October 25, 2001

Tired of being an intinerant, solitary observer, sans any external validation or context, I decided to write a 'real' journalism piece. And, feeling that I'd frittered away too many years to patiently climb a new ladder, I aimed high. I sent it to the Times. They kind of told me they don't accept unsolicited news pieces, but what the hey. So they didn't publish it, so here it is, loyal readers:

In the heart of the East Village, across the street from Kim's videos and Benny's Burrito's, sits a mysterious brick building, the source of intermittent, ominous hums. The uninterrupted brick fa├žade extends the entire block of Avenue A from 5th to 6th Streets. There is a bus shelter for the uptown M (14? 11?) on the sidewalk. From September 11th to October 5th, a stretch of the building's wall served as the local memorial for the missing; a site for candles, flowers, pleas, and poems. Now, a thin ribbon of yellow 'do not cross" tape attached to blue police barricades surrounds the building's perimeter. Pedestrians walk in the road inside a line of fluorescent-red cones, and the bus shelter is taped and closed. The nation is on highest alert, and the 9th Precinct is protecting the neighborhood's ConEd facility.

Since October 5th, the Friday night before the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan, the heightened police presence and pedestrian barricades here have reflected the mood of the nation and governmental response to anticipated threats. Advance warning of the bombing campaign might have been gleaned when the one patrol car stationed on 5th Street and Avenue A since September 11th was augmented by another, and the pedestrian barricade went up. Sometimes there are cruisers on each corner of the block, but on this balmy October Monday, Officer Rosado sits alone in his scooter on Avenue A and Sixth Streets.

Even Officer Rosado isn't sure whether he's protecting a generator or a transformer, but he is sure that he's performing a service for the community, even if some inconvenienced pedestrians "don't seem to get it."

"Could it be protected better? Yes. Could there be a guy on another rooftop? Sure. Could this stop a truck bomb? No. Do we need more permanent concrete barricades, maybe a shell? Yeah."

Officer Rosado is part of a campaign of psychological, even symbolic, deterrence called "omnipresence," already a tactic in high-crime areas. Rosado explains, "This is a known drug block. Having a cop on the block will stop that activity, not for good, just for that time. We can only protect like three blocks, but we're watching, if they see us here…" As for terrorists? "Can I do something to stop this? I can try. If they see a cop 24 hours a day, they might think twice."

Whether the tape itself proclaims the building as a target, how keeping pedestrians off the sidewalk helps deter terrorism, and whether the police presence is reassuring or anxiety-producing for local residents aren't Officer Rosado's to question. For the time being, and indefinitely, "It has to be done."

While "98%" of the public has been supportive, one or two people a day will "act annoyed;" complain about inconvenience or question the necessity of the barricades. Rosado doesn't get it. "Just comply. It takes 30 seconds to cross the street. What's the big deal; this is for everyone." He saw a special on how they live in Israel last night. They search your bags when you go to the movie theater. "Would it really bother you to be frisked in the theater? A ten-minute inconvenience?" He thinks that maybe we took what we had for granted before September 11th. And that things have to be different now.

"I don't want my family in a mall shopping and all of a sudden something goes off. So I think this is a good thing. So much as it induces anxiety; Better safe than sorry."

This protection doesn't come cheap. While the extra hours everyone is working take their toll on the officers and take time away from their families, they also cost the city money. How much money, and for how long, are questions which will become more important as emergency response gives way to permanent policy. Both the 9th Precinct and Office of Public Information refused to comment on details of how security measures are assessed and implemented or on who is calling the shots and who is footing the bill. Officer Braun at the Public Information headquarters said "We do not discuss security issues." When asked who will decide which measures to take and for how long, he responded "I don't know what you don't understand about what I said. We do not discuss these issues."

So while public policy decisions remain in a black box, Officer Rosado does his job. No one could have anticipated, even prevented, he thinks, what happened on September 11th, and maybe he can't anticipate or prevent a really determined attack on this ConEd plant. "But it has to be done." Before September 11th, someone shoots up a place, you thought emotionally disturbed, now you think 'terrorist.' He saw on the news how people would rather drive all the way to Florida than fly, they're afraid to open their own mail. And electricity is important; for the street lights, for the hospitals. So you do what it takes. He only wishes the pedestrians understood. And the ones who don't get it? Because he's there, maybe they won't have to ever get it. Maybe they'll never have to lose someone they love. " People act all inconvenienced. It's just a block, just a corner."

As much as he seems to accept that life may have to be different now, there's a tone of wistfulness. We should be able to get on a plane to Europe, to Florida, without fear. "Would I want to live anywhere else? No. I can't wait for things to go back to normal It takes a toll. But we knew going into it this was the job."

Behind the barrier tape, the remnants of the untended community memorial on the south end of the building's brick wall consist of two bunches of dried flowers, an unlit candle, and a tiny paper American flag.

October 15, 2001

Irked by the ideologues? Vexed by the vitriol? Annoyed by Armageddon?

No question that New York is weird right now. Sometimes I just sit in my chair and listen to NPR about anthrax or our lack of real intelligence or viewpoint-dissemination abilities in the Middle East. Sometimes I flip from channel to channel (two channels. no NBC, ABC, WB, Public Television) and wish I could see The Mole or even an earnest Tom Brokaw talking about his own targeting. Sometimes I think I really have to clean the house, sort my papers, and resume the circuitous pathway to my Lifegoals, and sometimes I think, like Heather W, that a large nuclear blast is imminent and, later, kids will ask in school, as they might of the Jews in European ghettos, "but why did the people just stay there? why didn't they leave?" I had the thought, stepping out of the shower, what if there really ARE parallel universes; what if I could just step into the one where all energy and resources and attention weren't focused on terrorism and its aftermath.

I've been indulging in gallows humor that seems sidesplittingly funny at the moment but that later I can't recall. It's frustrating, this site. I want to write, need to write, but I can't figure out how to archive, there's no 'discussion' option for feedback on blogspot, and my newish site meter shows, with rare exception, "length of visit," a full column of 0.00.

Here's some links (remember links?)
Times article on Haruki Murakami, who has written about both perspectives of the Tokyo subway gassing, and who sees the current conflict as a collision between incompatible networks (something I've been thinking of. We really aren't speaking the same language. We hardly inhabit the same world.)
Your basic retaliation is a trap article.
Your basic there's a hidden agenda in this war article.
A great Tom Tomorrow comic you've probably already seen.
From the "Freedom From Religion Foundation": What is a freethinker? And stop with the god and country propoganda already.
Saffire's list of questions we don't know the answers to.
Crisis net archiving projects article.
Nonviolence
Roots of Muslim rage perspective.
Security/Civil Rights perspective.
Web resources for journalists.
Amazon entry for The Emperor, which I highly recommended some posts back and highly recommend now.
Slightly hokey but pretty damn nice poem by a Buddhist monk.
This from planetwaves.net, a super astrology site. Eric Francis gives an astrological analysis of both September 11 and the date bombing began (highly technical, so not linked, but the charts echo and reinforce one another), and, in answer to any sense of despair or futility, he invites us to shield the planet. Letting healing and love energy flow through you to everyone; using any meditation or spiritual tools you've developed, spending time with good people or in good places. This is something I've been thinking of. Aside from the obvious media-vilification-elevates-crackpot-to-antimessiah stuff, there's a sense in which so much collective energy and attention focused on fear, what-ifs, and on one person, skews us all, knocks it all out of balance. What, instead of obsessing about (meditating on, because that's what it is) images of horror or hatred, we collectively meditated on the figure of the Dalai Lama (and there's a man who has much to complain about, reasons to hate, and yet channels love). What if we imagined the future we want instead of the one we fear? Not in some ersatz pie-in-the-sky way, but in the 'realistic' and intense way we're now envisioning a loss of possibility and the direst of outcomes?

The collective mind-state of the U.S. right now reminds me of my own family. Any five-cent therapist will tell you that an identified problem member of a family (whether by drugs or metal illness or behavioral disorders or alcoholism or illness) will skew the entire family dynamic. People assume roles, often for life; they accomodate, resent, caretake. The energy of the system is polarized toward and around the problem, until the problem defines the family, and each person's response defines their part in the problem. It's very hard to let go of this, to stop giving all attention to the crazy one or the drunk one, to stop living in crisis or emergency mode, to stop living (and not-living) in reaction to the what-ifs, if-onlys, and but-theys. Withdrawing energy from the other-created urgency can change the entire system. It can at least allow a new relationship to crisis and the space and breath for peace. Let's stop letting hate-mongers, of whatever stripe, dictate the patterns of our thoughts, our emotions, our days. Give yourself some real time off; we don't all have to know every single thing at every moment, we don't all have to obsessively monitor, react, fret, remonstrate, imagine. It's possible that starving this amorphous entity of energy may find us re-shouldering a transformed, lighter burden. We all can act according to our highest natures right now, in whatever form that takes. I think that that will change the world, now, when despair is not an option.

Along those lines. (Breszny on the apocalypse within)

October 01, 2001

terro-tourism

Laminated poster of the twin towers, anyone? Available on street vendor stalls along with your flag pins, red white and blue ribbon loops right on Fulton and Broadway. Never-seen-before scenes of carnage! 11 o'clock news or linked by your intrepid bloggers. Shrines with burnt-out candles, dead flowers, rain-bedraggled missing posters, and streaked and dripping penned platitudes and poetry.

Kinko's today, waiting for Heather F's 391-page manuscripts to be bound for the Guggenheim (axiom of applying for grants; it takes until the post office closes on deadline day, no matter how much 'time you have'). People making their band flyers, graphic-art mockups, formatting their resumes. meanwhile 100 assorted Congresspeople in yellow hard hats "tour the site." Liz Taylor, Muhammed Ali "tour the site." Celebrities and politicians and heroes striding amid the rubble.


Writing that works for me right now: Zeldman's journal (glamourous life links). Times article on the chaos and randomness of the initial rescue scene. Comes closest to capturing the haphazard personnel (bike messengers tagging body parts; specialized rescue emts cooling their heels on the west side highway; casual vandalism, total contamination of the later sacrosanct 'crime scene,' and elastic time). The latter I know from both the Clarkson work and from Tuesday the 11th when I stood at Washington and North Moore for six or seven hours, near a triage center, waiting for all the lined up ambulences and fire engines to be given the all-clear to go in (anyone not directly on the scene already had to wait until about 6 pm when WT7 collapsed. I watched the fire leap from floor to floor, zigzagging at a rate of about a floor every five minutes), waiting for the injured to come for care and comfort (all the ripped-open bandages, makeshift guerneys, stacks of ivs and sterile dressings, every sort of volunteer cleric, nurse, medical student, doctor) and not one patient. those hours felt like minutes. Why was it getting dark? And why was everyone waiting, rushing from Pennsylvania and Rhode Island in a blare of sirens, to wait in a line of flashing lights that stretched for miles. The utter arbitrariness of cordons; duck into a bar at the right time, and you were 'legitimately' in one zone, pockets of even casual-seeming passersby in increasingly dense dust, crowds further down, the cadre of police manning my barricade paying a delivery guy for a bag of takeout food on the street, him turning around and walking back into the cloud; the mix of mundane and urgent; the crowds of guys on bikes with cameras, angling over and over for a break in the cordon, a cute gen-y guy with no shirt on rollerblades writing in the inches of dust on a parked rescue vehicle; the stringers with notebooks interviewing anyone, everyone, a guy I thought I was just talking to as a person trying to get my name for attribution, then losing interest when a woman near me claimed to have been inside one of the buildings. A sense of pockets and pockets of such penned, impotent voyeurs and would-be rescuers in little deposits closer and closer to what must, surely, be frantic activity. We couldn't all be waiting like a post-apocalyptic de Chirico, could we?

I find myself wanting information of a hard, detailed, and specific nature. Why, if all of America knew there were other hijacked planes in the air, were people in WT2 urged to go back to their desks? Didn't someone from the FAA or whatever call the civil defense emergency hotline or whatever and anyone think to notify the security/emergency people at WT2? And this engineer-guy interviewed on some news show... said he knew immediately the burning jet fuel would melt the steel supports, that collapse would be quick. They didn't have that information on-site? Firemen; aren't they supposed to have experts on how fast/how far a fire will burn? And who set up the ground cordons? Why was the triage center right at the base of a burning building? Who let all those off-duty and retired guys put the plastic flashers on the dashboards and race on in to add to the chaos (I saw scores, hundreds of them speed by. City buses commandeered by squadrons of police.) How many people from the surrounding area died from curiosity? I want diagrams, time-lapse 3-d cutaways of who wa where and who they spoke to and where they went and where they fell and why. A labyrinthine Rashoman of an hour and a halfs' events. The kind the relatives are attempting to construct; the last cellphone signal, the last sighting. Inevitibly, the loved one was last seen "staying behind to help others." How many people from, upper floors got out? How did they do it? Floods of survivor accounts just add more questions. I want a computer-model interactive diagram where I can change the variables until everyone is rescued. The game would be "get them out alive." The elevators that still worked, the ones that became hurtling fireballs. The escape door that leads to a rain of debris; the one that offers shelter. The eyewitness stories of sublime foolishness; the radio reporter who jumped into a cab and ended up running from debris three times, each time smashing open a boat, a store, in order to shelter. His report was billed as "one reporter who helped rescue victims," but as far as I could tell, he ran, he ran back, he ran, he ran back, he took a cab to his mother's.