It's 8:23 in New York
What I can't describe is how beautiful the day is in New York; clear skies, visibility all the way to the other side of wherever you think you are looking.
Or looking away.
After the long and strange Odyssey back from LaGuardia airport this morning, I went to a jammed local upper west side coffee shop. A family was eating, deciding, loudly, whether to get the chicken or tuna salad; the mother expressed great disappointment that there was no skim milk. The coffee shop was packed and the mother said, "Well, it's OK, at least we're not in a rush right now and after all the restaurant probably has more people now than they are used to handling."
Outside, two guys with work boots and cell phones strapped to their waist yelled toward the coffee shop, "I can't believe these fucking people are sitting in a cafe when the city is being blown up."
I can't imagine Manhattan without those two towers looming over the south end. As I was walking across the 59th Street bridge I couldn't stop thinking of that Simon and Garfunkel song named after the bridge, "Feeling Groovy" ("Life I love you ... all is ... ").
It was hard not to feel like it was a movie and one with an unbelievable plot at that. All the airports closed; the Pentagon bombed; four commercial jets hijacked on suicide missions. The Queensborough bridge was overflowing with people streaming out of Manhattan, a line as wide as the bridge and as long as Manhattan itself. If you looked out to the left, there was a big plume of smoke over downtown Manhattan. You couldn't see that the Towers were not there.
And it didn't seem possible that this had happened either.
Even with all the people streaming out, and the small clutch of us walking back to the island.
The FDR drive below us was empty, with just the occasional emergency vehicle. The UN Secretariat building looked naked, vulnerable. Why wouldn't a plane smash into that while we walked across the East River.
The skies unnaturally clear of airplanes, though every once in a while you hear the ominous swoop of a jet overhead, presumably military. Once in Manhattan, the entrance to the bridge was mobbed. But walking west, people were quietly hanging out on street corners. Most of the avenues were cleared of traffic, except for the sirens or an ambulance or fire truck racing downtown.
While the phones are not working very well (so much of NYC communication is streamed through the World Trade Center), the email is working fine. There are notes of disbelief and worry from people from all over, especially Europe. My friends Misko and Dubravka from Beograd write and I remember their emails when their city was under fire. And various friends we just saw on our recent trip.
As I was walking home, about half a mile from our apartment, I stop by the storefront hair salon of Andrew, who lives upstairs in our building. I had been trying for a couple of hours to get Susan on the phone, to see if she had picked up Felix at school. But neither the cell or land phones were working. When I saw Andrew he said Susan and Felix had just walked by and were heading home. He said he was going to stay open just because he thought people would want to have him there, standing in front of his shop.
At about 6, Felix, Susan and I walked down to the Hudson. I wanted to see New Jersey, to see the George Washington Bridge. The sun gleamed on the water. The bridge was calm. Folks were bicycling and rollerblading. The scene was almost serene; just five miles from the Trade Center.
Uncanny is the word.
What I can't describe is the reality; the panic; the horror.
I keep turning on the TV to hear what I can't take in and what I already know. Over and over. I don't find the coverage comforting but addictive.
This could not have happened. This hasn't happened.
This is happening.
It's 8:23 in New York.
(September 11, 2001)
Today is the next day of the rest of your life
all of a sudden tonight the smell of burning plastic pervades our apartment, making eyes smart. is it something in the building? no, a neighbor explains, that's the smell coming from downtown.
Mei-mei Berssenbrugge calls; she's OK, hanging in a couple of blocks from the epicenter. I say to her I have trouble imagining what is going on. She says, oh you can imagine it all right, from the movies. You just can't conceive it.
I see Andrew, the hairdresser, in the lobby of our building. He says things were on and off today; several appointments were no shows.
"Maybe they're not coming back."
A friend in Berkeley asks me how things are going and I write back. The reply is immediate: "automated response." It is entirely blank.
We drop Felix off at a friend's across from his school on 77th and Amsterdam. The fire station on the block, which we pass every day, is empty, with piles of flowers in the doorway. A wave of terror sweeps over us; after all, 200 to 300 firefighters have died. Later in the afternoon, I come to pick Felix up an there are ten or twelve firemen in front of the firehouse, calmly, so it seems, washing the two fire trucks parked in the middle of the street. It's a relief to see them.
Then we hear that nine of the thirty men stationed there perished.
The most frequent analogy is to Pearl Harbor, though the London blitz might also be mentioned. I keep thinking of something else, not something that happened but something I expected to happen. In the 50s, we were trained to prepare for a nuclear attack on Manhattan. In elementary school we had drills in which we were marched into the halls and all the window and door glass was covered with wood. The events of yesterday seem to finally play out that fear.
A psychologist friend is on extra duty through the weekend. Those at the edge are going over it.
"I may be paranoid but there really are people out to get me."
"It's a bit ominous," a friend writes, "the way the politicos are speaking about talking with one voice."
-- I am just trying to get by talking with no voice.
Many of the officials on TV say we will come out of all this stronger.
But it won't be the same we.
Stronger or not.
Jerry and Diane Rothenberg come by. We finish off the bottle of "reserve" Stolly I bought just a few weeks ago at the Moscow airport "duty free."
On the Poetics List Patrick Herron quotes the Tao Te Ching: "Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear." I can't help thinking --
give nothing evil to oppose
and it will crash the program
the image is greater than the reality
the image can't approach the reality
the reality has no image
our eyes are burning
(September 12, 2001)
Thursday night it started to pour. The piercing thunder claps echoed over Manhattan. We all woke up with a start and couldn't find the way back to sleep.
Andrew tells us the story of a British man who showed up on time for his hair cutting appointment, 4pm, Tuesday. He had been on an upper floor of the Trade Center when the jet hit.
By mistake I first wrote "Word Trade Center".
Tuesday morning I rouse my friend Stu from a profound slumber to tell him what has happened to the twin towers. —"They're ugly," he says, after a pause, "but they're not that ugly."
In the last few days, everyone I know seems to need to be in touch with everyone else. At first, it was mostly calls and emails from outside the U.S. Now there is steady stream local calls: where were you when, how are you feeling now. Every story is riveting, from the ones where the people were alone watching live TV to the many who watched the events unfold, how to put it?, live and in person. Those who saw the towers collapse, who saw the people jumping, were seared in a way the rest of us have been spared.
A visceral need to lash out, to strike down, to root out, to destroy in turn for what has been destroyed, seems to grip so many, grips part of me. When a co-worker expresses just this sentiment, someone complains to her, "Don't you think we need to find out who is responsible before we do anything?" She shrugs: not necessarily.
It's as if the blasts occurred dozens of time, the actual blasts being obliterated by constant replay.
I feel like I am going through those stages in an unwritten book by Kubler-Ross: first denial, then manic fascination, then listlessness, then depression. Now denial again.
I can't get the film out of my mind. You know, the one in which a crackerjack team of conspirators meets in an abandoned hanger and meticulously plots out the operation on a blackboard. Synchronize watches! This image stands in the way of what occurred in the way that a blizzard stands in the way of the sky.
Out of the blue, flags everywhere.
Things I do everyday like make airplane reservations on the phone are now fraught with an unwanted emotional turbulence.
In some ways the blasts are a natural disaster, like an earthquake or volcanic eruption. Though we might wish to fight it, human beings and what they do are also a part of nature.
The "letter" trains are mostly running but I always think in terms of IRT, BMT, IND. Well, the A is OK from 207th to West 4th but the C's down; the D now ends at 34th. The E's canceled service below West 4th indefinitely. As to my local trains, no service on the 2 & 3 and the 1 stops at 34th.
After the initial crash, an official period of panic set in. During this time, all bet's were off. We were told to expect anything, any target next. This period of official panic has set the tone for the days after and may have a more profound effect than the events.
Now, Sunday, it's cold for the first time. The summer is over.
We're ugly, but we're not that ugly.
&, hey, Joe, don't you know –
We is they.