The obligatory 9/11 post
I was living in NYC on 9/11/2001. I was on the train, and only found out what had happened when we emerged from the tunnel, lurching over the Manhattan Bridge, and saw the smoke and the flames. I remember everything about that day. The faces. The emotion. The fear. No documentary can capture that, no matter how good it may be and how many awards it may get.
The city changed after that, and not in an entirely bad way. Anyway… I don’t want to get into all of it and I don’t have time to even if I did.
So I’m going to leave you with this, which I wrote on 14 September 2001.
Friday Afternoon, September 14, 2001
Well, it’s been a few days now. Things are starting to move on. It rained last night and most of today. If it hasn’t calmed down the smoke level, it’s at least hidden it in the rain clouds. And not being able to see it coming over the bridge helps people, I think.
The rain has also helped with the smell. I think we all know it’s only going to get worse. It’ll just keep getting worse. Today you can barely smell it. Yesterday the most of it was the burning plastic smell, the smell of the building itself. But soon enough – it’s inevitable – it’ll become the smell of what was in the building. Most of what they’re pulling out are parts, and by most reports the way they find them is the smell.
At every corner there are the flyers. Some are starting to run from the rain. Inkjet printers. The photocopies are just falling apart from the paper. But they’re still everywhere. On the bus stop. On buildings. On lampposts. Phone booths. Everywhere. It’s a reminder of the number of people missing from the city. It’s a reminder of how many other people would be waiting for the bus with you, crossing that street, running to catch the train home.
But now they’re all just homemade missing signs. Like you make for a lost pet. In any other city, in any other time, there might be one or two of them scattered around the whole city. One family that lost it’s daughter or son. Now there are hundreds, thousands of them around the city.
You barely see the signs for apartment painting. You see the missing people with the photos. The signs telling you where to give blood. Where to get counseling. Where to go for that night’s memorial.
The thing about the signs, and the memorials, is that it’s making the mourning spread out. At first it was this person’s wife was in there, this person’s brother. Now it’s your college friend whose picture you see. Someone you knew back when. Somebody who you met at a bar once. After a little while, all the faces start looking familiar. Chances are you’ve seen them before on the street. But now you know their name, height, weight, eye color, birthdate.
And you know, in a few days, many of them – most of them, possibly all of them – will be the smell.
But today you don’t have to deal with that fact. Today it’s raining.
Today it’s quiet, a quiet you don’t normally get. New York is only quiet when it first starts to snow. Everything gets muted by the whiteness falling around it. Maybe it’s an internal confusion. That this isn’t snow. Added to only by the mental recognition of what it is. That the white stuff used to be the building you ate lunch in sometimes. And then you’re quiet for a different reason.
When I used to work down there, I had to put up with a ticker tape parade. The Yankees had won the World Series again. Most of the WTC employees were out on the street for it. The cops were out with barricades to keep Broadway clear. I ran out to get my lunch – and a plane ticket, JFK to LAX – before the cars started going up Broadway, right in front of my building at 160. I struggled through the crowd over to the lobby of 1, where the ticketing counter was then (a year later, I went back to get a ticket and it had been moved to the mezzanine of 5). It was such a charged crowd. People from all over the city were there, of course. But in that little block, between Liberty and Maiden Place, in the courtyard around 1 Liberty Plaza, it was all employees from that neighborhood. All the business types that crowded into the two Burger Kings within a block of each other. The ones that filled Maiden Heaven (a deli) for the salad bar. The ones that bought Halal chicken sandwiches from the guy with Koran quotes on his food cart. I hated all of them in that moment, I hated the city of New York, the damn Yankees, baseball, traffic, all of it in that moment.
After the parade, I went back outside. The people had cleared. All that was left was sanitation workers and the streets. The streets were white with scattered paper. (The way tickertape parades work, now that tickertape isn’t used, is that people dump the contents of their recylcling bins out the windows onto the streets below, along with toilet paper, confetti, etc.) That’s what it looks like on TV. Lots of paper being cleaned up after the crowds are gone back to the office. Only, it’s not. We all know that.
It’s still surreal. But it’s starting to hit home. You come over the bridge and it’s just missing. Somebody – a few people – on the train are openly crying. You notice that people who were always – always – on the train with you aren’t. In a few weeks you’ll know where their offices are. If they show up again, they’re just downtown. If they don’t, well, you know.
There was a Duane Reade drug store in the bottom, where the mall was. It used to get crowded at lunch as people bought instant lunches and Cokes (only a dollar for a bottle, the cheapest in the area). It’s gone now. So is the Borders in 5. And the big fountain in the courtyard. I used to do my reading for school there. A guy gave me a funny look for reading Freud one day.
This is going to be a long process, we all know that. But today it rained.