It was in the little things that the extent of the trauma became clear. The sign of the children's furniture store in Los Angeles saying: "Closed because of today's tragic events." The growing lines at petrol stations in Oklahoma City and in Toledo, Ohio, where some local dealers were doubling or tripling prices to $4 or $5 a gallon. The reports coming in of spontaneous insults being hurled at Arab and Muslim Americans on the streets. The letters sent home to parents from pre-school and kindergarten teachers, giving advice on how to begin to explain to a five-year-old the devastating events of Tuesday morning without traumatising them.
"Every child wants to know: will I be OK? Will you be OK? Will everybody I care about be OK?" read one such letter. The chilling truth is, even parents cannot truthfully answer those questions with total certainty any more.
Yesterday, I discovered that a mother at my son's elementary school was on board one of the three hijacked planes scheduled to come to Los Angeles. I did not know her, but many people in my neighbourhood, 3000 miles away from the scenes of disaster, have been plunged into mourning. Given the extent of the anticipated death toll, there will be few people indeed in this country who do not know someone killed in the appalling carnage of Tuesday morning.
Across the country, the state of protracted chaos showed only modest signs of letting up yesterday. Schools, shops, government offices, law courts, entertainment complexes – all seemed uncertain whether it was appropriate, or safe, or tasteful to reopen for business as usual. And the deeper effects of the events of 11 September – the psychological reckoning, the feelings of irrational rage, the hints of lawlessness – may all just be beginning.
Wall Street and all the US financial markets remained closed for a second consecutive day, and commercial aviation showed no sign of starting up again quickly.
Les Dorr, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation administration, said: "The FAA is setting new standards that the airports and the airlines will have to meet before they can resume operations.
"It is up to them to determine how they can meet those standards.'' Airports, one has to assume, will be the first places in America forever changed by Tuesday's events.
Elsewhere, the country was only grudgingly coming back to life. New York remained most deeply affected, but it was not the only place. Schools in Philadelphia and Cleveland remained closed. So did the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in Virginia and the USS Wisconsin, a Second World War-era battleship.
The Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state, a huge tourist drawcard, remained completely inaccessible to outside visitors.
Shops and businesses may have now called back their employees and taken the locks off their front doors, but attracting customers was another, much harder, matter.
This was hardly a time to go on a spending spree, to indulge oneself with that fabulous autumn cashmere sweater or check out some cool new CDs.
Not everyone's business will be entirely welcome, either. One Palestinian grocer in San Francisco said he was bombarded on Tuesday afternoon with comments like "Go back to your country" and "We should kill you all".
Mosques and Islamic schools also reported a number of threatening phone calls and personal taunts, and feared more – and worse – to come.
One part of the country left completely at a loss was the great American entertainment machine, from Hollywood to professional sports. Baseball fixtures were cancelled for a second straight day, and the game's commissioners were giving serious thought to scrapping next Sunday's busy schedule. The Tonight Show, Jay Leno's popular late-night comedy-chat programme on NBC, has been taken off the air for the rest of the week. This is a time when even comedians can find nothing funny to say.
In fact, Hollywood may well find itself in a deep crisis since the very engine of its commercial success has in recent years become a series of explosions, dastardly terrorist plots, assaults on skyscrapers and face-offs between federal investigators and faceless, shadowy villains with blacked-up skin and Middle Eastern accents.
Already yesterday, the studios announced they were pushing back the release of one feature film – a comedy called Big Trouble, originally due out from Disney next week, whose plot includes an attempt to sneak a nuclear device past airport security – and hastily pulled promotional advertising for a trio of autumn television dramas that dwell on assassinations, terrorist plots and – in the debut episode of 24 on Fox – the bombing of an airliner.
Sony had to pull a trailer for Spiderman featuring an image of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. ABC cancelled a Saturday night broadcast of the film The Peacemaker, which is about nuclear terrorism. The entertainment industry was in personal mourning too: among those on board the ill-fated planes were David Angell, creator of the hit comedy Frasier, and a number of lesser known producers and executives.Reuse content