Plastic and Foam Only

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Broadcast Dave Winslow, exemplary Deckhead and terrorist observer.

Oh help. I am still getting nutcake email from the deranged telling me about various conspiracies involving those wretched buildings in New York. Stop sending them. My hard drive is not an asylum. I don’t know how to email Haldol. Try taking rat poison.

Two of these plots in particular might be exterminated to my inexpressible happiness. The first was that no Jews were in the towers when they were hit, the implication being that the attack was an Israeli plot and doubtless mediated by Mossad. The story enjoyed a brief vogue and still shows up occasionally, like tularemia.

Now, if you told me that Mossad, Bush, the CIA or the Republican National Committee blew up those buildings, I might wonder. Intelligence agencies are dirt. To judge by the current infestation of the White House, Republicans are too stupid to be dirt, but may be proto-dirt, and advance to true dirt-hood with careful coaching. Democracy is ever fascinating.

But…how many Jews do you suppose worked in the towers? New York being New York, and the towers being full of lawyers and commercial people, the answer has to be A Whole Bunch. Let’s think about this.

I picture Rachel Goldstein, a tower slave, in her apartment at night when the phone rings.

Rachel: “Hello.”

Voice: “Rachel. This is Mossad.”

Rachel: “Oh, hi! I’m Mahatma Gandhi.”

Voice: “No, Rachel. This really is Mossad.”

Rachel: “This really is Mahat….”

Voice: “Honest. Really, really. Cross my heart and hope….”

Rachel: “Take your medication.” Click.

It is hard enough to get a Jew to agree with himself, much less with several thousand others. To buy this theory, you have to believe (a) that Jews are interconnected by a surgically implanted wireless network and respond robotically to beamed instructions from a secret satellite beyond the orbit of Saturn, or (b) that they were all willing to stay home, knowing that their friends and colleagues were about to be killed. If you think either of these ideas makes the slightest sense, take your medication.

Here is a point I’ve noticed about most of the conspiracy theories: They either involve preposterously large numbers of conspirators, or just don’t make sense.

Another theory, very much alive, holds that the Pentagon was hit not by an airliner, but by (a) a fighter aircraft, or (b) a missile fired by a fighter aircraft, or (c) a cruise missile.

I was in Washington at the time and could have simply walked over to the Pentagon to see what had happened. I didn’t for several days. I figured a smoking hole was a smoking hole. So what? Maybe I’m jaded.

Anyway, my little contribution to the story:

Washington is an insider’s town. There are layers of insiderness, which is constructed on the plan of an artichoke: The closer to the center, the softer the brains get. (I don’t mean that artichokes have….) (Though maybe.) Anyway, there is the Washington that the press writes about. There is the Washington the press knows about. Then you have the Pentagon war room and, higher yet, the conclaves of the highest White House staff. These are all the outer rings, for hoi polloi. A far more secret and closed group, esoteric, more powerful than Superman, and unknown even o the National Security Agency, is the Plastic and Foam Only Club.

If you turned right coming out of my condo at the time in Colonial Village, just across the river from Washington in Virginia, and followed down Wilson Boulevard and to the left, you came to the Virginia terminus of Key Bridge. Here the bike path picked up, running parallel to the GW Parkway, often in sight of the Potomac. It’s a pretty ride. You passed the Pentagon, and then National Airport, and finally came to the Washington Sailing Marina. It is perhaps a seven-mile ride each way. For years I did it several times a week in good weather.

Behind the restaurant of the Marina was a wooden deck with a snack bar that sold beer. A highly motley group of people foregathered there of an afternoon to ingest the elixir. We called ourselves the PFO Club (Plastic and Foam Only, which was written on the trashcans) or more casually, the Deckheads. There were Paul the Carpenter, a couple of working-stiff journalists, a retired general, a possibly legal Mexican, Hot Ticket Lisa the Blonde Bombshell, occasionally a Korean woman we called Ninja, some federal bureaucrats, a pathological liar who believed he held a major position in the stock market, an airline pilot, and so on. We chatted and had a hell of a good time. Every minute or so we stopped talking because an airliner taking off from National drowned out conversation.

In summer, from quitting time for office maggots until at least nine at night, revolving shifts of these kaleidoscopic reprobates showed up, got sozzled, argued about wildly variegated subjects, and left. You could hear Paul the Carpenter and a German employee of the government argue alternately about the price of nails and the future of the Deutschmark. There was even a resident schizophrenic. (Not me.)

One of the journalists (I was the other) we called Broadcast Dave, to distinguish him from other Daves among the Deckheads. He was Dave Winslow, then the voice of UPI Radio’s World Edition, or whatever it was called. He had worked somehow in the airplane business, maybe in air freight, knew all the airliners at a glance, and had an apartment near the Pentagon.

I knew Dave for at least a couple of years before 9/11. He was a good-humored cynic, as reporters are when they are not ill-tempered cynics. In Washington you are either an ideologue, and believe passionately in some reprehensible and improbable system of error, or you don’t believe anything. The latter has been the usual position of working-stiff newsmen, when sober. (At other times they believe they’ll have another drink.) Reporters these days tipple less than they once did, I grant. Broadcast Dave was never drunk that I saw him, but he didn’t believe in things easily either. I like that kind of folk.

A few days after Nine-Eleven, I got back to the deck after an absence. Broadcast was there. He told me that he was in his apartment at the time of the strike and heard an airplane coming in, way too low. Something wasn’t right. Looking out his window, he said, he saw the tail of an airliner pass by and then, kerwhoom! Being a reporter, he sprinted to the phone, and believed that he was the first journalist to report it. If he wasn’t, the other guy got it in less than ten seconds, I figure. These things matter to reporters.

Now, boys and girls, either Broadcast Dave was planted years in advance by The Conspiracy to mislead the Plastic and Foam Only Club (an entity I grant to be of high priority for penetration by international terrorists) or there was an airplane.


Deckheads, trying successfully to look as wretched as possible. Rare photo courtesy Smithsonian Insect Zoo. The credentials of some of these folk might surprise you.

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and the just-published A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be.

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