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Archive for Saturday, October 27, 2001

Americans try to cope with ‘new normalcy’

October 27, 2001

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— Outside his flower shop, smoking a cigarette that may be worse for him than anything in the mail, Joseph Filosa wonders whether the new way of life in America will be different from the old one.

"Instead of being very la-la, like you were before, you're more alert, more aware," he said. But when it comes to vigilance over the long haul, he said, "I think the government will take care of it."

Leaders are telling Americans things have changed for a very long time. They want people to stay on guard for years to come and be understanding of the security precautions that may become permanent in public places.

"I think of it as the new normalcy," Vice President Dick Cheney said.

Are Americans really consigned forever to a different way?

The government that wants people to be watchful also says people must get on with routines so as to thwart the aims of terrorists. In Seattle, Lisa Anasazi, 40, echoed that point Friday under a cloud of steam as she made some espresso: "If you change your life around, they have won."

'We don't trust anyone'

For now, at least, the loose and easy ways are gone for some people.

"We don't feel like going out," said Elsie Rivera, 23, of North Miami. "We don't trust anyone.

"There are Arabs in my apartment building. We say 'Hi,' to them but we quietly hope that they aren't terrorists. We used to speak to them more, but not anymore."

Jake Humphrey, 35, a former competitive marksman from Maple Shade, N.J., and his wife Angela began a ritual after Sept. 11 buying ammunition every payday. "In case, God forbid, you know...."

And Pledge Webb, 63, of Pemberton, N.J., is making fewer trips to the convenience store. He worries about spiked coffee in the open pots there. "I think about that now," said Webb, a Marine veteran who saw combat in Vietnam. "We've got a lot of lunatics out there."

These forms of vigilance are beyond what authorities have in mind. More typical are the citizens who are snapping on rubber gloves to open the mail, and throwing out still-sealed letters that are unfamiliar. Nervousness about flying is still highly apparent.

A need to relax

Absent more attacks, people can only look over their shoulder for so long, said Martha Crenshaw, professor of government at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.

"People's desire to go on with their ordinary lives is very, very strong," she said. "Psychologically, it's very hard for us normal individuals to live in a high state of alert for a long period of time. In order to cope you have to relax a little bit."

The old normalcy was hardly freewheeling.

Cold War generations lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation. Concrete barriers and photo IDs became the order of the day at more buildings after the Oklahoma City domestic terrorist bombing. Food and medicines come sealed because of practically forgotten episodes of tainted goods.

Now the future also holds stronger surveillance powers for government made law Friday a tighter security apparatus for travel and the possibility of irradiated mail, to kill harmful spores, including anthrax.

"Many of the steps we have now been forced to take will become permanent in American life," Cheney said. "On the part of government, it requires greater measures to ensure the safety and security of the American people. On the part of our citizens, it requires vigilance and common sense and patience."

Complacency kept at bay

Relaxing has been difficult even in places far removed from any known threat.

Ever since Sept. 11 a granddaughter's birthday peace has eluded Jackie Blackhawk, 50, who works for the Shoshone-Bannock Indian tribe in Fort Hall, Idaho. "Every little sound I feel jumpy about," she said. "There's like a darkness."

And EllaRae Hasselstrom, 68, who owns a cafe and fly fishing shop on the Snake River, wonders if anyone would target the huge dam just upstream by the Idaho-Wyoming state line.

Closer to the targets of Sept. 11., the nervousness may be more acute, but even that may fade.

"We have a bad habit in this country of reacting for about six to eight months, then becoming complacent," said Christine Cichetti, 32, a federal employee in Washington, D.C.

President Bush says the stakes are too high for complacency: "What we do today will determine whether or not our children and our grandchildren can grow up in a life that we knew."

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