If you start from the premise that everything has been worse since the 9/11 attacks, then the shootings by the Empire State Building last week look especially sad.

It begins a year ago with a guy getting fired, which I suppose happens all the time even in a good economy, but has been much more frequent since 2008.

Then you have a gun, purchased legally in Florida but not registered in New York State.

An angry, troubled man gets it in his head to go kill his old office mate. Again, hardly specific to our city or century.

But then it gets worse. In the heart of midtown at rush hour, the shooter draws on the police. Two cops open fire and in an instant nine innocent bystanders are hurt by the gunfire, though none critically. It’s hard to believe that’s how it’s supposed to go in police training. They dropped the guy with 16 rounds. These are split second life and death decisions I have no idea how I’d make. I get that. But that’s nine people in the hospital.

In initial reports, Commissioner Ray Kelly was quoted as saying the bystanders were hurt by “fragments of some sort.” (It reminded me of the quick revision of Cheney’s drunken hunting accident from “Cheney shot his friend” to “Cheney’s friend was ‘sprayed with pellets.'”) But the report evolved quickly with details that it was a combination of bullets and bullet fragments.

There was also speculation that some of those wounded may have been hurt by ricochets from the cement flower pots surrounding the Empire State Building. We all know why those planters are there. More fear. More terror. I too looked up at the Empire State Building on my way to work every day from 2002 to 2004 thinking protective, anthropomorphic thoughts. But don’t you ever wonder if our nation’s landmarks are starting to feel like kids in snowsuits in March? (“Militarized urbanism,” as this article calls it.) How many bomb-laden trucks have ever rammed American buildings and toppled them? How many nail files does it take to disable an air marshall? (Not counting if you’re Jason Bourne.)

Watching it unfold on Twitter that morning, you couldn’t help notice the ominous tone in everyone’s use of the phrase “at the Empire State Building.” Was this the next attack? The next Aurora? People had those alarm-italics under the phrase “the Empire State Building,” the same way we put them under “cancer” or “miscarriage” or “PTSD.”

We experience a dire glee at the thought of tragedy. I don’t know if it’s just a beleaguered sense of inevitability. Like Eeyore saying, “Of course it was an illegal gun, little Piglet, but nobody minds … nobody cares…,” or if it’s more that only extremity makes us feel alive anymore. Only disaster or gold medals provide clear signals for how we should feel.

The hyperactive citizen media, like its supposedly dumber grandfather the mainstream media, leapt to the same sensationalism as soon as there was news of a shooting “at the Empire State Building.” Fearing and hoping for a Keanu Reeves-style standoff on the observation deck.

We’re all hair-triggered to assume mayhem. Even the Onion had to issue it’s own version of a retraction, because they’d just written a joke celebration of one week without a tragic shooting in the U.S.

This to me remains one of the most horrible, most insidious costs of the 9/11 attacks. That we’ve all raised the “threatened level” in our own hearts and minds. Especially here in NYC. It’s not the same as the brutal toll on our soldiers and their families, or the civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, or our national budget, or the original victims and their families. But it’s wider, and in some ways deeper, and the shock waves haven’t subsided.

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