September 10 2010
(This is a repost from What’s Happening from like 4 years ago or something. But figure I’d repost it for the anniversary this weekend. Also if you don’t feel like reading stuff– here‘s a coolio NYT interactive feature about wtf is being built down at the wtc site ..)
So back then I was unemployed and living in Manhattan in the West Village downtown. I woke up sometime after nine and turned on my clock radio which was tuned to Howard Stern. I was half-asleep sort of listening to him go on and on about a terrorist attack on the Trade Center. He was ranting about how we should start ‘nuke-ing’ Iraq and Iran immediately or something. The first thing I thought of was I was just listening to a re-broadcast from the ’93 Trade Center attack. (Howard runs reruns when he’s on vacation). Then all of a sudden I realized that Howard was not on vacation! I was very aware of his schedule! It was live! Then my phone rang.
I jumped out of bed and turned on the TV and picked up the phone. I saw on the TV that both towers had big holes in them and they were on fire. My friend on the phone was asking if I was seeing this. I told him I was and I was ok but needed to go down to the street and I hung up on him. I was a mile or so up the street from the towers and wanted to see things with my own eyes. I ran down the stairs and out the door. There was a big group of people out in the street staring up toward the end of the city.
I didn’t really believe it was a terrorist attack at first. I assumed it was major screwup by air traffic control or something. I remember thinking that someone somewhere was totally gonna get super fired. Sirens were all around and cops and fire trucks and ambulances were all heading down there. And I just remember looking at those big holes and wondering how the hell they were gonna get up there to put out the fires and fix them up. I thought about the idea of super tall scaffolding. I thought about ‘water helicopters’. It didn’t really click in at all that people were hurt or dead. I was in denial on all that. I was busy thinking if it was possible to build scaffolding from the top of the building down… or something.
The crowd of us on the street weren’t really talking much just sort of saying, ‘Oh my god…’ And ‘What happened?’ I just stood there staring at buildings constructing various ridiculous plans to fix them. And how it would be cool to watch that repair go on. Then some foreign dude was listening to his walkman turned to me in a deep accent and said, ‘Pentagon is on fire now!’ I was like, ‘Oh yeah?’ thinking, ‘Man, this dude thinks the Trade Center is the friggin Pentagon…?’
That morning, for some reason a friend of mine was coming over around 10 to use my computer for something. I looked at my watch and headed back toward my apartment to not leave her hanging. I was totally in a fog. Nothing seemed real at all. I remember my feet felt weird stepping on the ground. Before going upstairs I wandered in the muffin place on the corner to get a cup of coffee. I said to the guy behind the counter, ‘Crazy morning, huh?’ He gave me my change and didn’t say anything. I don’t even think he saw me at all.
I headed up to my apartment and my friend was inside my place already. (I apparently ran outside earlier and just left the door wide open). She was sitting in front of my tv and I sat down next to her. She had some muffins or something. I ate some but wasn’t hungry. It started to sink in that everything was officially going nuts. I felt weird staying inside watching TV. I felt like I needed to be out. I needed air. I didn’t feel sad (that came later) I just felt mental. I remembered that I had access to the roof of my building and could see the towers from there. So we headed on up.
When we got to the roof some of my neighbors were already up there and most had cameras. I thought about heading back downstairs to get my camera but something seemed weird about that. Like I shouldn’t be so concerned with snapshots. So we just went to the ledgewall of the building and looked out at the towers. Apparently while we were heading up the stairs one of the towers had just collapsed. It was hard to tell at first because there was so much smoke. But then I saw blue sky peeking through where the tower was and realized it was gone. And I remember that moment being the first time I wasn’t just amazed and wild eyed by everything. It was the first time I actually felt scared. For me personally.
The group of us on the roof stared away at the remaining tower barely talking about anything. Occasionally saying something like, ‘Whatever this is. It changes everything.’ Stuff like that. But we weren’t so chatty. I stared at that second tower and started focusing on the edge of the building. Wondering if it was gonna collapse too. And then the mushroom cloud formed and the thing just went down. The sounds we all made as it went down mushed into one big groan. After the smoke settled down I headed back downstairs to my apartment and my friend headed off to see people.
After calling around to try and track down some friends that worked downtown to check in to see if they were ok, I just sat and watched TV for a while. Then I put on my rollerblades and decided to try and get downtown. On the way, I stopped in on a friend of mine who lived nearby. She answered the door in bad shape. She looked like she’d been crying non-stop for hours. We were in different places. I was sort of buzzed on the excitement of it all and keeping real reality out. But she was totally on the other side along the lines of ‘how can people be so bad to people’ and was down on all humanity. I told her to put on her rollerblades and come downtown with me. She refused at first but I convinced her. I told her I wanted to get close to the rubble. She wasn’t so into that but came along anyway.
The two of us rollerbladed downtown and by then that police had barricaded off an area around the site. I remember feeling sorta of surprised that there wasn’t a massive pile of steel and office stuff. I expected it to be a big mess twentystories tall with like computer monitors and chairs and stuff. But the pile looked way too low and small for two gigundo skyscrapers. It didn’t look like there was enough stuff. A crowd was down there staring and just trying to figure out what we were looking at. Then cops shoed people away. And we rollerbladed home and back to our places.
That night was one of the harder times to be single. It was weird not having someone there to add up on everything. And do it and stuff. So on TV time-outs I just wandered around my neighborhood looking everything and everyone. Thinking it was weird that restaurants were open. I remember the smell of the air and color of the air. It was yellowish and smelled like rotten eggs and melted plastic with a bad chemicalness. It looked weird in the streetlights. The smell was totally unfamiliar. Like toxic alien fuel burn. Whatever it was in there, it was way obvious that the smell was super wrong. Plus the air had friggin color in it! Yellow haze! And this was over a mile away. ‘The air is safe…’ was such a lie. There was no way. It was awful and it smelled real bad for at least a month or so.
Anyway, that’s what happened with that that day. I spent the next few weeks crying and clapping at worker trucks on the West Side Highway. And looking at missing person flyers. It does seem like a long time ago now. I guess it was. Five years is a while. I still miss those big dorky towers. I used them all the time to get my sense of direction when lost in the city– I’d look to them and they’d always tell me which way was up.