The View From Staten Island

by Dino D'Agata

11/11/2001

2 liberty pl ny 10038

Neighborhood: All Over, Staten Island

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It was with a sense of being robbed that I watched, from a television set on Staten Island, the events that unfolded on September 11th. The smoke emanating from the two buildings as if they'd been sliced by some reckless cosmic lawnmower gone berserk, and the camera angle that made the bodies falling look like drifting pieces of paper, large ash floating away from the center of the fire. Somehow, that night when I got to a television, what I was watching was no longer my city, but rather was something that had been appropriated by the major networks, a symbol of the times, hot copy, unwitting narrative (with visuals)of the fact that there is something hideously ugly and unseen in created reality that has a very high stake in destroying human beings and a very astute ability to draft other human beings into doing this.

An e-mail in the following days, from a friend, professor at NYU, inviting myself and some others to her place in the Village for dinner and music--she and her husband's response to this. So that night, for the first time since the 11th, we drive into Manhattan from Brooklyn, and her piano player friend gives us some renditions of jazz standards and some comic interpretations of a children's song a la Beethoven. But I'm not there for the music, or the wine, or the new people I'm meeting, or the desserts from Balducci's. I'm there for the view of ground zero from the Village, the silhouettes of neighboring buildings and the rising white smoke in the mercury vapor lights like some horrid mistake carried out by a Fritz Lang art director. I stare and I stare, and I feel the resurgence of tension in my stomach, and the need to put my head on somebody's shoulder like a ten year old and cry and scream until I feel better. But I'm too old to run to anybody like that, so I eat the desserts from Balducci's and listen to the music and say funny things to the new people I'm meeting tonight. And I stay away from the city, or at least downtown, because I don't want to look, not until this feeling leaves me, the same feeling I had every morning when I opened my eyes and got out of bed after I found out my father had been diagnosed with cancer...»

It's November now, two months later, and I'm finally up to it for the first time. Picking up a friend from Boston after I spend all afternoon looking around for a winter jacket, he says, can we see it? And so, I drive down Seventh Avenue, down past Canal, past the Holland Tunnel, past the Odeon, and smell, still, the burning. And then I turn right to go west on Chambers Street, and across from Stuyvesant High School stop the car and say to the cop, "Is the Battery Tunnel open again?" as if he'll really say yes. And there is the mercury vapor lighting, and the large red cranes that could be for a movie set, and the shards of one of the buildings--I don't know which, because I can't look--that has a black frame and stuff hanging from it that looks like what you have left after you soak paper mache. And none of it belongs anymore to the major networks or to the news from Washington. Once again, it's the place I have been in love with all of my adult life, my hometown.

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