September 10 2010

My 9/11 Day (repost)

(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.

ok bye



Goats says:

I will never forget that day…It was f’ing total chaos (I lived in Hoboken and saw from right across the river). One of the craziest and most memorable days of my life.

whynot says:

i’m glad you (re)posted this Todd. thanks.

Jim M says:

Man … your post brought it all back. M.F. crazies. I want to kill something but realize we all need to be more aware of each other and have compassion … no matter what … and fight when absolutely necessary to protect each other.

Sam says:

I live in New Zealand and I remember by father waking me up at about 5am saying a plane had flown into a building in New York. We turned the tv on and just watched. I had university that day but ended up spending the day glued infront of the tv. I didnt really have any emotion at that time, it was more a feeling of concerned observer watching what was unfolding and wondering where it would stop. That was until they started showing the people jumping from the buildings to their deaths. That was an OMG moment for me. The next emotional hit was when the buildings collapsed and it was obvious that rescue workers had lost their lives trying to save others.

JV says:

“That was until they started showing the people jumping from the buildings to their deaths. That was an OMG moment for me.”

That was my moment as well. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that image or the choice those people made.

Chey says:

I was in 7th grade when it happened. I remember going into my first class period and seeing it on the news, but I thought they were just reporting a fire or something. Our teacher had some weird expression on her face. When she didn’t start class on time I remember thinking something was definitely wrong. She just kind of stared blankly at us. I guess maybe she was wondering what to tell us. Then the school security came in and told us. I remember not actually “getting” what had happened at first. At first I was like, “You mean that fire on TV? But it must’ve just been an accident. Why is everyone freaking out?” Then I wondered if maybe, because of the way everyone was reacting to the ‘accident,’ maybe we wouldn’t have to do any classwork that day. It took a few hours or so of watching the news before the realization of how bad it was sunk in. And it took another several hours for the fact that people had died to really hit. The whole day all our teachers just acted dazed and confused. We kind of sat around and chatted in all our classes, not doing any work, just repeating the details we knew to each other over and over. But nobody ever told anyone else, “I know, geez! Shut up!” like they might have about anything else. It’s like we all understood we needed to talk about it and nobody was going to say to stop.

A sad, terrible thing. =(

Just Jim says:

I was in Staten Island earlier that morning. I had just weaseled my way out of picket duty and was lucky enough not to be anywhere near there that day and was home before it happened. Since my company had a contract with the port authority, I was at ground zero one month later, and on and off for the next 6 years. You may have seen pictures or caught a glimpse walking by, but seeing everything up close and personal is something I’d like to forget. Seeing the wreckage is one thing, having remains carried past you for months is another. I’m all for helping people, but working in an enviroment like that is something I will never do again.

Texas Girl says:

I always think of you on 9/11, Todd, for I know that it was a day which shook you as profoundly as it did me. What a terrible day that was. xoxoxox

Mass Guy says:

On 9/11, I was on the 30 minute walk to the Commuter Rail Station on my way into Boston for work when the first collision happened. Everyone at the Station was silently huddled around the coffee & muffin window, where the clerk’s little black & white portable TV was playing the live video feed as the footage replayed again and again. Whispers of “What happened?” and “Oh my God” began wafting through the air every few moments… The train finally arrived and the stunned commuters boarded, saddened, but not yet in possession of the rest of the story. At this point, only the first flight had hit. Listening to the live radio reports while on the train, the second collision happened and I must have shouted aloud… The others in my car, without radios to listen to themselves, turned and looked at me. I was the one to inform them that we were now under attack.

Arriving in the city a few minutes later, everyone was looking up. Granted, we were four hours away in Boston, but the news had been released that two of the planes had come from Boston and at this time nobody knew what to expect. It had also been released that the F.A.A. had issued a no-fly order across Boston… and it was with shock that as I passed through Copley that I heard a Jet in the sky passing over the city. Thankfully, it was nothing: maybe the last jet to land at Logan or a passing Military plane… But there was a brief moment of fear that the Prudential or John Hancock buildings, between which I happened to have been walking, could have been next. The fear of that day hit nationwide. Nobody felt safe.

May God — or who and whatever you happen to believe in — bless New York City, the USA, this world of ours… and all of you.

suka says:

I’m a native of Brooklyn, but on 9/11 I was teaching 4th grade in Texas. We were giving the kids a mock of their state exam, so there wasn’t much for us teachers to do other than look at our email. We got a message from the school secretary, “A plane just hit one of the Twin Towers in Manhattan, New York.” Honestly, I thought it must have been a small plane. An inexperienced pilot in a prop plane who lost control while sightseeing over the Hudson.

I wrote back, “Gosh, I think I have an Uncle who works in one of the towers.”

Before I knew it, there was a pounding on my classroom door. Strange, I thought, because nothing other than life threatening emergencies are supposed to interrupt these mock tests. I opened the door and my principal was there, telling me to get on the phone and see if my family was alright. I asked her exactly what was going on. “It was a 767,” she said, “Probably terrorists.”

I got on the phone and called my mother, who told me that her brother had transferred to another location years ago and no longer worked in the towers. I went back to my classroom, updated my principal, and completed testing with my students.

I was the only native New Yorker on the staff, and everyone knew it. For the rest of the day, whenever I walked into a room everyone would fall silent and stare at me. The tension wouldn’t lighten until I’d say “Everyone I know is safe and accounted for,” or something like that.

I remember the strangest thing was recess. The school was very close to the DFW airport, so the drone of planes overhead was so constant that we didn’t notice it. But we noticed its absence that day.

Here’s the really weird, ironic part. The following week, we were able to review the test with the students. One question asked them to estimate the height of the North Tower to the nearest thousand. Another question asked how many sides the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C. had. They just happened to have been answering those questions on 9/11/01.

bd says:

I hadn’t listened to Howard Stern in awhile, but I was checkin’ out his show on 9/11/01. When he announced the crash, I turned to the local talk/news radio, NJ 101.5 FM. Nobody was even sure what kind of plane hit the tower. Back to Howard, I heard a caller exclaim that another plane hit the other tower. I think Howard got angry and hung up on him, thinking it was a sick prank. But by then all the radio stations were starting to report it as a terrorist attack. My mother called me on my cell to make sure I wasn’t in NYC that day. I’m glad she got through. At work we watched the news in conference rooms with large video projectors. People said dumb stuff when the first tower collapsed, because it hadn’t really sunk into our brains. We feared there might be 40,000 people in there. Eventually we were told to go home. There was something weird about the perfect weather, the big blue sky with no planes, and the horrible news on the radio. It seemed unbelievable and unending, like living in a disaster movie. You could see the smoke from Central Jersey, and I’ll probably see the tribute lights tonight.

Hang in there, USA.

preacher says:

Todd, I think you are a great writer.

My Sept. 11 wish is for peace. What can you do to make a more peaceful world? Love one another. Think about it!

John L says:

I was listening to Howard that morning also was strange to go from toilet humor to a real serious situation…. I lived on the upper west side.. 97 th and cpw… for MONTHS after the attack I woke up with a horrible sore throat and my eyes glued shut with nastly eye gook the built up over night.. the air is safe, yeah right I never belived thatn for 1 sec.. and the other thing I do not hear much about but was a straong memeory from the aftermath… do you remeber ALL the flyers for “missing people”… with pictures ect… these were posted in the subways ect by family memebers looking for “survivors” of the ters comming down… was very sad to see family pictures of these people posted.. remineded me that it was not just numbers on HLN of dead people but real people with families ect….

Medusa says:

I’m sorry but this post made me cry all over again.
Thank you tOdd for posting it again, we all get on with our lives and forget the past.
You brought it back so we don’t forget those who lost so much that day.
And what is the post above all about?

Medusa says:

right above my post was a post in russian so that was what my question was about. I see now it was removed.
Don’t want anyone to think it was about john l’s post.

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