September 28, 2001

I wanted to experience what the financial district is like now on a workday, before all traces, both physical and emotional, beyond the cordon are erased. Here, things have returned to a more level of testiness, to which I am much more sensitive. In the bank, I tried to use the machine-deposit option to bypass long lines. As I filled out paperwork and juggled envelope and receipt, a woman came over and said "excuse me!" and then again "excuse me!" very sharply. She said "I'd like to use that," with ascerbicy, and I found myself gathering my bag, pen, checks, and deposit slip to move and let her in. Then I wondered why her using the machine should displace mine... perhaps she thought her deposit was more together or she had a more urgent life to get back to. I then waited for her. This upset me more than I think it used to. Similarly, on my way to the bank, I passed a man putting a desktop computer into a sports bag. he then began smashing the bag on the ground from over head height. I said "why are you doing that?" He said "it's obsolete, nobody wants it, and all my data's in there." I said "you can't just erase the harddrive?" He said "No. Is that all right with you?" very sarcastically. I found the destructiveness and waste disturbing, as even older computers have scavengable parts. But it was more the blatant wastefulness and selfishness (this is of no use to ME anymore, so I'll destoy it and throw it away) and, I guess, american-ness of it that struck a bad note right now.

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 " 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

The sky is a bright, yellowish gray; again I wake up to such an intense noxious smell I am sure the building is on fire. Today I turned in the last chunk of medical encyclopedia; the past week has been one of those nightmarish times of working, in decreasing blocs of time in decreasing concentration, then napping, then waking up and sitting back in front of the piles of pages that never seem to decrease. Things I resolved:: never to take work without seeing a sample; never to take work on a project where the amount of editing needed is in vast disproportion to how far along the project should be; never accept hand-editing (my hands were cramped claws with huge blisters); and never work for under $25. There are other things I want to do with the time this stole; and yet, added together, my billable hours hardly agree with the stress and omnipresence of onerous-dreck-hanging-over-head.

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

Things are "getting back to normal", although I'm having moments of cognitive dissonance, seeing full sidewalk sushi bars of chattering young people, repressing or blithely accepting (as if repetition into numbness turns reality into an image file) that less than a mile from where they sit lies an open funeral pyre. The local newscasters are chirpy again, after two weeks of rising to the occasion and acting like real journalists (Pablo Guzman breaking down as he reported the transcript from the level-headed flight attendant who gave the most useful information about the hijacker's methods and identities... "what would you have done? he cried. "she had two young children". The anchors patted him. "Oh, Pablo" they said.) I'm waiting for Vogue magazine's subtle evocation of rescue chic. A model hanging off a fire truck, walking down a debris-filled street flanked by admiring construction hunks, special 'heroine' spreads of real EMTs in hard hats and Versace. I'm waiting for the SNL skit on the eurotrash going through airport security: "That's my Prada manicure set! be careful! That's an ionizer! (as the bomb squad rushes in) That cost me 3,000 at Hammacker Schlemmer! Not my Evian! At least leave me my Evian!"

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

I awake to such choking, acrid smoke that, having fallen dead asleep with light blazing and a vast sense of things-undone, I believe I am on the West Side Highway and I am upset that we are not handing out the respirators fast enough. I had read a Times article about the Battery Park City people returning to their homes yesterday, and there was a picture of a large assembly of them in front of Pier 40, where we used to be. Did they all get clothes and toiletries, I wondered? Was it another case of snafu, where they moved us out just as a huge group of directly needy were ordered to gather exactly where we could have served them? Were they then given anonymous 'help' numbers for some faceless bureaucracy? My half-waking images are of confusion and chaos and a sense of being 'too late'. At this point, in real life, I am holding my shirt over my nose and mouth. I have a hypnagogic sense that it's a fresh white mask. I then keep thinking that 'someone' needs to open the window. Where is the fresh air? It is only after trying to take a few deep breaths and feeling the lungs-burning, terrible and unique stench deep within my body that I wake up fully. There is no fresh air to be had, but this is unendurable. Are those EPA air-quality monitors they keep touting lying to us?

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

Listening to PBS commentary on Bush's address to Congress. I love Mark Shields. I mean love. He is able, succinctly and with great humor and edge and insight, to illuminate politics and national affairs with a sense of history and both institutional and personal politics.

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.

I'm cumulatively exhausted. Today was to be editing at home, but I decided to follow up withthe Times reporter and he said he'd meet me down at the project, so I printed out a lot of info, got it photocopied and trudged across town again (it's a serious 40-50 min. walk and I'm tired of making it). I then was there from 1-8. He never showed up, but we finally got some official liason stuff in the form of a Hudson River Parks representative (they own the land) who'd been at a meeting of FEMA, SEMA, and OEM (federal, state, and city emergency agencies, respectively) where they decided they finally had calmed down enough to coordinate and manage donations flow. She admitted that they'd been overwhelmed and chaotic for a week, and thanked us. She said a FEMA representative who looked at our project and also Stuyvesant High School's supply depot had been amazed that it wasn't run by either the Red Cross or Salvation Army, it was so organized. They thanked us for filling a need/void, and told us to stop. They want the emergency crews to get used to going through channels (OEM) for supplies, and they want trucks to stop unloading at the side of the highway. They then left without telling us where to put the stuff, leaving everyone calling on cellphones. Meanwhile the Dr. Scholl's people were calling me (I was holding the site's mobile phone) to arrange a FedEx of highly-sought-after insoles, and then this huge truck came and we accepted it because these people drive all over the city and no one will accept the donations. We even have gotten packages addressed to us "Corner of the west Side Highway and Clarkson".

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

(6 pm) Spent today making calls to media, trying to return overdue videos to still-closed library, posting info. on some editors' boards, watching non-news news, making a flyer describing our project for volunteers to distribute, and posting some around the neighborhood and also approaching drugstore, hardware, and restaurant owners about contributions. I may have gotten Mama's (yummy soul/comfort food) to take a van of laftover trays to Clarkson after they close. And two shelters seem interested in clothing and canned goods.

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 guess people do what they can. I've not gone above 14th Street all week; I feel compelled to be close to the event even though the Met and the Frick are free and Hearn went up to a vigil in Central Park on this lovely day. I've not been to 14th street where you see all the candles and pictures in the news, nor to the armory where the families gather, and only briefly by St. Vincent's where people waited for the ambulences that never came, and every specialist in the world gathered hoping to be called on often and for a long time.
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.)

September 16, 2001

Although I still want to write a chronology of my experience and witnessing (on Tuesday I walked all the way down to the cordons and was about four blocks away from World trade 7 when it fell, at a triage center there, and then over at the West Side Highway among the miles-long, three lanes of emergency vehicles; I was further down then the stand-up news you saw; they had them penned in up at Houston where there are still sopres of satellite vans. On Wednesday night I was in Soho. South of Houston was closed, in fact, you needed ID to get into my own neighborhood, and until Friday there was no traffic, no traffic laws (emergency vehicles came right through red lights, pedestrians walked the center of the streets), no air traffic, silence. But I happened to walk past Houston and greene right as my yoga teacher was at the barricade to escort her students in, the cops were very nice about this, and, although I did not have yoga clothes, I took a class, probably a mistake as I have never ever been so out of body.. I pulled an inner thigh muscle by not listening to my body. Anyhow, when I came out I was then past the cordon and able to wander through and entirely deserted Soho, like NY in the 18th Century probably, given that it's cobblestone streets down there and the old, famoust iron-facade architecture. I saw only two open restaurants, both thronged with locals watching the news, I felt like and interloper going in. A couple of bodegas, but food and necessities for people south out Houston on the West side were hard to come by. many buildings, like all of Battery Park City, were evacuated. Canal street was entirely heavy equipment and rescue vehicles, a nighttime scene of purpose and urgency, no activity that was not somehow related to the operation.)

So, yes, I want to write this for you and myself. However, I've never felt less able to follow a train of thought. Right now, and since Thursday, I've been involved in an impromptu volunteer effort, which has given me a sense ofusefulness and purpose as well as insight into what constitutes "help". A few things: First, not everyone who was lost has huge family or community searching for them. I myself have worked intermittently at the World trade center towers as a temp, and since assignments come in last-minute and you just go down and no one knows where you are, I imagine there are people like me who were either temping, visiting, or even worked or lived nearby or even came up from the subway at the very worst time, or came over after the first hit to watch and were caught by surprise by the second. lots of New Yorkers are solitary, just go to work and liuve their lives. I'd ask that if you live in the commuting area and have not seen a quiet neighbor in a while, that you make an effort to find out they're okay. I'm especially concerned by their pets. even those with engaged and active family elsewhere, those families could not and may still not be able to get here, and it's up to neighbors or acquaintances to go to the apartments, get the super or building management to help you, and water, feed, and walk the pets. the ASPCA has a help center and database for this, please see their webpage, call your local chapter, or go through AOL's surprisingly good resource page to find the numbers. Many animals are still trapped in evacuated buildings, and, in the cases where their owners are lost, the center may not have information to locate the pets (there are special escort police officers for this, and with the information, they try to get in and bring pets out.) Secondly, I've been over on the west Side Highway with a civilian group, not organized through the Red Cross or anything, who first began handing out water and juice to workers going in, and sort of mushroomed to a drop-off center and tent city. It's right before Pier 40 (the Port Authority terminal), a few blocks north of Canal. Now, the problem is severalfold. Firts, the media... they are way behind the curve. if you live outside the area, please do not come in to volunteer. Almost immediately, a lot of police resources had to be allocated to control eager volunteers who arrived with shovels and hard hats as if they could just go dig. Betwen the FBI investigation and structural engineering concerns, and the direct loss of some of the top brass of rescuers (New York City's Emergency/Crisis Chief for the Fire Department, for example, died after showing up in the initial response, along with other top Emergency coordinators, which is impeding organization), throngs of well-meaning, even professional rescuers (chiefs of companies from pennsylvania, SWAT teams from Connecticut...) are more in the way than helpful. Putting people to work efficiantly is very difficult. Also, if you want to help, please donate MONEY. That might seem cold, but the emergency funds and Red Cross are expert at using the money for the right stuff, getting resources to the right place. And.. pleae, act locally. Severe crisis has a wave effect, with traumas and needs at lots of geographic remove. You might think that you need to be HERE, but, in fact, you can do a lot where you are. For example, distant family members may need babysitting or use of a car or someone to do some errands. The displaced people from Battery Park City are mainly staying with friends and those friends might use practical or logistical support. As each wave distant becomes affected, your everyday actions can have a profound effect in a positive wave back. If you're a grocery clerk in Toledo, your kindness in opening an extra express lane, for example, could be the drop of water that reduces the stress for someone involved. If you can't get here and hug a professional comfort dog, hug you own dog; it's a real act, it makes a real difference.

As for our own little operation, I'm learning a lot and feeling quite frustrated. Most of the "official" donation sites are swamped, so people have been bringing even trailor-truckloades of donations to the side of the highway. The problem is that it's the blind leading the blind. We unload the trucks and try to organize the jumbled goods, but we have no database, communication, or official channels for getting the supplies to where they'll do the most good. I spent hours yesterday trying to get administrative help from the red cross or emergency management team. They're overwhelmed coordinating the thousands of simultaneous operations at the direct site. Meanwhile, official centers, like the Chelsea Pier, the Javitz Center, Shea Stadium, and all of the hospitals and the Armory where families come to register the lost, are overwhelmed coordinating throngs of volunteers and donations. Please, remember that the news is several hours behind the curve, and when they were calling foir blood, I already knew that ALL NY hospitals were turing everyone awya who did not have type O negative blood. Similarly, calls for food, clothes, and Union workers all came after the response had already overwhelmed the ability to coordinate it usefully. We really really need a liason with Emergeny management to move these donated goods effectively within the perimeter and to consolidate all of the drop-off points (churches, Union Square, Red cross and Salvation Army). I am concerned about waste and spoilage. I was overseeing toiletries/first aid/ and medical donations and we have literally tons of boxes stacked high, and thousands of volunteers undoing one anothers' work. (We separated the goods and made personal care packages, then new volunteers would come in and grab stuff willy-nilly out of the just-made packages.) We also received donations of high-tech and quite specific medical supplies and do not know where they're needed. Further, unless they stumble upon us, lots of workers or evacuees who could really use this stuff don't know it's there. There have been some nice moments. I helped one evacuee who just happened to come down assemble clothes and toiletries; we were able to give boxes of hard hats and flashlights to construction vehicles coming down the highway, and one triage center finally found us and came for ointments, creams, and saline solution. What we've had most demand for is: batteries for flashlights, ben-gay and vaseline and Vapo-Rub, small vials of eyedrop, hard hats, steel-toed boots, and, over and over, coffee and cigarettes. The guys really want hot coffee, and there are no stores down there to just buy some. And... you'd think with the choking smoke no one would smoke, but, out of stress and anxiety, everyone is. Even me, and my throat is raw, my eyes are gritty, my lungs hurt. So.,. in short, money donations and local acts of kindness are much the best right now. If you Do feel compelled to drop things off, please sort and label everything. Someone has to look at every package and separate the goods, and either transparant bags or clear packing lists really save time.

As of last night, boots, hard hats, flashlights, and heavy-duty work gloves were most taken (we have, as I said, no computer or radio contact with the interior... we have no running water or anything, it's just a hot, dusty under-construction side of a highway), but truckloads of workers will call from their vehicles "water!" or "masks" and we run them over. Respirators, not cloth masks, but the plastic hardware, are very in demand. And, as the work progresses, vapo-rub and vaseline for grit and smell will be more in demand.

In terms of the wave effect I spoke of... everyone initially wanted to pull injured people out; that's the collective national picture and fantasy of heroism. But only five people were pulled out in total. If you didn't get out of that cloud of debris in the initial hour and a half...
So what the donations we're trying to sort and get to the right place are for is for work crews. Meanwhile, we're getting dehydrated and tired, so people are dropping off hot food for us (Katz's deli brought by tons yesterday). So it's like the help gets pushed along, back out from the epicenter, but every bit as crucial. And it's really a crapshoot. People came with a whole vanload of dog food yesterday. Fortunately, I just happened to have found out where the dog food was being collected and was able to send them there. People came by wanting canine booties (the 600 dogs are cutting their fet on glass). We did not have canine booties or canine saline solution or salve, yet I know tons has been donated.

What I've learned is this:: little wrapped gift packages made by church groups and send with letters are sweet and moving, but chances are will not get directly in anyone's hands who has time to read and savor. We've been giving the letters to workers or taping them to tent posts, but mostly we disassemble and sort the goods. Perfumed and vanity items are not of much use. It amazes me what some people have brought down. Bundles of used clothes, unsorted are just so much garbage, really. Large crates of sturdy socks, briefs, handkerchiefs, and t-shirts are, however, useful. It frustrates me that I know that the church group in Wisconsin, for exapmle, bought boxes of first aid stuff, had their boys and girls clubs, make little care packages, and then we basically undo and re-sort them so that we know what we have and it's easily grabbed and distributed. Also, when we load up a truck, I know if just drives slightly further south to another staging area where another group of volunteers unloads and sorts it again. The redundancy and waste of all of this good will is very tiring.

The media has glamorized and glorified all of the volunteers, interviewing people "I just had to be here, do what I could" say weary EMTs from Hawaii or whatever. The truth is, it's a crapshoot who was let in initially, and now is very codified and hierarchical and professional in terms of direct search and rescue. We need help at the more distant points; specifically, I'm going to spend today trying to get us some liason and communication among the civilian donation centers to the more official operations. But the larger thing I've learned is:: collateral damage in major disasters takes many forms. It's cuts and scrapes, it's people stranded in Omaha, it's tons and tons of garbage (do you know how much packaging waste our consumer society creates, when you have the equivalent of several Wal-mats' worth of stuff out on the side of a highway, and over-adrenalined, unorganized people ripping boxes open when someone calls out "do we have any hydrocortisone?" and silly little gift soaps come pouring out into the dust?), it's donated tents and barricades and rolls and rolls of "do not cross' tape and magic markers and posterboard, none of which will ever find its way back if it's not used. It's tired volunteers with headaches opening new bottles of aspirin instead of using the opened supplies from our own mini first-aid station I set up last night. It's knowing that when I go back this afternoon, nothing will be as I left it and it will be all new people.

But here's the deal. All those donated sandwiches and even little packages or barbecued ribs (very bad to hand out; who has handi-wipes, well, we do -- cratesfull, but the ribs station is 50 yards away), people want them, imagine them in the hands of heroic firefighters. Maybe a few of the traffic control cops will stop over, Port Authority workers do come by, and sometimes we load up a truck, hoping it will get further down... but the real lesson here is that those sandwiches help even if they end up going to a local homeless shelter. Huge trauma tends to focus in the mind on specific images, a certain location, but it's generalized, and brings home ways in which our society was already traumatized but unwilling to respond. We've had some drifter-types come by and ask for toothbrushes and deoderant. You kinow what? That's not the image those donors had about the destination of their largesse, but it's entirely appropriate, and will be appropriate long after this outpouring of good will trickes out. I'd always thought that images in Samalia, or Bosnia, or Rwanda, or Turkey, were remote and irrelevant; that the only response, if you weren't a doctors-without-borders person or a government diplomat, was powerlessnes and hand-wringing. Now I see that is not true. This is now a global economy. In a direct sense, the people who've died were world citizens (Fuji Bank etc.) or had friends and colleages in other countries. But even in natural disasters in third-world countries, the effect is real, as "oterh" and "distant" as the media images make it seem, and local response DOES help. Here's how I see it. As a dancer with severe scoliosis, I often have back and leg pain. Now, you think, your right hip hurts, you must focus on that directly. But the bodymind is a system. Acupressure, Alexander technique, massage, and yoga all know, and I have experienced directly, that realeasing a tensed-up toe or clenched hand or tight jaw can directly release the muscle system that's creating the hip pain. It's about releasing the energy gently, breathing through the whole body, honoring the connections, and allowing all that is held to flow. So it is here. There is a crater in Manhattan. But you don't have to come here, bring things, know somebody, dig through rubble. It is DIRECTLY a relief if you express your concern according to your best nature, locally. If you feed and clothe your local homeless, if you offer a place to stay to someone whose flight's been delayed, if you loan your cellphone to a stranger, if you drive courteously, if you take the kids swimming; this is all crucial to the relief of the country, and, not in a bogus new-age or esoteric mystical way, to us here. You might have seen the unbearable moving interview with the CEO of Cantor-Fitzgerald (not ONE of their employees made it out. 700 people) in which he keeps saying "hug your kids, stay home". This is not merely the platitude of an overwrought businessman, but a direct insight that it is being good to who you love, where you are, that is most helpful and most true.

Now I'll stop grandstanding. Of course, the best thing for me to do would be my damn freelance work, but I, too, still want to "be there". I'm going to call around and go down and see if we can't create some sort of infrastructure for distibuting these donated goods that will allow for less waste and redundancy and some continuity even as most of us have to stop living on the side of the highway and begin to move our own lives forward.

September 13, 2001

The wind shifted last night at about eleven and acrid smoke filled the apartment. The air conditioner is only partly successful; I wake up with a sore throat. I am fine, everyone I know is fine, and none of my friends are missing anyone close to them. Nonetheless, the city is in shock.

I woke up on Tuesday when my neighbor Hearn pounded on the door to say that one of the World Trade Center towers had fallen; he had heard the explosion and gone up to the roof, then gone for a run along East River park and when he came back only one tower stood. At about this time the other must have fallen. I had been preocupied with both an extremely large work project with an absurdly looming deadline and with Heather Woodbury's performance on Wednesday, which I was to have been in, but we'd just decided that she felt so dissatisfied with the script that she was going to bag working with the acting ensemble and perform solo, with me creating an atmospheric soundscape. I'd been out at Thompkin's Square Books the night before to buy records (Thompkins, perhaps my favorite store of its kind ever, had its closing party Monday night; the store was jammed with hundreds of trendies genuinely sad to see this community gathering place and excellent, personal used book and record shop close) and had woken up before 9 and every few minutes thereafter in a state of panic over getting the sound together for Wednesday and also editing 37 more pages of dry, error-ridden medical text by Thursday.

The shift from personal preoccupation to crisis took about five minutes. I said (to the news) groggily, "Is it real?" and then switched on the tv. At this point they didn't have the dramatic footage we've all now watched ad nauseum; but they were reporting eight planes hijacked. I made some coffee and felt both isolated and in disbelief watching news in such an oblique, impersonal way when these events were perhaps a mile and a half away. I went out on the street with my coffee (holding the ceramic mug). I'm roughly on 5th St. and Avenue A. As I walked down Avenue A, a bizarre atmosphere, a mixture of locals shopping and having breakfast at outdoor cafes, and somewhat zombie-like procession of business-people in suits walking doggedly north. Now, this neighborhood doesn't get streams of commuters; it's atmospherically far from that sort of midtown or Wall Street bustle, so the first sense on the street of something very very wrong was this marching parade of people. I now think that most of them were in shock, because they walked without interaction, without drama or explanation. Residents weren't stopping them or providing comfort, either, it was as if the two worlds, the quotidian and the crisis, were in parallel universes; merely coexisting in timespace as if superimposed video. I saw no shouting, sobbing, screaming. My idea was to go to Tim's, a favorite coffee bar, to be with people, but Tim's was very quiet. I walked down to Houston to a small concrete park. At this point, once I sat, things got very real. A snack shack there had a radio on and people were gathered around it like some 40's Americana image. The sirens, which I had somehow tuned out before, were incessant. At this point, there was still heavy weekday traffic and cabs. At every corner, 20 or 30 people tried to hail cabs. The march of people up Essex (avenue A south of Houston) was incessant and silent. It was hushed, even with the hundreds of pedestrians. I have never seen that many people on Essex, ever. There had been a huge line at the ATM when I went by, which was the only local behavioral anomaly so far. The day was stunning with a blue blue clear sky, but what looked like a diagonal white cloud streamed east in a fat band. I sat at an outdoor table. Everyone (and I mean everyone) around me was using their cellphones. Directly in front of me was the 2nd Avenue F train stop. People kept going down and then reemerging, and I wished I had paper to make a sign to spare them the trouble. Most people had no idea where they were; these were mainly commuters who come in by train, leave by train, and maybe have lunch in the financial area, so people kept coming up and asking how to get home. One woman came over to ask where the nearest bridge was. At this point, via radio, most people seemed aware that subways, trains, and incoming traffic were halted, and were ready to walk home. What struck me was how no one wanted to just sit and rest, have some water. And how none of us residents were pressing for details or stories. Interactions were very New York in the sense of... two or three of us disagreeing about how best to get to the Manhattan bridge walkway. At this point, I decided I wanted to walk more freely, so I went home to get my bag. I walked up first Avenue and saw quite a few people covered in soot. Lots of people had smudges on their pants or jackets, and most men were in shirtsleeves, but now I saw people encrusted in soot, or holding scorched briefcases. I saw one man whose hair was matted in soot and who had dried blood on his white shirt. I asked him where he was going. He kept repeating that he had to get to Penn Station. I told him that no trains were running and that it would be a hurry-up-and-wait situation and suggested that he sit down and have some water and clean up a bit. I asked if he had friends in Manhattan. He just insisted he had to get home to Jersey. He seemed disoriented as to up and down town. I asked how he'd been hurt and he said he'd been stupid. He worked nearby and when he heard the first explosion, he and a few coworkers decided to go over and see what was happening. They were nearing the base of the towers, the plaza area, when there was a huge rain of debris and shockwave; there was no cover. A coworker began smashing in the window of a building on ground level, and they all used their hands to smash the window (hence the blood) and crawl through the window for shelter from the flying debris. He kept saying "That was dumb. I was stupid." We were now at about 4th Street and 1st Ave, and now cops were everywhere directing traffic. He asked the cop where Penn Station was. The cop was like, just walk north, and then.. "are you all right, sir?" The guy just waved him off in a resigned way and continued trudging. This struck me later, in the sense of how eager the media I saw everywhere was to locate people with stories like his, or people showing blood and soot, and yet, in the initial disbelief, those of us in immediate position to provide comfort, water, shelter, just gave directions as if to a disoriented tourist. I regret that I did not make that man sit down and get him some water and cloth to clean up. It was only hours later that businesses began donating supplies, and hundreds of volunteer health care workers swarmed, hoping for some people to treat. But all of the people to be interviewed, the shocked and slightly injured, had walked by us before noon, and the thousands of people, later anxious to volunteer, to help, calling hotlines and thronging hospitals, who felt they had to be close to 'it' (what the media calls ground zero), were left with no victims to assist.

I now walked in a zigzag pattern southwest. All cabs were full at this point, sirens incessant. The local police precinct (whose facade is the image for the fictitious NYPD Blue precinct) was now barricaded off. It must have been about 11:15 am and I was able to walk through that block; later it would be entirely sealed. Again, I saw no panic or displays of emotion. There were, however, police on every corner waving traffic and pedestrians through. Every ground floor business had a tv on, many many people on the street were holding radios. As I got over to Lafayette and then Broadway, there was an ominous sense of suspended animation; Tower records annex was closed, Other Music was closed. The streets felt very much like the night, how many years ago now, after the LA riots, when they feared copycat riots here, and the whole place was barricaded and anticipatory. I'd worked that night at The Blue Willow, a cafe on Broadway and Bleecker, we were one of the few businesses open, and people kept coming in just for human contact and to say "it's spooky out, it's eerie out."

Now I walked downtown on Broadway. At the corner of 4th and Broadway there was a very large crowd. People had cameras and video cams and were holding them high. In the center was a woman who looked like one of those clay sculptures; you know that guy who makes life-sized, hyperreal gray figures in normal activity or in conversation?, well, like one of those. Her hair was completely matted in soot, like a shell, and she carried what must have been a cloth duffel bag, probably once floral or cheery, but that was now encased in soot. No one was touching her; they were gathered as if in a science fiction film around an alien ambassador. It looked like the crowd had formed entirely organically from the nucleus of one man who had stopped her to ask is she was ok, and she began pouring out her story. She showed no emotion, nor did the crowd. There was no group hug or crying or sympathy; everyone stood utterly still, probably no one but that one man could hear what she was saying, but no one interrupted or asked anyone else to clarify. It was a tableau, sort of a respectful witnessing. I did not want to add to the sense of claustrophobia, so I walked south. But I had never seen a crowd of New Yorkers either so silent or so compelled; people usually make a point of being utterly unimpressed, even disinterested or annoyed, by the curious, the bizarre, the famous.

Broadway was deserted. It was at this point that I wondered how the hell they'd made all the traffic disappear. And I'm impressed and grateful at the good judgement cab, delivery, and personal vehicles made to leave the streets without organized police direction. There were no cars parked or abandoned, and that proved to be the case throughout downtown; people really got their vehicles out of the way. The stream had thinned. While I still saw businesspeoplewith sooty jackets over a shoulder, many holding hands with coworkers, or frequently touching the other's arm or shoulder, there now were more people going downtown, people like me, most often on bikes with videocams. Every few feet someone would be sitting on a business stoop or the curb using a cellphone. I was amazed how quickly the businesses had closed as well. The deli before Broadway and Bleecker was open, and very busy; the cafe on that corner was open. Houston, as I crossed it again, was now entirely emergency vehicles, and I was seeing logos from every borough, New Jersey. Lots and lots of people, as this is the Broadway/Lafayette subway station. Everyone was already aboveground, milling about, shouting to other people that the subways were closed, and asking each other for directions, or how to get out. Broadway below Houston was even more eerie. Canal Jean, Old Navy closed, almost no pedestrian traffic north now, but a steady stream of rollerbladers, bikers, and pedestrians south.

As I'm writing this, I'm realizing how much I actually took in. I'm also trying to remember my path and the sequence of events. I had a notebook, but felt sure I'd remember without notes. But even writing I feel anxious. I have the same compulsion to watch the news as everyone, as if I'll "miss" something, although I know firsthand that the news reporters are further from the events than I was (geographically as well), and the same compulsion I felt both Tuesday and Wednesday to go OUT, DO something, take it in. I will say that the disjunction between the generalized reporting, the built-in language and story form and "reports" of the news, and the actual moment-to-moment feeling on the streets is absolutely astounding. It's as if.. I go out and it's one reality, and then come in and have that reality explained, organized, distanced, and codified for me by the media, and it's as if I get sucked in and thing "ah. that's what's happening". But then I go out and, for all the 24-7 reporting, believe me, nothing that you see on tv, the capsule interviews of tourists at midtown, the images of rescue vehicles lined up for miles on the West Side Highway, the stand-up interviews at St. Vincent's, none of that gestures towards how it feels to be here. We have no papers, and the grocery store is running out of whole sections of food. The smoke is nauseating. No one can carry on a conversation without becoming vague and distracted. So much aimless wandering; everyone feels like they are in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing. I think that right now I will watch a short bit of tv and then walk a bit. I'll write more in a couple of hours. Thanks, Heather

September 06, 2001

It's my 38th birthday. Severe blues and pms made the last two weeks distressing, but I feel optimistic. Today I told the medical encyclopedia publisher that I could only do a thorough job on 12 pages a day, thus extending an imminent deadline I'd only been told about Tuesday. Heather W has asked me to be in next week's performance, to be directed by Patricia, a mutual friend whom I worked with way back in '88 briefly in Reza Adboh's company. Looking forward to performing. Large piles of papers and unpaid bills still daunt me, but it's really displaced anxiety. It's only paper. Some day I'll conquer my phobia about letting go of paper clutter without needing to flog myself with it. Went through the usual list-o'-life choice regrets. Going to try to just let things be new. Yoga was great tonight. I have roses and wine and candles. I met a wonderful, inspirational woman at Heather's performance last week -- Beverly Donofrio. She lives in Mexico, is 50 (vibe is 30's), was easy to talk to, alive, engaged, grounded. I went out immediately and put her book on reserve at the library and read it yesterday. I highly recommend it; moving, resonant. Called "Looking for Mary," it weaves autobiography, specifically her ambivalence about being a mother, with ambivalence about Catholocism and her pilgrimmage to sites of Mary apparition. I guess she did an NPR series on this, but I missed that. I've not liked anyone so immediately in a long time, and I loved and identified with her writing. We talked about living/not living in New York. The book reminded me a bit of the impetus for my own performance work, a bit of a memoir I loved called "I Love Dick," a bit of Texier's "Breakup" and a bit of a long essay by Ann Carson about her pilgrimmage following the journey of El Cid which appeared in Grand Street maybe 10 yrs ago but may be in a book by now. I also love Ann, who's nothing like Beverly but has somewhat the same affect on my sense of possibility.

I've always been superstitious about the way you spend your birthday as a homologue to the coming year, and I was upset that icky for-money-only work, being broke, and a flat, eventless summer infused this time. But I think it's going to be okay. So my house (literal and mataphorical) isn't entirely in order. So I'm not the it girl. So I've gone down a few dead ends, blind alleys, thrown away some golden, kismet moments, and ceded too many precious days to inertia and despair or fairly atrocious books. So I'm not ms. meditation, affirmation, essential oils and rare teas, and the discrepancy between my taste and what I wear/own is entirely disjunct. I have some wonderful and rare friends. Beautiful cats. A tiny toehold in Manhattan. And a stubborn, residual belief in magic.