Saturday, November 12, 2016


Sometimes there's a how,
and sometimes there's a why;
but I've not very often seen
both together. Mostly it's all
just blind luck. It's always
been that way for me. I
walk with a lot of strong
and vivid memories.
Here's one I'll jump to.
I've written some reams
about this, but this particular
occurrence is most telling.
September 11, 2001 was a
Tuesday. At about 8 that
morning, whatever time it
was, I was in the Barnes &
Noble where I worked. A
guy I worked with, a retired
school teacher, came into
my room there and said a
plane had just crashed into
one of the Twin Towers. He
walked away  -  I thought
nothing of it, figuring one
of those small private planes
had somehow careened off-
course and made a dastardly
flight error. It immediately
annoyed me because, during
those months, I had been,
weekly, in that World Trade
Center area, and my mind
just simply went to all the
upcoming inconvenience
that a plane-crash there
would be causing : delays,
street-closing, blockages,
and the rest. Then, a short
while later, Ken returned
to announce that a second
plane had now hit the other
building. 'Hmmm, that's
pretty weird,' I thought to
myself. Still, no alarms.
Then, others brought out a
TV, so as to listen to the
unending reports of whatever
had occurred. It went on, of
course, from that point  -
they weren't 'planes' at all,
but real-life jets, commercial
flights, etc. It was like a series
of 'what the hell?' moments
which then just began and kept
unfolding, even as I walked
away. I kept getting weird
reports, from people's heads
sticking into the room. 'Both
hit bad;' 'In flames;' People
jumping;' 'Total panic
everywhere;' 'One tower
collapsed; down, just gone;'
'Other tower collapsed; also
down, just gone;' Etc. You
know the rest. Everyone
everywhere was flabbergasted.
There were all different levels
of responses underway,
everywhere. Each depended
on the particular and specific
life-quality of the person
responding : the emoters
were crying and wailing;
the doubters were doubting;
the cold, hard stoic types just
muscled through it; every sort
of response was underway,
including my own  -  which
was a sort of sour-mix of
bother and annoyance. There's
always, in addition, a certain
coterie of people, in situations
like this, who take that very
cloying and procedural route -
making order from chaos,
rounding things up, forming
lines, making control. It
happened there as well  -
we were, eventually, allowed,
any who wished, to go home,
to sort out the day as we saw
fit. That was the orderly
conclusion of those in
charge, to 'take their charge'
of the day. I can't remember
clearly, but I recall being
home by about 1. That
was the day, and that
was the hour.
Four days later, Saturday,
the fifteenth, I'm in NYC, at
early morning. I forget how
I got in. I know that I was
started out from somewhere
in Greenwich Village, King
Street, as I recall. Walking
downtown, Varick Street.
There were emergency trucks
everywhere, and emergency
generators and power hookups
everywhere, white ash was
still on everything, thick and
heavy. Sirens were constant.
Police, fire, government,
FBI, and all the rest, vehicles
were everywhere. Here and
there were things crushed,
here and there a cast-aside
fire truck, wherever it had been
left  -  crushed or half-crushed,
flattened cabs, no glass, water
running everywhere too. It
was the stillest, eeriest NYC
sight I'd ever seen, or see. Like
Dresden after the fire-bombing,
or London in the Blitz. Silent,
stunned people. Tasks to be 
done. Worries on all faces.
I every life there are dead 
spots, large periods of 
blackness and doubt. This 
was one, for me. I never 
knew, there in person, what
I should have been feeling,
or even witnessing. It was 
unique, and a perplexing 
singularity  -  two, massive, 
iconic buildings, the plaza 
and sculpture between them,
all that vitality, the shops 
and streets, the people, 
cars, cabs and the rest. 
This had been a real, 
and total, and important
spot. Now it was all gone. 
An obliterated Hell of 
new things. I'm not really 
sure anyone truly awoke 
to any of this until a 
week later when it
finally set in.
There were lots of barricades
around, and police barriers
kept people away from lots
of things. Mostly it was all
done on the periphery. At 
one point, fires and smoke
still smoldering, I remember
the southern terminus being
Canal Street, past which 
you could not go. I finally
found a way, walking down
the extreme west side, at 
the river, to get as close as
I wished, without interference.
Three things stand out, and
there were lots more: 1. At
Battery Park  -  below all
the Wold Trade Center 
carnage, there had been
set up a large triage station;
a huge assemblage of first-aid
tents, personnel, EMT vans, 
etc. It was like an entire 
village. I did get there, 
at one point  myself. All 
the medical people were
stunned  -  they had all these
supplies, tents, emergency
stations, for what they 
expected would be a rush 
of maimed and injured
people keeping them busy
for days. Yet, outside of
some firefighters and an
occasional injured pedestrian,
NO ONE showed up. There
were none. A few days later,
sadly, much of that emergency
village was dismantled; 
2. Uptown just a little, outside
the White Horse Tavern, that
same Saturday night, Perry or
Jane Street at Hudson Street,
people milling around, drinks 
and dining and all that. As if
from another world, totally,
there would be  -  in the 
evening's light  -  (and this 
stays with me to this very 
moment, as if I'd witnessed 
the Crucifixion), occasional
white-coated, collapsed-building 
dust covered, single firemen,
in their one-at-a-time heavy
fireman gear, boots, axes,
hammers, hatchets, and
helmets, listlessly, as if
in a daze, walking their
forlorn and sullen ways
uptown  -  I guess to their 
fire-houses and shift stations,
In itself, that was eerie enough.
But, each time, and no matter
what else, as they passed,
diners, drinkers, walkers,
whatever, would stop what
they were doing, everyone 
stood up, and applause
started, quiet and respectful, 
as each figure passed; 3. The
Holland Tunnel was closed
for days after this World Trade
Center thing happened; 
emergency vehicles only, 
fire trucks from other and 
distant places, etc. Far-flung
cities and towns were sending
crews, trucks, and help. I was
standing there, of a morning,
and by me passed a small,
home-made brass band. Black
people, all. Shiny instruments,
whatever clothes they had on,
from the shoulders and belts
hung axes, ropes, tools,
hammers and hatchets, all
that again, and as they walked 
along, in a lightly-organized
contingent, they were playing
slow and mournful, dirge-like
music. Without a word. It
was stunning, and beautiful,
and about the saddest thing
I'd ever seen. I watched them,
and listened, as they passed.
They had come to work, to 
help, and bring their music.
I knew not from where, nor
how. At this time, as well, I
was writing a newspaper
column, a weekly, for a
local newspaper, and I 
wrote of this, precisely and
carefully relating what I saw.
I mentioned that, as blacks,
I felt their service here was
remarkable, considering the
lineage of slavery and abuse
and discrimination their
race had been put through  -
and then for them to do such 
homage here. I should have
known better. I was criticized,
pilloried, and nearly executed
for what I'd written. No one, 
evidently, had gotten my drift.
All good intentions, down the
drain. Once again, I was stunned.

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