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etched the perimeter, beginning on the West Side Highway, where the sprawl and activity of our relief station has been replaced by a few white tents for newscasters and only a few scattered buckets and boxes of miscellany (waterlogged sugar, a few batteries, one glove, 50 or so "I Heart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.

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