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Some Additional Thoughts
November, 2001

 

Several months before the events of September 11, The Husband-Type Man and I had already made plans for what has become an annual treat for us: the Halloween parade in Greenwich Village. Even though we were living in LA last year, we flew back to attend the parade and spend the week in the city we both love and hated to leave. This year, we wanted to go back again, so we bought our tickets and booked our hotel.

Then those planes hit and the country went to war and suddenly Giuliani and the NYPD and FD are heroes and no one wants to fly or travel and there's anthrax in the post offices-

As early as the morning of September 11, my mom asked me "So, I guess you kids won't be going to New York next month…?"

Actually, the thought of not going just barely crossed our minds. As weeks went on, it became increasingly important to go back and see the city, see what had changed and what was different.

We went. We ate at our favorite restaurants. We walked all over the place. We went to our favorite stores and spend hours browsing. We read the papers and listened to local news. We went to Game 5 of the World Series, and screamed and cheered and hugged strangers when Knoblauch scored that final run. We went back to our old neighborhood, Brooklyn Heights. And we saw that New York is still the same… yet it's different, too. Certain streets aren't as crowded and bustling all hours any more. Several times, people greeted us as we passed them on the streets. The police officers out patrolling were treated like friends by the people out and about. There was that smell… acrid, bitter, choking, that came from Lower Manhattan when the wind was a certain way.

And, of course, there was the empty spot in the skyline.

We used to call the view from the Promenade in Brooklyn "our backyard." Only a block and a half's walk, we'd go there several times a week and just… LOOK at the city. You know the line from the song, "I want to be a part of it, New York, New York"…? That's the experience. Looking at that glittering, world-famous panorama and feeling compelled to BE A PART OF all that.

We went back to "our backyard" early one morning, and felt the weirdness of seeing that tranquil, familiar skyline with such a huge change… just wiped out, as if it was never there.

The promenade still bears evidence of mourning, of memorial tributes. I have been struggling with my feelings about these kinds of shrines and the things left there anyway. To see "our backyard" literally paved with old piles of wax from thousands of candles, to see dozens and dozens of faded ribbons and wires that had tied flowers to the fences, to see the piles of cards and candles and notes and things left there still, in clumps around familiar gardens and benches and walkways and flagpoles, was… well, how can one even describe it?

Like I had back in Oklahoma in June, I walked the length and back of the fences, reading things, looking at child-drawn pictures, seeing old flowers or even just flower stems left from only a few weeks previous. I thought maybe this time I'd cry, like the people on TV. This time, I'd feel moved at the poems and teddy bears.

What I felt was the overwhelming realization that every candle, every ribbon, every note and poem, represented ONE PERSON, ONE HUMAN BEING, who was affected by this event. Someone who lost a loved one. Someone who saw the explosions and implosions. Someone who felt scared, sad, hopeless, angry as a result. Someone who drove to New York to see it with his or her own eyes. Someone who smelled that acrid odor from the WTC site and knew it was, melodrama aside, the smell of death, of horror and terror beyond human comprehension.

It wasn't the stuff ITSELF - this teddy bear, that drawing, this poem - that was moving; it was the necessity for their existence in the first place, I guess.

I asked myself before "what's the USE of doing this?" What's the use of buying a carnation or a stuffed bear and setting it in front of a fence with a candle? And I guess it's use is that you can't do anything else. You can't go to the buildings and pull someone out. You can't find the person responsible and beat them senseless. You can't run and hide. You have to be connected - "be a part of it" - any way you can. For some, it's a teddy bear or a poem.

I'm still struggling with my feelings about public memorials, of course… not to mention all of the feelings about these events, the state of our world. But, unlike Oklahoma, I felt that sense of "being a part of it," of what had happened, in a weird way.

That's not to say that it was all this teary-eyed "Touched by an Angel" experience. There's more.

On our last full day in the city, we got up early and took the NR (and now W) train - so familiar a route - downtown. The Courtland St./WTC stop is closed, of course, so we got off at Rector Street. I wasn't sure what to expect. It took a moment to get our bearings; without the towers there, it's disconcerting, harder to find landmarks.

As we walked towards the site (I refuse to call it "ground zero" all media-like), I was amazed at the crowds of people. This was early morning, mind. It was pretty quiet, though, and as we walked down a now-closed street towards that yellow-tape barrier, hand painted signs were placed at eye level every couple of feet:

PLEASE RESPECT OUR DEAD. NO PICTURES!

PLEASE DO NOT TAKE PICTURES OR VIDEO!

THIS MEANS YOU!

NO, WE AREN'T KIDDING! NO PICTURES!

I was glad about that. Me and THTM had already talked about our feelings about going there, and how it just was… WRONG to take pictures. I mean, it's not a photo op, you know.

I was gobsmacked with revulsion when I saw, as we came in sight of that 1-acre, 10-story pile of rubble that had once been the two World Trade Center towers, that people were COMPELTELY disregarding the requests, and were lined up taking pictures of the wreckage as if it was Times Square or the Statue of Liberty. The FUCK?! It's like going to Auschwitz after the liberation and taking pictures of the stacks of dead bodies or something!

To make matters worse, there were vendors who had parked themselves near various corners, some selling hot dogs and falafel, others selling… well… merchandise. NY/USA baseball hats and ski caps. American flags. Ski caps knitted in red-white-and-blue. And t-shirts… tons of t-shirts… with American flags, with "NEVER FORGET!" and "September 11, 2001," with images of the WTC towers or the NY skyline and slogans underneath that proclaim "The Day Lady Liberty Cried" or "I *heart * NY more than ever!" And these picture-taking cretins were lining up to snap up a couple shirts and caps and hot dogs before going off to ogle the wreckage and take more photos for the folks back home-

I was shaking with the disrespectfulness of it all. I don't know who I hated more, the tourists or the vendors. I glared hateful shit at the people holding up hats and WTC pictures in my face, and found myself muttering "'Cos, yeah, IT'S A FUCKING PHOTOGRAPHIC MOMENT, asshole!" at more than one person. The Husband-Type Man passive-aggressively jostled more than one person, ruining their shots. But no biggie… they'd take other ones.

I felt dirty for having even BEEN there and participated in such a scene… for having "been a part" of… of THAT.

I have no earth-shattering conclusion to this event in terms of the bombing, Oklahoma City, or my previous thoughts on informal public memorials and grieving. I guess it's just enough to say that I do not understand people AT ALL sometimes.

God, that was depressing. Let's go back to the fun road trip stuff….

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