November 27, 2001

Had a very strong nightmare Thanksgiving night. I had neighbors who were close friends, a European couple. They had a sumptuously spacious apartment (although, in real life, the apartments in this building are all the same, just mirror-images on either side). The apartment was so light and airy, many windows, both open spaces with linking archways and nice old-fashioned cubbyhole rooms, all wood, mantlepieces and cupboards. Then, they committed suicide. First the man, then the woman, jumped off the roof. I had a particular grief for the man, thinking his death was a loss for the world; he was kind and funny and multimedia knowledgeable and an artist. They had everything to live for. Their deaths had a sinister, secret, seamy underside vibe.

Immediately as word got out, the building was besieged by apartment-seekers. I'd always coveted their flat, and thought if they ever moved out, I should get first dibs. And it didn't seem right strangers should shoehorn in because of tragedy. So, although I felt mercenary, I called the landlord (who was kindly and reasonable, not my real landlord who's taken me to court many times), and he agreed to lease me the apartment. Somehow I have the lease in front of me (also background of attractive young people in hall, at door, looking for the super, wanting the flat)... and I see that the rent is $1600 a month. I had no idea my friends were paying that much. I couldn't see how I'd possibly be able to commit to coming up with that kind of money. And yet, thinking about being tethered to my affordable, but oppressively tiny, apartment for aeons to come, thinking about this beautiful space, how much my life would change to live in it (faint ominous undertone of menace, however, in the prospect), I wanted it terribly much. Somewhere in here I came across a small journal-like notebook the guy had left for me to find, saying that they wanted me to have their apartment, and had left money for me, and I search the apartment and dark, New Orleans-atmosphere city, tracing his last steps (to nightclubs and strip joints) for an envelope of cash. But even if they left me some.. how could it cover even one months' rent? How would they have that kind of money put away? They lived charmingly, but boho-spare. everything seemed to hinge on how much money might be in the envelope.

While I'm looking for the money, word reaches me from the landlord. I've dithered too long. He just got a call from some absurdly pompously-named guy with a title from England.. who he rented the apartment to.

It seems to me that the key to this dream must lie in the murky parts I've forgotten; a sense that the couple had a houseguest, a woman, for awhile, and she, first, had jumped off the roof. A sense of apology in the journal that my friend was not who he presented as, there was a secret life. The details of the flat's furnishings and layout. And the exact pathway of the search for the money, where I seemed to meet people who expected me, had messages for me. Otherwise, I don't get it. And it had a more horrifying feeling to it than some NY real-estate joke.

The couple most reminded me of Rob and Monique, an impossibly creative and hip Dutch couple who did environmental performance art, video, and sound/light setups for clubs. Rob worked as the sysadmin/troubleshooter/tech for DCTV, a community television production nonprofit in a gorgeous old firehouse. They biked everywhere. Rob was the first man I saw to ever wear a skirt, matter-of-factly, and with a topknot and his stunning physique and chiseled face, he looked like an aryan samurai. One Fourth of July, back before no-tolerance, the firecrackers from kids in the street went on and on and on, and Rob went out on 11th street, naked, and just stood there, still, until everyone stopped. Rob was crazy about Monique, knew she was the one the night they met and campaigned to make her realize it, too. She didn't want kids, but they moved to Japan, and I got three birth announcements, gorgeous silkscreens. The one for Bo, their eldest, reads "Born, I open my eyes to the light."

November 21, 2001

I've been busy, have a large editing project, been volunteering overnight shifts at a red cross relief center overnights, which wipes me out for the next two days, and writing a lot. A big article on police-community relations here in the East Village, which I was really hoping Salon would take, but didn't, and this following piece, which had been forming in my head for weeks and I finally sat down and typed out Saturday night. I was very lucky in that I have a distant cousin who works at NPR and she helped me get it to the right person in time for Thanksgiving week. I just got back from recording it. I had to edit it down to a third of its length, which was so hard, and made it a bit more uniform in tone, less nuanced. So here it is for you guys:

Dear Dr. Scholl's, I'm not sure if, in all the chaos, anyone has remembered to thank you. You FedExed a truck of insoles to an unofficial group of civilian volunteers on the West Side Highway, just because we called you and told you the rescue workers needed them. That took a lot of faith in us, a bunch of strangers with no address, and, as far as I could tell, you didn't ask for a tax break or a receipt or a sponsorship banner. It was nice of the FedEx people, too, I think they bent all the rules to make the delivery. They even came over to ask us if we could use a whole bunch of donations that people had FedExed with no directions except "to the disaster" or "for the rescue workers."

Last week I volunteered for the Red Cross respite center, and I walked home with a really nice guy who'd worked in the sleep center, where the rescue workers take naps and he had to wake them up at the end of their breaks. And he commented that nobody had thanked us. I was manning the front desk, just sitting there, and a group of cops were leaving and one caught my eye and said "thank you". And I said "I didn't do a damn thing." And he said "Thank you anyway" And I pass that on to you. I know that sometimes you're not sure if anyone noticed, if your giving has made any difference. So I want to tell you it has.

The Boy's and Girl's Club of St. Paul's Church in that small town in Wisconsin, you made those beautiful care boxes for the workers with first aid stuff and toiletries. Every one had a thank-you card for the workers in it. Things were really hectic and your gifts got here so fast, we gave them all to the men going in to the World Trade site and I'm not sure if anyone took the time to thank you. I do remember one guy, he came over for some aspirin, he was all muddy, and he said, "Look at what I got". He pulled a letter out of his back pocket and unfolded it. "This little girl wrote me a thank-you letter," he said. "I'm gonna write back." He was on his way downtown for another shift, and maybe when he got home, when he fell asleep his wife or his partner decided to do his laundry, because those jeans were really muddy. And maybe the letter got lost in the wash and he never got a chance to write back. But I want you to know how much he enjoyed getting it and tell you thank you.

And the Hispanic Community of Greater Baltimore, you pulled up in a small white car and unloaded lots of spring water. I know you guys had been driving a long way and there was no time to for us to stop and talk, and maybe you just turned around and drove back home and it all seemed like a dream. I want you to know how personal and generous your gift was. And the big truck that pulled up from Vermont, was it Burlington or St. John's, it looked like the whole town had collected donations all week, and I think you'd been driving around New York, looking for where to drop them off so they would be used, and the unloading was fast. I hope you knew how much we thank you.

And the neighbors who keep the flowers fresh at the firehouse shrines, and the local restaurants who donated so many meals to the police of the 9th Precinct here in the East Village, and the hospitals and clinics who handed out air filter masks to pedestrians, and whoever made that amazing lasagna all us supply depot volunteers devoured, thank you.

The Great Jones Street firehouse has a big "thank you" banner up, I wish everyone could see it. It's a beautiful old-fashioned red brick and wrought-iron building, it even has a little french-door balcony. Firefighter ----- showed me the hundreds of cards that have come from all over the world and a photo of some French firefighters standing in front of their truck which was decorated with both the French and American flags, and the Paddington Bear firefighter that they have on the dashboard of the fire engine. And, amid all the colorful crayon banners and gifts, I saw a simple typewritten letter. It was from a neighbor, a guy who lives on Mott Street, and he wrote "I am so sorry. I wish with all my heart there was something I could do." And I want to tell that guy that he did do something, and thank you.

And, you know, maybe some of the things you sent didn't get used the way you imagined. It was as though waves of love and support were coming from everywhere, by truck and by mail, and waves of confusion and chaos and need and grief were going out, and wherever they met they made a big splash. I know that there were some homeless guys from a shelter nearby who came to the supply depot and ended up working very hard, doing some heavy lifting and the trash removal. We had boxes and boxes of toothbrushes and deodorant and soap and some of the men asked if they could have some, and we said yes. But I don't think you would have minded either, because even in the midst of terrible tragedy, there are many small stories of need. We did hand out toiletries packs to some of the people waiting to get into their Battery Park City apartments under escort, just to pick up a few things. The people of Battery Park City tend not to think of themselves as needing help, so at first, no one said yes, but then they saw the soap and toothpaste and shampoo and the packages went like hotcakes. The Mother Theresa nuns came and made sandwiches and snack packs all day for two weeks, and when our location was closing, there were very many bags of used clothing. And the nuns asked if they could take some. One nun explained that they only own two cotton saris, personally, but "we need it for our mens". It turns out they run a shelter for men with AIDS here in New York, and so the used clothing found a very worthy home, thank you.

And thank you, the nurses who rushed from the hospitals with supplies for the triage centers. It broke all of our hearts that there were not more patients. And probably those supplies were all sooty or got lost and your hospital's supply inventory is all messed up, because it was such a profound crisis and it created waves of secondary crises, of secondary chaos, and still is. But thank you. Thank you, too, to the EMTs and metalworkers who traveled very far to help out at ground zero and then were told there were too many volunteers. I know you wanted to save people and would have worked around the clock, but maybe you ended up like the one guy from Tennessee I met who paid for a hotel for a week just to stand at the edge of the highway and hand out boots and flashlights. Thank you.

And all you people who felt so helpless but who practiced kindness and charity in your own communities, thank you. Maybe someone you knew felt as though all of the love and energy was being sucked up by us here, and that their own loss was insignificant or forgotten. And maybe you babysat the kids or made a casserole for an elderly neighbor or loaned a stranger your cellphone or opened up an extra check-out lane in your store so that people had less stress. Thank you. All of those local kindnesses helped us here, we could feel them.

So thank you to the people who've remembered other charities and more private tragedies, thank you to the people who've been kind to colleagues, thank you to the people who took a group of kids swimming, even though you weren't in the mood, thank you.

And thank you to La-z-boy for those nifty recliners, the workers zonk right out on them, all of them are kept in fully reclined position. Thank you to all of the children who've sent cards, do you know that the fire stations and police stations and respite centers are decorated with them? They have an activity table with colored paper and markers for the guys to write back, but sometimes they're really tired and just want to lie in the La-Z-boys.

And thank you Dr. Scholl's, you rascally catchy brand name, so easily confused with Dr. Seuss or Dr. Spock, and if there was a real Dr. Scholl I apologize, but I'm opinionionated about the influence of multinationals on both our domestic and foreign policymaking, and the havoc globalization can wreak on indigenous economies and cultures, and I'm tired of brand pollution where everything is brought to me by and sponsored by, every moment of my life, it seems, but, Dr. Scholl's, you really came through for us. And even though the word "corporate" makes my teeth itch, it suddenly seemed as though you were a group of people, not unlike the people who worked in the WTC, not unlike the volunteers, people just like me. So Dear Dr. Scholl's, thank you.

November 11, 2001

It's truly disorienting to live in a culture that you don't 'get'. They tell me that Bush's approval ratings are 90 plus percent. But no one ever asks me or anyone I know. They tell me about varying unemployment rates or health coverage percentages but, again, I don't think those figures have ever included the people I know. I thought when Bush was elected that the world was going to hell in a handbasket, and now that emergency-mode has handed him a mandate for the next three-plus years, I see potential and signs of irrevocable damage. Creepy alliances and indiscriminate promises of aid, erosions of civil rights, spree-spending packages without real thought to budgeting or long-range consequences, and all 'sacrifice' being borne by the same people who always sacrifice; the working poor, recent immigrants, the children of poor school districts (of course, we'll be testing them a lot and pulling funding from those schools for poor performance, calling it 'educational reform'). Very disturbing stuff, but even more disturbing is the public's lack of outcry. Does no one see the world as I do? Is no one paying attention? Or do my values have so little in common with my age that I can't even function in this society?

Some critical writing: stimulus package critique. The Observer's war on terror op-ed essays. Herbert -- Shame in the House.