by uv light, much more common). My compound was full of inorganic salts, which although not toxic, needed to be removed by ion exchange chromatography. My good stuff would stick to a column while I washed out the salts, then I would release the pure material into a series of flasks. Just where the good stuff was hiding out was difficult to tell. If I put a small amount of a solution onto an absorbant plate, I could stain it with something that interacted with the amino group which would turn bright blue if I heated it enough and if it were concentrated enough. It was not working as planned and was giving me a headache. What was going on outside these walls anyway? I left.

The afternoon was spent watching the news trying to make sense of it all. In the evening, Naomi's soccer team went to a skills clinic, not cancelled nor was school. I sat in the stands with a soccer dad, a Vietnamese refugee. He was 7 when he got on one of the last helicopters out of Saigon. He was led to believe that this was going to be a fun ride but when his parents didn't get on with him, it occurred to him that something terrible was going on. He didn't see them again for many years.

I guess it is naive for me to think that being a member of a minority group that has experienced racism would make one more sensitive to the racism experienced by other groups though as time goes on, I am finding this to be the opposite. This man shocked me that day. He had plenty of time to figure out what went wrong: the Islamic world was pissed because the US protected Jews so much. And why should we protect Jews? What have they ever done for us?

How does one respond to something so awful? He seemed like a nice man (though as I found out later, he really was not aside from his antisemitism). I was speechless. He obviously did not know I was married to a Jewish man and had children of Jewish ancestry.

I feel like I have missed summer although today, we have summer with in spades. Now the high is projected to be 97 with high humidity too. I will not run today. Tomorrow will be toasty too but then it will be cool.

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