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
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
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
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
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,
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
To make matters worse, there were vendors who had parked
themselves near various corners, some selling hot dogs and
falafel, others selling
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
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
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