August 17, 2001
Sitting here at 150 Fulton Street, waiting for work and thinking fast. I know the opportunities are there for me. I just have to choose the ones I want and work it out. I have been offered a full time temporary position at The Drawing Center in September. I am going to take it because the money will come in very handy next month. Perhaps it will become permanent, but I can't say at this point.
August 28, 2001
299 Park Ave: the freight elevator guy looks like a cross between a redneck and a mentally unhinged comic. He never stops talking. I feel like I am trapped in an LSD enhanced version of hell. He sings songs about hungry women, getting drunk, and swelling tits. If he wasn't so pathetic, he might even be endearing. When the elevator doors slide open, I skid out in a rush. Sailing, sailing through the streets choked with yellow cabs, city buses, enormous lumbering trucks, and the ceaseless pedestrians; my bike dodges the deadly moves with a grace I'll never find on foot. This is a high, and the sweat that drenches my body accentuates it. I breathe. I feel fluid motion in my legs. I am small, yet powerful and flowing: dancing with death. Sometimes I wonder how I arrived at this place. Sometimes it is so hot when you're in the streets: the exhaust, the pavement expiring heat waves, the car engines churning, and the sun beating down mercilessly on everything. Then I pass over a metal grate, and a chill rises up like a cloud touching the surface of my skin and raising goosebumps. Deep inside, my body is its own engine, melting this momentarily cold skin with its fierce heat. Does this cold chill come from something toxic, something carcinogenic? Then I am distracted once more. The views are startling at times: a sea of people swarming the downtown streets, a Spanish rock band performing at The World Trade Center, the ancient ship at Seaport. Diverse scents from countless cultural foods flood the air with intoxicating tangibility. People pass by, comfortable with the thin layers of fat that soften the contours of their bodies. This is downtown: it always feels like a party.
August 29, 2001
Tompkins Square Park in the afternoon. It is relatively quiet here with just the sound of wheels gliding across the flat stone tiles in the circle where everyone sits. Voices, low but clearly audible, whisper of protest and revolution. Plans are hatched in this quiet place of trees and creativity; plans that might be forever lost in the whirlwind beyond this makeshift oasis or plans that could shake the world.
September 11, 2001
This has been my dream for the past few months, always the same. Where will I be when the plane crashes into the building? But it is always just a dream, a nightmare: myself on the ground seeing it happen. It is beyond surreal...it is impossible. Today the nightmare becomes reality.
These tears that fall from my eyes, these shaking fingers, this nauseous stomach. How can it be that I am here, right now, at this moment of history, one week away from the certainty of death? I try to express what I feel with words, only to feel a split second after the words have left my mouth, that the full extent of my feeling about this tragedy can never be expressed.
One day last summer I passed down East Broadway on my way to work as a bike messenger. It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies and cotton ball clouds floating idyllically past: no cares in the world. Looking up, I saw this sublime beauty reflected against the windows of The World Trade Center. I wrote that moment in one of my journals, and that picture stays with me.
Today I wake up and get ready for work, so happy to be going to The Drawing Center in Soho, so happy just to be able to ride my bike leisurely to work. The day is clear, bright and sunny. My messenger bag sits on the sofa, left behind with this new beginning. I'm not even going to bring my lock because today my bike is merely a conveyance not work. It will be parked inside all day. I consider leaving early and taking the Brooklyn Bridge into the city for a nostalgic view of what I have left behind: a leisurely bike tour of Wall Street and The World Trade Center. Downtown has become my new backyard over the summer, and an entire week has passed without me going there. I guess I am already beginning to miss it. But then again, I really need to look good for work. Today is the first day of my workweek, and new gateways are opening.
In the end, vanity eats my time and alters my course. I take the Williamsburg Bridge.
The first moment of awareness comes when I see the smoke, huge and turbulent, pouring into Brooklyn from Manhattan. Then traffic becomes gnarled up on Broadway heading towards the Williamsburg Bridge. I slowly approach the bridge and begin the grueling incline: halfway up the incline my legs give out. I get off my bike and begin walking, not believing my eyes. Both towers of The World Trade Center are black and punctured with enormous holes, burning and emitting thunderstorm sized clouds of black smoke. It is larger than life even at this distance. At the top of the ramp a crowd has gathered, staring, taking pictures, and speaking in hushed tones. Can this be understood? Can the eyes believe this vision of absolute destruction?
"What happened?" I ask, and the story begins to unfold: two airplanes, fifteen minutes apart, have crashed into each of the towers. I don't turn back. I just keep going...to work. I don't know why.
Ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars screech, careening up, down and sideways on the wrong sides of the streets: all heading south. People are running everywhere and smoke chokes the air. It is toal chaos- madness- and I still keep going. Emergency vehicles nearly run me down. Some rational part of my brain is crying, "This is crazy! Why are you going toward it, even now?" I can't break habit! I must get to work. I arrive, but no one is there! I smoke a cigarette. I start walking towards Grand and West Broadway. I find someone I know. Andrea. The burning giants loom before us, cinematically perfect against a lovely blue sky.
People are just staring: staring at the magnificence of destruction: a city in shock.
I think about where I am. I think about where I would have been if I still worked at Champion Courier in the shadow of The World Trade Center. I begin to shake and feel nauseous. I smoke again and give Andrea a cigarette. We learn more. Visuals we don't see, but will know forever: bodies falling from the sky as people step out from the subway, just before the trains stop running, blood everywhere, windows blowing out from buildings two, three blocks away. Then the horrible realization becomes clear. The thing that I had refused to consider is staring me in the face: this is no accident.
As I am thinking this, I hear snippets from the voices of other people around me, "Terrorists, it had to be...terrorists...", and on again, a growing rumble, an explosion of words. Then, people start running again, hundreds, thousands running from The Financial District and lower Manhattan. They run through the streets, not knowing where to stop, just heading north. I call out to two men, covered in dust and ash, "Why are you running?"
"Oh my God...oh God, the building is falling...the top of tower two just fell off..." one of them moaned.
I get the hell out, riding beside them on my bike. I see people bleeding, covered with ash, staring ahead with haunted eyes...in shock, just putting one foot in front of the other. I stop to check on my roommate at his job. He is OK. We smoke together. Then I head north. I stop at Union Square. I hear strident voices. I hear fear. I hear anger. It's been two hours since the towers were hit, one hour since the second collapse. In the aftermath, people have ricocheted from place to place, situation to situation, talking, reliving the tragedy, unable to escape the city. The trains have stopped, and every bridge and tunnel in and out of Manhattan is closed. One guy I meet is so clueless from shock that he lapses into his everyday patter as if none of this has happened: asking me questions, talking about himself, trying to score a date. I wonder about this.
I write "I" so many times. All I hear echoing through the air is, "...I was, I heard, I think, I, I, I..." Everyone brings forth their personal reaction: how they felt at that moment, how it might impact the future, how they were personally affected.
I realize that our country will go to war. It is the first time in over fifty years that the United States has been attacked on its own shores. This is the beginning of something my generation hasn't faced. I wonder how we will react.
September 12, 2001
Yesterday I wrote my initial thoughts and feelings, and my first fears. Yesterday, my first thoughts revolved around my own personal survival and the survival of my family and friends here in New York. Yesterday the full realization of how lucky I am to be alive struck me deeply. Yesterday I saw, without the crutch of media translation, the single most horrifying vision I have ever witnessed in my life. Yesterday I saw The World Trade Center after the second tower had been struck by a passenger jet. Yesterday I shed tears with the world. Yesterday, September 11, 2001 at 9:05AM my life changed forever.
I am slowly coming to terms with this horrible reality. My thoughts are layered in the immediate, the personal, the global, the present and the future. The ramifications of this event are incomprehensible.
September 13, 2001
This is our wasteland. This is our sorrow. This is our desolation. In these streets so desolate, so empty, occasional silhouettes merge with and emerge from the brownish-blue smoke that fills the air south of Fourteenth Street. The only vehicles to be seen are the official vehicles working directly with the disaster: police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, Con Ed trucks and Verizon vans. This is not the news. This is not the hyped-up, loud voice of the media attempting to translate what has been burned into our eyes and our hearts forever. It is eerily quiet up and down the Avenues. The people one sees are walking with that humble posture of shock and grief. When your eyes meet the eyes of a stranger, it is like looking into a bottomless well of the soul: an understanding so deep and incomprehensible passes, and you are connected forever in that gaze. Everyone makes an effort to cooperate. You no longer see the hard faces of everyday mirroring diverse, conflicting philosophies. You no longer see the energetic bustle of a functioning city.
I don't know know how many people I have met and communicated with at WTC who are missing or dead. I don't know if my co-workers at The Drawing Center are OK. There are so many unknowns, so many questions, and so many details that cannot be known. I feel this on a primal level: death and destruction and environment and location.
Today I became the unwilling participant in a bomb threat evacuation at Union Square. As I rode my bike within a few feet of the alleged bomb, police officers began shouting, "Get off the street...Clear the area!" I was shuffled into a nearby McDonald's and held there for nearly an hour while the bomb squad checked out the situation. I was annoyed, and I use that word specifically to describe my reaction: annoyed. Perhaps, if this had happened a week ago, I would be shocked and emotionally unstable, right now. I would probably feel threatened and devastated, but today? NO. Instead I felt annoyed, irritated, and inconvenienced because I am emotionally devastated by the destruction of WTC. Fucking assholes with their phony bomb threats.
But really, inconveniences are not the issue now. An enormous number of people are dead, just because they went to work on time on Tuesday. I feel such compassion for those people who died and their families and friends who still search for them. It is by the thinnest line of chance that I am not one of them. I empathize with with the survivors who witnessed this tragedy as they ran for their lives, like my daughter's best friend's mother: a divorcee raising five children on her own. This grief grows from a fundamental standpoint: it is about experiencing, as an eyewitness, the destruction of beauty, hard work, networking, development, unity, security, and freedom. This is a statement about destroying the beauty of creation.
My soul, that is the artist, cries in outrage and grief.
This is weakness. This is strength.
September 14, 2001
Today the people of The United States of America mourn the loss of life at WTC, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon. Today our nation tries to look for hope and show a strong face to the world.
Today I tried to go to work at 35 Wooster Street.
Seeing the doors locked and the still, empty streets of Soho is so depressing. Normally you can't get through the multitude of tourists and locals out shopping and eating and walking around: the tourists descend on this area because, let's face it, Soho is famous worldwide. Now it is a challenge just to negotiate the landscape. The subways stop at 8th Street, not Canal, which is where I need to be to go to work. Walking south on Broadway in the rain, I get to Spring Street and stop again. I am remembering my intimate messenger sense of Broadway, thinking about how I divided it as I rode from 86th Street all the way down to Wall Street. At Spring and Broadway I only had three or four minutes left, and I could see downtown and WTC from there. Today, the smoke obliterates nearly everything south of Canal Street which is completely barricaded by NYPD. I rode down this stretch of Broadway at least ten times a day all summer long, and now I can't go down there for any reason. Suddenly it all sinks in: all that shit on TV is turning this tragedy into a giant cliché, and I fell for it. I wanted to believe it. I wanted to think that everything was going to be OK. I really did. It is not OK. We are not OK. This is totally fucked up for for everybody in New York. Our systems are down, our landscape is wounded, and our hearts are bleeding. We are trying to be brave, even though it is so scary and depressing to be here right now. Scarier still, is the reality that whatever this country's president and government decide to do could result in more attacks here. So we live with that uncertainty while tiptoeing around the disaster site now so commonly known as Ground Zero, breathing that smoke, seeing the crying families, and not knowing which train will take us where...lost in our own city.
September 15, 2001
There is no comfort and no place to rest. I sleep, and even then I do not rest. Pure exhaustion, physical and emotional comes, and I haven't done anything for days. I talk to my friends and try to convey what I feel. It passes through them because this thing is too big and everybody is affected...EVERYBODY. My words just float away, never stopping at any place and never forced to stop, never felt, and never grounded and I've never been in this place before. I've never existed in a time where words truly fail their function to express, where every sentence sounds like a cliché, and intelligent people regurgitate everything presented by the media like parrots.
This all seems so insignificant now, like nitpicking during a catastrophe, but it is important. It is important not to lose sight of who we are simply because we are shocked and dazed. Everybody suddenly believes in the president because we need somebody to point us in a direction that will remind us of how we used to live. This concerns me because we're buying into his slogans and fevered eyes without really knowing what his words mean. "War on Terrorism" "we will find our enemies and bring them to justice." Hell, they should have already known who our enemies are and been prepared for them. That shakes me up because I have always had faith in the "badass" strength of America. I've always been confident that U.S. military intelligence and surveillance methods were too crafty and secretly terrible to share with the civilian world. I have always had a mistrust of "Big Brother" and the absolute trust that he was out there. Now, I wonder if the American public is buying into something far more terrible: trading individuality and critical thinking for blind faith in a project that we don't even comprehend. We are told to be strong and brave. We are told to have faith in our government and God. We are told to trust and support any decisions made by our government. I am all for unity among our people. I'm all about pulling together and healing our wounds. Yes, we need to do these things, but we also need to be mindful not to hand our souls and our lives over to an abstract power structure that only gives us information on a "need to know" basis. They were supposed to protect us before September 11 changed our lives forever, and they failed to do that. So, sure you have my support, but the Hell if I'm going to blindly believe in your propaganda.
I wonder where I will go from here, and how? I'm an artist, not a politician. Shit, I came to New York to figure out how to live the life of an artist, and that's what I was doing when all this pandemonium broke out. I have shaped my work according to smaller issues: human issues, both wonderful and terrible. I feel that artists are going to become needed soon, that perhaps our voices and visions will help alleviate some of this terrible pain that everybody feels. If I am an artist, I am going to have to rise up to this and do my best. I don't know how I will translate this tragedy through my talent, but I know it will come.
I cannot wallow in grief. I cannot allow the aftermath of this disaster to break my focus. Just as I negotiate the physical landscape of NYC, scarred and wounded by hate, I must negotiate the wounded landscape of my emotions.
September 17, 2001
WTC 5 looms up just across Broadway at Fulton Street. Blackened, charred, and smoking, it looks like the gate to hell. Each black hole that gapes like the eye of Death represents an office of how many? I don't know. I remember its previous pristine presence and myself staring at it from my starting point on Fulton, then racing madly towards it before taking a smooth right on Church Street as I headed uptown. The streets, covered in ash, give off an odor of burn and chemical and death. In the basement at 150 Fulton Street, my buddies at the newsstand are just opening up, as is Charlie, down at the dry cleaning shop. They are the only ones open out of perhaps twenty businesses. Steel gates with NYC padlocks give off a bleak ambience. My acquaintances smile when they see me, their shell-shocked expressions lightening for just a moment. I am feeling the weight of everything down here, but I don't show it. I tell the guys at the newsstand, "Hey, let me buy a pack of smokes and a soda. I want to be your first customer." He hands me a 20 oz. Diet Coke and a pack of Marlborough light 100's because he knows. I say to him, "I know. Some things are just so predictable." He laughs a little bit. I smile.
Nearby, a cute cop smiles when he hears us talking. It's OK. He sees my messenger bag and says, "Wow. I never saw a female messenger before. Cool. What's it like?"
"It's a lot of fun, but I just stopped doing it last week because I have a new job."
"Where do you work now?" he asks.
"In Soho, but I used to work down here."
"Oh," he smiles knowingly, "you used to."
I go talk to Charlie. He tells me his story. I tell him mine. We look around. It's OK. I leave and bump into another guy from the upstairs "whatever you need, we have it" shop. He tells me his story. I tell him mine. We discuss business: personal issues, like, will we get paid for our lost week of work. We don't know. We just hope for the best. He tells me he's helping out as a volunteer, that he hasn't been home since last Tuesday. I tell him I'm proud of him and keep up the good work...to take care. He kisses me on the cheek, and I leave so as not to be in the way. I go further south, down Gold Street, down Pearl Street. I see the huge trucks that are carrying generators. I see the blackened doorways of all my places: 99 John Street, 111 John Street, 48 Wall Street, 1 Wall Street Court and the others. I see people beginning the process of cleaning their businesses. I see the nearly empty streets. I sense a somber resolve in the air. Downtown sure isn't the party it used to be, but the first guests are arriving and making a stab at bringing back the good 'ol days.