September 12, 2002

I might as well share some thoughts on 9/11.

Yesterday I watched a few TV things here and there, but I wasn't that interested in hearing the same "national tragedy" spiel ad nauseam. It numbs the mind after a while. And to be honest, I remember 9/11/01 well enough a year later -- I haven't lost any of the bitterness or confusion or sadness.

The morning of 9/11, I was awakened by the clock radio, and the DJ was introducing a new Bob Dylan song called "Summer Days." I thought "What a cool thing to wake up to. What a wonderful song" -- and I hoped it would set the tone for the rest of the day. Next thing I knew, the DJ was saying "Turn on the news when you get the chance; apparently a plane has hit one of the Twin Towers."

I was on my way to a class, but when I left the house I wandered in the opposite direction of the subway, down to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, where I could see an unobstructed view of the burning tower across the river. A huge group of people had already assembled down there -- they weren't emotional at that point, they just wanted to see what was going on. I stuck around for a few minutes, and walked to the subway.

I was able to get down to the Court Street N/R platform with no problems, but I knew something was wrong once I'd been waiting for my train for 20 minutes. Soon, all the subways were out of service. No way I was gonna make that class, so I headed back to the Promenade to see what was happening. The smoke was getting thicker, and blowing into the air on an 11 o'clock angle. Went home and turned on the news.

I had left the room for a second, and while I was in the other room I heard a loud, startling thud outside. New York cable news station NY1 had live coverage of the first attack, and as I ran into my bedroom I was able to see the second tower being hit.

Back on the Promenade, people were gathering, taking pictures (which I thought was tasteless), staring in disbelief, screaming "Holy shit!!!" -- but despite the vision of two skyscrapers on fire, things were still considerably under control on our end. Until... the towers began to collapse and the debris started flying.

The smell was AWFUL, like the most grand mal, grotesque barbecue you could imagine -- an inescapable odor of smoke, gas, and burning flesh. People were running for their lives, covering their faces with their hands, trying to keep the smoke and debris out of their eyes. The air was a greyish white. It was impossible to see anything, and my clothes and hair became covered in debris (my guess: reams upon reams of paper, some detritus from the structure of the buildings, some soot, and maybe some fibers of burned clothing). I went home, and I didn't go back out until the afternoon, when the buildings had completely collapsed, and the smoke was contained on Manhattan Island and the skies above it.

The smoke didn't clear until days later -- but on the afternoon of 9/11, it was so thick that it covered the entirety of lower Manhattan and much of midtown. That afternoon, I just sat out on the Promenade, watching the smoke clear in real time, treating the act as a meditative exercise. By the time evening rolled around, I could actually sort of see the negative space that once contained the towers, with the smoke clinging to the buildings' angles like phantoms.

The days following were awful. I was terrified of everything; I didn't wanna take the subway for fear of a suicide bomber; I kept looking out the window of my midtown classroom, wondering when the Empire State Building (two blocks away) would come toppling down on us. Like everyone else, I watched the news constantly, but there was no hard news, only expressions of shock and replays of the two planes crashing into the towers.

It was an emotional time for me, because of the WTC, because of other things I was dealing with (and I still look at 9/11 as kind of an outrageously melodramatic metaphor for the shitty year I was having... when I put it all in context, I was like "well, THAT fuckin' figures"). So it's tough for me to relive all that stuff now, in 2002.

I did go down to Ground Zero yesterday. It was the first time I'd gone to the disaster site; I'd just never felt the need to go, to gawk and rubberneck and congregate with all the picture-snappers and t-shirt buyers. Not my style -- I decided I'd rather mourn with my memory than with my eyes.

Yeah, so I went down there, and it was all blocked off by police barriers (the president was down there, so security was kicked into the highest gear). Crowds were kept at bay and made to stand several blocks from the site.

I didn't stick around; I made it down to the river and walked north along Greenwich St., checking out the historic buildings and warehouses in the area, feeling lucky to be a New Yorker, in such close proximity to some of the world's most beautiful architecture, landmarks protected from ravenous developers and pretty much guaranteed NOT to be a target for terrorists. As I came up behind Borough of Manhattan Community College, I discovered a whole row of perfectly preserved Federal-style houses from the 19th century, tucked away on Harrison St., hiding in a tiny cranny of the more modern, utilitarian surroundings of the college.

It must sound corny to out-of-towners, but these are the things that make New Yorkers passionate about their city. I began the day feeling a little down. I don't usually drink in the morning, but I dreaded the day and figured I'd polish off the wine I'd bought the previous evening (a 2000 Rabbit Ridge Merlot -- very yummy and perfect for a drinking binge). By noon I was feeling okay and I went out for a really satisfying pasta lunch at a local Italian place.

If that's what the pundits mean by "defiance" -- enjoying good food and wine and other aesthetic pleasures on a day associated with terror and victimization -- I'm in. I think I'll make this a tradition.