On a Mundane Morning, the Clock Struck 9

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2001

America opens at 9, which is to say 9-ish, which has become our saddest hour.

9:02, for example. Or 8:45, or 9:04.

Or 9:11, six minutes after the second jet hit the second tower, and the mind started connecting dots in a panic. At some point we may have stopped to consider the date, 9/11, which reads as 9-1-1, which is keypad-speak for: Oh God no, help, please. Perhaps the day could simply be called Nine One One.

Apart from the middle of the night, or the predawn, which are both fraught with simple darkness and somnolent vulnerability, 9 o'clock has taken on a peculiar quality all its own: terror before the day even really gets started, before the second cup of coffee, just before the staff meeting you'd as soon not go to, just when you think you're five minutes ahead by being five minutes behind.

The people who would kill ordinary Americans in order to make a point have zeroed in on the humdrum of our early-mid to mid-mornings, with the idea that we're all up and at our desks doing . . . doing what, exactly? In somebody's interpretation we are busily playing our notes for an intricate orchestra of Western evil, of conspiracy, of a capitalist McDomination.

When really what we're doing is mundane.

We're at the office, or about to be.

Nine o'clock?

You're as likely to be where you're supposed to be, only not quite -- the atrium lobby, or that little croissant place across the plaza, or in the elevator, or aboard the early shuttle flight. You are two floors down, or one floor up, perhaps not exactly where your loved ones thought you'd be, which either saves your life or seals your fate.

At 9 -- if things have gone smoothly, if there was time to dry your hair and do your daughter's braids and explain to her why she can't wear her tutu to school, if the bridge traffic moved okay, if you didn't screw around too long with the crossword, if the bus was on time -- you are still sort of waking up to the fact that you have woken up.

Showing up is the American way. By 9 you've endured the loudmouths on the clock radio who were trying to get a woman on her cell phone to stick her bare bottom out of her car window, which made you switch back to NPR's "Morning Edition" and its breakfast drone of militant rebels in the jungles of countries with new names.

In the cities, at a little bit before 9 a.m., the buildings still cast shadows up and down the concrete ravines.

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