a.m. | the
smoke, the mayor | tuesday
p.m. | emails
unthinkably lucky that the worst of the attack has not affected
me firsthand so far. By mid-afternoon Tuesday, I'd spoken to
my mother, father and brother. My sister-in-law was out of town
on a train to D.C. She was okay too, though Barney spent a long
time waiting to hear from her.
phone was working right. Cell phones pretty much stopped. I
called my boss's house in Manhattan and his wife's friend told
me they couldn't dial outcould I call her husband in Long
Island and let him know she was okay? My friend Jen was somewhere
nearby in Brooklyn, campaigning at a polling station (remember
the primary?), but her cell phone wasn't ringing. The creepiest
thing was that, as the catastrophe grew and everyone got on
the phone, my line kept working, but there was a pause before
I got a dial tone. I'd pick up the phone and an eerie silence
preceded the familiar click and hum.
and then my friend Kelly ended up at my place. We went over
to the Marriott, where we heard they were taking blood donations.
The lobby was packed and they were asking people to come back
tomorrow. We walked back down the hill to Long Island Community
Hospital, two blocks from my apartment. Jen and Kelly get the
credit for all thisI know I wouldn't have taken up the
task of helping with my time if they hadn't been there with
the instincts to do it. What's funny is they later said that
they'd each thought the other was the one who'd pushed
us to go offer help.
was not a lot to do at the volunteer center at LICH. The rescue
effort downtown was at a standstill because of a gas leak, so
the hospital wasn't seeing any incoming victims. Kelly got her
car and tried to drive one released patient home, but there
was no way to drive to the Bronx at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.
arrived to sign in right when the people taking names were nearing
a break, and Jen and I sat down and relieved them. Sitting behind
the table, we suddenly became the authorities on something.
New people kept showing up and offering to help. We asked them
the three or four questions we'd been told to ask, but I think
the main thing we were offering was relief from feeling powerless.
I know that's what that three hours did for me. Six hundred
people showed up at LICH that afternoon to offer help.
weather for the last three days has been incongruously lovely.
The kind of days you spend in a late-summer vacation, sitting
on a beach marveling at your luck at "getting one last good
week." Except for the fading column of thick smoke, the sky
was cloudless and perfect Tuesday. We walked under a tree and
a piece of 8 1/2 x 11 paper fluttered into my hands. It was twice-xeroxed
spreadsheet from 1999 detailing business at some jewelry company.
It was streaked with gray smudges on both sides, random scrawl-like
charcoal marks. I rolled it up and put it in my pocket.
my safe distance, I feel the attack hardest as an attack on
New York's integrity, on my life not as a biological event,
but as a collection of images, routines and expectations taken
blithely and utterly for granted for the previous 34 years.
Pick up the phone, there will be a dial tone. Look downtown,
you'll see the skyline the way it was yesterday, and every day
since they built the Twin Towers, which I called the "World
Train Center" when they first went up. I was five. The
skyline is as basic to who we are here as the accents, the team
logos, the yellow paint on the traffic lights, the order of
the avenues we learn like the list of English vowels, "Madison,
Park, Lexington ... Broadway, Amsterdam, Columbus. ..."
on the subway in Manhattan Wednesday night were subdued. I've
found myself imagining life in Sarajevo or Dublin or Jerusalem,
anywhere where the possibility of a random, deadly attack has
been part of daily existence. The most crass way to describe
it is that I felt for the first time ever that I was in a city
of sad, vulnerable peoplelosers. I know that sounds childish,
but that's what it felt like. A subtler, far scarier version
of the pervasive disappointment in the crowd on the subway after
a big playoff loss at the Garden or Yankee Stadium. I found
myself thinking about the gloom and resignation on the faces
of refugees in news photosthat hollow fatigue that I'd
always attributed to shell shock or the recent loss of a loved
one. Maybe it's the face you wear when your basic sense of safety