At the corner of Madison and 53rd, near the HC building, there
are three tables set up on the sidewalk outside. All are selling
flags, flag pins, flag buttons, photos of the Trade Towers, and
t-shirts emblazoned with a variety of slogans, etc. One table is
overseen by a middle-aged Asian guy who might to some look Muslim,
and to others Hindu, and who ignores the next salesman over, a middle-aged
white guy who was half-heartedly offering the come-on, "Buy
from a veteran, not from the ones who caused it." And next
to him, two young Dominican women who say nothing but smile, as
best they can, and sell similar merchandise. Passersby buy from
all three in equal proportion, it looks like.
The true spirit of New York indeed
reveals itself in many ways.
Here, descriptions from today's Times,
of places where I passed through on dozens of occasions:
At the northeast corner of 5 World Trade Center are the remains
of a Borders bookstore with many of its windows blown out. Above
it sits the blackened and twisted frame of the buildings, through
which water drips on the stocked cases of best-sellers, including
stacks of new releases. Only a few bookcases are knocked over.
All are coated with dust.
An idled escalator leads down to
the darkened basement, which has become an unsettling tableau
of New York City at the moment that the destruction began. A walk
through the Borders basement, past the travel section and a customer
service counter, leads out to the main concourse, where untold
numbers of commuters and shoppers mingled at the moment the first
jetliner slammed into the complex.
The concourse is a world that stopped.
Inside Sunglass Hut International, an employee's breakfast - three
link sausages and a moldy entree with a fork standing upright
- rests on the counter beside the cash register. The newsstands
still hold stacks of the papers from the morning of the attack.
At the entrance to the Warner Brothers store, the plastic statues
of cartoon characters - Bugs Bunny, the Tasmanian Devil - stand
wide-eyed in the blackness, their faces leering as the beam of
a flashlight swings by, their heads and backs coated with soot.
At the Chase A.T.M. booth, a customer's
receipt - for a $100 withdrawal made at 8:51 a.m. on Sept. 11
- was protruding from the receipt slot. Captain Heintz removed
it, blew off the glass fragments and dust, and placed it gingerly
on the counter with a faint tap of his hand. "This is from
one of the last poor people who was down here," he said.
Yesterday after work I went downtown,
and saw for myself. I rode the subway, the East Side local, as far
as it goes, to Brooklyn Bridge station, and got out. The exit from
which I emerged is located between City Hall and the Municipal Building,
the former a beautiful small building that was built in the early
1800s (the back of the building being built in cheaper stone, the
belief being at the time that no one would ever be far enough uptown
to see the rear of the place); the latter a huge skyscraper of the
classic period, whose style Stalin so fancied that he had all the
seven skyscrapers of Moscow built in, sort of the same form (and
it was there that V & I were officially married, July 2000.)
City Hall is draped in purple and
black bunting. The fence around it is locked down tight, the anti-terrorist
barriers have risen up from the sidewalks (Giuliani had the place
completely renovated, and the park restored, several years ago;
at the time, the anti-terrorist barriers he demanded be there seemed,
of course, a totally paranoiac response). When I came out of the
subway this time, what I noticed were the soldiers. About fifteen
of them, walking down the street.
Police barriers, yellow tape, rebar
etc. are placed throughout the streets downtown, demarcating where
pedestrians may walk. (No private cars, buses, etc., are yet allowed
below Canal Street, and I have a hunch they may never be allowed
in parts of downtown again). Yesterday it had been raining all day,
and the sky was still gray and drizzly.
Everything, still, is covered to some
degree with ash and dust. The streets and sidewalks feel gritty
underfoot, the facades of every building are coated, to a greater
or lesser degree, with a gray-beige film. On windows of closed shops,
messages of the sort you'd expect (positive and negative) have been
scrawled in the dust. The leaves of the few trees downtown are still
coated. Many of the smaller stores were open; downtown workers were
heading home. Everywhere were police, and firemen, and soldiers.
The moment I turned onto Fulton Street and headed east, a terrible
odor hit me, and for a few minutes I began to think it was coming
from the site, but no; only the rotting garbage in the bags piled
along the street that ordinarily would have been picked up, nine
days ago; and the rotting food in the restaurants that haven't yet
reopened. Some windows on the upper floors of buildings had been
broken out; the ones at ground level that so suffered have all been
I walked over to Broadway, which is
as far as you can go, and looked over at what could be seen. There
were plenty of people around, taking photos -- somehow, that didn't
have the ghoulish feeling to it that I would have thought it might.
I even heard one soldier telling a photographer, "you'll get
a better shot if you stand here," pointing out a space between
a dust-splattered mailbox and a concrete planter.
From Broadway I could see the one
building of the complex that's still standing, number 5, no more
than ten stories high, and black (and every window blown out) that
housed the aforementioned Border's; and the huge pieces of the walls
of the Towers. They resemble a pile of waffle fries, except that
they're silvery on the outside, and rust-red on the inside, and
of course fifty to a hundred feet high.
The tops of some buildings are already
covered in blue plastic, I suspect to keep debris from tumbling
loose. One Liberty Plaza, which last week was thought to be in danger
of collapse, is actually solid, although a number of windows are
blown out and it is as gray-beige as it is black. A good thing too,
as I realized that had it come down that would have caused a terrible
amount of damage on Broadway.
With the buildings gone, more light will pour through downtown,
at sunset. It's bigger than it seems, on TV. Much bigger.
Nothing else, really, to say.
So I walked back up to Broadway to
Canal, where traffic was, essentially, in gridlock (I remember when
that term first came into being, in 1980, during the subway strike).
Walked over to Chinatown, where I saw more flags than I have seen
anywhere else thus far, went up past the Holiday Inn and caught
the uptown at Spring Street. Phillip & I went around the corner
from his house, and had a couple of drinks.
I didn't immediately head home. Phillip
lives on E. 27th, near Lexington; a block away from the Armory at
26th. This was the Armory that, indeed, held the Armory Show in
1913. It was built in the last part of the 19th century, some time
after the Draft Riots during the Civil War that were, prior to this,
the most awful thing to have happened in NY. Carved into the walls
of the facade now are the lists of battles in which its particular
regiment participated, from the Civil War up through World War I.
Here, for the first few days, this
is where people in search of their lost would come to report them
missing (over the weekend -- I think it was over the weekend; a
long time ago, anyway -- the pier at 54th Street, which is much
bigger, was so designated, and everything moved over there).
The walls of the Armory, and of the
apartment buildings surrounding, and the telephone booths and the
lampposts, are blanketed with flyers, and pictures, and messages.
Has scar on left shoulder. Wearing gold wedding band. Blue eyes.
Born 1978. Worked for Aon. Worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. Please
call. Literally thousands of them, shingling the walls; all soaked
in the rain, their inks running, trickling down, the faces slowly
fading away. Rained out candles by the score lining the lower part
of the Armory's facade.Scattered bouquets of dead flowers.
I looked for a long time, as did other
people; sometimes reaching out to touch the faces on the flyers,
as people do at the Vietnam memorial in DC. I have seen so many
flyers for some of the people, around town, that they are now familiar
to me, although I never knew and will never know them. On the one
hand I can't imagine what I would be feeling, had I needed to put
up a flyer for Valeria; or for any of my friends. And on the other
hand, I can't help but wonder if I will need to do so in the near
or not-so-near future, or that the same must be done for me. I pray
that it won't be, and then move on, a day at a time.
I went home, and waited for V to come
home; and she did. Every night she comes home (or, when I come home,
and find her there) I am thankful in a way I have never been before.
Next Wednesday she and I will drive
down to Cape May, New Jersey, for our anniversary. We'll return
Saturday morning, and that evening, friends will come over for Fall
Video Night. God willing.
This will be the last of my general
updates, I think, until there is something more to update (and you'll
all be hearing from me as usual, of course). Who knows what that
may be, or when, but I'm ready now to go on; ready to get back to
work, ready to move forward in life.
In the midst of death, we are in life.
Very much love to all of you,