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Last Updated: February 27, 2002
September 11, 2001: By Alex Marx


Since so many of you emailed or called to check up on me and to offer your sympathies to the massive destruction of life and property here, I wanted to reply. The efficiencies of email let me do it in this bulk manner, but know that this is addressed and meant for you each and individually.

The city is uncommonly quiet at this hour. The normal movements and noises are reduced and the shattering impact of the endless sewer replacement on Canal Street, in front of my building, has been replaced by the occasional wail of sirens or the clatter of heavy equipment being moved to a staging point. They are spraying the streets with water, which is strange, like they need to clean up some sort of dangerous dust (asbestos?) but the air here seems sweet, clear and cool...a marked contrast to the destruction not so far away.

There is still thick smoke flowing eastward just to the south of me. My front windows face south and the former twin towers. My view of them is blocked by a large commercial building that occupies a full block south of me. But the flow of smoke was visible all day and even tonight, contrasted against an almost clear, black sky.

It started for me at around 8:45 when I was awakened by the sound of a large plane going overhead clearly too low. It was a loud, low growl and I will never, now, forget that sound. My first thought was that the plane, unseen by me, was clearly too low. I then heard a loud thud similar to the sound a large truck makes going over the steel plates placed over the endless sewer replacement.

I went to the front windows and saw a fire truck racing down the street and more tellingly a gathering group of people on the side street staring fixedly south. I didn't see any smoke but figured some small plane crashed just south of me. Getting dressed in yesterday’s clothes I ran down the stairs and on to the side street.

What greeted me was not what I had envisioned, but the North Tower of the World Trade Center with a huge hole dead center. Debris and flames came were evident coming from all sides around this wound. It was a large hole and I imagine it easily covered 10 floors and was vaguely "plane" shaped.

People were transfixed and the conversation ranged from those who seemed to know it all to the horror that was clearly taking place. I was staggered by what I saw but detached too. I remembered the crash of the bomber into the Empire State Building in 1945 and knew that buildings could withstand this kind of disaster. And, besides, we thought it was only a small plane.

The gathering crowds had more information, and someone knew it was a passenger jet, someone had seen it overhead, someone had seen it hit.

I needed to tell someone, anyone what I was seeing, but the cell phone was useless, choked out by everyone else's need to talk too. There was a pay phone next to me, and I got on it as soon as it was free. I think I made two calls, and it was in the middle of the second call to my sister's cell phone (which, too, was crippled), that a round, red and black fireball seemed to spontaneously emerge from the south tower. As if it had blown a little, deadly bubble. I remember screaming something into the payphone ("Oh the humanity") about this is the most incredible thing I have ever seen and then slamming the phone down. People screamed, several started to cry. Sirens wailed and wailed.

Soon someone mentioned the second plane, then the third into the Pentagon. It made no sense; we were being invaded, attacked, reduced to terrified, helpless victims. More sirens, more people, and more death as bodies began to fall from the both buildings. You couldn't really tell human apart from the other falling debris, but you knew, knew somehow that those small specks couldn't be glass or metal.

I had enough and headed back into the apartment, I needed a shower and to talk to someone. As I reached the apartment I heard screaming from the street, and turning on the TV, watched as the one tower collapsed, or as it seemed then, to vaporize away...

At some point, I realized that closing off the city as they did and do in such crises, could make getting food and supplies difficult. And at some point I had already offered the use of my apartment to friends who might be stranded here. I left again and went around the corner to the market and bought some essentials. People were everywhere. I left the market and before making the left on to Canal Street to head home, looked at the North Tower, spewing smoke, flames, bodies but still standing, it's large needle antenna still flashing it's red aircraft warning light. A little too late and a little too high...

As I entered the apartment I heard again the screams of a larger and louder crowd. The TV revealed why and I could see large plumes of white smoke spreading to the right (west) and left (east) of me. It was like the smoke emissions of when the Space Shuttle takes off.

The rest you've seen and heard now endlessly. The horror of the casualty count has yet to be revealed but the horror of the day in wrapped around me like a mummies bandage and I am not sure I want to remove it.

I think most of us are numb and the surreal intensity of the destruction hasn't penetrated truly. New Yorkers are accused of many traits, but we are now at our finest. The tails of ordinary heroes are yet to be told, video will replace the songs of bards. Our professional public servants have endured massive losses and yet never wavered and never gave in. They are still on the job tonight, and many are facing the most destructive event of their lives. None will be the same.

I had first hand accounts of ordinary folks doing the extraordinary to help a stranger. A friend, who works near the towers, ran in to a store and bought all their towels to hand out to victims whose heads were bleeding. He related that many merchants loaded carts full of water and food and were handing them to anyone and everyone.

So far, there are no body counts except the 200 who died in terror on the 4 hijacked planes. I situation that this government has to answer for and our population, who refuses to be inconvenienced by true security measures, has to face a new reality. That freedom is not easy nor convenient nor cheap.

A friend, whose boyfriend is a New York Fireman, endured hours of not knowing his fate. He called in at 7 PM saying that they are pulling bodies out of rubble and that there are over 3000 so far. Where it ends is anyone's best guess, but I don't think we can ever know.

I have tracked down friends and friends of friends who were there and some of what they saw is beyond belief. It may be normal for a war, and we may be a bit inured of it from endless media and entertainment displays but for them, and for us, the closeness of the horror will never fade. We now understand, perhaps, what our fathers and grandfathers dealt with in the wars of the last century.

We are all unsure of tomorrow and what it brings. There is a sharp defensive system that we employ and, so far, we wait, reliving the day in every conversation. The horror of the body count awaits in the next weeks, and this will add to the burden we all will carry. It will be more then we can understand, and many will not.

I know that many want to volunteer to help, but don't know how, I will try to find something constructive to do; it may help to make sense of this. Those two towers were ugly but they were there, they were a landmark, a compass point and they were ours. They are gone. What we replace it with is yet to be seen.

Like the death of a loved one, we feel a loss, and the violence of it violates us and our sense of humanity, morality and civility. How religion and fanaticism can allow this is beyond belief, how people can celebrate this is beyond humanity. As a Jew I wonder how the enduring hatred of us can be so manifest and so cruel, as an American, how our society could inspire such desire for total destruction and as a New Yorker, well, I think I take that most personally.

I am not sure how our government will react. I certainly have no love of our president and his entourage, but these are the times that make men (meaning mankind) shine and I think that he has the patience, resolve and a strong moral sense which will help lead us past this and to what ever repercussions are eventually effected. I know the rest of the world is also firmly behind us as well.

Our mayor, who is normally a cold and unfeeling technocrat, a prick, has shined so far, he has rallied and organized and communicated so well, clearly affected and clearly grieving for lost friends and a lost city. A real New Yorker.

Recently friends came to visit NY for the first time and I proudly played host. We visited the towers and saw the view. As a native NYer you tend to shy away from these tourist experiences in normal life and to regard them with a jaded eye, but I am so proud and happy I did. It was a glorious day, clear and bright and the view was endless, uplifting and eternal. It's how I will remember those two ugly towers that were our pride and joy.


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All Portions Copyright © 2001 Alex Marx