One of the most tedious aspects of the whole post-9/11 environment has got to be the fetishization of our firefighters. I thought it would die down once people stood back a little and actually listened to what bagpipe music sounds like, but no. Even more than our gallant fighting forces, firefighters – even the ones who weren’t within two thousand miles of the towers when they fell – are now universally hailed as “heroes” in the sense that breathless little boys use the word. The title “hero” is meaningless now anyway, applying as it does to everyone from Olympic hockey players to old coots who don’t know enough to get out of the way of a Category 4 hurricane to famous young millionairesses who go public with their eating disorders. The fact that firefighters are already idolized by children, well compensated in a field of their choosing, protected by strong unions, and members of important voting blocs in most cities apparently isn’t enough in the way of reward. Since 9/11 we also have to envelop them in this sticky, lachrymose air of virility and martyrdom, and we can’t even talk about them showing up to snuff out a pile of smoldering rags without getting a catch in our throat because – sniff – those murdering Muslim bastards took out Hook and Ladder 19 that day!
It’s to be expected that your average local news anchor would do her best to propagate such lame-ass mythology because there’s really not much else to think about when you’re getting your hair done, but why do the goddam firefighters have to buy into it, too? Even if they were never embarrassed by all the moist-eyed attention, you’d think by now they’d be sick of getting pointed at and whispered about like Special Olympics contestants wherever they go. Apparently not, though. The other night one of the news shows ran a piece about the bagpiper unit that plays at New York City firefighters’ funerals, and how after 9/11 they decided to play at every funeral for all their comrades who died that day – something like 450 funerals in all, and all within a span of days. The reporter was interviewing one of the pipers in the hushed, sepulchral tones that broadcasters use during match-point at Wimbledon, as if talking in a normal tone of voice might in itself affront the ghosts of 9/11 and rain shame upon us all. “Is there a lesson for us here?” the reporter whispered. “What do you think we can learn from your tenacity…your commitment…your courage?” “Duhh,” the firefighter began by way of reply. “Commitment, I guess,” he went on, fearlessly parroting the word he’d just that second been offered, and it was around this time that I began beating my forehead on the coffee-table. Get some modesty, man!
Anyway, how appropriate was it to have bagpipes at all the funerals? Weren’t any of the fallen named Goldschmidt or Chen? Hell, why not have a mariachi band show up and play “Blue Bayou” for everyone? Well, whatever – it’s their choice. But if anyone shows up at my funeral trying to play “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, I hope my friends beat them to death with empty bottles of J&B.