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.)

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