“Welcome to the 9/11 Memorial Museum(and Be Sure To Check Out the Gift Shop).”

Exit Through the Gift Shop? (photo credit: Sue Edelman)

Here’s Today’s Daily Outrage courtesy of the New York Post:

The museum at Ground Zero tells the dark story of the 9/11 terror attacks with spectacular artifacts and exhibits. It pays heart-wrenching tribute to the innocents and heroes killed that day.

It also has a gift shop.

The 9/11 museum’s cavernous boutique offers a vast array of souvenir goods. For example: FDNY, NYPD and Port Authority Police T-shirts ($22) and caps ($19.95); earrings molded from leaves and blossoms of downtown trees ($20 to $68); cop and firefighter charms by Pandora and other jewelers ($65); “United We Stand” blankets.

“To me, it’s the crassest, most insensitive thing to have a commercial enterprise at the place where my son died,” Diane Horning said.

She and husband Kurt never recovered the remains of their son Matthew, 26, a database administrator for Marsh & McLennan and an aspiring guitarist.

About 8,000 unidentified body parts are now stored out of sight in a “remains repository” at the museum’s underground home.

“Here is essentially our tomb of the unknown. To sell baubles I find quite shocking and repugnant,” said Horning, who also objects to the museum cafe.

“I think it’s a money-making venture to support inflated salaries, and they’re willing to do it over my son’s dead body.”

It’s easy to be reflexively angry when you don’t what it is exactly you’re angry about.

Is a gift shop in a 9/11 museum in bad taste? Gee, I don’t know. Does the snack bar ruffle some feathers too? Should there be no restrooms either because taking a leak there would be disrespectful?

It’s called the National September 11 Memorial Museum. It’s not just a 9/11 memorial. And you have to pay to get in ($24 admission for adults, $18 for seniors and students, and $15 for kids 7 to 17). Who’s going to do this? Tourists,  and New York City has a ton of those. Who else would want to buy a 9/11 Memorial hat or T-shirt or toy fire truck?

How many of the critics losing their minds over a $11.00 coffee mug have actually been in the museum? Perspective matters and getting all riled up over a gift shop nobody is forcing anyone to buy anything from without knowing how it fits into the larger picture is more than a tad premature.

English: Construction of the National Septembe...

English: Construction of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New York magazine sent their architecture critic to visit the museum and here is part of what he saw:

In late May 2002, the place they still called ground zero had become an immense and pristine hole. Truckload after surreal truckload of mangled steel and ash and gruesome finds had been carted away, leaving a flat expanse of concrete and rock. One final column from the Twin Towers remained standing, a 36-foot totem of rusting steel emblazoned with cryptic notes, duct-taped snapshots, and a running tally of dead bodies. But even with the cleanup declared done, workers kept raking the floor with ordinary garden tools, hunting for some infinitesimal shard of human bone. Today, the floor, the column, and one of those rakes are reunited in the National September 11 Memorial Museum, a huge and spectacularly mournful institution in the bowels of the new World Trade Center.

For years, I have stayed away from reminders of 9/11 and the weeks that followed. The most exhaustively recorded cataclysm in history yielded fictionalized movies, documentaries, YouTube clips, eyewitness accounts, TV news reports, police-radio tapes, and endless documentation. I avoided it all. Instead, I remained focused on the drama of reconstruction, visiting the site many times to watch swarms of hard-hatted welders cauterizing the urban wound. I did, however, have an early preview of what a museum might be like a decade ago, when I visited Hangar 17 at JFK. There, crushed emergency vehicles, twisted girders, sections of the broadcasting antenna, half a dozen bikes still chained to a rack, and a lump of fused metal, concrete, paper, and glass were all laid out in an improvised architectural morgue. The last column was stretched out there, too, housed in its own dehumidified area. The hangar tour was draining, and, years later, the prospect of revisiting that archive of mass murder in its place of origin makes me fibrillate with dread.
The museum is buried in a crypt beneath the crime scene, but I enter through the silvery origami-like pavilion designed by Snøhetta, whose architects have anticipated some of its visitors’ more primal anxieties. Large windows look onto the memorial plaza, where the atmosphere is a mixture of reverence and casual cheer. Outside, kids take selfies with the names carved in bronze and the big shiny towers beyond. Inside, all is bright light and blond wood and soothing necessities like the coat check and bathrooms. A wide staircase descends into darkness; alongside it, a pair of tremendous steel arms reaches up into the light. This is the first trace we see of the ruined behemoths, two of the linked tridents that formed the towers’ gothic arches. Weathered but unbent, they thrust vertically past their new home’s weave of angled struts, mute reminders of the original buildings’ enormity. They also stand as signposts to the Stygian galleries below.

Flower at September 11 Memorial

Flower at September 11 Memorial (Photo credit: pamhule)

It’s not just craving for forgetfulness that slows my step, but skepticism, too. I wonder where the museum experience will fall on the spectrum from anodyne to brutal—whether disaster will morph into prurient multimedia entertainment or force visitors into a morbidly earnest trudge. Virtually every decision in this enterprise has been controversial: the underground location, the inscription from Virgil’s Aeneid (“No day shall erase you from the memory of time”), the ticket price ($24), the gift-shop souvenirs, the placement of unidentified human remains in an inaccessible chamber just off the museum’s main hall, the inclusion of terrorists’ photographs, the short film about the rise of Al Qaeda, and more. Given this swarm of sensitivities, will the museum fall back on pieties and pabulum? The more I think about the task of perpetuating the recollection of that day, the more doubts flock: How can a museum chronicle unsettled history, or interpret an event we don’t fully understand? How can an exhibit be meaningful to those who were showered in ash that day and also to children who have yet to be born? I think of that field of ravaged metal at JFK: How can those relics be installed in a museum without converting them into aesthetic objects, beautifully lit but stripped of violence and specificity?

Burdened by these musings, I walk down the long staircase into the minimalist Hades designed by Davis Brody Bond. I am greeted by a murmuring choir of recorded reminiscences from all over the world, reminding me that 9/11 was a global event. The dark floors and austere sarcophagal aura make me wistful for the light above, but the architects have taken care to lead visitors gently into the depths. Underground spaces can be disorienting, but this one comes into partial focus at the first overlook. Shock arrives in ripples of recognition. A ramp winds down toward the foundations, where the cut-off columns that held up the Twin Towers sit embedded in Manhattan schist. A pair of building-size boxes, containing the memorial’s waterfalls and coated with glistening aluminum foam, hang in the immense cavern like geometric stalactites. I have arrived at bedrock level, the floor of the concrete bathtub, separated from the Hudson River by a 70-foot-high section of “slurry wall” so brawny and raw that it could almost be a segment of the Hoover Dam. It’s here that the collapsing skyscrapers came to rest, here that the worker with the rake knelt and scraped. That great trench has become a vast vault, containing some of the nation’s most eloquent ruins. The tale that this museum has to tell is partly about dimensions—the inconceivable scale of murder, the size of the weapons, the targets’ bulk, the worldwide aftershocks. Doing it justice requires a lot of space. The biggest artifacts are back, and as I stare at all that crooked metal, thick girders bent by the force of a speeding plane, I find myself trying in vain to conjure up the extremes of violence that formed it. The last column is standing again, dwarfed just as it was when the hall was an open pit, only now a touchscreen allows visitors to zoom in to the scrawls and taped mementos and read a digital text label for each one. After all, a museum’s job is not just to preserve but also to explain.
Before anyone gets all hyped and bent out of shape over the presence of a gift shop (so you can show all the folks back home you went to the National September 11 Memorial Museum!) perhaps they would be better served to pay the ticket price, enter the exhibit hall, walk the floor, see the sights and weigh the significance vs the trivialization of the whole endeavor.   If people are unhappy now they may very well be the same ones who were unhappy when the idea of a 9/11 museum was first floated.

The next time we visit New York we will decide whether we want to go visit the museum.   I’m not entirely sure I’m ready for such a grim experience.

But if I find I am and I’m so inclined, maybe I’ll buy a $40 FDNY rescue dog vest. Or not.

For only $10.95 this lovely coffee cup can be all yours. Impress your friends!

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The N.Y. Post Outrage: There’s Money in Tragedy

Killed, then exploited.

Murdered, then exploited.

The Society of Professional Journalists created a Code of Ethics as a recommended standard of good practices. These are only recommendations. They are not rules.

Within the principle to Minimize Harm, the code states: Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.

Journalists should:

— Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.

— Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.

— Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.

Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.

Remember there is no sanctioning body in journalism.  There are no punishments to be levied against those that break the rules.  Because there are no rules.  Which is why this photograph from the New York Post  doesn’t simply violate the standards of the SPJ’s Code of Ethics; it uses it as toilet paper.

Here is the story behind the controversial photograph.

Queens man Ki Suk Han, 58, died after he was pushed on the tracks by an unnamed attacker moments before an oncoming train arrived at the 49th Street N, R, Q subway platform in Manhattan on Monday afternoon, according to police. On Tuesday afternoon, police confirmed they had someone in custody in connection with the attack. The photographer who shot the chilling image, New York Post freelancer R. Umar Abbasi, has sparked outrage on social media from those wondering why he did not do something to help pull Han off the track instead of taking pictures.

Abbasi told the New York Post that he started running toward Han and hitting the flash on his camera while shooting photos, hoping to catch the attention of the train’s driver.

“The most painful part was I could see him getting closer to the edge. He was getting so close,’’ Abbasi told The Post. “And people were running toward him and the train. I didn’t think about [the attacker] until after. In that moment, I just wanted to warn the train – to try and save a life.”

“Getting a conductor’s attention with a flash — and maybe even blinding him with it — doesn’t seem like the way you’d necessarily help someone that’s clinging to the subway platform,’’ wrote The Atlantic’s Alexander Abad-Santos.

It’s these sort of incidents that stir passionate discussions in newsrooms (yes, they still exist) and journalism classes between the public’s right to know and how far is going too far? On another the actions of the photographer fit quite nicely into a society where everyone has a camera and any tragedy is only a few clicks away from being uploaded to You Tube or featured on TMZ or World Star Hip-Hop.

When I saw the photo of the last moments of Ki Suk Han’s life and heard the criticism of Abbasi’s seeming callousness, my thoughts turned back to Kevin Carter and his 1994 Pulitzer Prize winning photo. The imagery is searing. In the Sudan, a starving child is too weak to crawl to a feeding center. Watching patiently and balefully is a vulture as if waiting for her to die so it can feed. Winning the highest award journalism has to offer should have been the pinnacle of Carter’s career but it ruined his life before he ended it in 1994. Carter committed suicide.

Carter’s suicide note read in part, “I am depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners …”

I hope Mr. Abbasi sleeps well. I doubt the engineer driving the subway train or anyone on the platform that witnessed Han’s death will.   By both his actions and his inaction Abbasi has opened himself to the accusation he should have passed up taking the picture and tried to be a human being instead.   Maybe he could have saved a life and maybe Han was truly doomed.

Apparently, Han was assaulted and pushed on the tracks by a homeless man.   That led to his first death.  His second came when someone at Rupert Murdoch’s grubby rag  decided to exploit his demise to sell papers.

Would you?

This picture won the photographer a Pulitzer. Then it destroyed his life.

The Semi-Obligatory 9/11 Rememberance

These are my semi-obligatory words about 9/11 some ten years after the fact.  There will be millions, maybe billions of words written about the events of September 11, 2001.   Stack them on top of each other and they would reach higher than the fallen Twin Towers.

My 9/11 story is this. The night before we had seen Sade in concert. She would not tour again until ten years later. She was even better than the last time and that’s about it for what’s better now than it was then. 

I was washing dishes and listening to Howard Stern. Someone called in and said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. They thought it might have been a small plane like a Cessna. One of Howard’s crew remarked, “that’s a lot of smoke coming out of there.” 

I turned on the Today Show. Saw the second plane hit. Wondered where my wife was. She was out on an errand and none of us owned a cell phone. I watched one tower fall and then the other. My kids were at school and at noon it was announced they would be released early. 

I went to pick them up. They had been watching the events on television too. My wife finally came home. We watched television until late at night when we finally couldn’t watch anymore. 

What more was there to see? 

We felt sickened, sad and scared all at once. My daughter had recently turned seven. Before my daughter would go to sleep, she asked me if the terrorists were going to kill us all. I told her they weren’t. I wasn’t sure of it, but what else could I tell her? How much crap does a seven year-old girl need on her mind? 

Seven-year-old girls should go their entires lives without ever knowing what a terrorist is. 

Before we went to bed, my wife cried and I cried and we turned off the lights and turned on the security alarm. It’s good to hold on to the illusion of security when none really exists. 

The next day the sun rose in the morning just like it had that beautiful Tuesday morning of September 11, 2001 and just like it has everday since. 

We put a flag out on our porch and it stayed there for the next two years. There were a lot of flags on a lot of porches after 9/11. Don’t seem to see as many anymore. 

That probably means something. 

We went back to New York City last year for the first time in 11 years. I still love New York. Only now more than ever.

That’s enough for me with the reminiscening.  

I’ve seen enough angles of plans cutting into buildings like knives through butter.   Seen enough horrified faces pointing up at the sky.   Seen enough victims jump to their deaths, towers collapsing and presidents reading “My Pet Goat” while the world goes mad.

Do I really need to see it again?  Do anyone need another, “Where Were You When the Towers Fell?” recollection.. I was home and I watched it all day.  I saw it all unfold in real time.  

I don’t need to remember,  I never forgot.

My New York State of Mind

New York: where everything happens at once.

Being spontaneous is one of the first thing that goes “bye-bye” when you have kids.  Simply packing up and going where the day takes you isn’t an option if you have to worry first about the care and feeding of children.  They become your first priority and that’s how it should be.  I’m not complaining about it.  

The accumulative effect of being a parent is you’re no longer Number One.   You’re  number Three or Four or Five depending how many other mouths  you’re responsible for feeding.   In the process of doing for them, it becomes easy to forget about you.  Your priorities and pleasures become secondary to the primary job of being Mom and Dad.  

Two weeks away from walking the streets of New York and it’s the waiting that is driving me crazy like an irritating  itch  I can’t reach or scratch.   

The flight?  Booked.  The room?  Reserved.  I looked at so many hotel websites that after a time it all became an amphourus blur.   How many showcase hotel rooms can you look at before they all start to look pretty much the same?   Everything is predicated by how much you’re willing to spend (and this being NYC you can spend a lot) , what amenities you need (a non-smoking hotel and a queen-sized bed) and where you want to bet situated (close to Times Square, thank you very much).  

You can read the reviews of a given hotel until you pass out.    You never know if you’ve picked well until you walk into the lobby and actually see the hotel (is it clean and is the staff friendly and helpful?) , smell the hotel (does it smell clean and fresh or is there the vague smell of cigarette smoke and disinfectant lingering just underneath), listen to the hotel (is the room too close to the elevator or too close to the street noises of the city that never sleeps?).      

 The last test is when you lie back on the bed.   Do it make you say Ohhhhhhh yeah  or Oh my dear God!   That’s the only way to really know how much or how little time you’re going to spend in the room–or in the hotel itself.  

Then again, the only thing a hotel room in Manhattan is good for is sleeping, showering and storing your crap while you’re out running the streets.   Nobody goes to New York to sit in a hotel room and watch TV.  

New York is a smorgasbord of possibilities.   Do you shop ’til you drop or gorge yourself on the vast variety of food and drink?   There are concerts, clubs, museums and oh so much more waiting if you’re curious enough and savvy enough to navigate the taxis, buses, subways and sidewalks.     

After being away from the place for 11 years, I know I’m going to feel like a tourist all over again, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to act like a tourist.   I’ve taken the Circle Line boat tour around Manhattan.   There’s no need to do it again.  I’m not flying nearly 500 miles just to gawk at the big buildings or eat at some crappy chain restaurant I could find in any Columbus strip mall.  

Half the fun of  going to NYC is exploring it.   You can’t be afraid to go off the beaten track if you’re going to find that place that stays in your mind long after the trip is over.    The comfortable and safe thing to do is to do the tourist thing and let someone chaperone  the poor hicks from the sticks through the Big Bad Apple.   

It’s not about courage or anything like that.  Are there some parts of NYC I wouldn’t want to be caught in when the sun goes down?   Sure, but name a city where there aren’t dicey places for delicate souls?    Even here in Columbus there are rough places where it’s a  bad idea to get caught with a flat tire and no spare or jack.   

Always walking the beaten path is safer and boring.   We want to see a play, but whoever said it has to be on Broadway?   There are great plays off-Broadway just waiting to be seen.    Just as there are restaurants, jazz spots and shops that are five-star experiences that don’t show up on the ranking websites and newspapers.  The city is calling and I’m yearning to answer.  

Drop me off in Harlem.

It would take at least a month or two and thousands of dollars to properly “do” New York City in a thorough enough way.   But we don’t have two months and thousands of dollars to spend.   All we’ve got is three days and 72 hours to make up for 11 years of lost time.   That’s not much time but it’s just enough time to get a nice little taste of the city’s  flavor.     

If we do it right that’s all we’ll need.  It will have to be because it’s all we’re going to get.    

Which should tide us over nicely until the next time we’re there, because  it won’t take another eleven years before we return.

New York on my mind.

It’s been ten years since we last visited New York City and not a day goes by I’m not acutely aware of that sad truth.

My wife and I had plans to follow up 2008’s Chicago trip with just the two of us in returning to New York.  But when you want to make God laugh make plans.  Both circumstances and college tuition conspired to make that idea a non-starter. 

We’ve been to New York at least four or five times over the years and it is our favorite city.  The first visit was via a Greyhound bus.  Whoever said “leave the driving to us” has some harsh words coming from me.  That was a freaking nightmare. As soon as we got to our hotel Vanessa was back at the Port Authority to cash in our bus tickets and we flew back.    Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.   We got experienced. 

Unless you know someone and have a place to crash, you’ve got to find someplace to stay and hotels in Manhattan are not cheap. 

Usually, but not always.   Our favorite place is The Edison Hotel (or Hotel Edison) where we’ve stayed probably three times.    

The other night I was The Godfather on DVD and the hotel lobby Luca Brazzi walks through before he sleeps with the fishes is the Edison Hotel. 

I’m not going to pretend that the Edison is the most fabulous  hotel in New York City.  Far from it.  It’s old (built in 1931) and the rooms aren’t the largest or the most plush, but it’s got two things going for it.  First, it’s a within easy walking distance of the heart of Times Square and second, it’s a great value.    I don’t need to name drop the name of some five-star hotel (with a five star price).   Gimme a clean place to sleep with a reasonably polite and professional staff and I’m good to go.

The Edison Hotel (or is it the Hotel Edison?)

The Edison Hotel (or is it the Hotel Edison?)

We learned the hard way when we go to NYC, we absolutely must stay at The Edison.   The first time we didn’t we stay at a dump called the Portland Square.   I’ve had closets that were roomier and more inviting that this shithole.   Happily, I’ve consumed enough alcohol since then to forget most of the unhappy details about the joint.   There is no forgetting though the “bed” (that’s what they called it) had a mattress that must have been lined with rocks. 

The only thing this hotel from hell has going in its favor is it’s just a block away from Times Square.   That’s great because any excuse to get out of the cracker boxes they call rooms is a good one.   I found myself having to walk around 42nd Street (during it’s pre-Giuliani sanitized days when it was still sleazy, skanky and slightly risky) at 3:00 in the morning just to make myself tired enough to go back and attempt to sleep.  

I got curious enough to Google the Portland Square to see if  had been torn down as a health hazard or at least to reduced urban blight, but nope, it’s still there and still ruining vacations.

Okay.. i couldn’t wait to get home and write a review for this Hotel. I stayed there March 31st 2009 to April 1st !!!! This is the wost “budget” hotel ive stayed in thus far. Yes the outside to the lobby looks great !! Rooms.eh not soo much !! The room was super small, had pipes exposed , paint peeling, rusty, no heat, i was freezinggg , i had to sleep in extra clothing and wrap up tight in the covers, which were infested with bugs ! as soon as i layed down i started to itch really bad, i mean from my head to my toes, even my hair. After only 2 minutes i got up, lifted my shirt up and looked in the mirror, my back and arms were covered with red bumps and i was itching soo soo bad !!! As i was laying down i could literally feel bugs crawling up my skin ! it was horrible ! I am back home , and i am still itching like crazyy !!! The bathrooms were dirty and smelly also !! I could go on forever about the bad things on this hotel, but i dont have the time. The only thing i LOVED about the hotel was the location, i took a few steps out of the hotel and i was in the mist of beautiful Times Square!!! oh and the staff were nice and helpful!

Wow…not only does the hall smell of formaldehyde, the elevator worked going up but broke on the way down. I stayed all of five minutes which was just enough time for them to bill my card. Mind you it has been over 2 weeks and they have still not credited back the pending transactions on my account. As much as I loved the pictures of the hotel on the site, I do not know which hotel they were photographing, not theirs. The elevator is claustrophobic hell about four feet wide. The walls and tub were dirty, I felt I would be murdered in my sleep. DO NOT STAY here..cheap for a reason.

I was entertained by one night in this terrible, terrible hotel. Having prepaid for the room, I decided I should stay. At least now I’ve good stories about that night.

Among the various happenings: (1) keys given for the wrong room (imagine the naked man’s surprise to having me fling open his door, and, yes, his room was nicer than the one I ultimately received); (2) a room only slighter larger than my “standard double” bed; (3) bed sheets apparently holding previous guests’ evenings of yellowish and brown “fun”; (4) two pieces of sort-of furniture from which most of the laminate covering had been removed;( 5) carpet with spots of unknown origin and hairs of unknown species; (6) a bathroom featuring alternating spits of brown chilled and boiling water in the shower; (7) a nice assortment of others’ public hair on the “nightstand”; (8) trash in the hallway; (9) no lights in the hallway (so the trash becomes less a problem); and a smell best described as a combination of a portable outhouse, ashtray, and Renuzit.

William Gibson and Eli Roth were obviously inspired by stays at the Portland Square Hotel. But for those not seeking inspiration—and who wish to avoid bed critters and waste from other humans—spend your $250+ a night elsewhere.

Okay,  you get the idea.  The Portland Square is a place where Norman Bates would feel right at home.   If  President Obama is really stuck for a place to put the detainees after he closes Guatanemo, I’d recommend the Portland Square.  After a few nights there, they’ll be begging to go back or be waterboarded. 

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

 As the saying goes, I love New York, but you have to do your homework before you choose a place to lay your head.