A Letter from America: Ground Zero in Chelsea

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Our columnist, Robert Brenner and his wife, Johanna Climenko, stay at Chelsea, very near Ground Zero. In the international media, ‘Chelsea Explosions’ and terror attack in the US is debated and talked about. The author gives us first-hand account of what had happened. One bomb had exploded. Another bomb had been discovered on 27th  Street between 6th  and 7th  Avenue and removed by the police. He rues, “We must have walked right past it last night on our way home. But why hadn’t it exploded? Surveillance video provided the disconcerting answer: the bomb on 27th  street had been left in a suitcase. Two thieves came along, removed the bomb, and stole the suitcase. In doing so, they apparently jarred the detonation mechanism — a cellular phone — loose.  If not, well, I might not be writing this post.” Here’s his blow by blow account, including the possible impact of the terror attack on the forthcoming presidential election, exclusively in Anything American*, in Different Truths.

Dear Indians,

A more serious letter than my usual. Please excuse me for not being funny.

Saturday was a beautiful, sunny, fall day. My wife and I spent the day out walking. First, we attended a food festival in the East Village, then we visited a friend and bought some hot sauces in Curry Hill, then we walked home on 27 th  Street to Chelsea.

The first inkling we had something was wrong was a Facebook message from a friend: “Are you alright? Explosions suck.”

I Googled “Chelsea explosions” and was immediately informed there had been a blast on 23 rd  St. between 6th and 7 th  Avenue, in front of a residence for the blind. We knew the block well; we walked past it all the time. We went to bed simultaneously thanking our lucky stars we had been nowhere near the explosion, and being concerned about our neighbours who had.

Sunday was a rainy, overcast day. We woke to more disturbing news: First, the explosion had been definitely caused by a bomb. Second, another bomb had been discovered on 27th  Street between 6th  and 7th  Avenue and removed by the police. We must have walked right past it last night on our way home. But why hadn’t it exploded?

Surveillance video provided the disconcerting answer: the bomb on 27th  street had been left in a suitcase. Two thieves came along, removed the bomb, and stole the suitcase. In doing so, they apparently jarred the detonation mechanism — a cellular phone — loose.  If not, well, I might not be writing this post.

Monday was another rainy day, with scattered thunderstorms. We were awoken with an alert on our cell phones: the police were looking for somebody named Ahmad Khan Rahami in connection with the two bombs in Chelsea, plus another bombing Saturday morning in Seaside Park, New Jersey. Apparently, he owned the cell phone connected to the unexploded bomb in Chelsea.

Rahami was described as living in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and operating a halal fried chicken stand from the first floor of his home.  I yelped the ironically named “First American Fried Chicken,” and was saddened. Frankly, it seemed like the sort of neighbourhood joint I would have frequented under different circumstances.

By Monday afternoon, after a brief shootout, the police had apprehended Rahami in a bar in Linden, New Jersey, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Now all we had to do was deal with the political fallout. (A fourth unexploded bomb was found by two homeless men near the train station in Elizabeth. Rahami had been a busy boy.)

Saturday night, before any of the facts were known, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had announced the explosion was obviously the work of Islamic terrorists. Now he was simultaneously patting himself on the back for being prescient, and calling for stricter measures against all Muslims: profiling, rounding up, deporting, ad nauseam.

Of course, this plays right into the hands of the jihadists. Islamic terrorists would love America to abandon its democratic principles and descend into fascism.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was more measured and, frankly, more presidential in her response. We should wait until we had all the facts, then target “the bad guys,” not a whole religion.

This comes at a critical juncture in the general election. Although Clinton still leads Trump in the polls, her numbers have eroded after an impolitic — but accurate — comment about “deplorables” and an untimely bout with pneumonia. They were just starting to tick back up after Trump flip-flopped and admitted Barack Obama was born in the United States after all, then the bombing occurred.

How this will play out in the presidential election remains to be seen. Voters see Hillary Clinton as having more foreign policy experience and being better able to combat terrorism than Donald Trump, but Donald Trump keeps playing on their fears that we will all be murdered in our beds unless we “get tough.” This will almost certainly come up on the first presidential debate on September 26th , less than a week from now. My neighbourhood of Chelsea is now ground zero for the debate on terrorism.

Stay tuned. In the meantime, I wish I had gone to First American Fried Chicken. Maybe I could have talked some sense into Rahami. At least, I would have gotten a good meal.

And that’s how my democracy is going. How is yours?


Your American Friend,

Robert Brenner

*We have advanced the weekly column, Anything American, from Saturday to Wednesday, to bring to you the author’s personal experience and opinion about the recent terror attacks in New York and New Jersey. ~ Managing Editor.
©Robert Brenner

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Robert Brenner is a columnist, satirist, and critic. In addition to blogging for the Huffington Post, his work has appeared in New York Magazine, Grin & Tonic, Open Salon, Theory In Action, and Happy.