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The Talking Cure

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And so you come back to the scene. Three nights this week, I've found myself down there, as if imprinted on the vapor-lit billow of smoke, the way Richard Dreyfuss made his mashed potatoes into a model of Devils Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The Twin Towers might have been unloved while they lived, but now their ghosts lure like a Jungian power vector, phantom tuning forks playing a siren song, drawing you like a magnet.

I was sitting on a wall watching themoving silhouettes of the giant cranes when this guy asked me if I knew what time "the public transportation" stopped running. "Never," I said, with a blush of civic pride."That's why they call it New York."

Turned out he was a Navy guy, Aaron Austin, a graduate of Annapolis who had flown up that day from the base in Jacksonville, Florida. Formerly a boat pilot doing drug interdiction off the coast of Mississippi, he was learning to fly a P-3 Charlie spy plane and decided to come up to see if he could help in the rescue and/or cleanup. It was too late to do anything now, and he was wondering how to get to a hostel on 103rd Street he'd found in his Lonely Planet guide. If that place was full, he had a bedroll of sorts and figured maybe he could crash in a park for a couple of hours.

Well, if that was the case, he might as well try Union Square; there were a lot of people up there. Rudy was too busy being heroic to roust everyone.

"They aren't going to be singing 'Give Peace a Chance,' are they?" Aaron asked. Military all the way, son of an Air Force officer, veteran of Desert Fox, he said he wasn't "super gung ho" but thought he'd ask.

Not exactly, I said, but if he wanted to go look, I'd walk with him. On the way up, Aaron said if war came, he'd be called to fight in it. He wasn't fond of the war-room TV rhetoric. But he was a soldier, and he would do what he was called upon to do. If we were going to hit the Taliban, most of that would be done by F-15s and F-16s refueled in mid-air by KC-135 and KC-10 tankers, Aaron said. More likely he'd be stationed in the Persian Gulf, doing surveillance. But you never knew. If the war was going to turn into a full-scale assault against world terror, like Bush said, you never knew what might happen to you.

It was after midnight, but Union Square was still hopping. A man was standing by a sign that said free hugs, but the free-hug people had gone home. He'd have to come back tomorrow. It was a zoo, so I called my wife and asked if there was any problem with Aaron's sleeping at our house.

"He's a sailor who came up here on his own money to volunteer to help New York? You have to invite him," she said, adding, "as long as he's not a nut." I asked Aaron if he was a nut. No, he was not a nut, Aaron said, pulling out his U.S. Navy I.D., which for now seemed certainty enough. I hope he slept well, because more than likely he's going to need it, dodging those bullets. That much was for sure.


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