Saturday, September 11, 2021

That Day Again, Redux

The damage, and the heroes surrounding 9/11 echoes long after the actual day twenty years ago.
Here is my go to 9/11 story:
My friend DJ Skelton is wild and fun, an athlete and food nut, and a dedicated retired US Army major. DJ was enlisted, out of South Dakota and our local DLI in Chinese languages. DJ doesn’t hide his light under a bushel, so next thing you know he is one of the very, very few enlisted enrolled at the US Military Academy at West Point.
We met here when he was at DLI the second time around, and bonded over food, and wine, and general crazy and fun, with a serious side. We put 2500 crosses on Carmel Beach in 2005 to commemorate our kids killed in action, and again two years later when the number had ballooned to 6500.
DJ himself was always that guy. As a sophomore at West Point with rock climbing skills he volunteered after 9/11 to come down and help search the wreckage for survivors….well, we all knew. DJ was assigned to work closely with one particular fire house from Staten Island, and always proudly wore the t-shirt they had given him as thanks after a couple of weeks of hard, dangerous and ultimately fruitless effort.
DJ himself barely escaped being one of those numbers after being badly, badly wounded at the 2nd Battle of Falujah in November 2004. I think he stopped counting at 80 or more operations for repairs that continue to this day. He always has been, and still is, the go-to guy to try to stop military suicides, to build back wounded soldiers hearts and souls after war has done its damage….at the expense of his career. DJ does not suffer fools gladly, whatever their rank….and has the most open and giving heart of anyone you are likely to ever meet.
For years I taught a Stanford class of incoming sophomores called Sophomore College (SoCo) in early September each year. Kids were supposed to come down for three weeks before classes to learn marine biology at Hopkins Marine Station. Luckily, the lead prof (Stuart Thompson) was a recovering beatnik so we changed the curriculum. We took the kids to Big Creek, to Tassajara for work period, out to the Store and the wineries, etc, etc etc. Our goal was to try to change them into actual humans before they took over running the world.
I myself had a minor brush with 9/11 but it affected me deeply. The way I think about food and hospitality, and the importance of community changed forever that day. When I met DJ we were of one mind about trying to integrate the lives of all those who serve with those lucky folks who have no clue they are being served. Hence the crosses on the beach, bring soldiers out to the Store, etc. In 2011 I was doing my normal SoCo thing when I discovered that one of the girls dad was a New York City fireman who had died saving people in the towers on 9/11. She was seven, and was obviously still wrecked each year when the anniversary came around. She was a tall, beautiful, super smart, intuitive girl…but she was haunted. There was damage below the water line.
We talked about it with the group, and decided to do a mini memorial on Carmel Beach for the 343 firemen who were killed on 9/11. I had the stakes still, and we made cross pieces with the name of each firefighter, their date of birth and their firehouse and engine number, etc. We lined them up perfectly in a grid just be the 13th Street cove, and hung garlands and flowers and gathered shells….especially the one for her dad.
It was immensely sad. The SoCo groups and I spend three meals a day together, day after day, and you get really close. Our girl was sharing deeply personal stuff about growing up without her “hero” dad. Hero to everyone in the world…but she had grown up as the only little girl in her class without a daddy at all those events kids love to have their daddies come to. Sports, dances, graduations….It was almost like: “Why did you die for people you didn't even know, and leave me alone all this time? Why my dad?” I had called DJ to let him know what we were doing. He was super busy being an actual Army Captain at DLI at the time, but promised to come by the beach.
We had all the crosses lined up and decorated and our girl was sharing her heart and story as we sat around a fire at 13th. DJ came down the stairs to the group…..wearing the t-shirt from her dad’s engine company on Staten Island.
DJ had spent two weeks searching through the wreckage of the towers, looking for her dad.
The two of them went off by themselves to talk. For a while.
I don’t know what was said, but our girl came back transformed. She was a different person. It was as if all the pain and anger and abandonment at losing her dad had washed away. The hurt was still there clearly, but DJ’s words and comfort had given her an entirely new outlook and perspective on her dad and his sacrifice….and her own sacrifice.
Like I said at the beginning….their were heroes and awful damage on that day 20 years ago this morning, and there are other heroes walking still among us, still doing the work to shift that damage.
While we have DJ's in our lives, we have hope. Dedicated to 1st Lt Michael S. Parker, 75th Rangers.

That Day Again

Hey, folks. Thanks for your patronage with our wild, dysfunctional world these last 18 months. Thank you for your understanding and support. I am increasingly not in love with Facebook, and this blog has been traditionally an actual blog. If you want to read fun (if dated) rants about food, back before 2020. We are returning to blog/opinion/rant mode on this page. For food/menu information please go to We are not getting younger, and like every restaurant everywhere in the world, have no staff to help. Please don't be mad if we can't transform ourselves into those insane guys we used to be. Right now we are me, Amanda, Brendan (thank you, Jesus) and Alex (thank you, Buddha). That's it. We are open on Saturday and Sunday from 10:30-4 in the garden. Reservations are important, if you can be that guy. If you just see the flag out, and have a wild brunch hair....please pull in and check us out. All things are possible, even at the drop of a hat with weird demands. That is why we are still here. For the fun, and y'all are the fun. Still, we are also happy (we are caterers!) to open during the week by arrangement for a dinner in the garden of any size (one diner is our minimum...but even that is open to discussion). Peace, Michael