It’s always a little bizarre to read about my hometown. Bloomington, Illinois has very little to distinguish it from anyplace else in the Midwest except, as Wallace points out, relative prosperity. Between them Bloomington and Normal combine to have about 100K citizens, but their separate counts are about 60K-40K – and that smaller number is about the speed of B-N, culturally speaking. Nobody outside the area knows much about it, except in terms of a modest university (which, hilariously, I saw a hat promoting here in Japan, part of the “US College” line. I almost bought it, actually, but then didn’t because it was hideously ugly).

The point is, I don’t hear about it much, and for very good reason. But in one of the essays in Consider the Lobster, Wallace describes both his reaction and the town’s reaction to September 11, which he dubs quite simply the Horror. Wallace isn’t from Bloomington, and it’s obvious in every word, but his outsider view of my hometown during this particularly memorable moment is both moving and fascinating.

There were many things, as a mostly-oblivious 16 year old, that I didn’t notice – my family wasn’t connected in the community much, so I didn’t witness many of the community interactions in the wake, or did so only as a disinterested outsider. I was also surrounded by only fellow teens and teachers. The teachers I was conditioned to mostly ignore outside of specific class period circumstances. (Even now, as a teacher, I remember the oddity of seeing my own teachers outside the classroom and the bizarre feeling that surely they all just slept in the basement or closet, pulled out only when the students returned.) The teens were … I’m not sure how to describe it here. We knew what was happening – everybody knew, we were dismissed from class and sat around watching the news all day – but we maybe didn’t fully grasp the significance or the wider implications. Wallace describes a young man of his acquaintance who continually remarked that it seemed “like a movie;” in retrospect I felt a similar sense of unreality, combined with what I think may have been a failure to really grasp the concept of mortality.

At any rate, many other articles dealing with the precise moment of this Horror haven’t really resonated with me, but Wallace’s article really really did.