Today brought the beginning of Week Two of the post-World Trade Center era, and with it came the publication of the most beautiful New Yorker ever. From the gorgeous Art Speigelman cover, through the stunning photographs (Gilles Peress--who took the page 58 shot of the woman fleeing the wreckage with a red, white, and blue scarf over her mouth--should stay at home and wait for his Pulitzer), to the WTC reflections of some of our best writers (Susan Sontag, Denis Johnson, Anthony Lane), the entire issue was an inky testament to tact and talent. Of course, it wasn't all sunny delight: The collected survivors' tales are among the most heart-wrenching we've yet encountered, while a Talk of the Town piece by Hendrik Hertzberg trumpets the fact that only four months ago, the United States gave the Taliban a $43 million grant for banning the cultivation of poppies--a concept so offensive on so many levels it makes our skin hurt.


First there was the breaking news, when all was smoke and terror. Then came the updates, the snowballing collections of facts, the mind-numbing human losses. (Those last-minute cell phone calls--"A bomb hit the building! I love you!"--nearly put us in our grave.) Now, two weeks into the most tragic and important event in American history, we get to the (relatively) good stuff: Reports of celebrities' near-death experiences. First up is the spooky story told by James Woods, the Oscar-nominated star of Mississippi Burning, and number three (after Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich) on the list of America's creepiest actors. Reuters reports that just one month ago, on a flight from Boston to Los Angeles, Woods sat alone in first class with four men who appeared to be of Middle Eastern origin, and whose behavior was so odd--throughout the six-hour flight, the men sat perfectly still, saying nothing to flight attendants and speaking to each other only in inaudible whispers--that Woods reported their behavior to authorities on the ground when he landed. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, Woods recounted his story to the FBI, who now believe the flight to be a dry run for the attacks on New York and Washington, in which hijackers seized and crashed four commercial planes, including one flying the same Boston-to-Los Angeles route.

··James Woods isn't the only celeb with ties to the tragic attacks: Entertainment website Mr. Showbiz offered the skinny on a number of notables who cheated death on September 11, including Jackie Chan, who was excused from an early morning film shoot on the roof of the World Trade Center due to a late script; Seth MacFarlane, creator of FOX TV's Family Guy, who missed the doomed American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston due to a typo on his itinerary; and Real World New Orleans cast member Julie Stoffer, who ditched out of the Boston-to-L.A. flight at the last minute after a fight with her boyfriend. Congrats to all of these lucky, lucky people.


Today Last Days received the e-mail that made the rounds faster than that goddamn Snow White virus: the list of 150 "lyrically questionable" songs recommended for exclusion from radio airplay in the wake of the attacks on America. Compiled by Clear Channel, the world's largest group of radio stations (one out of every 10 stations in the U.S. broadcasts under the Clear Channel banner), the list features rock and pop songs with lyrics that might be construed as "inappropriate" following the events of September 11, including Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House," REM's "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," and Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." And while the inclusion of certain songs was evidence of simple good taste (Last Days would be thrilled if Lenny Kravitz's "Fly Away" was obliterated from the face of the earth for all time), the inclusion of others bestowed an "offensiveness" no one would've ever taken note of otherwise (Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire," for God's sake?). Clear Channel maintains that none of the songs are banned, but "in the wake of this terrible tragedy, the nation's business community is responding with a degree of hypersensitivity." Agreed.


Meanwhile, in non-tragedy news: Today the Associated Press reported the story of J.P. Parshall, the 25-year-old steelworker in Lacey, Washington who carved a seven-foot phallus out of a tree stump in his front yard. "I get all kinds of amusement out of that thing," Parshall told reporters--but not everyone's pleased. "Put it in a carving show, not where children can see it," said young mother Alexia Sandifer, whose six-year-old daughter's school route takes her past the wooden member twice daily. Adding insult to injury, Sandifer said, are the two American flags flying from the top of Parshall's yard penis--a gesture of support for the nation, Parshall says, which draws honks and whistles from passing cars, and even inspired an elderly couple to get out of their car and salute. As for the less-than-pleased, they're out of luck. "We don't have a county ordinance that says you can't carve your tree into a penis," said Thurston County sheriff's Capt. Dan Kimball. "People have the right to poor taste." Speaking of poor taste, J.P. Parshall has revealed his future plans for the stumpy cock, including covering it with an oversized condom during the rainy season, and adorning it with Christmas lights in December.


Like 14 zillion other Americans, tonight Last Days tuned in to the two-hour benefit simulcast America: A Tribute to Heroes. And while we were only able to stomach about three minutes of the creepy, candlelit extravaganza--the length of time it took Neil Young to sing his beautiful rendition of "Imagine"--we're pleased to report the event raised a whopping $150 million.


At long last, this weekend brought the release of Mariah Carey's feature film Glitter--an unfortunately timed cultural event, perfectly summed up by Last Days' wise friend Mindy. "Two and a half weeks ago, nothing would have given me more pleasure than seeing Mariah Carey in Glitter," says Mindy. "Between watching the film, ripping it apart with my friends, and surfing websites for Glitter-based gossip, Mariah Carey and Glitter would've brightened my life for weeks. But following the events of September 11, I couldn't care less about Glitter--and I hate the Taliban for taking that away from me."


We're out of room. (Sorry, Oprah.)

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