O/T: As I Piled Into A Cream Over Gold 1963 Rambler American Named “Freddie”…

. . .and — in chilly but clear air — FM radio blaring, began the 55 minute drive to 11,000 feet, in the Rockies, and up to the mine shaft head — working swing and graveyard shifts, in the first of what would be several hard rock mining summer jobs to pay for undergrad and law school, all on my own — something extraordinary happened.

The Commodores’ “Brick House” was interrupted, cut short — on the push-button, Vibra-Tone® Rambler’s radio — the DJ was sputtering excitedly. Positively abuzz, with the crazy daring and audacity of a young man in lower Manhattan, that morning. . . .

My elder brother and I could only imagine — as we climbed into the cage, to descend almost a mile into the inky darkness of the Earth, what the scene might be like — at Two World Trade Center — everyone gazing skyward, on a flawlessly clear day. But at 11,000 feet, half a continent away, snow still melting at the shaft-head, every miner was chuckling about it — all 50 of us in the cage, plunging in the opposite direction, deep into the under-belly of the Earth. We all felt the heat and weight of the rock, and the mineral-scented damp air wafting off of it — was just a little less oppressive, that shift — in particular.

And, to a man, we talked about him, over our metal lunch-boxes and steel thermoses — our faces streaked dark-gray with moly rock-dust, and sweat, hard hats and cap lamps tossed to the side, while we ate. He was. . . inspiring — if fool-hearty, and likely headed to jail, for quite a while, or so we thought. . . .

It wasn’t until a few days later that our local papers carried clear images, including these at right, of the young man (not unlike us, in appearance and demeanor) we had learned was named George Willig. It turned out that he was a Queens-born mountain climber, so we immediately took a shine to him, as much as to his story. And when the Mayor decided to fine him only a penny for each of the 110 stories of the second World Trade Tower, we were both quite gratified by the denouement.

My brother had a rat-trap efficiency apartment waiting in what was then called Spanish Harlem, where he would paint at the Met (and study at the New York Studio School, as it was then known), in the fall. And I would go enroll at the state university to study philosophy, politics, business and eventually law.

Of course, both of those towers are gone now. A gleaming new one stands in their stead — with more underway. But I suppose this will be my Memorial Day reflection, as dawn rises luminous and clear here — only this time for all the fire-fighters, and all the other fine, hard-working, heroic people — who perished in those two towers now almost 16 years ago.

I will remember most the buoyant attitudes of so many young people — in 1977 — so full of hope about the futures they were making — doubtless some of them went on to be the firefighters on that fateful day. And I will smile, broadly — as all these lives have been well-lived.

Drink deeply of life — for as my grandfather taught us, we need not live high, to live well. I’m out.



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