September 20, 2001

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.

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