The day after 9/11

After a day spent re-living the nightmare of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, today finds me struggling to focus. I sit down to write this column and within minutes my mind wanders from ice cream to school lockers to the space rover Curiosity being eclipsed by the Mars moon Phobos to the plight of the deep-sea blobfish (a Ziggy-looking creature that’s currently in danger of being wiped from existence). A grand total of none of these actually make it onto my keyboard.

Instead, my thoughts center on today’s date: Sept. 12. For instance, today is the anniversary of an event that convinced me I need a Dog Whisperer. On this day in 1940, four teenagers followed their dog down a narrow entrance to a cavern near Montignac, France. They stumbled upon a complex of caves that revealed a treasure trove of prehistoric wall paintings dating back 17,300 years. My dogs usually lead me to the carcass of a dead bird or a crusty tennis ball buried under leaves. They haven’t so much as found a child’s fingerpainting, much less the most important collection of Upper Paleolithic art ever discovered. (I’m going to cut them back to one bowl of kibble a day until they uncover an underground mine, or at least a dry tennis ball.)

It’s funny how easily a typical day can turn historical. Each one is like a proverbial Baldwin brother: You never know what each one will bring, so you have to accept each one for what it is. A Stephen won’t turn into an Alec no matter how hard you try. Sept. 12, which gained such notoriety in 1940, was relegated to Stephen Baldwin status on Sept. 11, 2001. When President Bush proclaimed Sept. 11 as Patriot Day, a national day of service and remembrance for those lost in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Sept. 12 became just another workday.

To put it bluntly, no one ever asks, “I wonder what Stephen Baldwin’s up to?” after watching an episode of 30 Rock.

Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that the horrific events of 9/11 have doomed Sept. 12 to be the Zeppo of the Marx Brothers, the Brandi Cyrus to Billy Ray’s Miley. The 12th used to be associated with a string of hurricanes: on this day in 1928, the Okeechobee hurricane killed more than 4,000; in 1944, the Great Atlantic Hurricane claimed 389 lives; Hurricane Betsy killed 75 in 1965, and the bodies of more than 40 patients were discovered in a flood New Orleans hospital on this day in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Almost 8,000 lab animals, including mice, rats, and monkeys disappeared from LSU alone in that storm.

Coincidentally, on this day in 1966, The Monkees premiered on NBC. They were better behaved than the caged monkeys at LSU, which often performed acts not appropriate for live broadcast. Oh — and Cyndi Lauper performed “She Bop” on the Tonight Show on this day in 1984. I’ll leave that connection to those old enough to make it.

In 2013, Sept. 12 finds President Obama relying on the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” (the French, according to conservative scribe Jonah Goldberg) to back his proposed actions against Syria. The French seem as easily confused as I. Sometimes they seem to agree with the lyrics of Neil Peart (drummer for the band Rush) in the song, Bastille Day.


Lessons taught but never learned

All around us anger burns

Guide the future by the past

Long ago the mould was cast


At other times, they seem partial to the lyrics of Johnny Cash in Man in Black.


I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,

And tell the world that everything’s OK,

But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,

‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.


Neil Peart was born on Sept. 12, 1952. Johnny died on Sept. 12, 2003. Regardless, the day is still a Stephen Baldwin. Sorry.


So that’s what you get when you write about Sept. 12: from dogs in France finding cave paintings to the Baldwin brothers to 9/11 to hurricanes to escaping monkeys to The Monkees to Cyndi Lauper to Syria to Rush and Johnny Cash. It’s a grab-bag kind of day, and maybe that’s a good thing. After a day spent mourning the innocents lives lost on 9/11, a goofy 9/12 might be just what we need.


You can read more at and contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.

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