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Last Updated: February 27, 2002
September 13, 2001: By Alex Marx

Sometime much too late in the night or too early in the morning...

I'm exhausted now; it took me too long to get into gear. I wanted to include some of today's activities, though not that interesting. And I wanted to give you the photos. I promise all that in the next installment.

This was supposed to be sent last night, why it's so late may be evident from some of my comments.

Many of you have asked permission to forward this on, please do if you think it's deserving or helpful.

Those of you new to my scribbling, please note that the first installment is at the bottom and is dated 9.11.01, the second is above it and dated 9.12.01 and this installment is below. I have separated them with a long dashed line...


Dear all,

First and foremost I want to thank all of you for your kind and eloquent responses to my endless verbiage. I am almost afraid to go back and read it but I suppose I should. I will try to get back to as many of you personally as possible, but between the clogged phone lines and the fact that life is returning to normal and the day to day realities of being a productive member of society is beginning to crowd the free time!

I also apologize for added some of you so late in to this list. You are not afterthoughts but unfortunate slips of the mind.

Thanks again and I appreciate your support and praise of my writing, though I really feel that many of you have penned far more eloquent and intelligent replies then my endless sense of detail. I find it a great way to open my tight emotional wall and release some pressure. But once that pressure decreases the need to write is slaked and it gets harder to sit and pound out words.

I recommend it to all!

I will try to keep reporting from "near ground zero" but between the endless media attention and the slow conversation from "search and rescue" to clean up progresses, it becomes less meaningful and interesting...

But for now, here is last nights mission...


Life must be returning to normal. Looking at the time after typing my last email it was suddenly after 4 PM. Although feeling that I had accomplished something, both in helping out, even in such a minor and insignificant way, and in being able to express that to you in some form, I was feeling tense and grouchy. Layla took the brunt of it and we sniped at each other for the remainder of the day.

Mostly it was frustrating to be stuck in the house and unable to help. At least writing helped, and I got out a bit to get Layla through the Houston Street checkpoint when she arrived at noon. The uncertainty of our ability to get back in also weighed on me. The reports of asbestos being all over the site added to Layla's sense of discomfort too... To me it was a calculated exposure risk and living and breathing in New York I don't think I was going to add a lot to my lung load.

My neighborhood was still sealed off and traffic was mostly emergency or official vehicles. Occasional dump trucks laden with debris would rumble over the steel plates on Canal Street. At some point they moved a police command post up to the corner across the street. With the concern over 1 Liberty and the Millennium Hotel collapsing, they felt this was a safe enough distance to set up. All day reporters and top brass came and went. Small crowds lingered around waiting for god knows what.

I realized that that was the spot where I had watched the disaster unfold not two days before.

From my window, looking past the command post, I can see a corner of the nearly doomed 1 Liberty building. I took some photos, as its demise will also change a bit of the skyline too. It in fact was an ugly steel and glass tower that replaced the much more ornate stone Singer Building. New York has a way of destroying its heritage in a race for rentable space. So much of our skyline is blighted with poorly designed and conceived structures. I hope we take a more compassionate and human approach to rebuilding.

We were excited about going back and helping, and I think I secretly enjoyed the chance to use my "acting" (lying? improv?) skills to get past the checkpoints and back to helping...

Let me take a diversion and fast-forward to right now, 24 hours later. I am frustrated and restless. I can't seem to concentrate on writing this. I started this morning and it's now over 12 hours and nothing flows... I am frustrated because I want to run help again, but it's not the prudent thing to do right now. Security is tighter because of the frauds perpetrated by some disturbed individuals who penetrated the cordon last night and caused trouble. One claimed to be a nurse whose husband was a cop buried in the lower level with 9 other people and that she had received a cell phone call from him. The workers shifted their efforts (in the rain) and went to recover him. Problem was that it was a fraud. God what's wrong with these people? How much time was wasted while you basked in 15 seconds of fame.

Other slime were caught looting. My god, hasn't there been enough display of the worst of mankind? Do we need to see how much lower we can sink? I only hope they weren't New Yorkers...

The other is that Bush was here today and there was a shift in a lot security to the military. And they don't seem to have the same attitude towards wandering "volunteers" as we discovered last night.

And thirdly there seems to be so much more activity in my neighborhood tonight, more crowds, more security and a lot more traffic. And my cohort, Layla, is off for the evening to enjoy a real meal and the theatre. I could do it alone but it would be more difficult to pull off and I would miss the support and her more cautious approach to our activities.

I am feeling as I did the first night, helpless and powerless. Unlike some of the other pretenders I feel that we made a small difference. Although there is a small sense and drive of morbid curiosity and genuine desire to be part of this moment, we also felt so helpful and so, well, appreciated. It meant something to them and to us. We hurt no one, interfered with nothing and perhaps made someone's life a hair easier.

And I can't risk it tonight, I don't want to get caught and cause trouble, I only want to be innocuous and help....

I am torn and in a quandary... But something else is at play here too. I am totally overwhelmed by the response I have received from this stream of consciousness river of word. It's been forwarded around the world and I have been rewarded beyond my belief and my original intention by the words of gratitude and encouragement. I am scared to let you, and myself, down.

But, and how do I say this without sounding (at least to myself) as a bit vainglorious, these missives seem to help you see and understand what we are going through and to help the healing. It seems an awful responsibility for a mere hack and I am not sure if I can keep it up...

But, it is, I suppose, a form of "helping," helping those who can't get (or sneak) in and get down and dirty, it is helping to all of the rest of us, who can only wonder, morn and grasp for reality. I will keep trying.

I apologize for the therapy session, but it helped get me flowing a bit...

Besides I am out of chocolate and that hurts....

Rewind and erase the above please...

As we formulated our evening’s activities, with various sniping breaks (in all fairness to Layla, I was not in a great mood, and anxious to get going) I realized that my acting and guile might not be enough. I decided to give us some "id" and designed an id badge. Who could turn away a member of the "Christian Ministries Service Corps?" Especially when he was a nice (half) Jewish boy like me? Now I realize that this smacks of deceit and fraud and is fairly despicable, but I throw myself at the mercy of the intentions, the result, the end justifies the means, the noumenon. I also vowed not to use it unless stymied by my lack of charm... Please forgive me...

We went out and purchased cold water and Gatorade to have an initial load of refreshments for the front line police. We could restock once we got in and got to the other aid centers. I also picked up a load of paper facemasks as we had gotten a lot of requests for those the night before.

We put on our work clothes, spattered with the mud and muck of the night before, donned our masks, safety vests, work gloves (the plastic "milk crate" gets heavy when loaded and the handles cut into our hands) and the badges hidden under the vests. Layla had purchased small American Flags that we pinned to our vests. Not in guile but in pride and support...

And I remembered the camera.

We paused for a photo in the mirror outside my door, still sniping a bit. And I noticed that we had left a trail of the grayish mud all over the hallway rug. This mud is all over the apartment; it comes off our work clothes and ends up everywhere. I have vacuumed it up so many times and even now there is some on the floor next to me.

I guess if I were less scrupulous, like the deceitful scum who snuck in last night, I would scoop it up and offer it on EBay to the highest bidder...

I had a weird feeling that maybe this dried powder has a presence all its own, born as it was from the souls of so many. So many who died in its creation. So many who mix and move it in the resurrection from the big bang of its awful creation. I think I will leave it and let it find it's own resting place.

It was dark and quiet as we crossed Canal St. and walked up to the first checkpoint at the next intersection. Several NY police officers stood quietly checking people’s ids and answering questions. "Cold drinks, officers? Water, Gatorade, snacks, fresh masks?" "Thanks, were well stocked here they just dropped of some more, did you check with the guys at the command post?" "Yes (my only lie for the evening) we just came from there." Layla chimed in "your water is warm, ours is cold, take some." They were flattered and pleased but passed. Me: "Is there anyone down there who needs it?" Them: "No, there well stocked too, try up Canal Street." Me: “Thanks and thanks for the great job (sincere and not a lie...)"

We pick up the crate and head west to the next corner that is really an alley. Two officers stood at a barricade, bored and surly wanting to be further south, much as we did. Doing something more direct. Much as we did.

Repeat: "Cold drinks officers, water, Gatorade, snacks, fresh masks?" Repeat: “Thanks, we just had, but hey, I could use a fresh mask..." Me: “Take all you need, that's why we have them..." It was so good to say that, so good to see him take them, so good to help...even before we got in...

As we chatted, two other NY police came up the alley in a golf-cart. The four cops started a friendly banter, kidding each other about who had the best post. The two mobile cops said they had found the cart sitting around and were just going from post to post. I kidded that that was our cart and it was missing and that's why we had to carry the heavy crate back by hand... I claimed my name was the brand name of the cart (which escapes me now) and that was proof it was mine... They demanded id, then offered to rent it to me for $30 an hour. Mind you this was all in jest...

And just as unbelievable as our luck had been last night, they offered to drive us in so we didn't have to carry the crate back! We were, as we were last night, stunned, but easily said, "Yes, sure, great, thanks..." and "oh, do you take credit cards or checks?" We went off, down one-way streets, scooting around equipment and truck traffic. It was like a fantasy where you get to drive a police car the wrong way down streets and through red lights with the impunity that implied with that authority. Except in real life, our cops were always asking us for directions...

I remember something so strange at the time but now it seems to make so much sense... As we cut down a small street there was a man hosing off that white powder from his mini-van. In the darkness of his blacked out neighborhood. He was Oriental and I took him to be the owner of the Korean Deli he was in front off. It seemed so incongruous at the time. I mean, here he was at the outer ring of one of the most massive rescue and recovery efforts in US history, in the midst of this unfathomable tragedy and he's washing his van.

He was beginning to return to normal. Hope. Human. Humanity.

We got stuck in a bit of a traffic jam at Chambers Street, and they cut down a one-way, past some military checkpoints and dropped us off right past the inner checkpoint on Church St. We thanked them, and again, to our astonishment, they thanked us! I can't express how that feels, especially in light of our little act to get by security, but it makes the risk of exposure that much less onerous.

This part of the neighborhood is still blacked out, and is about 6 blocks from ground zero. Until Tuesday at around 8:45AM you could stand here and see the sun shine off of the aluminum and glass framework of the twin towers. The long, white antenna with it's flashing red lights on top would reflect, rather glow, and point straight into space... If your eyes were sharp you might see the tiny shape of a human being, a tourist, 110 stories above you, walking around the top of #2, the south tower.

"Ugly, damn things," you might think, "but they're ours and they're here to stay..."

Now, two days and 12 hours later, there was only darkness, the pale of smoke and the smell of burning....

We cut west down the block to get over to Greenwich St. A couple of firemen and military types were on the block and we chanted our dirge, lightened our load, exchanged thanks, moved on... all in the darkness and glow from distant lights.

We offered the officer guarding our turn southward onto West St. and he smiled and declined but didn't blink as we passed into the steady flow up and down this main artery of recovery. In battle this artery would likely be choked with refuges and the battle weary going in one direction. In the other direction, replacements would head to engage the enemy. Except no one was retreating here, and the enemy had already lost the battle...

Equipment and supplies of all sorts had been stockpiled since our departure the night before. The logistics of this is beyond measure. How they keep track of what is where and what is what and whose is what and what is whose is unfathomable, like the tragedy itself. Unlike a military action with presumably planned, staged and controlled supply and logistics, a Niagara of aid is just pouring in. This afternoon as we walked down Houston St. to the subway, there were trucks and equipment parked along the sidewalks and median strip. This is repeated all over the city. It's staggering and I wonder how they will account for it all, much less get it out of here when they are done....

The aid and refreshment stations had grown too. There were now several hot food stands including a portable MacDonald's restaurant, parked in front of a blacked out MacDonald's... Several food tables lined both sides and stockpiles of beverages, snacks, fruit and ice backed them up. We reloaded with water and Gatorade and set off south.

As we proceeded down, past weary and dirty fireman, catching a break or returning from their shift we offered as much as we could. Some we could see alone in their thoughts, a private pain etched on their dirty and lined faces. We passed by them silently. Others we offered and some took, sometime exchanging their warm bottles for our cold ones.

I can tell you red Gatorade is most popular...

It is almost silent and still dark.

It still smells from burning.

As we approached the north end of ground zero, the white glow of the high-intensity construction lights began to illuminate our approach. The grinding of large machinery in movement broke the silence of our passage.

In front of us, a pile of twisted and angry steel was #7 World Trade Center. Two days before it was a 43-story office tower, housing both the FBI and the Secret Service. Evacuated soon after the first two tower collapsed it took no lives as it went down later that evening.

Now it sits blocking passage, like a vehicle crushed in a car wrecker’s lot. Except about 50 feet tall. Little points of light flicker from deep inside. Each point is a little fire, slowly consuming what remains of the burnable contents. A large backhoe takes bites at the debris surrounding it.

I take some pictures.

We chat with a civilian a resident of the surrounding apartments and refill our crate.

We are facing the red bridge between the WTC complex and the World Financial Center to the west of it. It is what you always see in the live video shots on CNN. It is lying across West St. Machinery and torches tear away at it.

I remember to take a picture.

As we turn right on to what was Vesey Street and into the WFC, more destruction is evident. The pile that was 7 WTC sits smoldering and off in the background and to the right stands (yes, stands) the remains of 5 WTC, windows gone, and parts of it's facade torn and crushed. Like it went too many rounds. Good eyes can make out the remains of office fittings in the lower windows.

A parking lot sits off to the right and it is loaded with crushed vehicles, moved here, presumably after the first day. I take a picture, which doesn't come out.

We head into the triage area and pick up more supplies from a truck. They had cases of water that we restocked from, the Gatorade being buried. They also gave us some flashlights.

The mood and activity was different here. A lot of medical personnel and the atmosphere were lighter. I noticed a portable decontamination shower had been setup, possibly, I wondered for asbestos. I didn't say anything, as Layla was already nervous enough. She had already wanted to turn back, tired, overwhelmed and nervous as to our ability to continue uncontested. I wheedled, cajoled and compromised as to the length of our stay and she continued. Besides who would contest her, dressed in our costumes and with a baseball cap emblazoned with a NY logo. Against the anticipated cold she also wore one of my brown windbreakers. She looked so damn official and cute too...

We set off south, down one of the tree-lined streets within the WFC. Except the trees were white and litter and discarded pieces of everything lined both sides and the center median. An army had been here and you knew it. We soon ran into more soldiers, much friendlier and receptive to the drinks and the flashlights. They had lasted only a minute and I regret I didn't have more. Despite our mutual cheeriness they told us we couldn't pass this way and sent us back around the triage area and the adjacent building.

We proffered to some EMTs who only wanted cigarettes, an item Layla had wanted to buy but decided it best not to. I joked about all the crap in the air, who needed cigarettes, and she joked that the tar and nicotine just put a fine layer over it in the lungs.

I should tell you that I noted tonight a lot more people were wearing much more serious masks then the paper ones most, including us, wore...

As we tried to cut down West St. we had our first test of security. We hit a wall of soldiers and serious looking cops. We offered up our supplies, mostly refused and tried to get past security behind some other volunteers. No way. As they were turned away I realized that the whole area was freshly fenced in and well guarded. Bush?

A seriously scowling plain-clothes cop demanded to know who I was. I explained and he grabbed at my badge to read it. Layla began to pull back and I was momentarily pulled in two directions, left hand pulled by Layla and the crate and my neck pulled by the badge. I tugged back on the crate as discreetly as possible while my badge was scrutinized. I felt the handcuffs tighten on the wrist as my hand was wrenched from the crate.

Pulled back from fantasy to reality, the cop turned me away demanding that I be escorted. "No, problem, we can work elsewhere..."

We headed back east a bit and cut south again. Layla was through; the encounter with the stern cop had shaken her. She wanted to go home and was willing to let me stay. I told her that was fine but I needed to stay, all night if needed. I gave her my keys and asked if she knew her way back. She took two steps away and came back. I told her we were doing a good thing here, we were really helping even in a small way and that she, we, would never have an opportunity like this again. She agreed reluctantly to stay as long as we didn't encounter any more checkpoints.

We cut south on an outer sidewalk of the WFC, and the crate emptied. We easily got by another checkpoint and found a refilling station. As we tried to load up, the volunteer asked us who we were. I explained we came to distribute food. He started to load us up and then changed his mind. He didn't want to give up his stock until he got refilled. We left and soon found another station.

As we cut back west, we stop to rearrange our load. As we do so, 3 detectives approach us and ask us where the nearest food station is as they got cut off from the rest of their group heading there. We pointed it out and they, get this, asked us if they could help us in any way!!!!! My god. They too, felt as we did and even with all their training and ability were willing to help a bunch of volunteers who had to sneak in to help. I almost asked them to join us to help get passed the checkpoints, but declined, thanked them and wished them luck.

Somehow we found away around the tough checkpoint and ended up within the confines of the WFC and the path to the Marina the same way we got to ground zero yesterday. We were buoyed and have a new spring in our step. It is warmer this evening and there is a lot of activity too. I notice large power cables have been laid in the gutter and there is a lot of cleanup going on. Sweeping and bagging of garbage. Bush or the beginning of normalcy?

We hit the north end of the marina and there are a lot of people around the perimeter by the buildings. We plod on and I notice, maybe because the lighting is different, that the Winter Garden, the large glass atrium, is far more damaged then I noticed last night. The area is dark and a bit eerie. But cleaner and more activity. We fall in with a group of cops and civilians walking south. The civilians are all carrying cardboard animal carriers labeled ASPCA.

I try to wrap my mind around why people are delivering cats to ground zero, maybe they plan to do tricks for Bush's visit. It doesn't make sense... but it does... I over hear a snatch of conversation between a Parks Department cop (you can always tell by the green tee-shirt) and a nurse of some sort. "There is one cop per resident..." Me: “Cold drink, snack, banana?" We have picked up bananas at the last stop because we found them to be extremely popular for some reason.

They really politely refuse and I ask what's going on. She replies that these are residents of Battery Park City being allowed to collect their pets, only. There is no power and they will have to climb the stairs and enter dark apartments. Hence the one cop per resident. Layla comments that the head of the ASPCA had to prevail on the city to allow this. And that he had lost his daughter in the collapse.

The nurse sees Layla is not only carrying one side of the crate but also a box of masks. She offers to help carry something but Layla demurs and shows that the masks weigh nothing (I am not an insensitive clod, if they were heavy I would have carried them!) Nice nurse insists on helping us (!) and tries to grab the back handle of the crate. Which of course tilts it forward wrenching our hands. We are grateful for the offer but beg her off and she departs with a cheery "Thank you." Mantra: “No, Thank You!"

Ground Zero. Much has been done in 24 hours. Where overturned vehicles lined the path in, it is now clear and fireman and rescue works rest in the extra space. As we close in we both notice how much has been removed from the western edge of West St. Three big flatbeds now are backed in receiving steel where one or at most two could squeeze in. There is a clear depression in the center of what used to be the plaza. Some of the southern skeleton has collapsed, which prompted a mass exodus earlier in the afternoon. A lot more cops. Less volunteers and food people. We offer up our drinks but Layla is uncomfortable and wants to head home.

I remember to take a picture. But as I frame the second shot a big helmeted head bellows, "Who are you?" I can't remember my story and, for the first time, I pull out the id. I tell him we are delivering food and drink. He says fine, but the next time I loose the camera. I apologize and put it away.

What a change from yesterday. Everyone, except the firemen, was taking pictures, some even posed in front of the wreckage. Tonight, it's more serious. I think they have been burned by too many amateur videos and pictures snuck out of the site. I don't think they really want people to see the true extent; it is much too much to see...

I get Layla and we head out, emptying the crate, many were grateful and thankful.

We move back to the entrance to ground zero and refill at the food station and head to the other side of the road. A group of construction workers wait on line for a hot food truck, the first I have seen this far in. A welcome change from the sandwiches and mass manufactured burgers that we saw yesterday.

I realize that we came this far and didn't do a lot of distributing nor did I get many pictures. I tell Layla to give me five minutes and I head back in. I grab a bunch of cold water and Gatorade and proceed to empty two armfuls in a few minutes. Red Gatorade is the key...

I make my way over to the remaining standing bridge over West St. that used to run from the south edge of the WTC plaza by the hotel over to the WFC. There is a group of fresh looking NY police. I chat with one for a minute and ask if I can take a picture. He didn't see a reason why not and I fire one off.

Once again, a helmeted head appears close to my face and the same question is asked: "Who are you." I start to stammer and look towards the friendly officer, who says "It's OK, their volunteers delivering food and water." "Oh, OK, but the Captain said no photos." "OK, no problem, don't want to cause trouble." I thank the officer and wander off to refill my arms and offer it up. I notice too, that this food table also has flashlights and gloves, untouched. I know they are popular and go to see if Layla thinks we should load up.

I can't find her where I left her, but she calls from a corner. She is beaming because she talked to a construction worker who was grateful for a cold drink, and spying our work gloves asked if he could have them for the crane operator. She gave them to him and he was truly grateful.

Having been gone for 10 minutes I expected trouble but she was so happy to have provided something so useful she didn't care. I told her about the flashlights and gloves hoping to convince her to stay, but I could tell it was time to head home. Besides sever thunderstorms were promised and we were not well equipped for wet work.

We refilled the crate again, and started the long walk back south through the marina. A couple of ATV's ("Quads") driven by some firemen pulled up besides us, and I jokingly gave them the thumbs out... They both came to a quick halt and the tail one said hop on! Once again, we got lucky. We loaded up with me taking the crate on the lead vehicle.

We rolled through the marina in style. My driver kept asking, as during our entrance motorcade earlier that evening, "how far do you want to go and where do I turn?" Not wanting to take him out of his way, I told him to take us as far as he was going. He replied they were going back after this and just let him know when to stop. We ended up by the triage area and hopped off. Before I could thank them, he thanked us!

Here is a human being, filthy, tired and surly in emotional pain, doing backbreaking work knowing that 400 of his brethren are buried and dead and he's thanking us for our little effort.

I am not a believer in heaven or hell. I have been twice to this inferno, this epicenter of the worst results of hate, evil, death and destruction. Yet, I found not the despair and defeat that was clearly the desire of this deed.

I found, instead, help, hope and mostly humanity.


This is the hell for the soulless fanatics who perpetrated this madness. Every time one human helps another in common humanity. Every time some overtired, overworked human, fighting the pain of loss and unspeakable destruction reaches out from some deep inner strength again and again to help some other soul in search of peace too, and then thanks them for the opportunity to help.

That is hell for the evil.

They've lost.


We've won.


And that doesn't need a camera.


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All Portions Copyright © 2001 Alex Marx