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Last Updated: February 27, 2002
September 19, 2001: By Alex Marx

9.19.01

Itís been just over a week since the world changed. Itís the first morning that I havenít been awakened by aircraft flying overhead followed by the screech of sirens. Instead, the traffic on Canal Street as returned to normal, and the steel plates, left from the now suspended, but never ending sewer replacement, bang and clang endlessly. Fortunately it is cool enough that I can close all the windows and bedroom doors and sleep a bit longer in quiet.

I am surprised that the plates have survived; the amount of heavy, over laden trucks contacting them has been incredible. The other day I saw a huge crane, being trucked in, split between two low-slung flat bed trucks. Overburdened, but nonetheless willing, the bottom of the trucks scrapped along the ground, and barely resisted ripping the plates off.

Itís amazing how many supplies still come and go. I found that I could volunteer at the Salvation Army on 14th Street. Just walk in, sign up and you can load and unload trucks. No one goes to ground zero, but At this point, helping is all that matters.

I went last night, around 10:30PM expecting it to be understaffed, but by midnight when I left, there were over 50 people there!

While unloading a truck, I noticed a line of people unloading another truck in bucket-brigade fashion. I chuckled to myself, as I had this image of Noahís Ark. There seemed to be two of every race, gender and denomination. All were working as a team, all in good spirits, all doing their part to save humanity after this flood of evil.

Earlier in the afternoon, as I came out of the subway on 14th Street to check out the situation at the Salvation Army, I did what I always do. I flipped my head over to look south on 7th Ave. New Yorkers do this automatically to get their bearings. Flip their head to find either the Empire State Building or the World Trade Center.

Itís compass points, sighting either or even better, both, always gave you orientation, even if you were sure of your direction.  For the past 30 years weíve had the two big, ugly flat tops to give us that extra point, that final check, that extra security. About 20 years ago, seeing that the towers were disappearing in the forest sprouting around it, they added the antenna to the north tower. Now you could see at least one of the big, ugly flat tops with a big white long thing on top with flashing lights.

Ugly, yes, but they were oursÖ

I flipped my head, expecting to see at least the tip of the antenna, to know I am headed in the right direction. Except there was nothing there, just a little smoke.

For a brief moment I am confused. I know I am looking south. I really donít need the proof.

I just want it.

It dawns on me, suddenly, severely, savagely. They didnít put it back. Theyíre gone.

I check in to the Salvation Army, and see that there is a lot of work, I can return in the evening, which I plan to do.

I continue walking and come upon a remarkable site. Something maybe last seen about the time the two towers were erected. Something between a memorial, a love in and a happening.

Union Square. If you donít know New York, you would not expect that it is a fairly green and tree filled city. I know many think it is a jungle here, but we take great pride on the neatness and serenity of our green space. We try to leave the wildlife to the discoís and Donald Trumpís parties.

Besides Central Park, there are, perhaps another 20 large parks, countless small parks and even ďpocketĒ parks. Pocket parks are empty lots, often tiny, which a neighborhood has taken over and turned into an oasis. Itís interesting to note that our now sainted mayor, in fits of revenge and pure meanness, turned a lot of these parks over to developers in revenge for some slight.

Union Square is a park about 4 square blocks in size anchored at 14th Street on the south and Park Ave South on the east. It is so named on honor of the unions that grew out of the many sweatshops originally in the area. In the sixties and seventies as NY faced bankruptcy the parks were put on deferred maintenance and slowly became the dirty, unsafe, garbage collections of lore.

Over the past 20 years or so, New Yorkers and their government have seen what an important asset, really a crown jewel, the parks were. A lot of money was spent, both public and private, to cleanup, upgrade, reseed and replant the parks. The concept of their use was also evaluated and much more conservative (in the sense of conservation) restrictions were placed on them.

Union Square Park was one of those that recently became beneficiary to the combined largess of the city and civilians. It was fenced in, the bums, homeless, druggies were shipped to someone elseís backyard. New trees, walkways, seating, seeding, the works. More permanent spaces for the Greenmarket which surrounds the north part of the park 3 days a week, too.

In the final stages of its rebirth, it now marks the death of so many. It is a memorial, filled with candles flowers, pictures and poems. It grew as an impromptu and small memorial, like so many downtown, as it was just at the northern checkpoint during that first dreadful week. It was an oasis from the tragic ruins not a mile further south.

This day it had grown to cover most of the park, the flowers, candles, pictures, flyers, letters, thoughts, poems, and words of all sorts, line the fences that surround the green interior. The open space at the south end is a growing sea of candles and flowers. Around the base of the statue of Washington people have chalked slogans of peace and remembrance. An American flag flies from the statue and a Peace Symbol flag is taped to the outstretched hand of the first elected leader of the United States. His hand points resolutely south, as if reminding us from whence this comes. Except we donít need the reminder. Yet.

A small group surrounds and argues, the loudest voices I have heard in days. I donít listen but it clearly about war and revenge and justice vs. peace and forgiveness. These are the issues facing us all in the next phase of our life. It is in America we can debate this, but in New York it is not the time, yet. We still need to mourn, care, stay human, and keep humanity. The combatants break off, but new ones take up the challenge. Like our enemies and our protectors.

Here, a small group of Hare Krishnaís playing a small harmonium type instrument and the ever present thumb cymbals, chant and offer peace. There a small group of, well, hippies, have spread out a pride of new grey blankets, probably donations from the nearby Salvation Army. Surrounded by their meager possessions and their dogs, the lie, peacefully and unmolested on a patch of grass. They are almost incongruous extras to the cast of 21st Century New Yorkers who circulate around, hushed, heads bowed, tears deep inside.

A musician has set up her guitar and amplifier and starts singing songs of peace, love and hope from the Ď60s. Itís a Woodstock of grief, anger, fear and shock. But it is a familiar and totally New York experience.

There are children too. How must they see all this? Will they remember this in 30 or 40 years or will it too fade into legend and history, a dusty old tale that the grandkids groan about when the old fart recalls it at Thanksgiving? It remains to be seen. For now, there seems to be a mixed reaction, some take it like young adults, some confused, some scared, some oblivious. Like us. Like humanity.

This is the defining moment of change for their society. For their future. My generation had Vietnam and Watergate, but the drastic and wrenching changes they wrought took more then 10 years and we can almost only appreciate it in nostalgia.

Our parents and grandparents also witnessed drastic change, but then too, times were slower, no CNN, no Internet, no email, no faxes, no FedEx.

You had time to digest and absorb. Information was limited by the technology of the time, newsreels were as close as you got to ďlive video coverage,Ē radio, while often real-time, left most to the imagination. We only really got ďliveĒ TV at the end of the sixties with the Chicago Convention and the moon landing.

The Challenger disaster in 1986 was probably the first international trauma broadcast live. We saw it happen then happen over and over and over again. But that was a scheduled broadcast event. It was an accident in real-time.

But now, with the rapid advances in technology since then, only 15 years ago, we had live coverage from almost the first impact, and many saw the second plane live and in color.  Who has time to digest and absorb, especially when we canít stop seeing it from every angle, from afar, from too close up.

Who can deal with the rapid ingestion of disaster? Will our children become immune to future horrors simply because they will be live and in color?

And repeated, ad infinitum?

When the singer starts strumming some Hendrix, I know itís time to leave. I turn and look once more, and take in the scene, past, present and future.

I head south, facing the skyline, where it hasnít been before. The sun breaks through the smoke and clouds. And for a brief second itís beautiful, I smile, and then I realize that this is a view only available because that part of the skyline is no longer blocked.

But there is beauty in it, and we need to get used to it. The towers were ugly and unloved.

Until they were gone.

I am so proud of my city. As much as we can wave flags and be proud of America, its spirit, its greatness, its bounty, nowhere else but here, here in New York, will you find so much diversity, in such a small place, so un-divisive, and so bound together as one.

In my travels, many on motorcycle, I have had opportunity to visit other cities and towns. Many, at first blush, are more friendly and open then New York appears to be. In reality, though, you are still a stranger; an outsider and you have a lot of dues to pay to become a member of the tribe.

New York, appearing too busy to be friendly, too fast-paced to be open, is made up of those individuals who are outside the tribe. We are a tribe of individuals and America loves Individualism but is suspicious of Individuals.

I think this past week proves that Individuals are a fierce, proud and united tribe. A tribe with a soul and heart beyond what the world expected.

We knew it. We just never suspected we would need to show it.

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All Portions Copyright © 2001 Alex Marx