December 19, 2001
POST-ATTACK EAST VILLAGE
"Die yuppie scum" graffiti covered this neighborhood back in 1988, when the Tompkins Square riot pitted squatters and homeless rights activists against cops on a hot August night. "My horse is my penis! My stick is my dick!" taunted the crowd as mounted riot police charged protesters and bystanders alike, bottles rained down from rooftops, and helicopters beamed searchlights from above. Now, this same corner serves as our neighborhood's shrine for the missing; poems and flowers and candles for those we thought we reviled. One of our block's French bistros, long bemoaned as an example of the gentrification that supplanted any remaining real bohemia with destination fun, replaced its Prix Fixe chalkboard with an open invitation for free dinner for blood donors and volunteers. And the cops at the 9th Precinct's station house invited local street artist Chico (Antonio Garcia) to paint a new mural on their garage bay door: "To the Community: Thank You."
This is the East Village, iconoclast central. And in our grieving, we are redefining our stance against authority, shaping a leftist patriotism, and reclaiming our community. The thirteen years since the Tompkins Square riot have seen the very gentrification the demonstrators feared. Overpriced Thai food trumps funky performance gallery. Community gardens bulldozed and developed. The raw anger and rebellion, the most vocal squatters and punks, the most fabulous Mud Club faces, the edge and the squalor, have been gone some ten years now. And yet the East Village remains invested in its outsider image. We are aggressively dressed-down, overeducated, insular artists, or, at least, indie-culture mavens, with slight disdain for mainstream culture and consumerism, and selective memories about our own invasion of this Eastern European and Hispanic neighborhood. Multi-national corporations and their minions? Bad. The K-Mart at Astor Place? Yeah, but with irony. The excitement-seeking weekend crowds of poseur rich kids? 'I never go out on weekends, it's so annoying.'
Long-term residents often share the views expressed by performance artist and community archivist Penny Arcade, that the police are protecting real estate interests and "your right to walk down Avenue B in a slip." When, she asks, did the police become an overnight eviction squad? "Since when does the housing department own a tank?" Gentrification, to Penny, is police enforcement of middle class values. Safety is safety for trendoids and entrepreneurs to exploit the neighborhood without respecting it. Cabaret artist Helen Stratford concurs, "The police were seen as a threat to creativity, intelligence, originality, and all of the magical things that happen in chaos. They enforced order, conformity, the law."
But after September 11th's pyrotechnic horrorshow, viewed on tv or on our very own rooftops, our New York was literally invaded by the other New York, and then, virtually, by the world's images and ideas of New York. A strange triangulation effect took place then, between us, our city, and the media. The shocking disjunction between the here-experienced and the here- codified, reported, explained back to us on our televisions and radios called into question any sort of reporting, any set of images, any representations. We New Yorkers often have that dislocation, of having the sites of our everyday lives sold back to us in heightened, glamourized images, peopled with models, celebrities, even people playing glossy simulacra of ourselves. But now our loss was the world's loss and we were being told what our streets were like, what the towers symbolized, what to feel.
The morning of September 11th, Avenue A was its usual weekday morning self. People ran errands, there was an especially long line at the bank. But like dye threading through water, lines of refugees marched uptown, in suits and in pantyhose, clutching briefcases. I had never seen so many people on Essex, walking; I had never seen these types of people, in these numbers, outside of midtown. There must have been sirens, because I saw hundreds and hundreds of vehicles with flashing lights racing west on Houston, and there must have been conversation and radios, because I seemed to know that the subways were closed. There was perhaps a fifteen-minute window where the two worlds coexisted as if superimposed; the residents and the survivors. I remember silence and the silent stoicism, which I now realize was severe shock, of the dusty people, the inability of our neighborhood to react, to interact. Several of us got into a slight argument trying to explain the best way to get to the Manhattan Bridge to a middle-aged Caribbean woman. "I don't know this area," she said. This was not their New York, and they were not, until now, characters in ours.
Our air was foul and choking. No one could maintain any sort of dialogue, and it all was too horrible to say "isn't it horrible?" On Wednesday, a friend waved off conversation, saying, "That was before yesterday. I mean, none of that matters now." We wore air filter masks and warned one another about patriotic troublemakers roaming nearby. A large gathering outside a church looked like a Happening, but was just a local AA meeting letting out. Photocopied pleas for blood, for donations were on every pole. The missing flyers followed. Candles outside a building might mean a loss inside.
Our neighborhood was cordoned off. Here, in the zone between 14th and Canal, with only official traffic and bona fide residents allowed, an authentic grief and solidarity took shape. We were incredibly respectful to one another; the homeless, briefly, became real people rather than a cause, just as the faceless sell-out yuppies moved from symbol to individuals in the heartbreaking Times tributes. The cordons let us feel the real soul of our neighborhood, without the clutter and chatter of the party crowd. They allowed us, too, to feel how close we were to what had happened, insiders. There was, I think, a little of the velvet rope feeling, how far in can I get, how close can I be, that was less about the later wave of terro-tourism and more about respectful witnessing, validating that we were a part of this tragedy. The constant sirens, the police policy of 'omnipresence', the discarded tapes and blue wooden barricades, the detritus of emergency, all made it feel real and closer than repetitive broadcast images, heroic/patriotic montages, rhetoric, and analysis.
Acquaintances took time for real conversation in the middle of deserted streets; we talked not of what we'd witnessed, but of mundane things, but with a slow, grave cadence and real listening. A memorial far less dense and organized than that at Union Square took amorphous shape in Tompkins Square Park, the shape of a huge heart outlined with candles and full of flowers. A small shrine formed on the unbroken, block-long brick wall of the ConEd plant, source of intermittent, ominous hums. A more profuse floral display blossomed on Avenue A just south of 14th under a breathtaking new mural of the city's skyline Chico painted on September 11th. The Hell's Angels New York Chapter on 3rd Street strung the largest American flag I've ever seen from third-floor height, spanning the street. And the 9th Precinct was reclaimed from tv-land's NYPD Blue iconography for the community, decorated with hundreds of thank-you cards from local schoolchildren and from as far away as Oregon, and with the ever-fresh flowers at the sidewalk shrine (now seasonal with pumpkins).
Detective Jamie Hernandez, Community Affairs Officer for the precinct, tells me that community response was instantaneous and overwhelming. People called and stopped in, asking what they could do, what the cops needed. Local hospitals and clinics and a YMHA offered beds for those crashing after long shifts, and free care to the five precinct cops injured on the first day. People brought food. "This one woman, she's a character, she likes to stop by, she likes to dance. Always asking us for money. She brought us two packages of cookies and some juice. And she was crying because she said this is all I can afford. What are we gonna do, tell her we don't need it? It was the type of thing… you just wanted to grab and her and scoop her up in a big hug."
Irene Nolan owns Ponica, where she sells her own clothing designs, two doors down from the precinct house. For the first week after the attack, she stayed at home, watched tv, and felt isolated and afraid. One day she went down to the West Side Highway, and there was Helen, with a bunch of American flags, cheering like mad. Helen tells me that Irene grabbed a flag and held it close, and that marked the change. "Me? With an American flag? Embracing American values?" She opened up her shop because people need a place to gather, and she began to organize and coordinate donations to the precinct. Her schedule shows that for almost two months, every day, local restaurants delivered dinner for 75 cops. Once Irene began to call, people began calling her. "How can I help?"
Irene tells me that participation saved her life, saved her from isolation. "It was scary to be alone during this time." And Helen tells me that everything has changed, that the cops and the community have humanized one another. Before, she says we could romanticize anarchy, chaos, and revolution. But now, "I see they are protecting our ability to create, to rebel. The taste of true chaos made us value the order and stability within which we experiment." One night a cop decided to paint a huge flag for the station house, and it kind of didn't look that good. So Lieutenant Sam ran up to Chico's house at 11 pm. The cops know Chico because, before he got commissions, he got busted for graffiti regularly. And Lieutenant Sam said, "We need a mural, something with a flag, a thank you." And Chico grabbed his stuff and painted it in about half an hour. Irene shows me a photo of a broadly smiling group, some in uniform, "Cops and hippies, hanging out," she says.
I go to a breakfast that the police are giving for the community. There is laughter and genuine warmth, lots of cops, lots of business owners, and lots of artsy people. Detective Hernandez has made gorgeous, framed plaques for the people who'd dropped off business cards with their donations. They feature stunning, detailed pen-and ink drawings of the precinct house made by a street artist in '99. The precinct has also taken out a full-page ad in the Villager. "Being a Police Officer is a very difficult job, but in these past days, you, the community, have helped to keep us strong, to reinforce the oath we have sworn to uphold the law, and made it easier to cope with this tragedy. They say that New York City is the greatest city in the world, but this saying cannot be complete without the greatest citizens of this city - like the residents of the Lower East Side." One cop says, "I'll never forget that first night at ground zero. A citizen showed up with a shovel, wanting to help. That's what this community has been like." Irene, who's from England, gives a beautiful speech about having lived here for 30 years but never having felt American until now. Someone else talks about a new era, a transformation in how we all deal with one another. "These are our heroes and I'm glad that our society's changed so it values that." Everyone cheers. Lieutenant Sam (Airam Ortiz) notes that she asked to be transferred to this precinct, and jokes about "world-famous graffiti artist," Chico. The photographer who came by snaps picture after picture, everyone wants one of them with the cops, their plaque. Helen, resplendent in swirling Victoriana gown, plays cabaret accordion, and then, as the gathering winds down, a gentle "America the Beautiful."
Coming home I pass a building on 7th Street with an actively tended shrine. Candles burn, flowers are fresh, and on the door is posted a Times bio I had just read, and resonated with, last night. Joyce, I remembered reading, "was the epitome of cool." Of course this is where she lived. There are wonderful cards and a pumpkin: "I love you, Joyce." September 11th is everywhere, still. The missing posters have given way to fliers for peace vigils and nonviolence teach-ins. A craftswoman who makes beautiful decorative objects from twigs and dried flowers has made a flag for her boutique's window. I pass a gallery displaying images of the towers in various media and abstraction, a show called "Reaction." "Many artists felt compelled to create on, or within a few days of, 9/11. Others could not work for days or weeks."
The nation moved on, to abstraction and analysis, before New York was ready. And the smell and the rubble and the dust and the sirens and the tape and the posters; I want them to stay. Too quickly, the material races ahead of the emotional. We New Yorkers are still stuck on minutiae when the media has moved on to meaning. For the first time I understand that meaning can be the enemy. It's always imposed, and, always, particularity is plowed under, tamed. It makes sense to me that things should be disrupted, that we should be forced to confront what happened. And I can't be the only New Yorker who feels a tad proprietary, as if the world has wrested our tragedy away from us for its war and its lessons and its justifications and its catharsis. Ours. I am so proud of my city, and for the first time it feels like mine -- not just this tiny dying bohemia, one of only a few such in large cities in the world where my choices, my lifestyle, make sense -- but all of it.
The yuppies have ceased to be symbols for us, in the way that New York has ceased to be purely a symbol for America. The way cops and firemen are symbols, for protesters or in patriotic montage. The way the East Village is a symbol for those who market our lifestyle back to us. The Trade Towers were at once symbol, movie location, and place for events in our lives. Something real, undeniable happened, and shook out the complacency of easy labels and smug dismissal of the not-us. And any return takes us into the sort of thinking that allowed terrorists to abstract and generalize "Americans," to attack symbolically in a way one can never particularly. Every single person I spoke with moved from the abstract to the particular, from generalizing to moment. Over and over I learn that returning to the moment, to the real, cuts right through conceptual understanding. And we can't go back.
Someone has graffiti'd the sidewalks again. But with fat outlines of flowers, simple and schematic. The image is almost banal, yet oddly resonant & persistent; it surfaces intermittently from the fringes of my subconscious, the blossoming of new hope.
November 27, 2001
Immediately as word got out, the building was besieged by apartment-seekers. I'd always coveted their flat, and thought if they ever moved out, I should get first dibs. And it didn't seem right strangers should shoehorn in because of tragedy. So, although I felt mercenary, I called the landlord (who was kindly and reasonable, not my real landlord who's taken me to court many times), and he agreed to lease me the apartment. Somehow I have the lease in front of me (also background of attractive young people in hall, at door, looking for the super, wanting the flat)... and I see that the rent is $1600 a month. I had no idea my friends were paying that much. I couldn't see how I'd possibly be able to commit to coming up with that kind of money. And yet, thinking about being tethered to my affordable, but oppressively tiny, apartment for aeons to come, thinking about this beautiful space, how much my life would change to live in it (faint ominous undertone of menace, however, in the prospect), I wanted it terribly much. Somewhere in here I came across a small journal-like notebook the guy had left for me to find, saying that they wanted me to have their apartment, and had left money for me, and I search the apartment and dark, New Orleans-atmosphere city, tracing his last steps (to nightclubs and strip joints) for an envelope of cash. But even if they left me some.. how could it cover even one months' rent? How would they have that kind of money put away? They lived charmingly, but boho-spare. everything seemed to hinge on how much money might be in the envelope.
While I'm looking for the money, word reaches me from the landlord. I've dithered too long. He just got a call from some absurdly pompously-named guy with a title from England.. who he rented the apartment to.
It seems to me that the key to this dream must lie in the murky parts I've forgotten; a sense that the couple had a houseguest, a woman, for awhile, and she, first, had jumped off the roof. A sense of apology in the journal that my friend was not who he presented as, there was a secret life. The details of the flat's furnishings and layout. And the exact pathway of the search for the money, where I seemed to meet people who expected me, had messages for me. Otherwise, I don't get it. And it had a more horrifying feeling to it than some NY real-estate joke.
The couple most reminded me of Rob and Monique, an impossibly creative and hip Dutch couple who did environmental performance art, video, and sound/light setups for clubs. Rob worked as the sysadmin/troubleshooter/tech for DCTV, a community television production nonprofit in a gorgeous old firehouse. They biked everywhere. Rob was the first man I saw to ever wear a skirt, matter-of-factly, and with a topknot and his stunning physique and chiseled face, he looked like an aryan samurai. One Fourth of July, back before no-tolerance, the firecrackers from kids in the street went on and on and on, and Rob went out on 11th street, naked, and just stood there, still, until everyone stopped. Rob was crazy about Monique, knew she was the one the night they met and campaigned to make her realize it, too. She didn't want kids, but they moved to Japan, and I got three birth announcements, gorgeous silkscreens. The one for Bo, their eldest, reads "Born, I open my eyes to the light."
November 21, 2001
Dear Dr. Scholl's, I'm not sure if, in all the chaos, anyone has remembered to thank you. You FedExed a truck of insoles to an unofficial group of civilian volunteers on the West Side Highway, just because we called you and told you the rescue workers needed them. That took a lot of faith in us, a bunch of strangers with no address, and, as far as I could tell, you didn't ask for a tax break or a receipt or a sponsorship banner. It was nice of the FedEx people, too, I think they bent all the rules to make the delivery. They even came over to ask us if we could use a whole bunch of donations that people had FedExed with no directions except "to the disaster" or "for the rescue workers."
Last week I volunteered for the Red Cross respite center, and I walked home with a really nice guy who'd worked in the sleep center, where the rescue workers take naps and he had to wake them up at the end of their breaks. And he commented that nobody had thanked us. I was manning the front desk, just sitting there, and a group of cops were leaving and one caught my eye and said "thank you". And I said "I didn't do a damn thing." And he said "Thank you anyway" And I pass that on to you. I know that sometimes you're not sure if anyone noticed, if your giving has made any difference. So I want to tell you it has.
The Boy's and Girl's Club of St. Paul's Church in that small town in Wisconsin, you made those beautiful care boxes for the workers with first aid stuff and toiletries. Every one had a thank-you card for the workers in it. Things were really hectic and your gifts got here so fast, we gave them all to the men going in to the World Trade site and I'm not sure if anyone took the time to thank you. I do remember one guy, he came over for some aspirin, he was all muddy, and he said, "Look at what I got". He pulled a letter out of his back pocket and unfolded it. "This little girl wrote me a thank-you letter," he said. "I'm gonna write back." He was on his way downtown for another shift, and maybe when he got home, when he fell asleep his wife or his partner decided to do his laundry, because those jeans were really muddy. And maybe the letter got lost in the wash and he never got a chance to write back. But I want you to know how much he enjoyed getting it and tell you thank you.
And the Hispanic Community of Greater Baltimore, you pulled up in a small white car and unloaded lots of spring water. I know you guys had been driving a long way and there was no time to for us to stop and talk, and maybe you just turned around and drove back home and it all seemed like a dream. I want you to know how personal and generous your gift was. And the big truck that pulled up from Vermont, was it Burlington or St. John's, it looked like the whole town had collected donations all week, and I think you'd been driving around New York, looking for where to drop them off so they would be used, and the unloading was fast. I hope you knew how much we thank you.
And the neighbors who keep the flowers fresh at the firehouse shrines, and the local restaurants who donated so many meals to the police of the 9th Precinct here in the East Village, and the hospitals and clinics who handed out air filter masks to pedestrians, and whoever made that amazing lasagna all us supply depot volunteers devoured, thank you.
The Great Jones Street firehouse has a big "thank you" banner up, I wish everyone could see it. It's a beautiful old-fashioned red brick and wrought-iron building, it even has a little french-door balcony. Firefighter ----- showed me the hundreds of cards that have come from all over the world and a photo of some French firefighters standing in front of their truck which was decorated with both the French and American flags, and the Paddington Bear firefighter that they have on the dashboard of the fire engine. And, amid all the colorful crayon banners and gifts, I saw a simple typewritten letter. It was from a neighbor, a guy who lives on Mott Street, and he wrote "I am so sorry. I wish with all my heart there was something I could do." And I want to tell that guy that he did do something, and thank you.
And, you know, maybe some of the things you sent didn't get used the way you imagined. It was as though waves of love and support were coming from everywhere, by truck and by mail, and waves of confusion and chaos and need and grief were going out, and wherever they met they made a big splash. I know that there were some homeless guys from a shelter nearby who came to the supply depot and ended up working very hard, doing some heavy lifting and the trash removal. We had boxes and boxes of toothbrushes and deodorant and soap and some of the men asked if they could have some, and we said yes. But I don't think you would have minded either, because even in the midst of terrible tragedy, there are many small stories of need. We did hand out toiletries packs to some of the people waiting to get into their Battery Park City apartments under escort, just to pick up a few things. The people of Battery Park City tend not to think of themselves as needing help, so at first, no one said yes, but then they saw the soap and toothpaste and shampoo and the packages went like hotcakes. The Mother Theresa nuns came and made sandwiches and snack packs all day for two weeks, and when our location was closing, there were very many bags of used clothing. And the nuns asked if they could take some. One nun explained that they only own two cotton saris, personally, but "we need it for our mens". It turns out they run a shelter for men with AIDS here in New York, and so the used clothing found a very worthy home, thank you.
And thank you, the nurses who rushed from the hospitals with supplies for the triage centers. It broke all of our hearts that there were not more patients. And probably those supplies were all sooty or got lost and your hospital's supply inventory is all messed up, because it was such a profound crisis and it created waves of secondary crises, of secondary chaos, and still is. But thank you. Thank you, too, to the EMTs and metalworkers who traveled very far to help out at ground zero and then were told there were too many volunteers. I know you wanted to save people and would have worked around the clock, but maybe you ended up like the one guy from Tennessee I met who paid for a hotel for a week just to stand at the edge of the highway and hand out boots and flashlights. Thank you.
And all you people who felt so helpless but who practiced kindness and charity in your own communities, thank you. Maybe someone you knew felt as though all of the love and energy was being sucked up by us here, and that their own loss was insignificant or forgotten. And maybe you babysat the kids or made a casserole for an elderly neighbor or loaned a stranger your cellphone or opened up an extra check-out lane in your store so that people had less stress. Thank you. All of those local kindnesses helped us here, we could feel them.
So thank you to the people who've remembered other charities and more private tragedies, thank you to the people who've been kind to colleagues, thank you to the people who took a group of kids swimming, even though you weren't in the mood, thank you.
And thank you to La-z-boy for those nifty recliners, the workers zonk right out on them, all of them are kept in fully reclined position. Thank you to all of the children who've sent cards, do you know that the fire stations and police stations and respite centers are decorated with them? They have an activity table with colored paper and markers for the guys to write back, but sometimes they're really tired and just want to lie in the La-Z-boys.
And thank you Dr. Scholl's, you rascally catchy brand name, so easily confused with Dr. Seuss or Dr. Spock, and if there was a real Dr. Scholl I apologize, but I'm opinionionated about the influence of multinationals on both our domestic and foreign policymaking, and the havoc globalization can wreak on indigenous economies and cultures, and I'm tired of brand pollution where everything is brought to me by and sponsored by, every moment of my life, it seems, but, Dr. Scholl's, you really came through for us. And even though the word "corporate" makes my teeth itch, it suddenly seemed as though you were a group of people, not unlike the people who worked in the WTC, not unlike the volunteers, people just like me. So Dear Dr. Scholl's, thank you.
November 11, 2001
Some critical writing: stimulus package critique. The Observer's war on terror op-ed essays. Herbert -- Shame in the House.
October 25, 2001
In the heart of the East Village, across the street from Kim's videos and Benny's Burrito's, sits a mysterious brick building, the source of intermittent, ominous hums. The uninterrupted brick façade extends the entire block of Avenue A from 5th to 6th Streets. There is a bus shelter for the uptown M (14? 11?) on the sidewalk. From September 11th to October 5th, a stretch of the building's wall served as the local memorial for the missing; a site for candles, flowers, pleas, and poems. Now, a thin ribbon of yellow 'do not cross" tape attached to blue police barricades surrounds the building's perimeter. Pedestrians walk in the road inside a line of fluorescent-red cones, and the bus shelter is taped and closed. The nation is on highest alert, and the 9th Precinct is protecting the neighborhood's ConEd facility.
Since October 5th, the Friday night before the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan, the heightened police presence and pedestrian barricades here have reflected the mood of the nation and governmental response to anticipated threats. Advance warning of the bombing campaign might have been gleaned when the one patrol car stationed on 5th Street and Avenue A since September 11th was augmented by another, and the pedestrian barricade went up. Sometimes there are cruisers on each corner of the block, but on this balmy October Monday, Officer Rosado sits alone in his scooter on Avenue A and Sixth Streets.
Even Officer Rosado isn't sure whether he's protecting a generator or a transformer, but he is sure that he's performing a service for the community, even if some inconvenienced pedestrians "don't seem to get it."
"Could it be protected better? Yes. Could there be a guy on another rooftop? Sure. Could this stop a truck bomb? No. Do we need more permanent concrete barricades, maybe a shell? Yeah."
Officer Rosado is part of a campaign of psychological, even symbolic, deterrence called "omnipresence," already a tactic in high-crime areas. Rosado explains, "This is a known drug block. Having a cop on the block will stop that activity, not for good, just for that time. We can only protect like three blocks, but we're watching, if they see us here…" As for terrorists? "Can I do something to stop this? I can try. If they see a cop 24 hours a day, they might think twice."
Whether the tape itself proclaims the building as a target, how keeping pedestrians off the sidewalk helps deter terrorism, and whether the police presence is reassuring or anxiety-producing for local residents aren't Officer Rosado's to question. For the time being, and indefinitely, "It has to be done."
While "98%" of the public has been supportive, one or two people a day will "act annoyed;" complain about inconvenience or question the necessity of the barricades. Rosado doesn't get it. "Just comply. It takes 30 seconds to cross the street. What's the big deal; this is for everyone." He saw a special on how they live in Israel last night. They search your bags when you go to the movie theater. "Would it really bother you to be frisked in the theater? A ten-minute inconvenience?" He thinks that maybe we took what we had for granted before September 11th. And that things have to be different now.
"I don't want my family in a mall shopping and all of a sudden something goes off. So I think this is a good thing. So much as it induces anxiety; Better safe than sorry."
This protection doesn't come cheap. While the extra hours everyone is working take their toll on the officers and take time away from their families, they also cost the city money. How much money, and for how long, are questions which will become more important as emergency response gives way to permanent policy. Both the 9th Precinct and Office of Public Information refused to comment on details of how security measures are assessed and implemented or on who is calling the shots and who is footing the bill. Officer Braun at the Public Information headquarters said "We do not discuss security issues." When asked who will decide which measures to take and for how long, he responded "I don't know what you don't understand about what I said. We do not discuss these issues."
So while public policy decisions remain in a black box, Officer Rosado does his job. No one could have anticipated, even prevented, he thinks, what happened on September 11th, and maybe he can't anticipate or prevent a really determined attack on this ConEd plant. "But it has to be done." Before September 11th, someone shoots up a place, you thought emotionally disturbed, now you think 'terrorist.' He saw on the news how people would rather drive all the way to Florida than fly, they're afraid to open their own mail. And electricity is important; for the street lights, for the hospitals. So you do what it takes. He only wishes the pedestrians understood. And the ones who don't get it? Because he's there, maybe they won't have to ever get it. Maybe they'll never have to lose someone they love. " People act all inconvenienced. It's just a block, just a corner."
As much as he seems to accept that life may have to be different now, there's a tone of wistfulness. We should be able to get on a plane to Europe, to Florida, without fear. "Would I want to live anywhere else? No. I can't wait for things to go back to normal It takes a toll. But we knew going into it this was the job."
Behind the barrier tape, the remnants of the untended community memorial on the south end of the building's brick wall consist of two bunches of dried flowers, an unlit candle, and a tiny paper American flag.
October 15, 2001
No question that New York is weird right now. Sometimes I just sit in my chair and listen to NPR about anthrax or our lack of real intelligence or viewpoint-dissemination abilities in the Middle East. Sometimes I flip from channel to channel (two channels. no NBC, ABC, WB, Public Television) and wish I could see The Mole or even an earnest Tom Brokaw talking about his own targeting. Sometimes I think I really have to clean the house, sort my papers, and resume the circuitous pathway to my Lifegoals, and sometimes I think, like Heather W, that a large nuclear blast is imminent and, later, kids will ask in school, as they might of the Jews in European ghettos, "but why did the people just stay there? why didn't they leave?" I had the thought, stepping out of the shower, what if there really ARE parallel universes; what if I could just step into the one where all energy and resources and attention weren't focused on terrorism and its aftermath.
I've been indulging in gallows humor that seems sidesplittingly funny at the moment but that later I can't recall. It's frustrating, this site. I want to write, need to write, but I can't figure out how to archive, there's no 'discussion' option for feedback on blogspot, and my newish site meter shows, with rare exception, "length of visit," a full column of 0.00.
Here's some links (remember links?)
Times article on Haruki Murakami, who has written about both perspectives of the Tokyo subway gassing, and who sees the current conflict as a collision between incompatible networks (something I've been thinking of. We really aren't speaking the same language. We hardly inhabit the same world.)
Your basic retaliation is a trap article.
Your basic there's a hidden agenda in this war article.
A great Tom Tomorrow comic you've probably already seen.
From the "Freedom From Religion Foundation": What is a freethinker? And stop with the god and country propoganda already.
Saffire's list of questions we don't know the answers to.
Crisis net archiving projects article.
Roots of Muslim rage perspective.
Security/Civil Rights perspective.
Web resources for journalists.
Amazon entry for The Emperor, which I highly recommended some posts back and highly recommend now.
Slightly hokey but pretty damn nice poem by a Buddhist monk.
This from planetwaves.net, a super astrology site. Eric Francis gives an astrological analysis of both September 11 and the date bombing began (highly technical, so not linked, but the charts echo and reinforce one another), and, in answer to any sense of despair or futility, he invites us to shield the planet. Letting healing and love energy flow through you to everyone; using any meditation or spiritual tools you've developed, spending time with good people or in good places. This is something I've been thinking of. Aside from the obvious media-vilification-elevates-crackpot-to-antimessiah stuff, there's a sense in which so much collective energy and attention focused on fear, what-ifs, and on one person, skews us all, knocks it all out of balance. What, instead of obsessing about (meditating on, because that's what it is) images of horror or hatred, we collectively meditated on the figure of the Dalai Lama (and there's a man who has much to complain about, reasons to hate, and yet channels love). What if we imagined the future we want instead of the one we fear? Not in some ersatz pie-in-the-sky way, but in the 'realistic' and intense way we're now envisioning a loss of possibility and the direst of outcomes?
The collective mind-state of the U.S. right now reminds me of my own family. Any five-cent therapist will tell you that an identified problem member of a family (whether by drugs or metal illness or behavioral disorders or alcoholism or illness) will skew the entire family dynamic. People assume roles, often for life; they accomodate, resent, caretake. The energy of the system is polarized toward and around the problem, until the problem defines the family, and each person's response defines their part in the problem. It's very hard to let go of this, to stop giving all attention to the crazy one or the drunk one, to stop living in crisis or emergency mode, to stop living (and not-living) in reaction to the what-ifs, if-onlys, and but-theys. Withdrawing energy from the other-created urgency can change the entire system. It can at least allow a new relationship to crisis and the space and breath for peace. Let's stop letting hate-mongers, of whatever stripe, dictate the patterns of our thoughts, our emotions, our days. Give yourself some real time off; we don't all have to know every single thing at every moment, we don't all have to obsessively monitor, react, fret, remonstrate, imagine. It's possible that starving this amorphous entity of energy may find us re-shouldering a transformed, lighter burden. We all can act according to our highest natures right now, in whatever form that takes. I think that that will change the world, now, when despair is not an option.
Along those lines. (Breszny on the apocalypse within)
October 01, 2001
Laminated poster of the twin towers, anyone? Available on street vendor stalls along with your flag pins, red white and blue ribbon loops right on Fulton and Broadway. Never-seen-before scenes of carnage! 11 o'clock news or linked by your intrepid bloggers. Shrines with burnt-out candles, dead flowers, rain-bedraggled missing posters, and streaked and dripping penned platitudes and poetry.
Kinko's today, waiting for Heather F's 391-page manuscripts to be bound for the Guggenheim (axiom of applying for grants; it takes until the post office closes on deadline day, no matter how much 'time you have'). People making their band flyers, graphic-art mockups, formatting their resumes. meanwhile 100 assorted Congresspeople in yellow hard hats "tour the site." Liz Taylor, Muhammed Ali "tour the site." Celebrities and politicians and heroes striding amid the rubble.
Writing that works for me right now: Zeldman's journal (glamourous life links). Times article on the chaos and randomness of the initial rescue scene. Comes closest to capturing the haphazard personnel (bike messengers tagging body parts; specialized rescue emts cooling their heels on the west side highway; casual vandalism, total contamination of the later sacrosanct 'crime scene,' and elastic time). The latter I know from both the Clarkson work and from Tuesday the 11th when I stood at Washington and North Moore for six or seven hours, near a triage center, waiting for all the lined up ambulences and fire engines to be given the all-clear to go in (anyone not directly on the scene already had to wait until about 6 pm when WT7 collapsed. I watched the fire leap from floor to floor, zigzagging at a rate of about a floor every five minutes), waiting for the injured to come for care and comfort (all the ripped-open bandages, makeshift guerneys, stacks of ivs and sterile dressings, every sort of volunteer cleric, nurse, medical student, doctor) and not one patient. those hours felt like minutes. Why was it getting dark? And why was everyone waiting, rushing from Pennsylvania and Rhode Island in a blare of sirens, to wait in a line of flashing lights that stretched for miles. The utter arbitrariness of cordons; duck into a bar at the right time, and you were 'legitimately' in one zone, pockets of even casual-seeming passersby in increasingly dense dust, crowds further down, the cadre of police manning my barricade paying a delivery guy for a bag of takeout food on the street, him turning around and walking back into the cloud; the mix of mundane and urgent; the crowds of guys on bikes with cameras, angling over and over for a break in the cordon, a cute gen-y guy with no shirt on rollerblades writing in the inches of dust on a parked rescue vehicle; the stringers with notebooks interviewing anyone, everyone, a guy I thought I was just talking to as a person trying to get my name for attribution, then losing interest when a woman near me claimed to have been inside one of the buildings. A sense of pockets and pockets of such penned, impotent voyeurs and would-be rescuers in little deposits closer and closer to what must, surely, be frantic activity. We couldn't all be waiting like a post-apocalyptic de Chirico, could we?
I find myself wanting information of a hard, detailed, and specific nature. Why, if all of America knew there were other hijacked planes in the air, were people in WT2 urged to go back to their desks? Didn't someone from the FAA or whatever call the civil defense emergency hotline or whatever and anyone think to notify the security/emergency people at WT2? And this engineer-guy interviewed on some news show... said he knew immediately the burning jet fuel would melt the steel supports, that collapse would be quick. They didn't have that information on-site? Firemen; aren't they supposed to have experts on how fast/how far a fire will burn? And who set up the ground cordons? Why was the triage center right at the base of a burning building? Who let all those off-duty and retired guys put the plastic flashers on the dashboards and race on in to add to the chaos (I saw scores, hundreds of them speed by. City buses commandeered by squadrons of police.) How many people from the surrounding area died from curiosity? I want diagrams, time-lapse 3-d cutaways of who wa where and who they spoke to and where they went and where they fell and why. A labyrinthine Rashoman of an hour and a halfs' events. The kind the relatives are attempting to construct; the last cellphone signal, the last sighting. Inevitibly, the loved one was last seen "staying behind to help others." How many people from, upper floors got out? How did they do it? Floods of survivor accounts just add more questions. I want a computer-model interactive diagram where I can change the variables until everyone is rescued. The game would be "get them out alive." The elevators that still worked, the ones that became hurtling fireballs. The escape door that leads to a rain of debris; the one that offers shelter. The eyewitness stories of sublime foolishness; the radio reporter who jumped into a cab and ended up running from debris three times, each time smashing open a boat, a store, in order to shelter. His report was billed as "one reporter who helped rescue victims," but as far as I could tell, he ran, he ran back, he ran, he ran back, he took a cab to his mother's.
September 28, 2001
On edge, I took a train to City Hall where things still matter. I wanted to see whether the dusty streets rife with barricades and police were yet bustling with people in suits. In fact, no. Business is not as usual. The Fulton mall area (wall street's answer to 14th St; discount stores, cheap clothing and fast food) had about half the businesses shuttered. I asked two cops whether service vehicles could get in yet. They said yes, trucks of goods and food usually restocked the local service businesses in the early morning. The then told me it was more a question of having customers. "I seen maybe two people go in that hat shop all day." They seemed in a way to want to talk 'about it' as much as me. Did I work in the financial district? Had I been down that first week? Well, I'd never believe how much better it is now, how much better it is than anyone thought possible, all the rubble gone from surrounding streets. I told them that first week was one of the most intense periods I've lived though. They shook their heads in concurrment.
I walked south, several blocks east of the site perimeter, past the Stock Exchange. Traders in blue jackets leaned against police barricades with their cellphones. Almost every large building had yellow barricades blocking all entrances but one. Lobbies and plazas were deserted. The cordon from the crash site was pushed farther back that it was last weekend, I believe to prevent crowds of gawkers from obstructing the entrances of businesses already disrupted in every way. I passed those old-two-storey brick remnants of old NY, now tony restaurants and private clubs; they were open but not at all bustling. The streets seemed about a 2:1 ratio of tourists/curious and people in their workdays. So while it was about as crowded as the financial district usually is, the demographic and tone were entirely other. Verizon vans offer free phone calls; ganga of hard-hats and national guard roam around, buildings are inexplicably cordoned off. Even the expensively dressed businesspeople I saw moved slowly, seemed distracted, and were drawn to the streets with the most appalling views, there to stand still. Most overheard conversations would be things like "..but it was the second tower hit that fell first" and, between two clerical-seeming workers sharing a smoke-break at the foot of a fancy tower "..so you coping any better yet?" She shook her head briefly 'no' in reply.
I walked straight down to the water. East of the Staten Island Ferry building is blocked for a bit, but finally one road offers egress and I passed under the final off-spur of the FDR Drive (still closed to incoming traffic) and walked through a narrow parking strip to a harbor walkway. There, facing Brooklyn, directly to my right, were a line of flat boats with gigantic cranes mounted on them. Long flatbed trucks were lined up, and each would move into position and, in a laborious ten-minute procedure, the crane would locate, grapple, and lift gigantic twisted metal beams from the trucks and swing them on the barges. The truck drivers would pull up about 50 yards to right near me, jump out, and sweep loose debris off their truckbeds. A helicopter flew in between two barges and landed at a helipad there. The farther crane seemed to be loading smaller debris, because with every grapple and transfer, huge clouds of dust would rise in the air. It was a stunning day of dramatic light and clouds. The cranes formed such clearly etched lines on the horizon.
On my left was a pier from which ferries continually loaded and departed, returning commuters to Brooklyn, to Weehawken and points north in Jersey. I believe those are running indefinitely and are free. I walked north now, along the water's edge, and to my left, in neat rows perpendicular to the freeway passing overhead, were containers, gigantic generators. "Plug in to Cat Power" several boasted. (that's must be where she got her name) There were like 100 of these gigantic container truck generators, with logos and license plate from everywhere, just sitting there. Now I'm at the South Street Seaport. An octagonal ticket booth for Circle Line tours has a small sign "Tours are cancelled indefinitely because of the World Trade incident." Instead, another set of ferries departs from the pier. Police everywhere. The restaurants and clothing shops are open, but, despite the zillions of tourists and curiosity-seekers, empty, as is the promenade (the crowds press west, toward the rubble). At the farthest extension of the promenade, three suited men watch with great interest a tugboat, its sides encased in buffer tires, as it docks and then casts off in an unscrutable errand. Perhaps a dozen people sit in the sun, most with cameras, weary, one woman chronicling in her journal. I go up two levels to the wooden deck where more people sit in lounge chairs, more snap pictures in every direction. The restaurants at this level are almost empty.
Looking back, south, at the cranes, they are more abstract heiroglyphics now, just bright yellow boy toys. Some of the views are so beautiful, the cranes with their glass-and-metal buildings backdrop, a view from between generator-containers straight up the canyonlike roads, framed in the distance by a suspended walk bridge. At one angle, improbable symbolism, stunning clouds and light backlit the pefect triangle a crane and its load make, perfectly framing, because of perspective and vantage, the statue of liberty.
I leave South Street Seaport on its service, ugly side, the north. A huge ship, "The Floating Hospital," is docked there, along with its vans and ambulences, but aside from several dockworkers, it is silent and empty. And then, to my right, is the Fulton Fish Market, and, across the street, all its businesses. Turning left to re-enter downtown, I'm in a brick-paved ye-aulde-ny broad alley of chi-chi restaurants and tech start-ups. I see one couple at a sidewalk table, no traffic, and many barricades where phone guys are workign to get service restored.
Now I'm on Pearl Street, lots of condos and terrace apartments as I walk north, just where the Brooklyn Bridge begins. lots and lots of flage on the balconies, and a bit of seige mentality, more trucks and sirens than buses, a verizon van with long lines of residents wanting to make phone calls. I take a left on Gold Street to get a bit more taste of financial district friday. A large building on my left displays a large sign "Yes, we're open, welcome back," but a large bulletin board just to the left is jammed with flyers for the missing. Then I see why; cattycorner to the right is NYU Downtown Hospital, many ambulences parked in front, and its entire ground-floor front facade papered with 'missing' posters. I read these. Some of the people look so damn nice. Some of the flyers have a name and number, others have place of work, last seen, last time spoken to, last seen wearing, close-ups of tattoos and jewelry. Two I found especially moving were side-by-side flyers of photocopies of identity cards and papers of two young Japanese colleagues. Clearly faxed, and more formal than the American flyers, the text was identical "Were supposed to be attending the Wolf Group Conference at Windows on the World with colleague." The flyers gave both an american contact and a Japanese address and number for their company. There were also several flyers for EMTs and ambulence drivers. One flyer said "Is this man among your hospital's unidentified males???"
I took a right then, moving west, and immediately passed a charming little firehouse on my right. The shrine was very compact, almost formal. I passed it, avoiding the gaze of the two firemen in front of the bay, and saw a simple notice up on the door. "Company # wants to thank the community for your love and support. Four of our men died on September 11. We have started a fund for their families, donations of any amount are welcome." I turned around and pulled out a crumpled $5 and handed it to one of the men. "Can I give you this? " I said. I mean, I'd been feeling in a way as though the firefighters' families have been receiving love, donations, and benefits out of proportion to several other groups of victims, but at that point I didn't care if the guy turned around and bought coffee and donuts with that money, I felt very emotional.
I walked back west, straight along Fulton to Broadway, where one of the most striking and disturbing vistas dominates the rising street. It's the entirely burnt-out shell of, I believe, WT4, black girders, a schematic monument to a building. South on Broadway and the businesses' glass is covered with thick dust, still. A J Crew was open, or its doors were, its displays apparently now a memorial; several sweaters on torso forms link sleeves, all covered with thick dust. A shoe store, still closed, its expensive shoes covered in silt like an archeological dig of a civilization of great luxury and excess. (I can imagine the 'nova' narrative about this civilization). John Street frames the other famous view; a stunning single facade lattice rising over huge huge smoking piles, and the chopped-off (wires protruding, form sliding from rectangular to organic) end of WT4. Now I looped back north, walking toward city hall again, glancing west every once in a while for the slide-show, partial views enframed by every cross-street. I was very tired and did not think I'd be back, and yet I wanted my eyes to record, my body to absorb, every nuance of this moment of history, to register.
September 27, 2001
The antidote to terrorism: Fox's 'who wants to be a princess?' (who wants to go to a party that 'only the aristocracy and celebrities can attend' and get a 40,000 dollah necklace?).
The analogy to Pearl Harbor is particularly apt. In a foreign policy course in college, studied Pearl harbor extensively. In fact, there were a variety of warnings. Our choice to recive and portray an 'unexpected sneak attack' was a political/policy decision.
Followed blog links to Salon's topical articles on 'terror sex' and the return-in-time-of-crisis-ex... According to Salon, everyone’s having “apocalypse sex”. I can’t get “overdue library book” snogging. Everyone’s being called by concerned exes; I did not get called by any exlovers but my landlord has called 4 times for the rent.
“Sins of the father visited on the son”
“Hey dad, can I have the keys to the country? Oops I totaled the country” symbolism of Bush in power.
Perhaps Monica Lewinsky’s was the blowjob that ended the world (backlash against gore, bush in power. Total war)
The world's attention has moved on. Blogs, even those recommended by 'blogs I trust' spout or link smug left-wing rhetoric on intelligence (or lack therof), tolerence (ditto), warfare (one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter). Meanwhile, we suffer from sick-city syndrome. I fully expect this illness to be 'discovered' and defined by investigative journalists to-come. Wanting to encourage business-and-tourism-as-usual, toxic levels of molten plastics, solvents, asbestos, and organic corruption are dismissed by government p.r. as 'acceptable'; several million New Yorkers develop symptoms from autoimmune disorders to chronic asthma, birth defects shoe in the 'terror sex' baby boom (Salon sez: 'best sex I ever had; we fucked as if it were the end of the world. to U2 as well'). Last night was my first foray from the gravitational vortex of ground hero or whatever the fuck. I did a soundscape to accompany Heather Woodbury's performance, Track 9 of 12. She did a fantastic job of incorporating 'the thing' without restructuring her entire narrative around it. I'd not read the script, there was no run-through, but it seemed to work. 103rd St, El Tailler Latinamericano. Took the subway home, doors open on the second avenue F-stop and the acrid, humid, rotting smell is so strong. I tell myself it's just the subway, the way it traps heat and humidity and odor along the tunnels with no ventilation. But the odor increases as I climb the stairs, and then I am home, or blocks away and my eyes sting and I want to retch. Is this what I've becomed accustomed to? Was 103rd St., Broadway, traffic city, Manhattan, the freshest air I've breathed in two weeks? The unsaid about the cloud. What they say in those invariably blue-collar communities where smoldering mines or tire piles have become the defining odor, the accepted. What they said in the communities of honest burghers during wwII: "we didn't know anything about the camps. but there was this sweet burning odor."
Toxi-city; sick-city syndrome. Rat poison, mosquito spraying, the cloud. Just shut up and eat your sushi.
listen to/watch the national media for the 'inside the mind of bin laden' special. See eggheads who've 'lived with the northern alliance rebels' opine. Take a gander at airport security. Now walk a block and a half to the candle and flower-outlined chalk memorial at Thompkins Square. Take the subway at rush hour, and in the Times Square station, one of the most push-and-shove of rush rush-places, crowds of shock-still witnesses to the mural of 'missing' flyers on tile walls. Even just around the corner, a score of flowers and candles. The police leave this encumbrance to pedestrian traffic; passersby respect the one or two silent candle-lighters with heads bowed.
The news machine has moved on to retaliation and security; we are a city in a pall. You can't know, you shouldn't know; may you never know. Let you who cast the first generality have tasted not of specificity, which admits no abstraction and does not ease.
September 25, 2001
Went to the Empire State to hand it in in person. Office faces south, and, as the tallest building now in Manhattan, an unobstructed straight-shot view of the ex-WTC; probably a cinematographic view of the disaster itself. I didn't ask. Harold, in a roundabout anecdote (Bill Russell interviews Kareem Abdul-Jabar, says "you're pretty good". Harold says, "so, you're pretty good at this) finally gives me much-needed validation that I kick ass (and have saved theirs) at editing. I'm offered another book, a knitting book. With the tentative economy, I accept. I also find out that last week Heather Woodbury, close friend and colleague, has won the Kennedy Center Playwrighting Award, a prestigious and fairly lucrative grant that I helped assemble for her. Despite my self-chaos, I hope to get her Guggenheim Foundation application in by next Monday's deadline
We are too accustomed to peace and prosperity to take in at a deep level that our lives and priorities might change, whatever our obsession or information-gathering around disaster, war, safety. Witness the customer at the deli where I got a morning coffee berating the counter-guy "Everyone shops here! Annie is so sweet. But you.. you're.. horrible! Crabby! You never get my sandwich orders right, either!" She stalks out, leaving her sandwich and the Korean counter-guy takes it out on a black youth who asks for a straw for a soda he bought elsewhere; "Why you ask for straw! Why you want straw from me?"
Collateral damage at such deep levels and widening, flat surface ripples. What if you were the person who called a meeting that brought people to the WTC? What if a friend covered your shift at Windows on the World (where everyone who was there died, and everyone who was not lost their livelihoods. The Times coverage of this has done a good job of contrasting the backgrounds and resources of these largely-recent-immigrant victims with the top-notch mid-life professional demographic that dominated the WTC workers. Movingly, the Windows on the World workers, from dishwashers to freight-elevator operators, were inordinately proud to have arrived at the defining symbol of american culture, sending money and pictures of themselves at their recognizable workplace to far-off family.) What if you'd asked a friend to run an errand in the Plaza? What if you sold the hijackers their ticket and told them "have a nice day, sir"? What if you'd lost a loved one at Oklahoma City or in the first WTC bombing and had to hear politicians and rescue workers, cornered by the press to describe that which we have no conceptual framework for say "those disasters pale in comparison." What if you've had a loved one die in a traffic accident over this last week, where it seems as though the country's love and attention is focused on one group of fellow citizens and has forsaken others? What if you have memories of previous personal trauma that are surfacing or torturing your dreams? A fire at your house that seems never to have ended now that everything smells like burning, all the time?
We must strike the world as some autistic, cheerful giant; our overpersonal conversational style and consumer wastefulness, our voracious and acquisitive travel habits, our wilfull ignorance of our deeper, intricate, historically complex and often shameful foreign policies, our oppressive multinational branding. And yet our sweet naiivete that our lifestyles are enviable and open. It's so shocking and ironic that it was that very innocence that was used so successfully to use our very own materials, in our very own country, from our very own airports, to attack from within. The cordial and open welcome we afforded to traveling students and businessmen, the belief in universal goodwill, and the inability to plan for or secure against that which is alien to our national character; these endearing, maddening American traits were exactly those that the terrorists enjoyed, exploited, and tarnished. A terrible loss of innocence, one perhaps viewed with ambivalence by even our allies,as if a wake-up call to the consequences of world domination was well-overdue.
September 24, 2001
I saw a bit of hard-hat chic as early as Wednesday the 12th in Soho. Along Canal, entirely a rescue vehicle and heavy equipment zone, tripped a skinny young thing in a strappy, tight black dress and a yellow hard hat. This weekend I took a long walk that basically etched the perimeter, beginning on the West Side Highway, where the sprawl and activity of our relief station has been replaced by a few white tents for newscasters and only a few scattered buckets and boxes of miscellany (waterlogged sugar, a few batteries, one glove, 50 or so "I Heart NY" bags) remain. I wound down through Tribeca, joining crowds of tourists clutching flags and cameras. No vehicle traffic and the swarming curiosity-seekers approximated a macabre street fair. Peanut and hotdog vendors, a gumbo stand. Few of the real eateries open, as delivery trucks have been barred. Yaffa's however, was jammed, with a line for the outside tables, now perhaps 700 yards from the carnage. The financial district defies description; the streets deserted of traffic, clean as a whistle but covered with an endless fine silt, swarming and lost tourists (it's as confusing as Greenwich Village down there), huge generator trucks, cranes, ConEd vehicles parked all along venerable financial alleyways, no restaurants open. How can anyone ignore what's happened who works there, there are no delis for the morning bagel and no power-lunch bistros. Cracked windows and lots and lots of "for lease" signs as if companies took one look, saw their worker productivity sliding into the toilet, and moved shop. The pedestrian barricades to the ever-popular "ground zero" are irregular. You can get very close around liberty and jane streets, and looking west, into the setting sun, the red glare caught metal and broken glass like some apocalyptic heavyhanded movie symbolism. Most people wanted to get good pictures, some were trying to explain the former layout to one another (I wanted a map, it's profoundly disorienting.. where did what used to be?), too many had brought young children, and only one man sobbed, collapsed on a police barricade. Battery Park is a National Guard encampment. City Hall Park is locked up. I walked down to more deserted southeast areas and it was very creepy; nothing open, all dust and echoing footfalls, a mix of civilians and military, all with i.d. necklaces.
I was struck particularly about how the intense emotional energy has been expressed at a remove, and this very close crowd reminded me of the very people who'd be in line to go up to the observation deck on a Saturday. This is saddest around the very closest financial district fire stations. The largest spontaneous memorial/vigil was on 14th St. because that's where the initial cordon zone began. And in Tribeca and Wall Street, which has just opened to civilians, the most decimated firehouses are the most bare of the profuse floral and candle tributes which have turned the city's firehouses into mexican-catholic style shrines of color and excess. And yet the poor working firemen down near the crash site are beseiged by tourists, endlessly snapping their pictures. If you walk from here west along Great Jones, you pass the Great Jones firehouse on the right. Don DeLillo delighted in the firemen and used them as ballast/contrast for his debauched rock star antihero in "Great Jones Street". I walks that block to and from yoga and pass the guys playing catch, calling out to the locals, leaning cross-armed against the bay doors. Fourteen of those men are dead. Continue west and pass the 3rd Street and Sullivan house; 11 dead. At sixth avenue, take a brief right to the Sixth and Houston station. Banks of floral tributes, candles, messages, pictures along the facade over head-high. I did not go closer to read how many dead.
On third street between 1st and 2nd, the largest American flag I've ever seen hangs down from a wire stretched across the street at 3rd-floor height, out from the Hell's Angel's NY chapter house.
Ceremony is important. As in "standing on". As early as Saturday the 15th, I saw one stand-up journalist on network news declare that "there is no hope of any survivors." It was possible that we all agreed, might even say that privately, but it was a huge gaffe. I understood why there are protocols then. It's up to the clergy, the mental health counselors, the friends and family of the bereaved, and the leaders of the rescue units, and our mayor, to gently ease us into that awareness until the pronouncement, when it comes, is already accepted, almost a relief and a release.
September 22, 2001
My tedious, joyless, excrebly-written, and spottily researched freelance project is a medical encyclopedia. I've had to copy edit endless descriptions of pathology, dysfunction. Yesterday I did "mutagen". I've edited so many birth defects (always linked to maternal age and exposure to toxins. I think of the endless X-rays I had during the botched 7 year 'treatment' for scoliosis, a full series of torso X-rays every 3 months that my reproductive cells were maturing. I think of two years spent living above a repair garage directly above the emissions test bay, waking up once to choking battery acid from a melting battery. I think of the toxicity, over and over, of this particular building; the endless waves of 'renovation' with their eye-stinging fumes, the mid-winter, utterly superfluous bathroom rip-out with two months of completely hermetic construction dust and evil drying mastic (got sick over and over from that). I think of the Con-Ed transformer station half a block away and the massive amount of signals, communications, and waves passsing through my body continuously. And now this melange of vaporized jet fuel, human components, plastics, asbestos, dust.). I feel that I've taken my beautiful, strong, pure, healthy body and placed it, over and over in harm's way, as if mocking the gift of life and inviting terrible retribution.
I get up and close the windows and put on the air conditioner. What I want is fresh, new air, not chilled stale air. The bed alcove is still impossible to draw a breath in. Now I find a fan and plug that in. Each of these tasks is absurdly difficult, as though I'm being put through some sadistic obstacle course. This is because, after 4 months of being under court order to do so, the landlord sent the window repair people on Thursday morning. That was the first day I was to be home and able to work, and the two guys come in and within an hour, the place is ..again, for the I don't know how many-th time, ripped apart. Everything is stacked in piles; I'm stubbing my toe and tripping in the dark, there's the usual entropy of things falling, they unplugged everything and nothing works. They put the window gate back in (as a 'favor', it's not their job) without lining up the latch and catch so my gate is useless. I would cry and cry and cry had I the energy.
The landlord had called last Wednesday the 12th, and called again this Tuesday. He wanted his money. I woke up to that call, to a haranguing whine ("I am just like you! I have to pay my bills! Why you not pay me?"), to being informed that the window guys were en route (no warning, which, when I protested, he said "we all must pull together now"), a false alarm, and to the most bogus arm-twisting use of this event I've experienced so far. "We must all cooperate and help one another during this terrible crisis," my landlord said, "You must pay me my rent." To wake up to that after the incredibly dreamlike, utterly exhausting world of gentle interactions and focused physical exertion, was like being socked in the solar plexus. I began to cry as I hung up. "How mean! How can he be mean!"
Since then, I've also had stern rebukes from mr. freelance boss ("when can I expect this work, Heather? we're ready for it now!") and a gentle reminder that my nice, cheap, fallow-weblog host for Cybering has extended credit long enough and needs to be paid. Until I finish the freelance work, I have no money. And I do not know how fast I'll be paid. I thought I was doing okay, the best I could, and all of a sudden, between Tuesday and now, it's as if everything accumulated and gathered and crashed on me like a wave. I think I could cope with the money stuff if those guys hadn't come and trashed my apartment. It was torture Thursday morning to watch the one small, ordered and safe haven I have in this chaotic time turn into yet another dust-laden, loud construction site with shouting men, piles and boxes to be dragged, moved, stacked, the short one singing "superfreak" as a cigarette dangled out of his mouth, waiting for them to go so I could reclaim some sort of work area. At two, when they left, I shoved the couch back against the wall and tried to make space. My cat, who, terrified, had chosen the fire escape rather than behind the stove, then ran in, sopping wet, and ran to cower and burrow right on the pile of work I'd taken to the bed (the durthest place from the windows and only free flat surface), so that any vestiges of professionalism I might have hoped to cling to were shot to hell.
Yesterday I worked like a maniac. I applied myself to this pointless busywork (Myelomeningocele is a severe form of spina bifida. Neurological impairment, including paralysis, is common..."). Western medical writing is the language of the passive voice, pocedures "are undertaken", symptoms "may present as," surgery "may be indicated." The language describes a massive, mechanistic machine, fraught with dysfunctions, and riddled with potential and inevitible systems failure. Failure is aggressively attacked, usually with a combination of pharmacopia and invasive tests and surgeries. Side effects, incidences-of, percentages affected, and survival rates are coldly quantified. To read these encyclopedia entries, you'd never guess that the body is an interconnected miracle, capable of great joy and experience, merely a badly-designed vessel prone to breakdown and decay, and in need of teams of experts to patch and refit. So I did 7 hours of this dreck, amazed I could concentrate, that I could make myself. I had promised it absolutely by this afternoon and sent if off on bike with a friend. Why they didn't send messenger pick-up if they were so all-fire wanting it, I don't know.
I then fell, amid my personal rubble, deeply deeply asleep. I was woken at 7pm by an angry Harold (boss). Was I ever going to get this to them? I grabbed the phone. (Do NOT try to have a professional call with someone very anxious from a dead sleep start.) "You have that. I sent it at 4:30" I said. The I saw it back on my desk, like some sort of looped nightmare. He was complaining that my phone had been busy, and clearly didn't believe the work was done. I was somewhat groggily incoherent and completely confused. I did ask the pertinent question: "Is the building easy to get into?" "Yes" he said. Later, I had a fight with the friend who'd biked the package over for me. The publisher is based in the Empire State Building. My friend spent an hour trying to convince the beefed-up security that this package was much-desired and important. No one could reach me because I'd been online so I could look stuff up, and, once the huge work push was done, just fell fast asleep with the phone busy. The security people would not take the package up, they would not bring the recipient down, they did make a call to the floor where a woman from an adjacent office, who clearly didn't want to get involved, swore that the floor was deserted. My friend brought the package back without waking me, and Harold waited two more hours for it before I was bumped offline and he could call in a panic. What I should have said was: "I completed the work and made a good faith effort to get it to you although it was your responsibility to send a messenger. I am now, deservedly, dead asleep and it's none of your business about my phone habits. It's Friday night and my time is my own now."
This, the horrific air quality, and the ersatz 'security' everywhere, is so tawdry and sad a fallout from this overwhelming and occasionally ennobling tragedy. The petty autocrats at the Empire State apparently are waving anyone with a plastic id badge from anywhere on through, while hassling people with legitimate and pressing business. That's not security (anyone with an id badge of any kind can waltz in with a bomb, despite the cordoned-off street and the huge line).. that's the sort of arbitrary bureaucratic fascism that characterized lower-levelNazi guards, and the border patrol of East Berlin. The way that millions of people throughout history have lived, among and between arbitrary atrocities, senseless restrictions on movement and behavior, chance-laden interactions and risks. (presenting id in wartime; crossing the border. who will be pulled out and shot? who will be waved on through? whose smuggled provisions will be confiscated and who thrown in a camp?). I understand this wave of locking-the-barn-door-after-the-horse-has-gone 'security,'but the ratio of effective activity to arbitrary, panic-driven intrusion is very very low. I do not think things are now safer, although I think they are considerably less trusting, free, open, and wonderfully, naiively, American.
September 20, 2001
Today I feel lost and sad. I am utterly unable to focus on work. It rained quite hard through the day and I imagine that the relief depot effort ended with a whimper rather than a bang. As it was ad-hoc, I have no contacts to have a drink with, no last harrah as we fold the last tent up. I imagine the roadway now darkened, the truckers who counted on comfort and cough drops driving into the perimeter in silence. These are the days that routine, a full-time job, structure, family would be of enormous help. The way that things have not changed, and yet the ways they have, would be more evident, less solitary and subjective. Freelancing is lonely and amorphous. Oh, to end a fractured workday of mutual distraction and unproductivity with a beer and some friends. Oh, to be a scholar or policymaker or have some position of responsibility and decisionmaking that matches my desire to act with purpose. Today's Times had an article about people returning to their apartments in lower Manhattan and had a picture of Yaffa of Yaffa's, the ubiquitous doyenne of weird (she was on the cover of the style section around the time of 100 dalmations, in her cutout ragbag black and white outfit and her brace of dalmations). I was hoping to spend last tuesday afternoon at Yaffa's, where I worked and met Heather W (a fellow waitress). I thought being with a group, having a beer, that close (Hudson and N Moore) would be the right way to spend that day, but the street was already closed and remains so. It's pretty amazing, what's happened to businesses close to the world trade.. those areas are so quiet, like some older frontier town feeling, and the restaurants have become gathering places for only local residents, as no one else can get in. I crave that feeling, because things matter so directly there. Yaffa's had an amazing mixed clientele; many big-name artists and filmmakers with nearby lofts, and fedex people and warehouse workers from the remnants of industrial downtown. When I was in Soho a week ago, the only open restaurant of that entire chi-chi bistro zone was Fanelli's, a nice old bar and basic Italian food joint where I've spent quite a few good evenings (similar vibe to the Ear Inn on Spring). It was almost deserted but open and intimate and inviting, although I felt a trespasser as I didn't live in the area.
I do believe that although I'm not 'directly' affected by this tragedy, that we here have absorbed and are still absorbing the energy of a lot of close-by suffering, that we are breathing the molecules of destruction and death, that in some non-mystical way (more akin to how we have levels of sub-rational senses) we felt that wave of intensely and violently released energy, of souls, perhaps. I now feel closer to understanding what was in the buildings and the character of the people in Berlin, a place of seige and fear and betrayal and rubble and rot. Just two blocks from where I lived was the Sophienstrasse, once the heart of a Jewish quarter, now with plaques commemorating days of massacre. I'd walk down there because it's pretty and cobblestone-y, because it has a wonderful local bakery and an English fish-and-chip place where it intersects with Orienenbergerstrasse. It does hurt that Stefan has not called. I believe he has a new child by now, with his American wife. I miss the community I knew there, how it was always group dinners with freely flowing grappa and long nights of clubbing in the unmarked hinterhof illegal kneipes. It's so possible to fall through the cracks of your own history as if through wire mesh. I read that Ann Carson is collaborating on a performance/opera. I'd like to call her. Suzanne called, wrote, and invited me to visit. Nathan called to report anti-Arab sentiment in his mixed-recent-immigrant neighborhood. Anger from Carribeans who've wasted their Lotto dollars in Arab-owned bodegas, anger, oddly, from Chinese-Americans.
But City Harvest came by for clothes and canned goods. There's a sense of increasing entropy as things wind down, with a lot more oddballs wandering around, some serious looting by gangs of kids who come in the 'volunteer' and then just fill up bags for themselves, and a lack of continuity of responsibility. I was very upset to see hospital supplies out on the front roadway rather than in the safe and separate place we'd put them, upset that all the goods were jumbled and people were opening new boxes when others were already open, upset at the waste (we have made much much trash, half-drunk drinks, pairs of gloves, spillage), upset at the growing hang-out vibe of that certain sort of people at "the office" (people who don't work, but sit with entitlement, surveying their kingdom). Ah. well, that utterly cooperative, focused, and orderly magic of severe trauma has given way I think to a place for people to come and feel useful, but not actually be so. I had trouble leaving, although the Times guy was clearly not coming, because it seemed that at every moment I was heading off a mini-crisis (don't open that! it's labeled, and it's not what you're looking for., here we have open... aspirin, band-aids, handi-wipes...). I also felt responsible for helping to wind down, as we've created this tent city.
Lots of camera media today, with, inevitibly, the least articulate or knowledgeable being interviewed. I understand the need for management and media reps if you have an ongoing thing. Anyhow, it was all wearying. I miss NPR. People outside the area might not know that WTC had the tv antennae, so we have one channel (if you don't have cable), with another local station carrying supplemental programming as a favor. They only began broadcasting the public tv shows yesterday, and the News Hour was so refreshing after the platitudes and lack of depth of abc. The NPR affiliate was also down, but I understand is back. There's so much converage, with things happening so fast, that I miss having heard most of it from the sources I prefer. Also, being outdoors and unwired all day limits surfing and media consumption.
I think I know why I've gotten so involved in this volunteer project. I talked to my mom, who is a top Massachusetts Mental Health Dept. person, and she's been in their crisis "bunker" (it really is underground) coordinating the mental health response for airline emplyees, families, etc., and she said that every crisis brings too many donations to be effectively distributed, too many helpful people with a large element of excitement or crisis junkieism, a surge of activity that becomes addictive (some people's lives fall apart after there's no more crisis to absorb all their energy), an inability to stop (part of her job the first day was to tell emergency officials to go home, that they'd stopped functioning. no one feels they can leave, as if everything will fall apart without them). But for me, this particular effort I got sucked into is very near the crash site, and I think I go there over and over because, increasingly, it's the only place where the outside matches the inside. Where the level of anxiety and activity, urgency and emotion, approximates or respects what I feel. Monday I went inside the perimeter with supplies for the MASH unit for the dogs ( too cute, a mobile dogggie hospital. And even construction guys and emts love dogs; big crowd of guys standing around in "awww" mode as one was worked on). Although it was oddly exciting to be "inside", I did not choose to go back on any other runs. We located the FEMA command station (tent full of serious communications equipment) and told them we needed some help coordinating. All the uniform guys were very nice, escorting us around and making sure we got to talk to someone useful. But the smell, the noise, the pile of rubble that close (I was on Chambers, after that the National Guard forms a cordon), an overheard comment that "even the dogs are getting depressed. They're trained to find survivors and they'rer working so hard and can't find anyone and they don't understand."... all of this was really too much.
September 18, 2001
I'm tired. I can't even approach my work, and I promised yesterday to have it done tomorrow. I finally spent some time looking around online at writing on the event, including blogs, and am disappointed, really. Returns to 'normal' were evident as soon as Sunday, when I first heard a conversation that was personal gossip rather than hushed sharing, and have, in slow increments, accrued. More traffic, horns and signs of impatience, music rather than news coming from cars and businesses, a disinterest rather than urgent acquiescence when I present our rquest for chapsticks and vap-o-rub, hip-hop in the courtyard, laughter, planes, a man annoying the hell out of me for no reason ("what does that flyer say? what kind of music do you like? where are you from? really? with that nose? and I mean that as a compliment. your shoe is untied, want me to tie it for you? you have an attractive look, for a skinny woman"). But I'm not sure I can go down and help any more, even if I have the time. Is it so omnipresent or self-evident or taboo that the sickening smell intensifying in the air is rotting, burned bodies? Five thousand people buried under rubble, baking in the sun. I had a few retching episodes yesterday, and when I got home, showered and showered and threw all my clothes in the laundry bag, and took my shoes and bag which were encrusted with dust, some of which, I'm sure, is creamains, and tuckjed thgem behind the door, near the kitty box. But I could not get rid of the smell and smell it now.
I had my first nightmare two nights ago, after the most fun and best-organized, and human-positive of my 12-hour shifts on the highway. I dreamt that the Mayor gave a news conference, and, in the middle of it, he was attacked, almost castrated. Newscasters intoned "Well, this certainly is a shock. He may have to resign now that everyone has seen him publicly castrated." He was 'upstairs', out of view, but we could hear his screams. Part two of the dream was that my friend Heidi had moved to New York some time previous (she has not) and had a lovely loft, all comfy and homey and inviting, as is her way. I was visiting, some sort of party. And in came another friend, Kathleen. Kathleen greeted Heidi effusively. "I was so worried! Are you all right?" Both of them ignored me. No one asked if I was all right. The feeling of being bonded in front of, and ignored by, two people who once represented 'family' to me, was so desolate. "Am I so bad? Does no one care?" my dream-self thought.
The third part of the dream was the most direct. The attack had just happened, but instead of towers, an entire neighborhood of two-storey houses was in flames. I was with a few people and we were the first on the scene. It seemed to be the 'Russian" section of town. People called for me to 'go in! pull them out!" I stood outside the flaming houses, pretrified. I could not do it. I could not see severely injured people, blood, screaming. I felt hollow and a failure. I woke up with that image, the burning and the screaming.
Of all the writing I've surfed around today, I much like the straightforward, episodic, local entries of Moby.
September 17, 2001
I've been on the highway, breathing the diesel fuel, the smoke, and the dust, since the highway side is a gravel construction site. We work hard and earnestly and with more courtesy and cooperation than I have ever ever seen a group of people sustain. We ignore the groups of people singing America and the flag-wavers and the jingoists and the occasional "Kill Bin Laden" t-shirt. We don't don hard hats and vests and try to pose as rescuers to get inside, as some creepy people do. We organize donated goods and hand them to trucksful of workers, to the cops, to EMTs just in from driving all night from Alabama and looking for surgical scissors. Young hispanic kids in do-rags clean up the area as assiduously as if they were getting 30 bux and hour and their own MTV special for it; drag queens with green hair stress over whether we have enough batteries for the flashlights; a single mom from New Jersey drives in every day. All of us feel responsible for the little areas we've carved out. We are surrounded by mountains of desirable consumer goods, and no one even thinks of appropriating any. When I came back today, after calling around to the Red Cross and Emergency Management and even the press about the chaos, it was to find that the overnight crew had organized everything beyond belief, that individual toiletries packs were being requested by crews, that someone had donated a tent for sleeping and a tent to serve as an office; that all the areas had signs and we had compiled inventory lists; it was to find that everyone is feeling as responsible about this as mega-Virgo me. In fact, at the Javitz Center, where donations and volunteers are coordinated by the Red Cross and the city, they had such chaos that the National Guard took over the operation. And Shea Stadium is overwhelmed and far away. The Red Cross itself brought things by our site (now with a name, called "Clarkson") because we, in the haphazard ad-hoc way I so bemoaned, are apparently the only effective distribution center for the crash site. People are enterprising. One woman brought a shopping cart of toiletries to Battery park city residents standing in line to be escorted to their homes for ten minutes only to get their things. She said that at first just one man said okay, but then when they saw toothpaste and shampoo and aspirin and eyedrops, the packages went like hotcakes. The police come up for coffee and we now have a few of those round industrial spools as cafe tables. This is all civilian, all volunteer, started just as a juice and water distribution from a few people. And any continuity is merely from people's own initiative; there are no founding organizers, no contact numbers. I find it very rewarding right now.
I talked to Hearn a bit two days ago and told him I'd seen no calls for vengeance locally, no anger, even. Hearn said that in a sense the world is looking to New York as a model right now, and our energy of mutual support and kindness might help set the tone of response for the country. No one I have met in the last week would wish this on their worst enemy. Nor would we want to incite a tit-for-tat that would wish a repeat on our friends. I'm tired and apparently my freelance boss called and I'm going to have to tell him that I haven't done the work yet. Landlord called, too, Wednesday. Laundry needs doing, cat box is a bit ripe. Someone should donate free massages. (we can get free gas, we can get free dinner at the chi-chi bistro on the corner. cool, right?) This is your west side highway correspondent signing off (from exactly where you see the stand-up NY reports on the news, the vans are all up and down the street, last night they built a platform right behind us. the camera ights illuminate the work.)