Letter From New York

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.

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