A Boomer's Blog

Notes for the Boomer Generation by Linda Paul


Last year on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I wrote an essay describing my experiences during and after the attack at the Pentagon, where I was working on that terrible day.  This year, the eleventh anniversary, didn’t garner as much media attention.  This is both good and bad.  Good in that we are moving away from the horror.  We have survived and hopefully have learned things about ourselves as a nation and as individuals.  Bad because it should be recognized every year for the great shocking horrible tragedy that it was.  The ‘Today” show, which I have always disliked anyway, chose to ignore the moment of silence obsereved by all the other major networks and continue broadcasting their interview with the Kardashian’s mother about her boob job.  No joke.

This morning we learned of an attack on our Libyan Embassy where our ambassador and others were murdered by an angry mob.  They were angry about a YouTube video that insulted their religion.  There are photos on the internet of citizens taking pictures of the unconscious (or already dead) ambassador with their cellphones.  When will we humans start to be more… human?

This year 9/11 fell on a Tuesday, the same weekday as the attack.  I’m posting my essay that was printed in the Oregonian last year here.

Remembering 9/11: Inside the Pentagon

Published: Saturday, September 10, 2011, 12:04 PM
Guest Columnist By Guest ColumnistThe Oregonian Follow
By Linda Paul
On 9/11 I was at my desk in the Pentagon, where I was the operations manager for a computer support team in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. A co-worker told me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. Before I could get The New York Times online, she came back and said there was a second plane. The first shock was realizing that it was done on purpose.
My computer users started calling because they couldn’t get on the Internet. I told them there was just too much traffic.
“But this is the Pentagon!” one man complained.
When the plane struck us, there was a single loud “boom,” more like a solid but muffled thud and the office shuddered, identical to the shudder of an earthquake. Our partitions squeaked a little. Our noisy office was deadly silent for a few seconds. It’s a testament to the Pentagon, the largest office building in the world and a genuine fortress, that more people weren’t killed that day. Shuffling toward the exits with thousands of others, I noticed how subdued we were. No shouting or panic, just a quiet mob leaving the building. Outside, I looked back to see the giant black cloud of smoke hovering over the building. I thought, “They’re killing us with our own damn airplanes.” I may have said this aloud.
I walked around the building toward the crash site. Already there were fire trucks and rescuers running toward the gash. I saw black smoke pouring from the wall, flames and debris. A security guard was waving people away, shouting, “Go home! Go home!” One of my first thoughts was that this is what religion does for us. A former Sunday morning mass attendee, I have been unable to go back to church since, except on a couple of rare occasions involving my aunts and Christmas.
I usually rode the Metro to work, but on that day, I drove. When I reached my car I saw that the parking lot attendant had thrown open his gates allowing us to exit for free. Although I lived only four miles from the Pentagon, it took an hour to get home. By this time, all the planes had been ordered out of the sky and fighter jets had scrambled overhead in Washington. D.C. As I sat in traffic, a plane zoomed so close over me that I gripped my steering wheel with both hands and screamed aloud, alone in my car, as the plane shrieked by. That was the only time I “lost it,” and it was the only time I felt the fear I had been suppressing all morning.
That evening, my boss (many rungs up the ladder from me), Donald Rumsfeld, went on the air and said that the Department of Defense was still open for business. I took that as an order to be at work in the morning. When I awoke the next day, I smelled a fire. The heavy, musty smell of smoke hung in the air for miles around, and lasted for weeks.
My team and I were back at work at 7 the next morning, setting up computers in a nearby building for the engineers and analysts we supported. Our Pentagon office was now part of a crime scene and had been secured with yellow tape. My greatest accomplishment during the next week was to persuade the Army MPs to allow us inside the yellow tape to retrieve some important objects from our office. One of our young guys put on a hazmat suit and, like Bruce Willis in “Armageddon,” lumbered down the toxic hallway into the unknown. We stood at the end of the corridor, shouting encouragement. He came back with garbage bags containing laptops, my Rolodex, our backup tapes and CDs, and someone’s slippers.
During the following days I frequently saw people walking along who would suddenly recognize an acquaintance passing by. Cries of “Hey, man!” “Hey, girl!” “Good to see you. Where you at?” were everywhere. We really were glad to see each other. We didn’t know who was gone. Those weeks after the attack were full of hugs and handshakes.
We were allowed back into our offices after about three weeks. We needed portable air purifiers for months afterward.
Counting the five hijackers, 189 people died in the attack on the Pentagon. We had a memorial display of all the Pentagon victims with a photo and biography of each person. I read each one, more than once. A few of them have stuck in my mind all these years.
A young analyst from our department, Bryan Jack, was on Flight 77 that day. We were grieving for him as we worked our way through the next few weeks, putting ourselves in his shoes, forced by knowing him to consider the genuine terror he must have felt. I take the word “terrorist” literally now. Predictions of catastrophe don’t frighten me.
LTG Timothy Maude had been the commander of 1st Personnel Command in Heidelberg, Germany, where I worked for a while. I received emails from some of my former co-workers there, military and civilian, who had fond memories of him and wanted to send their good thoughts of him out into the ether. The general and his staff had been moved just days earlier into the offices struck by the hijacked plane.
Max Beilke was a retired Army master sergeant who was the last U.S. Army person to leave Vietnam. Nearly 70, he had been in the Pentagon that day working on veterans issues. Amelia Fields was working her second day of her new job in the Pentagon. Sept. 11 was her birthday. When I read her memorial, I thought about how excited I had been when I started my job in the Pentagon.
I lived two miles from Ronald Reagan National Airport, which did not reopen until October 2001. I welcomed the peace and quiet, but I had to watch any plane in the sky until I was satisfied that it was just flying by. On my morning bus ride it was not unusual to see all the commuters stare in unison at a dot in the sky until it disappeared, or to see all heads turn to the sound of a siren approaching. Here in Northwest Portland I don’t see that many planes. But when I’m driving along Skyline or Kaiser Road, or out in the back roads between Forest Grove and Hillsboro, I might see a plane in the sky — I still have to keep an eye on it, to make sure it’s just flying by.

Critique-al Mass

Some of my fellow writer friends and I want to start a critique group.  We all live in the same part of the huge metropolitan area…. none of us would have to cross any bridges or traverse glogged freeways to meet up.  But where?  The library charges money.  The Senior Center doesn’t have a room for 4 to 6 writers to sit around talking about their work.  Restaurants are noisy.  My apartment, frankly, is a dump.  My project today is to Do Something About All These Damn Books.

Well…  about the apartment….  I just moved a couple of months ago and still have boxes here and there.  But the real problem is the books.  Stacks and stacks of them.   Books I read years ago.  Books I’m in the middle of reading now.  The hundred or so that are “To Be Read”.  The reference books, which one doesn’t ever really read.  They are only to be referred to.  In emergencies.  That probably explains the dozen books I have on Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Guide, How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It, The Field Manual FM-21-76 US Army Survival Manual and 75,000 Baby Names.  Wait, that last one is in the wrong pile.

So, of my thousand books, the reference section is quite extensive.  There are the 31 cookbooks, most of which have only been used during the annual Hallo-Giv-Mas three-month-long food fest that is part of my heritage.  Not to mention my waistline.  I could use some of these cookbooks to create treats for my writer’s critique group and invite them here…. if only I could dig out from under the books to make some room for guests.  Should I use the books to create chairs, instead?

I also have 17 books on Organization.  Organizing from Within.  Stop the Clutter.  It’s All Too Much.  One Minute Organizer, Unclutter Your Mind, Clutter’s Last Stand…..  as soon as I can decide on the best spot for the organizing books, I’ll read a few of them.  Most of them are in the “To Be Read” category.

Well, of course there are other categories.  There are the wishful thinking shelves filled with gardening and home repair books.  I have been an apartment and condo dweller for most of the last fifteen years.  But I know how to change out the flush assembly in a toilet and diagram the central fuse box.  Actually, that does come in handy, even in an apartment.  Better hang on to that book.

Finally, there are all the writing books.  How To Write A Romance, Memoir, Screenplay, A Book In Thirty Days, How to Write How To Books, How to Write When You Can’t Write, How to Write When You Are Surrounded By Mountains of Books and There Is No Room For Your Damn Critique Group To Sit Down And Eat A Cookie.

I will take that last one off the To Be Read list right now.

Meryl and Tommy Lee Give Hope

My sister made a special trip, 30 miles one way to visit me, so that we could see “Hope Springs” with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.  She loves Meryl, her favorite actress.  I have always found Tommy Lee, with his gruff, no-nonsense screen persona, combined with brains (I know he was Al Gore’s roommate at Harvard) to be an irresistible combination.

My first reaction? Boy, have they gotten older along with the rest of us!   Then I admired these actors, Meryl and Jean Smart and Tommy Lee, for not having the plastic surgery like so many other celebrities do, trying to keep their 35-year-old faces.  They all looked like people in their sixties, and they are.  I really liked that.

The theater was full of other boomers like my sister and I, even at 2:30 on a sunny Saturday afternoon.  There were a lot of laughs, especially for Tommy Lee who played an unbearably pessimistic and complaining husband.  His character got a lot of laughs every time he complained, but I thought there was only a little exaggeration of this personality.  I’ve met, and married, a person like this character.

I’ve been on my own for many years and think that there is not a lot I could put up with from a partner or a boyfriend or a date.  I don’t give many second or third chances to correct a bad impression.  I have a tendency to walk off if confronted with bad behavior.  But I have not invested thirty years in a relationship.  It was hard for me to leave my marriage of only eight years, and I was suffering emotionally for most of it.  But I can understand Meryl’s character in the movie, wanting to work at a solution.  She wouldn’t walk away from her 30 year marriage and her emotional suffering was obvious.  They were living separate lives.  They had separate bedrooms and minimal, businesslike conversations.  He falls asleep in his chair every evening.  His wife decides to fight against the rut.  She wants her original husband to come back to her.

I have had this marriage.  My parents had this marriage.  I know several women of my age who have had or currently have this awful excuse for a marriage.  This movie addresses a problem that is widespread, if my anecdotal evidence can be trusted.  The saving grace of the marriage in the film was this:  they did still care deeply for each other.  Tommy Lee’s character, keeping his own counsel, gruff and uncommunicative, still respected and loved his wife.  This is what allowed them to bring the joyful aspects of their marriage back to life.

There was sex in the sixties in this movie.  No, not the Sex in The Sixties that some of us recklessly indulged in, but sex by people in their sixties.  No nude scenes!  But, be warned, pretty realistic.  These two veteran actors have my lifelong admiration for putting themselves out there in this performance.

‘Hope Springs’ is a hopeful movie.  But if a stagnant marriage includes drugs or alcohol dependence, mental cruelty, physical abuse, chronic infidelity……….  Steve Carrell’s counselor won’t be able to help.

Yay for writer Vanessa Taylor for providing a good script and a movie for the boomer demographic.  Ms. Taylor, I have learned, is unmarried, in her thirties, and is a writer for “Game of Thrones” on HBO.  Who’da thunk it?

Biker Boomer Babe

Last year I took a motorcycle license class at the local community college, thinking I would buy a scooter.  I would be the Biker Boomer Babe riding my scooter to the coast, my scarf floating out behind me like Snoopy in flight, or like one of those romantic heroine pilots in old movies whose movie lives ended in a fiery crash.

I came to class prepared with a knit cap such as burglars wear, black boots like the ones the goth girls wear, big sunglasses that I saw Diane Keaton wearing in a magazine, and a Ron Jon Surfshop sweatshirt from my last trip to Florida.  Oh, and puffy gray winter gloves.  Ready to ride!

During the classroom portion, I am the class ace!  The instructor calls on me more than anyone.  I’m sure it was NOT because I was the oldest person in the room, nearly the shortest, and certainly not because I had the cutest love handles of anyone there.   But, classroom has always been a strength.  The field was a different matter.

The college provides the helmets and the bikes.  Big fat helmets that make you look like a bobble-head souvenirs from Ron Jon’s.  Big fat bikes that require a short, pudgy old lady to stretch out her toes and fingers to reach everything.  The right hand is in charge of the start button, acceleration and the front brake, the left hand does the clutch, the right foot is the back brakes, the left foot does some other damn things, all of it at once, while keeping your ass off the pavement on a surging, smoking, roaring,  wobbly, tottering machine.The first time I fell off the bike the young people in my class all offered encouragement and consolation.

I am embarrassed to admit that after my third fall, I slunk home, unlicensed and bruised.  Time for wine and a bath.

But I was invited for a ride this weekend by my good friend Shirley, a true Biker Boomer Babe.  She came into a few dollars last year and instead of dumping them into some boring old 401K, she bought a trike.  A three-wheeled motorcycle with two wheels in front and one in the back.  She even has a ‘gang’, a friendly group she met through Biker Or Not.

Shirley provided me with a sparkly do-rag and a helmet that fit snugly to my head.  We had a beautiful sunny afternoon drive through the backroads of Washington County, with people waving as we zoomed by.  People see more of you on a trike, and, converesley, you can see more of THEM.  We passed people with dogs, up close and personal.  Speaking of personal, I swear I saw a man strolling naked in his backyard towards the hottub.  Shirley wouldn’t double back to verify, but I know what I saw!

Shirley, A Real Biker Boomer Babe!

Shirley, A Real Biker Boomer Babe! 

The trike has a very comfortable and ample seat,  front and back.  There is even a backrest for the person on the back, and handlebars on the sides for the passenger to hold onto.  It was a very comfortable ride!  Shirley’s trike will go 60 – 80 mph, and is much easier to operate and control than a regular motorcycle.  No clutch to worry about and one brake action for all the wheels

When we stopped at Helvetia Tavern for dinner, everyone on the patio was gawking at the two Boomer Biker Babes, tossing our hair after the helmets came off!  It was great!

Next time I take a motorcycle class, I’ll bring my own trike, my own helmet, and a sparkly do-rag!

Hello world!

This blog is for all the Boomers out there.  But it’s 2 AM now, so I’ll be getting back to this later.  I’m just so thrilled to have the blog up at last!

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