Archive for September, 2011

Letter From New York

September 19, 2011

September 17, 2011
Or, as it seems to me…

My own private 9/11…

One of the most vivid memories of the time of 9/11 came on the 12th. It was morning, and I walked out on to Spring Street, where we lived at the time and walked up and down the street. I paused, across the street from our apartment, and my mind took a mental snapshot of the moment. Ever seen ON THE BEACH, the 1959 apocalyptic film with Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck? In the final frames, the camera pans deserted streets; everyone is dead, there is only the wind, loose paper blowing like tumbleweed, desolation without destruction.

That was Spring Street that day and my mind took a black and white photo of that moment, which remains with me today. The street was empty; I was the only person on it. Bits of paper from the Towers blew down the street; there was no sound but for the wind and the air was heavy with the smell of melted plastic. The moment seared itself to my brain.

So it was that on 9/11I wanted to go back there, to stand in the same place that I had when my mind captured that moment, to capture a new photo, not to supplant the old but to add to it.

So I went there, found the place I had stood, and captured the moment. This time it was a color shot, of a street full of people, of cars and taxis moving east, a feast of visuals and a mélange of languages, of laughing people, street vendors with jewelry, none hawking, that I could see, souvenirs of “9/11” – those bits of plastic engraved with Tower Images, dramatic photos of the buildings before their fall, of dramatic shots of fire fighters or of smoking buildings after the attacks. Nope, not that day, not that street.

I walked down to the Manhattan Bistro, still there after all these years, owned by a Frenchwoman named Maria who had it re-opened as soon as she could, perhaps only a day or two later, determined to be there for her clientele. We sat there often; drink in hand, not saying much that I recall. When I arrived, I recognized the woman behind the bar; it was Maria, Maria’s daughter. I asked after her mother and was saddened to hear she had passed on August 17th; I had hoped to see her. One of the waiters, a busboy then, came over and held my hands and told me it was good to see me. He asked after Al, my former partner. I told him he was now in DC. He smiled and then moved on; I was left warmed by the fact he had remembered us and seemingly well.

My friend Rita Mullin was in town and she wanted to see me but respected that I might want to be alone that day. At first I thought I would but then determined that I really didn’t want to be alone. Sport that she is, she tucked herself in a taxi and met me there, arriving with her son Matt, who has become my friend also.

We talked about 9/11 but it was background and didn’t, as I now recall, completely dominate the conversation. I realized that their presence and our talk helped me bridge the days, the 9/11 that was and the 9/11 I was currently living. The photograph in my mind was not black and white; it was color. It was not of desolation now but of life in all its annoying Soho grandeur, noisy crowds and boisterous sidewalk sellers of art and jewelry – life.

I was glad for that, glad that my friends were with me for that moment and glad I could appreciate their presence.

There is a great line from THE GO-BETWEEN, a film written by Harold Pinter. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” It is my solemn hope that ultimately “9/11” will become a foreign country and that the one we will be living in will be that better place we can still find after all this tragedy.

My Paper today

September 13, 2011

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Letter From New York September 8, 2011

September 8, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…

I am sitting on Labor Day afternoon at the bar of Café du Soleil, my favorite Bistro on the Upper West Side, a place I know because of my friend Lionel, who is sitting next to me, who is chatting with other regulars here while I work on my letter.

I have been doing my best this weekend to avoid writing my letter. The reason? It is the week leading up to the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and the city is prepping for it and I am not prepared for it. I have been having harbingers of the anniversary all this year. In Norfolk, VA I heard jets that took me back to that night and I have been running from the memories since then. They are burned in my soul and I feel that day intensely when I think about it. That’s why Norfolk was hard.

Monday was hard too. My brother was in town and before we went to breakfast we wandered through the Time-Warner Center at Columbus Circle where there is an exhibit on the heroes of 9/11, photos of those who lived. The policemen, the firemen, the pilots who flew the sorties over the city that are now so indelibly in my mind that the sound of those jets, the F-14’s, will take me back to that night, all their pictures are in the public areas of the Time-Warner Center and, today, reading them, I was about to start crying when my phone rang and I was dragged back into reality.

I was changed by that day; everyone was changed by that day and to think that ten years have gone by is hard, almost impossible. Could that much time have gone by? Or was it not in another lifetime that all this happened, another world that isn’t really real? But it is real. It happened. I was there. I felt the earth shake when the first plane hit the first building. My partner called me, asked me: do you know what’s going on? No. Turn on the TV. I did. The world was changing in front of my eyes. Our eyes. We all saw it, thanks to live television.

So I have had a hard time facing the fact it’s the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I am having a hard time having that day come back so immediately into my life. I am permanently changed by that day. I am, somehow, a little, scarred by that day. I didn’t lose anyone but I lost the world in which I lived. We’re not the same. The world is not the same. And I am sorry we are not the same.

It will be interesting to see how this week plays out as we move toward the anniversary. We cannot “celebrate” this anniversary. We can acknowledge it; we will – everyone will.
It was the seminal moment of this part of American history and I was there. I walked those streets with old man death. There was the smell of death and burnt plastic and my street was full of papers that were blown down from the Twin Towers. And I will, next week, walk those streets, will remember, will sort my feelings from those days and see what sense I make of it all.

I will let you all know. I don’t know how many tears are between this moment and next week – I just know that I know that I was here, that I, in the first person, experienced 9/11, have a set of memories from that day, was at the Pearl Harbor of my time, and that I am still experiencing that day because that kind of experience never dies in one who lives through it.

My brother told me in the days following that he was sorry that I was in New York when it happened. There was no other place I would have been. I was here. I was at the point of history. It was hard but it doesn’t get more real than that.