The two towers

In this morning’s post, I overlooked a couple of aspects of 11 September 2001 that are worth mentioning.
Ruth and Ben did not have a good day at school. Their teachers had done what probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but was actually the worst possible choice: they abandoned their lesson plans, turned on the TV, and had the kids watch news coverage all day. This meant that the students were forced to watch airplanes ram into buildings and explode, buildings burn and collapse, and people die by the thousands . . . over and over. All day long. Whether they wanted to or not.
So when Ben and Ruth got home, they were understandably upset about the day’s events, but they did not want to talk about it or dwell on it in any way. What they needed was something to take their minds off the horrible things they had seen. Well, Tuesday night is movie night at our house, so I looked through my backlog of Movies To Show The Kids Sometime for something light and humorous. I settled on Rona Jaffe’s Mazes and Monsters, which I had been promising to show them for months.
If you’ve never seen this movie, it’s required viewing for any self-respecting D&D player. It’s very loosely based on the case of James Dallas Egbert III, an emotionally disturbed teenager who faked his own disappearance in 1979, tried to commit suicide and failed, was found, and eventually did kill himself in 1980. The news media, looking for a sensational angle and encouraged by the detective trying to find Egbert, seized on the fact that he played D&D. They attempted to portray the game as a dangerous cult that drove innocent teenagers insane, and blamed it for Egbert’s disappearance. Rona Jaffe wrote a novel called Mazes & Monsters that was essentially a fictionalized version of the press’s Egbert story, with a great deal of further exaggeration and distortion. In 1982, the novel was turned into a cheesy TV-movie that took even more liberties with the story. Among D&D players, the film is considered hysterically funny for its lame plot, low-budget production values, and ludicrously inaccurate portrayal of the game. Since Ben and Ruth were experienced D&D players by that time, I figured they would have fun laughing at it.
In the film, Robbie (played by a very young Tom Hanks) gradually loses his grip on reality and begins to believe that he is his D&D character. This leads him to drop out of college and go to New York City, where he wanders the streets in a delusional fog until his fellow players track him down. They do this by studying the written materials he left behind, including an elaborate map of a fantasy realm. The crucial clue is a prominent site on the map, which is labeled “The Two Towers.” Robbie’s friends first dismiss this as a Tolkien reference, but eventually realize that it actually refers to . . .
At this point I realized what an idiot I was. “The Two Towers” refers to the World Trade Center, and that’s where the climax of the film takes place. In an effort to distract my children from a disaster at the World Trade Center, I had chosen to show them a movie that actually was filmed there. Like their teachers, I had done what seemed like a good idea at the time, but was actually the worst possible choice.
I stopped the videotape, explained the nature of my error, and apologized to Ruth and Ben. They assured me that it didn’t matter, and they wanted to see the ending anyway. So we finished the movie. And they did find it highly amusing, but not quite as amusing as the boneheaded mistake their father had made.
The next day, September 12, was a Wednesday, which meant that it was time for the weekly Guys’ Lunch at the Prime Outlets food court, just across I-40 from Raleigh-Durham International Airport. This mall is just a mile or two from the airport and directly under a major flight path, so you cannot stand in the parking lot for more than a couple of minutes without seeing airplanes pass overhead — usually airliners flying so low you can practically count the rivets and the engine noise rattles your bones. But not on that particular Wednesday, because RDU (along with every other airport in the country) was shut down by federal order. It was eerie to stand in that parking lot under an empty sky, hearing only the whoosh of cars passing on the interstate. The scene inside was even eerier, because the food court was half empty. That food court is normally packed at lunchtime on weekdays — but a lot of those people work at the airport, and none of them were eating there on September 12. They had all been told to stay home.
As it happens, today is also a Wednesday, so I drove out to Prime Outlets for another Guys’ Lunch. As I passed through Holly Springs on my way to the highway, I saw flags everywhere: on mailboxes, on front porches, flying from passing cars, even on the construction equipment I passed where the road is being widened. And as I exited from the interstate and turned onto Airport Boulevard, right in front of me was a big, beautiful American Airlines jumbo jet flying low across the roadway, emblazoned from nose to tail with red, white, and blue stripes. As strange as this may sound, the shriek of jet engines was music to my ears.

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