Savage Truth: Fire in the North Tower

Strange how comments about an unusual song sometimes lead to discussions about a tragic event.

That's what happened recently when a small group in the newsroom was talking about unusual songs, including Loudon Wainwright's 1972 recording of "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road."

At the time, there were several opinions of the true meaning Wainwright hoped to convey with the song, especially the part about the "dead skunk in the middle of the road, stinking to high heaven."

Some maintained it was about man's destruction. Others concluded it was about Richard Nixon who was president at the time and the Watergate was bursting.

In a 2008 interview with the "London Times," Wainwright was briefed on the interpretations of the meaning. Somewhat amused, Wainwright said, "Well, ok. But for me, it was about a dead skunk lying there in the highway."

Some in the newsroom conversation had never heard of Wainwright's song nor seen or smelled a dead skunk on the road. "Horrible smell," I said, "stays in your nostrils for miles."

That's when 13 WMAZ's morning meteorologist Pat Cavlin, or Patrick Cavlin III, chimed in with the worst smell he'd ever experienced. 

It was Sept. 11, 2001. 

Pat was in 5th grade at St. Cecilia's Elementary School in Brooklyn, N.Y. His classroom was on the east side of the school, but Pat had walked to the library on the west side of St. Cecilia's to plop down some money for an after school program.

"I looked out the window and saw smoke coming from the north tower," Pat said. He told the librarian the tower was on fire. She didn't believe him, but looked out the window and confirmed for herself that Pat wasn't seeing things or fabricating a yarn.

Pat went back to his classroom and told his teacher and fellow students that the north tower was on fire. They didn't believe him, either, Pat said. But some of them took a look for themselves and word spread rapidly throughout St. Cecilia's. 

Then terrorists hit the south tower as well. Pat doesn't recall the school being shut down, but it probably should've been. Pat said parents and guardians began picking up their students and taking them home. The school became a ghost town.

"I was one of the last ones picked up," Pat said. That's because his father Patrick Cavlin Jr. was a New York City policeman and pretty busy that day. "My baby sitter picked me up," he said.

While Pat doesn't remember the school closing, he does remember the unusual scent that hung over New York for weeks after the attacks.

"It was a smoky smell, mushy, sharp smell." Pat said. "It's hard to describe, but I've never smelled anything like it, and I'd know it if I ever smelled it again."

While people in Central Georgia didn't experience the 9-11 events first hand, they did experience some ramifications. The terrorist's attacked New York, Washington and a third plane was headed for Washington until some passengers attacked the terrorists on board, and the plane crashed in Pennsylvania.

Officials, including then President George W. Bush, didn't know how many airplanes terrorists had taken or would take for more attacks. So, all commercial aircraft and private planes were ordered to land immediately. Some passenger planes landed at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon.

Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Pat remembers 9/11 from a fifth graders perspective and the foul smell that lingered for weeks. On anniversary day, what will you remember most about it?

My strongest memories are of the people who died in the attacks and how Americans all over the country and around the world stood united hand-in-hand and shoulder to shoulder, letting the entire world know if you attack one of us, you attack us all.

May the nation remain united and those who died rest in peace.


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