October 2001

by

11/15/2001

E 72nd St & 5th Ave, New York, NY 10021

Neighborhood: All Over, Manhattan

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On September 12, I went back to work at Men’s Journal because the issue was gutted and redone for a tribute to the FDNY. The streets were empty, not only of people, but also of noise. There were no street peddlers, few taxis, no music, no screaming, and no horns honking, only the non-stop blare of sirens. The standard intrusion of jet engines was absent.

It's amazing how quiet it is without airplanes, their roar normally a permanent fixture in the daily background.

That night, my girlfriend Kim and I venture out for dinner at Frank's, an excellent little Italian place in the East Village. Seems like old times, in a way. We still wait twenty minutes to eat at the "community" table. The spirits are flowing.

We sit across from an Alabama native and talk about the attacks over a lingering meal. The guy from Alabama says, "I'm sorry to say this, but I hope we torture the fuck out of whoever did this."

Would the "I'm sorry" have been necessary in Alabama? Is it necessary in downtown Manhattan?

* * * *

Kim works at Macy's. While talking on the phone with her, Macy's has a bomb scare and they evacuate the building. Right away I figure it's a hoax and go back to work.

Later that day, I wonder what the hell is wrong with me that the day after the attacks I just assumed she was fine. Logic and probability, but it still unnerves me.

There are countless bomb threats that day. I watch the building next to ours get evacuated.

* * * *

I read a story on-line in my hometown newspaper, the Billings Gazette about a Wall Street Journal writer, Brook Barnes, being right there when the planes hit. He's also from Billings, and went to Marquette University at the same time as my younger brother, Brian. There can't be more than a few Billings natives living here. I’ve never met this guy but I’m glad he’s okay.

* * * *

The Red Cross moves the center for missing people to the armory, which is a block from our apartment. Kim and I walk by and the pictures hit us with more force than the video footage that’s been branded in all our psyches. The flyers plead for any information about those missing in the World Trade Center attack. They are filled with details of last known whereabouts, phone numbers, e-mails, last words and names of their children, grandchildren, or how many months pregnant. The pictures are almost universally shots of the missing in better times -- laughing at a wedding, holding their babies, drinking beer with their boys, hugging their husbands, graduating high school, cheering at Yankees game, working in the Towers.

* * * *

The street by the armory is lined with military vehicles, like being on a base, or in a different country altogether, one of those unstable places halfway around the globe that I ignore on the nightly news.

* * * *

We live two miles from the WTC wreckage, but the wind shifts that night and we have to close our windows because of the smoke, wafting eastward from the smoldering cemetery.

* * * *

I head down to Ground Zero on a dreary Sunday afternoon. I get to a building on Liberty St., the one with the big orange arty thing out front. I completely forgot that I was a laborer in that building the summer I worked construction. Right fucking there. I picture myself running through smoke. Stupid, but I want to be a part of it. New York, New York.

I am stopped countless times by people passing out religious pamphlets. This gets exceedingly frustrating. I haven’t asked them for spiritual guidance, theological assistance or any psychological comfort. In fact, I want them to go away.

* * * *

I stop in the firehouse closest to the site because it is open, and crowded. I look around, astounded that they didn't lose anyone. In walks Peter Boyle. Yes, that Peter Boyle, and his wife. The firefighters get a big kick out of the odd-looking Mr. Boyle and come rushing to shake his hand.

"I loved you as Frankenstein."

"The Dream Team, that was a great movie."

"On Raymond, I swear you got to be based on my Father."

A firefighter asks me to take a picture of the guys with Peter Boyle. Sheepishly, as they pose, I give them my best cheesy picturing-taking-Uncle voice, "Smile and say Everybody Loves Fireman."

Peter Boyle's wife gets a kick out of it. Good enough.

* * * *

Another night, Kim and I drop off some candy bars, saline solution, Tylenol and other items at the firehouse on 29th St. There are something like 340 firefighters missing all over the city, but one of the men in this house, Mike, greets us with nothing but kindness. He grips us by the arm and shows us the names on the station chalkboard of the seven men in his house who are unaccounted for and points out the cards, drawn in crayon, and says, "Look at what the kids did."

We have nothing much to offer but our thanks. Mike says, "No, drop by. Just drop by. You don't need to bring anything, just drop by."

Mike tells me that their new Chief (the former Chief died that very morning) has ordered all firefighters to stay away from Ground Zero on their off-duty hours to ensure that they get some rest in case of other emergencies. He says the order hasn’t done a lick of good.»

On our way home, we hear a siren. Their fire engine heads south. Mike is driving.

* * * *

The Afghani restaurant across the street from our apartment has two American flags in the window and a sign that reads "United We Stand."

* * * *

It hits me that I wrote about hijackings and escaping burning buildings in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Surviving Anything, which only came out a few months ago. I realize it's a silly book and strictly a coincidence, but it's still creepy to read these words: "Unless you are absolutely sure you can overpower a lone hijacker, don't be a hero. A suicidal nut may get his revenge by killing the pilots."

* * * *

Friday, we attend the candlelight vigil in Union Square Park. The makeshift memorial is much bigger than it looks on TV. Candles, flags, flowers, photos and drawings are everywhere. There’s even an unused ticket for the World Trade Center observatory.

At first it is somber and reflective, with songs like "Amazing Grace" and "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Then it turns into a spirited peace rally, complete with guitars, drums and songs like "Get Together" and "This Land is Your Land." There are idealistic college kids and aging hippies carrying signs that say "Stop the Racist War" and "Communalism Not Nationalism."

The oddest moment of the night comes when a lone voice starts belting out "We’re Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister. Move over Woody Guthrie. Dee Snider is smiling on his brother right now. It only lasts for two choruses.

* * * *

Friday, I go to meet my brother, Daniel, after his shift at a near-empty Craft, one of the hottest restaurants in town. His girlfriend points through the windows at one of the waiters at a place across the street. "He's missing someone."

After dinner, we decide a few cocktails are in order and stop at No Idea, a bar with a sign out front that says, "100% of all this week's proceeds are going to the Red Cross." An entire week's proceeds is a major contribution for any small business, so it is our duty as Americans to ensure they bring in a sizable chunk of change. We "donate" plenty of money here.

* * * *

Kim and I go to Shea stadium on Sunday afternoon. There is an infectious enthusiasm in the air, a mix of pride in the city and the improbable late-season surge by the Mets. At the game, it feels good, very good. Cheering Piazza, booing Chipper, hoping that maybe the juice of a pennant race will help the city.

The crowd groans (without much venom) when the Mets blow it by giving up three runs in the ninth. The between inning patriotic songs and video montage of the rescue workers feel less exploitative (at least the first couple of times) in this sea of fans than they do on the continuous television loop.

"It ain't over 'til it's over," someone screams.

"It's over, jackass," a fellow fan responds.

There’s a guy carrying a homemade sign that reads: Make Every Terrorist Suffer Let's Go Mets & USA

* * * *

I go to work one Saturday and by the time I get home, the crowd at the armory has grown exponentially. There are pictures everywhere, seems like ten times as many, plastered up and down every block on walls, telephone kiosks, fire hydrants, restaurant windows, on the electric pole outside our building, everywhere. I'm starting to recognize the faces, or at least I can tell which ones are new.

There’s a long line of taxis and I stop to ask a driver leaning against his car what's going on.

"We're waiting for the armory to close soon and then we give rides to families for free," he says.

Figuring he's losing business, I ask him how far he'll take the families.

"Anywhere they want. You got to do something man. Anything is better than feeling bad."

* * * *

The Red Cross center has left the armory for another part of town. The pictures have lost their context. The ghosts will hang on their own until someone decides that the pictures aren't needed anymore.

* * * *

I come home late from the bars one night and see my neighbor. I say hello and ask where his girlfriend has been.

"She wasn't my girlfriend, she was my wife," he says. "And she died at the World Trade Center."

He asks me in for a beer. We drink and he tells me about her, an Indian woman he met in London. He says that he has problems with Islam, because "her father cared more about his religion than about his daughter." Getting married was a monumental task, and they’d only done it six months ago.

We watch a Tennessee game on ESPN, which is where he's from. He doesn't have a TV and hadn't seen them play in a couple of years. Tennessee, Montana, New York City.

He laughs when I chew tobacco and tells me it reminds him of when he was growing up.

We stay awake talking until dawn.

****

On Monday, September 17, in Chicago, IL, at around 8 a.m., Edward Michael was born to Kim's older brother, Mike, and his wife, Mary Jane.

Life, indeed, goes on.

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§ 2 Responses to “October 2001”

  • Thomas Beller says:

    Amazing to stumble across this line/sentiment uttered on Sept 12th 2001:

    The guy from Alabama says, “I’m sorry to say this, but I hope we torture the fuck out of whoever did this.”

    I can imagine feeling this way, maybe I even did on September 12th. But I couldn’t have imagined that this sentiment, obviously widely shared, would be so prophetic of the direction things would take– not just Abu Ghraib, but a whole cycle of violence and death, a kind of blind thrashing, most of which involved those other than “whoever did this.”

    Interesting document of that moment in time.

    tb

  • [...] my thought was to delete it. After double-checking, I can say I'm proud of the piece I wrote, “October 2001,” only because I just reported what I saw and didn’t try to make sense of it. Had I gone the [...]

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