Close Encounter: And a Spider Sat Down Beside Her | A Considerable Town | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Close Encounter: And a Spider Sat Down Beside Her 

Wednesday, Oct 24 2001
Photo by Bill Smith

It had been ages since Sarah, who moved from L.A. to Washington, D.C., 10 years ago, last saw her girlfriend Rani. So when Rani visited Washington, the two went to a popular Italian restaurant in Georgetown to have a glass of wine and catch up. (The women’s true names are not used here.) “There were about five Arab guys there,” Sarah remembers, “all wearing the uniform — black leather jackets, black pants and loafers. They were really talking serious — they weren’t having a party.”

This was about 10 days before the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, and Sarah, an outgoing woman who has worked in both the White House and Congress, and who is thoroughly used to Washington’s international complexion, paid the men no mind.

After the group broke up, one of the men stayed and introduced himself. “He lived in Alexandria, and you could tell he had money,” Sarah says. “He told us he was studying international trade at Georgetown, that he was from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. I don’t know if you know Abu Dhabi — it’s a crazy shopping place, it has everything. He was talking about his mom and sister, and about shopping.”

Then the man asked Sarah for a date. “I’ll take you to a wonderful, beautiful dinner,” he said.

“The guy was about 30 and not bad-looking, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen, so I did The Deflect with the cell phone.

“‘Give me your number, and I’ll put it in my phone,’ I told him. But as I enter his number he takes his cell phone out. Then he takes mine and presses Send. His phone rings, and he smiles and says, ‘Now I have your number!’

“‘How clever,’ I said, thinking, What an asshole! I mean, dude, if I’d wanted you to have my number I would have given it to you. The hairs on my neck went up. He called me at home about three times, but I never picked up or called him back.”

The FBI began calling a week after September 11. Sarah was visiting in L.A., where agents contacted her by phone. “They wouldn’t tell me what it was about, and when I offered to stop by a field office, the agent said, ‘No, no, no! I’m the one who tracked you down. I need to get the information from you.’ I asked him what this was about, and he said, ‘This is so big, so large and detailed’ that he couldn’t. That was when I knew this was the terrorist stuff.”

Upon returning home, Sarah met twice with agents in a downtown D.C. coffee shop and will look through an updated album of pictures this week. Her meetings with the FBI have been relaxed, even though the agents will still not confirm the nature of their investigation.

“The big things don’t pan out,” the main agent did allow one day, “but the little random things are turning out to be big.”

Mental States: To the Moon

Sitting around a long table at the Anne Sippi Clinic in Los Angeles are 13 severely mentally ill people who meet every couple of days to talk about what we’re all talking about: the terrorist attacks, the bombings, the anthrax. They live at the clinic, two to a room, some for a few months, some for years. But they’re not out of it. They watch TV and read newspapers, and they know what’s going on.

In the middle of the table are two large boxes of Yum Yum doughnuts. Whenever someone new comes in, including me, everyone offers a doughnut. Even people who leave and come back later get offered a doughnut every time. The doughnuts bring everyone together. In conversation, people here sometimes do the things you’d expect from watching movies — rock back and forth, speak in non sequiturs — but mostly everyone’s just talking.

An older man with an unshaven face and square, gold-rimmed glasses: “They’re gonna have to come up with wiretaps. They’re gonna curtail people’s freedoms. They’re already talking about this in the Senate and the House right now. It’s pretty chilling when it comes down to it.”

A blond woman in her 30s wearing a lavender shirt: “When I’m in my apartment at night, you know, in my bed, and I hear an airplane going by, I’m always afraid a terrorist is coming to bomb my apartment.”

I’ve had similar thoughts myself.

Michael Rosberg, the psychologist who runs the clinic, tells me that when the attacks happened last month, he and other workers braced themselves for a rough few weeks, expecting residents’ illnesses to worsen and their self-absorption — common with severe mental illness — to deepen.

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