September 18, 2001

Messin’ with the Kid

When the south tower fell, Rachel was on the phone with her sister, who lives in Battery Park City, less than five blocks from the World Trade Center. At that moment there was an incredibly loud noise on the line and her sister cried something like, “My god, the tower’s falling!” Then the phone went dead. Rachel was certain her sister had been crushed beneath the fallen tower. I asked if she wanted me to come to her, and she said she needed to keep trying to reach her sister. I said, “We should be together.” She said, “I have to call my sister.”

I put on my sneakers and left the apartment. I reasoned – correctly, as it turned out – that the subway would not be running, so I headed for Rachel’s on foot, a three-mile walk.

I walked south along the service road that follows the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Above me, a long line of cars were parked on the shoulder of the road, their drivers perched at intervals along the guard rail, looking out toward Manhattan.

Traffic everywhere was at a near standstill, yet no one seemed to notice. Instead they sat in their cars with blank expressions, listening to their radios. I caught a few words here and there, but understood nothing exactly, save for the tone. The tone was scary.

While walking I sang a song I’d heard for the first time the previous day – the Junior Wells classic, Messin’ with the Kid. I didn’t sing the whole song but just a single verse and chorus, repeating these over and over:

You know the kid’s no child
And I don’t play
I say what I mean and I mean what I say
Hey, hey
Oh look at what you did
You can call it what you want
But I call it messin’ with the kid

The identity of the “kid” kept changing as I sang. First it was me, then the president, then the leader of the highjackers. All of us were pissed and wanted the world to know it.

Oh, and I didn’t walk so much as stride, as befitting one who doesn’t appreciate being messed with.

It was weird.

Every now and then, I would reach a corner with a view of downtown Manhattan and would sneak a peak at the mountain of smoke and ash. I didn’t sing then.