PAUL A. TOTH
March 30, 2010
The following is the second chapter from Paul A. Toth’s 9/11 work, Airplane Novel, which he not-so-humbly considers the 9/11 novel due to the extraordinary inside-out viewpoint provided by the novel’s crucial conceit: the South Tower serves as the narrator.
In the first chapter, the South Tower introduced itself and Oswald Adorno, the first to set the towers on fire, first one and then later the other, before he was captured. This chapter continues Oswald’s story as other stories begin.
He Will Admit to a Fire
The fire began in the mind of a man coincidentally sharing the name of an assassin, Oswald Adorno. One Oswald fired shots, and the other fired fires. This is the start of all the conspiracies against me. Every spectacle makes diamonds of secrets difficult to differentiate from zirconia. I am adorned with Oswald and wear a necklace of conspiracy theories.
The first figure in the sum of my destructions, Oswald was a janitor and cleaned the excrement inside me, for I was filled with the blood, brains, urine, and everything else produced by all the dirty spider monkeys venturing into the premises.
My vision in those days was primitive, my intelligence as useless as a baby’s. To explain what happened, I must recreate what happened, reshaping Oswald in the retrospect. Oswald’s records exist only on paper. To recreate Oswald is to become Oswald, and why not when I am anything and everything? In this story, Cary Grant will assume the villainous role of Oswald Adorno, though Oswald’s villainy may be mitigated. One can never know the cause of villainy, only that all spider monkeys desire a moment to play the villain, even more so than they wish to play the hero.
Oswald left the grease beneath his fingernails the way some display their bruises. Ostensibly, Oswald wished to set North ablaze because he wanted more pay. I wanted more pay for him. He only wanted to shop, but he could not shop with the money he was paid. All spider monkeys wish to shop and commit arson. They admit the first and deny the second; otherwise, shopping would end. With nothing to want, and no reason to produce anything, spider monkeys would watch their clocks explode. But if Oswald had known the extent to which North and I esteemed him, and how both of us regretted his regrets, he might not have done what he did.
I suspect Oswald had the following on his mind before and during his act: Chris Evert; the Sony TC-756 home tape deck with Superscope; Pan Am 747s; Monza Spiders. These were the people and things populating the lost island of Oswald’s mind. They were kindle and caught fire. At the moment of gestation, they became a burning dream. Arson was the result of the sun, radiation, electric storms of the mind, sunspots from staring too long at television, the images of objects and people in a manmade fire pit: Chris Evert; the Sony TC-756 home tape deck with Superscope; Pan Am 747s; Monza Spiders.
The Sony TC-756 home tape deck particularly interested Adorno, for he had often, when young, visited Radio Row, the place where stereos and other electronic equipment had once been sold. That is where I was raised, on the same Cortlandt Street plowed into oblivion before my birth.
For decades, music streamed from store after store and from tables on the sidewalk, and the sound was like dozens of radios scanning stations, with opera and show tunes and every other style creating an unnamed musical genre. In the pleasant dissonance walked children like Oswald, led by their fathers, neither placating the other and both entranced by the seduction of a mad hymn towards wires and tubes and do-it-yourself kits and items for which no one knew the names, a mystery to be left unsolved, until the murder of Cortlandt. North and I were the accused, giving Oswald a double motive. Others, too, looked up at us and saw Radio Row with a vertical twist. The store owners remained angry until they died, as if we had chosen the place of our births and stolen their businesses. To them, we stood on the grave of Radio Row and mocked its life. A spider monkey jury would have convicted us without evidence before courts and gods at the top of the Tower of Babel.
Transmission. Why are you here? How did you get here?
All transmissions broadcast from the ghost street of Cortlandt: Radio Row Radio.
Invisibly, Radio Row still existed for Oswald. He would renew that memory through fire. With access to the Sony TC-756 home tape deck, he would woo Chris Evert with music, then drive her in a Monza Spider to a Pan AM 747. Many of his tastes had matured, and when he thought of Chris Evert, he saw her face wrapped in the net of a tennis racket, her body laced with copper wire, her nipples radio tubes.
Oswald lived with his mother in the Bronx. From my peak, the Bronx appeared as a sprawl of light in the distance at night. I never saw Oswald walking in my direction. I would not have looked for him. I would not have seen him moving through the artificial haze to clean the excrement inside North. But this is what he did, and to do what he did, he came all the way from The Bronx.
The Bronx is a dangerous-sounding word and heavy as an axe. The Bronx has a past, traced to a man named Jonas Bronck. Later, the borough become known as “The Bronx,” not “Bronck” or “The Bronck.” Perhaps a historian wrote “The Bronx” when he meant “The Broncks.” Historians cannot be accused of mistakes; mistakes are their business.
Many people derided North and me for being sterile. Spider monkeys proclaim cleanliness to be a virtue, yet many who wished our air to be conditioned and our interiors bejeweled called us “cold and sterile,” complaining whenever any part of us had been sullied or opining that we displayed a cold and arrogant altitude and attitude. Oswald would attest that North and I were never sterile, an insight gained by performing his duties.
Transmission: I could do no more than I did truly, and now I see the people do clean forsake me.
Before and until Oswald’s fire started, many of our floors remained illuminated well past work hours and into the darkness, as if we were children who could not sleep without the succor of brightness. I believe Oswald started that fire because he was tired of the permanent brilliance in which he worked and rested, the fluorescent light when he worked and the sunlight when he slept. If one sees only light, one imagines only darkness. In that darkness, Oswald sprung a leak of fire.
I can deduce Oswald said a prayer before acting. Oswald almost certainly believed in a god. This much is known or all but known. Holding a match, wishing for North’s destruction, he must have prayed, but I cannot calculate whether he might as well have not prayed. He would have prayed for success and escape.
Much else can be predicted from what little is known. First, of all the things Oswald was or might have been, he might have chosen to become or believe in all that he was not. He would not dare become a preying bird. He would not deem kingship possible. These things he was not, but these things he might have been, and they describe him better than to call him human or, more elegantly, a spider monkey.
The portrait of Oswald becomes richer with threads of associations and disassociations, with the former no more legitimate than the latter. For me to predict, I must see Oswald in various guises in various times in various spaces. I allow for such variables because all beings and objects resemble many beings and things they are not, more so than they resemble themselves as seen by bored, exhausted eyes.
Oswald lurked, but visibly so. Invisibility was his goal when he struck the match or lit the lighter inside North, but he failed. He might have been a flame-bearing shadow, but he remained visible. He lit some material or otherwise started the fire.
Afterwards, the citizens wondered “Why?” The question mark is the noose with which the spider monkeys hang themselves.
The fire sprawled into a blaze, yawning in its own heat. Oswald ran from the orange splatter of light exposing him. He might have prayed again. He would have prayed or wished for: Chris Evert; the Sony TC-756 home tape deck with Superscope; Pan Am 747s; Monza Spiders.
The fire ran with Oswald and reached six floors. The six floors made six possible Oswalds, and when Oswald looked back, he pictured those people and objects on fire. For a moment, any image might erupt, producing unlimited perceptions.
I stood beside North and watched the fire. There was nothing I could do, even if I was Cary Grant, swaying in a breeze, starched and clean and beyond blame.
Transmission: We blame you.
The firefighters arrived and discovered that electrical equipment behind a door had been set ablaze. Meanwhile, Oswald ran, half-blinded by what he must have considered within his reach: Chris Evert; the Sony TC-756 home tape deck with Superscope; Pan Am 747s; Monza Spiders.
Oswald wore a thin leather jacket, cheap and thin, but leather. The month was February and cold but the jacket was leather and that mattered most to Oswald. On the street, he stopped for breath. He looked at North and then, without interest, at me. Rats bolting, indoor rain upon the flames, shattering neon, all of this I witnessed.
Years later, images from another fire would burn upon the wall of the church that once cast a shadow across my panels. For many years, no shadows would be cast.
Oswald had sought seek specificity in his actions. When Oswald decided to become more specific, he joined the less general category of the arsonist. But spider monkeys always fail to reach the peak of specificity, though they climb and they climb. Upon failure, they often turn to gods, for they are busy, always busy, with a rotten banana in every coffee cup. That is their clue, but they will not take the hint and become the spider monkeys they are not.
Transmission: God, tell him Your name.
The church never answered. Buildings do not talk. Then again, someone on the 23rd floor once typed to a colleague, “If buildings could talk — ” and while referring to a coworker’s in-house sexual affair, listening to his own sentence would have wrecked a viewpoint that had faithfully served self-deception.
Oswald sprinted to his mother’s house in the thin leather jacket, cheap and thin, but leather. He was cold but the jacket was leather. He was less cold the longer he ran, and he ran to the nearest subway. Oswald was even less cold there, and the jacket was still leather. He stood in his leather jacket and tried to appear nonchalant, like a worker present on Tuesday after a Monday absence.
A subway approached, not Oswald’s subway but the subway of other riders. That subway could have been Oswald’s subway, had he been going somewhere else. Oswald’s subway was the subway of many more people and represented many more possibilities than his means of escape, though some aboard the subway had planned other escapes. They would escape lovers, work, apartments, even themselves. Oswald’s subway was many things to other people. For some, that subway was a source of anxiety, but for Oswald, that subway was the source of anxiety’s amelioration. To board the subway was to board a chance, and he would ride that chance, a last hope, a lottery ticket that he would scratch with a soiled fingernail.
The train arrived. The police might have found Oswald before the train arrived, but the train arrived first, and the police lost themselves in work and never looked for Oswald. He had yet to achieve the status of a suspect. Now he still lurked inside himself, the doubts becoming sparks.
He came for me on May 19th of the same year. That time, he set seven fires. I generate but feel no heat. There was no pain.
Afterwards, Oswald again ran home to his mother’s house in the thin leather jacket, cheap and thin, but leather, only now the jacket provided sufficient warmth. It was appropriate for the season.
All the way home, he prayed. He prayed for escape but, if he had contemplated matters, he might have admitted his desire to be caught.
By the next day, he had been specified. He was arrested. He was an arsonist and would always be known, if known at all, as an arsonist. He had been defined. He acquired what he wanted all along: a definition of himself. Once, he had been Oswald Adorno, anyone and anything. Then he became Oswald Adorno, arsonist. Firefighters had extinguished Oswald’s desires.
Soon, Oswald understood. In a cell, one wishes to be less specific, but by then, too late for that. Spider monkey in a cell, a cell of blood, towers of blood, burning buildings, all for one, one for all, busy, always busy.
Paul A. Toth lives in Sarasota, Florida. He is the author of three novels, his latest being Finale. He also publishes poetry, nonfiction and multimedia pieces. Links to all of his work can be accessed via www.tothworld.com.