as much damage as I thought thereíd be. The building above is burned
completely through; the steel has started to turn red from rust. From
the distance you can see right through to the other side, and half of
the upper floors are crushed from the falling towers and from 7 WTC. It
reminds me of a burned out wire garbage can, something from my youth. A
New York thing.
bookshop, destroyed but still recognizable on this level. The plaza
level. Windows still intact, dirty, scorched but intact. Amazing in all
the surrounding destruction.
around; the smell of destruction is evident, water, soot, and debris.
Soggy paper, destroyed woodwork, what is a bookstore but a reseller of
organic material. I spot the place by the front door where I sat back in
August reading a book of war letters, overwhelmed with the human spirit
within its pages.
To the left
is the magazine racks blown over, a mass of colored pulp on the floor.
The windows, facing south are long gone, blown out. Behind me, on the
north wall, are the remains of the check out lines, the registers
drawers hanging open. Like a row of mouths in shock.
the remains of the escalator, the damage on the upper, larger, main
floor is worse. But I can make out the cafť, the seating section. Go
past it and there lies the melted remains of tens of thousands of CDs,
the music of mankind reduced to globs of inorganic chemistry.
Past that is
the computer section, its stacks of books sagging the shelves in their
wetness. I always stopped here when I visited. Being a geek, I was drawn
here, almost involuntarily as a moth to a flame. I rarely bought
anything, for some reason book publishers think that computer books need
to be overpriced. But it didnít stop them from publishing thousands of
them, many of them on the same subject. You could always see someone
sitting on the floor, gleaning some bit of knowledge. Sometimes it would
I turn and
head back down the stairs, clogged with debris, boot prints have already
trampled through the mush and dirt. I look out the windows towards the
east; windows dirty but intact, the big BORDERS sign still hanging. The
smell, the stench overwhelms me and I start to chokeÖ
I wake up.
Sorry. It was a dream, fostered by a visit downtown, on the newly
reopened Broadway. It puts you a long block away from some of the
destruction. You have to keep moving, but the tourists fight to stop and
I am brought
to a stop by the sight of that BORDERS sign, still hanging in the intact
window, below the gutted building. It is one of the incongruities of
this horror. It sticks with me for days; I still see it now, even as I
type this, weeks later.
is real; itís what woke me up. Even today, the smoke still rises, almost
a month later. Itís whiter and lighter, but has turned more noxious.
When the wind changes, it seeps in to the loft and clings to your throat
and sinuses. Itís vile. Itís burning debris, plastic, carpeting, wall
coverings, wood, paper, inorganic matter, organic matter, DNA.
Itís a smell
you will never forget, like the roar of the first jet that woke me up
and the site of the hole in the North Tower. So long agoÖ Itís almost a
awhile since I last wrote and I want to give you a tour of life here. It
will encompass several weeks of observations. For real this timeÖ
It is the
first weekend they let people south of Canal Street, no id necessary.
Layla and I head downtown to our favorite ďhang outĒ a little Belgian
place with decent food and great coffee. And great chocolate too. We
know the crew there, weíve motorcycled with the manager and one of the
gorgeous day, clear, bright, blue sky, some cottony clouds. Ideal.
Except for two things. Our view south is marred by the missing towers
and replaced by several cranes. And smoke. And that smell... Three
We bump into
a mutual friend, Mark. We always seem to do this on our way to the
A resident of
Tribeca, he has just been allowed back. We chat, exchange stories,
pleasantries and current headings. Same as normal. We part.
further south we notice that we can now see buildings weíve never seen
before from this vantage. Like children picking out the characters in
the Macyís Thanksgiving day parade, we try to name the buildings.
whose collapse was feared, but turned out to be structurally intact
stands tall, now. Its south face is draped with an orange mesh from the
top to the bottom. I suppose to protect what was left of the glass from
any further damage.
Hotel, a tall, ugly narrow rectangular building, was also feared to
collapse but survived, is also similarly dressed.
We can also
pick out the ďBTĒ (Bankers Trust) building, 134 Liberty. Itís a tall,
black modern building. Itís the one I saw that first night we went to
help. The one with the big gash in the front as if some giant claw had
dug out a hunk. We were told one of the jetís engines had come through
it. Later I saw a photo on the FEMA website that showed the extent of
the damage. A large chunk of the wall of the south tower seems to have
pierced it, and it dangled from the enveloping damage. It may be fatal.
Layla used to
work there; she tries to count floors to find her office. To find out
where she would have been when her building was wounded. It would have
We enter the
restaurant. It is busy, but not crowded. We greet and are greeted.
During the disaster, they stayed open as the dirt and debris swirled by.
They gave food and water to the rescuers and tended to some wounded. I
had called them that day to make sure they were all right.
remember that. And after I called, I packed a knapsack full of stuff
from my medicine cabinet. Aspirin, some gauze, some masks. I tried to
get down to help. But the police already had a cordon up and I didnít
have the energy to try another way. I suppose I could have. I just gave
up. I feel badly now, I should have tried harder.
into seats, facing the street but not the view. As we watch, a parade of
tourists builds, cameras and kids. Dressed for Disneyland. Same empty
pleasure smiles too.
We sit facing
the windowed front. Itís a bit strange, being back. The place is clean,
nothing happened. There are less employees, not needed yet, not enough
business. We chat about this and that, but always we return to the
obvious topic, often obliquely, sometime in the middle of another
sentence. We are happy to be here, we are sad to be there.
We watch the
parade. For it really is. They trundle down, couples, families, some
dressed some casual, shorts and tee shirts. Itís almost surreal. Like
they are off to visit the Statue of Liberty, or stand on the line for
the Observation Tower.
Except one is
closed and one is forever gone.
arms around children as one parent or the other snap a picture. Of what?
Not much from this position. I mean youíd have to know that the towers
used to be there, bit looming, blocking the vista south. Now just a
couple of cranes, the vaguely visible black hulk of 4 WTC, and the
endless white smoke. But they snap and film away. Life lived through the
peruse the menu, come and dine. Welcome to New York, please see why we
stay, please spend money here.
there heads in and want to know if they sell disposable cameras. Get go
to the wake without one.
We eat and
talk. The restaurant is doing reasonable business, not what it should
be, but good for the circumstances. At least theyíre open, two blocks
down everything is still behind the frozen zone. There is a mix of
neighborhood types and the paraders. Cash only as the phone lines are
out for at least the next four weeks.
We finish up,
and head out. We wish our friends luck and once again welcome them back.
going back to our intended chores, we decide to join the tourists for a
bit, just to see what our neighborhood looks like. This is as far down
as we had gotten since our forays in so many lifetimes ago.
south to the first barricade, a trip that took us one block. A group was
gathered around the police line, taking pictures and talking quietly.
This one block brought much more in focus then we had seen on our trip
down that morning.
The last time
the both of us had been here had been on our trip back on our first
night in. Then it was dark and quiet. No power and few rescue workers.
It was here that the line of white debris tapered off into nothingness.
Now, of course, it was clean; swept and washed away.
ashes, dust to dust.
see much from here now. A lot of sky and some buildings. A few weeks
back, you wouldnít have seen much either. Two huge towers would have
blocked your view. From this perspective they would have merged in your
eye as one wide tower. Silver and striped. Maybe its lines interrupted
by the automatic window-washing scaffold. Below would be the low, black
buildings of 5 and 6 WTC. Perhaps you might catch the edge of 7 WTC with
its carved pink granite side.
sky, clear but tinged with clouds and smoke. You can just make out the
burned out skeletons of 5 and 6 WTC. Shattered and crushed. Too far away
to make out details except smoke and large debris.
one can now see the hulk of 130 Liberty, the Bankers Trust building.
Itís dark and looming. Itís the one whose faÁade looked like a giant
hand had dug into it and removed a wide swath. Layla used to work there.
She counts windows again trying to find her old office. And her bosses.
The ones she picked out the interior decorations and furniture for. The
conference room, the cafeteria. Did people die there?
I think she
sees herself there walks the halls and offices, wonders ďwhat ifÖĒ
jackets walk past the barricade and toward ground zeroÖ Itís a crime
stands, mostly quiet, in the street and stares. Cameras click and video
cameras are silent but all seeing. Flowers and posters decorate the blue
police barricades. Not much to see here.
We wander up
to Broadway, recently opened for pedestrians, but not vehicles. Normally
crowded with traffic, it is now truly a broad way, a wide, cavernous
conduit. We, and many others, walk down in the street. A few stores try
to ply their wares, but, for now, it is mostly just a path between here
To our left
lies City Hall and park. Black and purple bunting hangs from the portico
but it is otherwise quiet and unattended. To the right is Warren Street,
which reveals the first signs of the destruction, way down the block, to
A slim view
of a sliced faÁade is visible in the far distance. Far, in this case, is
about 3 blocks down. You would need binoculars to really see the damage.
But cranes and emergency vehicles are clearly visible. As are the police
and National Guard who guard the intersection.
approach Park Place and Broadway there is a larger crowd. Disneyland.
This is the first close vantage point to ground zero. A block away from
the corner of 6 WTC.
In front is
St. Paulís church, one of the oldest in New York. It through luck or
miracle survived without a broken window. It was covered in dirt, but
undamaged. I have walked this block so many times on my way to the
subway, and you never noticed the towers. They were just there. Now, you
notice they arenít. You can see one of the towers of the World Financial
Center. It suffered faÁade damage and missing windows. A large, I mean
large, American flag hangs over the front of the building. Where you
once saw silver tower, if you even noticed, you now see American flag,
which you now donít miss.
the street, Vesey St. you can see a piece of the twin towers poking out
from between 5 and 6 WTC, right at Church Street. You have to squeeze in
between the crowd and through the trees, but itís there. A remnant, a
The crowd is
growing and the police start asking us to move on to the sidewalk, which
is already crowded. We shuffle over and stand on the corner. Directly
behind us is J & R, a large discount electronics and appliance store.
They recently completed a new building on this corner and it is covered
in dirt. That same concrete, plaster and DNA. Peeking in the windows we
can see there is a lot of dirt and damage. Broken glass litters the
floor by their revolving door. The display windows are dirty and
To the left
of the window sits a small yellow plastic device. Itís a portable
eyewash, another miracle of modern science. It sits, and I imagine it
has been there since day one, left as the crowd ran from the onrushing
debris. Or maybe it was set up after to treat the victims unable to
escape the thick debris laden cloud of death.
further down Broadway, but only along the east side, the west is still
closed, police and National Guard troops everywhere. I realize that the
National Guard is not armed. It would be too much like martial law and
we are too free for that.
We pass a
clothing store, dark but open. Everything is covered in a thick coat of
dirt, every scrap of merchandise. He is open and doing business but I
think he is now selling the merchandise as souvenirs. He doesnít look
happy and I canít bear to watch.
We come to a
corner where you get a clear view down the block to the side of 5 WTC. I
think itís Fulton Street. From here you have a clear shot the one block
to Church Street and the Borders of my dream. There is the sign, clear
and large in an intact window.
incongruous as is so much of this epic tragedy. Above it sits the ruins
of a building, burned out completely, half crushed by the collapse of
its large neighbor. A victim of civilization and the lack of it. And yet
here is a sign that beckons one in to enjoy the real fruits of
civilization, for better or worse.
wanders down this block, and back into Borders. I see where I sat by the
plaza door, reading a book on letters, letter sent back home from war. I
remember being overwhelmed by the experiences that were being expressed
by those boys (for it was then mostly boys who fought) during their
service. Some were educated and so eloquent, others crude but powerful
and heart wrenching.
Like the site
I am seeing now.
above is mostly black, they were that way when whole. The upper floors
were above the plaza by about 2 stories to make room for the lower level
which had large windows flanked by steel gothic arches. The levels above
were simple alternating stripes of steel and window.
windows are gone as is some of the steel. Itís as if someone had punched
it in the head a few times. In a large percentage of the gaps you can
see Venetian blinds and the remains of offices. Through some of the gaps
you can see the day light behind, where the building was crushed.
fire was greatest, the steel has turned red, not from normal rust but
from the rapid oxidation that intense heat brings. It reminds me of my
youth when I would see a burned wire garbage can. Usually an act of
mindless vandalism. It would be bent and twisted, patched with black and
red. Itís a New York thing, a New York vision.
A New York
pictures and stare, but I donít think they see what I see, feel what I
feel as they see the BORDERS sign.
We move on,
down Broadway, crowds gather at each intersection creating a bottleneck.
The cops try to keep them moving. I stop in a quiet place and talk to
one. I thank him. He reveals that they are on 14-hour shifts; he started
at 4:00AM and would go to 6:00PM. But it was all part of the deal.
All part of what we had to do.
shuttled off of Broadway and loop around Broad Street for a couple of
blocks. Coming up to the corner you are offered your first glimpse of
Ground Zero. Tantalizingly close but still so far and still partially
We are near 1
Liberty Plaza, a tall black building that was used as a Triage center
during the initial hours, until it was thought to be unstable too. The
bottom side that faced the Trade Center contained a Brooks Brothers, and
it was in there, amongst the remains of the finery that the healers
waited. Waited for the injured that never came.
From here you
can see the remains the south tower, 2 WTC. Itís a skeleton of a corner
of the tower, about 40 feet high. It rises from the smoking ruins, the
devastation piled high around it. Its jagged ends pointing up, like the
arm and hands rising from the grave in a horror movie.
This is what
we saw, from the other side, those nights we went down there. This was
the second tower hit and the first down. As ghastly as it was in the
night, silhouetted in the harsh work lights, it is even more so now in
the bright sunlight of day.
was still hope, not much, but still hope of a miracle, no, the miracle.
The moving of some piece that would reveal the group buried but alive,
the survivors. It always works that way in the movies, why not now.
we know that will never be. We know now the count, the true destruction
of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
now, just jagged steel, dust and DNA.
No hope now,
just harsh reality, jagged ruins and smoke, like our own, new and
A week later
I repeat this trip with my friends Jackie and Susan. They are both New
Yorkers now living in the outer boroughs. They called just as I set out
to wander, view and photograph.
We meet and
repeat the same trip, the same brunch, the same route. The same
This time we
can get further down Broadway, more corners to stop and cry inside. They
are signs posted asking people not to photograph, most are hidden by
people as they crane to get a better shot. Once and awhile a cop will
stop them, but most snap away, unconcerned.
We are able
to get all the way down to Battery Park. I notice that lower Broadway is
parked with the large trailers I had noticed on Houston Street back in
the early days. They are generators. Each is now doing its part to power
the city back to life. Thick wires drape from them and go into newly
built troughs that run the length of Broadway. Here and there a set duck
into buildings, others must drop into the nether world to connect to
existing but dormant feeders.
to see. All this power bringing life back to a city that refused to die,
that refused to roll over and play dead.
I think ďonly
in America, when the shit hits the fan, do we have the power to keep the
couple come up Broadway, and asks where the disaster is. Itís almost
funny. My first instinct is to look for the towers, and use that as a
reference, you know, to guide us, to guide them. I smile. I point
towards the empty space. ďOver thereĒ I say.
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