|It's the weekend after the weekend after the world changed, and I'm determined to try and move on a little. Not, as our leaders would like, to return to normalcy, but at least to try to enjoy myself, to talk about other things, engage in activities that don't involve memorials and tears. I try. But it doesn't happen.
The first Friday evening after the world changed found Posie, Campbell and myself at the candlelight vigil for the dozen missing firemen from our local firehouse (Squad 1), one of the most positively moving but emotionally draining occasions it's ever been my sadness to attend. For the second Friday evening after the world changed I arrange to meet my good friend and occasional music partner Kevin in the East Village around 7pm. But 7pm finds me glued to the television instead: baseball is returning to New York City, and Shea Stadium, usually home to the Mets but a staging ground for volunteer efforts this past ten days, is conducting a full-on ceremony, partly in memory of the departed, partly in tribute to the heroes, partly in celebration of the healing power of sport. (Which, like music, had felt so trivial in the immediate aftermath but gradually came to regain its stature as a form of escapism, entertainment, art and congregation.) So we're treated to Diana Ross singing 'God Bless America,' a parade of bagpipes playing what I always knew as the terrace chant "Here we go, here we go...", Marc Anthony singing 'The Star Spangled Banner,' the unfurling of an enormous flag by members of the emergency services, and the Mets and the Braves - the Mets and the Braves! last year's mortal enemies - hugging each other like brothers returned from combat. It's heavy on the pomp, but for all the flag-waving, it falls short of blind patriotism. This is a good thing. I prefer we confine our battles to the sports field.
Given that major changes to the subway routes had already messed up my options into the East Village even before the world changed, I risk Friday night traffic and potential roadblocks and take to the car. There's no Friday night traffic to speak of, no roadblocks either. But on the Manhattan Bridge itself, I can clearly see the hole where once existed the Twin Towers. I "see" this void because there are kleig lights surrounding it, and considerable quantities of smoke and ash still emanating from it. Our lives must go on, but so must the digging. And the further down they go, the more smoldering electrical fires they seem to unearth. If it's true that on the day of the attack the firemen were "climbing a ladder to heaven," I'm sure for those working at Ground Zero now, it must be like digging into hell.
I meet Kevin at his apartment and we try talking about music. Or women. Or something. But every other sentence offers a tangent back to the present, and we instinctively grab at it on each occasion. On the day the world changed, Kevin had just got to work when the first plane hit. From the 15th floor balcony of his west 14th Street office, he had a clear view downtown of the second plane coming in. He tells me how he can normally control his dreams, how he regularly "wakes himself up" as something bad is about to happen. He swears that as he saw the second plane come in, he went through the physical process of waking himself up. But he couldn't. It is, he says, the only time in his life this has happened. You would hope so.
Kevin's apartment is in the original no-go zone, just below Houston Street, which he says that in the days immediately after the world changed was filled with sanitation trucks awaiting orders to go downtown, and by police and National Guard demanding identification. Unable to travel freely, but unwilling to evacuate, he stayed home for several days, windows closed so as not to breathe the poisoned air. We talk of how other friends have abandoned town for the time being; I say that I understand the thought process, but that it seems to be giving in to the notion of terror. I maintain that if Londoners had abandoned London during the blitz, Hitler would have won. There may yet be much more horror to endure, but if we believe in our city, we have to demonstrate that belief by staying here.
We head-out to two old-time bars known, as they used to be round these parts, by their street corners: 2A and 7B. The East Village and especially its fringe neighborhood Alphabet City have been gentrified to an astounding degree these recent years but the survival of the dive bars is reassuring. These are places of simple character - no fancy cocktails or mood lighting, Djs or private parties, just wooden tables and chairs, draft beer and shelf drinks at sensible prices, and regular folks offering everyday conversation. Everyday conversation right now, of course, revolves around the day that was unlike any other.
The Village is thriving with activity tonight, and I can't tell if it's a return to normality, a necessary congregation for a long-overdue Friday night, or whether it's been like this throughout the last ten days. In times of crisis, socializing seems more important than ever, and while the uptown, upscale restaurants may be suffering tourist and business cancellations, the neighborhood cafés and bars appear to be operating on overdrive. People need to congregate, they need to talk, they need to celebrate being alive, or else they need to mourn those they lost or left behind. Drinking and eating seems to help the process no end.
At 7B, around the 10pm mark, there is much laughter directed at the television. Liza Minnelli, it transpires, is leading the crowd at Shea Stadium though a Seventh Inning Stretch that includes a rendition of 'New York, New York' and joining arms with police, fire and EMS personnel on the field in a can-can. The crowd at the stadium seems to be enjoying the introduction of some levity into our grave proceedings. The crowd at the bar certainly is.
I get home around 11pm. "A Tribute to Heroes" is just winding up on television. It's obvious that Posie has been watching and crying. She tells me that this hastily assembled Telethon, with Bruce Springsteen, U2, Billy Joel and the like, along with all the usual celebrity suspects, has been broadcast on some 30 different channelz, something we haven't seen since, well, since the day the world changed and even MTV broadcast 24-hour news. As the Tribute finishes up, NY1 reverts to its all-news format. The Mets, as if I would normally care, won, with a home run double by Mike Piazza at the bottom of the eighth. Piazza is the Mets' good guy, a young bottle blonde who doesn't conform to the selfishness of your average sports millionaire; intelligent and compassionate, he had already been singled out for many a post traumatic sound bite; he had been visibly in tears during the pre-game ceremonies; who better than to score the winning run? At least this horrible week of dealing with reality has had something of a "fairy-tale" ending.
||A Park Slope artist's painting of downtown Manhattan is framed in his gallery shop window by black curtains and reflected by ongoing street life.
Painting: Robert Weiss.
Photo by TonyFletcher.
Saturday is our personally designated day for congregation, for socializing, for healing and grieving. Our community garden had long planned a harvest celebration and has decided to go ahead with it regardless. In the morning I go for a run in Prospect Park. It's beautiful as ever, the lake reflecting tranquility in the hazy air, the trees undulating in odd directions as its designers Olmstead and Vaux (also responsible for Central Park) intended; joggers dodge roller bladers conducting a 100 kilometer, three hour race round the park, and all of it seems a thousand miles from ground zero. The Farmer's Market at Grand Army Plaza, through which one could once - just eleven long days ago - see the twin towers, is busy as ever, full of vegetables and flowers freshly picked from the farms surrounding the city and trucked in in the early hours. As shoppers pick up their produce, it is almost possible to pretend that life is indeed back to some kind of normal. Except that my path through the crowds is constantly blocked by well-placed members of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, who beseech me to "join God during this time of crisis." A folding table in the middle of the Plaza offers free materials from the American Red Cross on dealing with the tragedy in secular terms: how to discuss it with your children, how to recognize Post Traumatic Stress Disorder within yourself, where to go if you think you need counselling. I take every leaflet. The volunteer from the Red Cross tells me she would like to stay all day, but her car was broken into in the neighborhood last night and she needs to get the window fixed. Perhaps things are returning to normal, after all. Maybe they shouldn't be.
I visit my favorite wine store on the way home. I suggest that with the tragedy - and the fall-off in the stock market - business must be suffering. Not at all, the owner tells me. They just had a week to rival the holiday season. People want to drink. "Expensive bottles," she adds. I nod my understanding. The previous Saturday, we stayed home, cooked a good meal and opened wines I would normally have saved for another day. Did I do this because there might not be another day? No, but I do subconsciously recognize that we must enjoy what we have here, alongside us and around us, right now, and not keep putting it off for an indefinite future that suddenly seems so much more fragile. When my mother was visiting just before the world changed, we planned a night out together for drinks. It turned into an expensive meal for which she picked up the tab and I felt guilty. Today she has sent me an e-mail concluding, "Oddly re our meal at Max and Moritz I didn't look at bill and said I just didn't care and how true that attitude has proved. Tomorrow is another day only for some."
Back on my block, I go to the Community Garden. Campbell helps me pick sage, tomatoes, broccoli and zucchini. I take them home, put them in the pot with some spaghetti, and an hour or two later, bring the results back across the street for the Harvest Festival. Nature's bounty, cooked up locally. Other garden members bring salads, Mexican lasagnas, fresh pies. Most have used some ingredients from the garden. The block kids toast marshmallows and play. We open beers and bottles of wine and we celebrate our good harvest. But the tone is muted, much more subdued than when we had originally intended for musical interludes and card games and the like.
Every time I cock an ear, I hear people discussing where they were, what they were doing, who they knew, how they're coping, and where we're going. Community gardeners being a famously leftist lot in New York, I hear talk of how the War against the Taliban was being planned before these attacks. (This would make sense, given that the USA already knew Bin Laden was behind previous attacks and was in the process of co-ordinating its response.) This line of thinking concludes that Bush is conveniently using the attacks as a pretext for putting the Industrial Military Complex into full gear and clamping down on democracy at home. Perhaps he is, but then again, I hardly imagine Bush arranged for the bombing of his own Pentagon to speed the process up.
|Every statue, every monument, everywhere, has become a memorial to the heroes, the victims, & to a grieving nation.
One garden member wears a shirt announcing "Fight racism and war." I note use of the verb "fight." Another hands out badges with the peace sign imprinted over a U.S. Flag. I'm glad to see the kids wearing them, but I just can't affix one to my own shirt. I strive for peace, I want the world to live in peace, but I don't believe we are at peace, I believe we are in the midst of a war that was not of our own choosing, and that the efforts of those of us who call ourselves peaceful citizens - of all countries and religions - have to be concentrated on controlling the "war" on terrorism so that it remains focussed on the true culprits, the real enemy, and so that the loss of further innocent lives is absolutely minimized. And that absolutely includes our own lives in New York City, in the USA, in the west in general, which remain under constant threat until we can root out the evil behind this.
To this end, Posie and I have already written letters to our Senators, stressing military caution, urging domestic harmony, and demanding a foreign policy that doesn't rely on quick fixes that inevitably bring long-term problems. Thankfully, there have been no rash reactions from the Government as yet, and the longer Bush takes to launch a military attack, the more begrudging respect I give him (or his handlers). As my editor Chris Charlesworth wrote to me, were Clinton still President he would have been at ground zero with a shovel in hand within hours of the attacks; however, I believe he would almost certainly have launched immediate reprisals as well, which would have achieved nothing but to further fuel hatred against the U.S.. The current administration seems to accept that none of its western allies wish to be drawn into an all-out war, and even Bush himself appears to understand that blind retaliation will only fuel further hatred, and indeed that it would almost definitely be playing into the hands of Islamic extremists who long for the provocation an all-out war. Given the thirst for blood coming from those Americans who have not had to witness the utter horror of innocent lives being destroyed from close up (as we in New York have), Bush' restraint is admirable. Then again, I can't help but feel that part of the delays are because the so-called "intelligence" services here (the same ones who apparently had no notion of the attacks) are attempting to sweep up all "sleepers" and "cells," terrorists based here who I have a dreadful feeling are primed to instigate further mass murder the moment the U.S.A. Launches a military strike. What a dreadful set of conflicting feelings and pessimistic forebodings, all without obvious or easy solutions, to carry around in the wake of this horror.
Still, back at the garden, the sun is out and I get to know a couple of young neighbors better. Andrew plays in a band whose CDs I own. He and his partner Jeanie are in the new technology game - web design, essentially. He got laid off a year ago; the week that he got a new job, she got laid off. There were already too many over qualified people of their age and qualifications chasing an ever-smaller amount of work even before the world changed. Now the stock market has suffered its largest one-week drop since the Depression, and as much as we all fear for war, we are all equally frightened of the plummeting economy. Andrew and Jeanie talk about how they might have to move out of New York. As renters, at least they can. For our part, we own a house. Everyone's been telling us for years what a great investment we have, but I doubt that too many people are making plans to move into New York City right now. Economically, then, we are stuck here, riding it out whether or not we want to be. Fortunately, in the short term, we do.
As the garden event winds down, we invite people over to our house. Earlier in the week, Posie had asked what I wanted to do on Saturday night and I had said "Have a party!" I wasn't being facetious. Working from home, I have been far too isolated in my own sadness this past week, I don't have the consolation of an office community. Nobody wants to "do lunch," no one wants to "brainstorm", the few phone calls I make have been finding people as personally disconsolate and depressed as myself. I need to see friends up close, to force a few laughs, to play some music and have some more drinks.
CONTINUE TO SECTION 2 OF COPING: MY PERSONAL MUSING ON A SEPTEMBER MOURNING
PART 1: MY OWN THOUGHTS
PART 2: MESSAGES FROM FRIENDS AND FAMILY OVERSEAS
and REACTIONS TO THIS ESSAY
PART 3: THE OBSERVATIONS AND QUOTATIONS OF OTHERS.
PART 4: LINKS