Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11th, 2001 was a gorgeous day...

It really was. It was one of those perfect NYC fall days. Warm enough for short sleeves, but with just a little bit of chill on the morning air that would disappear before noon. Small signals of deepening autumn but without the sense of the impending cold weather.

I was supposed to be at work for 9, but I never got there until 9:15 at the earliest. There was a simple, rational reason to it. It took me 15-20 minutes to make it from Queens to midtown. Since we lived at the last stop in Queens, if I boarded the subway between 8:30 and 9, I would have to wedge myself intothe entire borough of Queens trying to make it to work for 9. If I boarded at 9:01, the train was empty. I was a temp, so it really didn't matter.

I kept NY1, the local news station, on every morning while I was getting ready for work, mostly for weather. As I picked up the remote to turn off the TV, Pat_Kiernan reported that a plane might have hit the World Trade Center. He took a call from a motorist on a cell phone who told him debris was all over the road. Nobody seemed too concerned. I simply thought, "Well that's fucking weird," and went to work.

I just kind of subconsciously made up my mind that it must have been a small private plane with some kind of trouble that smacked the WTC and broke apart. Imagine flying a remote control plane full speed into the side of the house. That's the picture I had in my head. Apparently, I wasn't the only one.

The people on the subway were calm. When I got to midtown, there was no indication from anyone on the street that anything out of the ordinary had happened. The only thought I really had about the whole thing was how difficult it would be to pull all the airline commercials off the schedule and find something to replace them that wouldn't conflict with anything else.

I got off the elevator and the office was relatively quiet. No one was at their desks, which was a little strange, but it was just 9:15 so I figured they were off bullshitting like they did every morning. I sat down, pulled up the Schedule and started working. Turns out, I didn't even have that many airline spots that week. Then Nell comes in and says, "Did you see the Trade Center?" I said, "No. A plane hit it or something?" "Two planes. We're under attack." "What? That sounds like bullshit." "Turn on your TV." Oh yeah, there's a TV on my desk. So I turn it on (it's already on NY1) and see the Pentagon in flames.

This was no longer interesting or weird.

I didn't know what to do, so I just kept working. Honestly, I wasn't really scared until the first tower collapsed. I remember thinking at that point, "I need to call my mom and tell her I'm OK."

I don't remember anybody telling us to leave and go home. The trains and subways weren't running. The bridges and tunnels were closed. There was no place to go and nothing to be done.

When they finally opened the bridges that afternoon, I walked home with my girlfriend (now wife) across the Queensborough bridge.

If I had just looked out my window before I walked out the door that morning, I would have seen it all happen. I don't know if that would have made any difference.

I don't care who's fault it was. I don't care who has capitalized, or tried to, on it. I don't care about the wars that followed it. Not today.

I don't care about the prayers or the moments of silence or God Bless America.

Today I care about one thing and one thing only. It's a statement I heard or read in the days after the attacks. I have no idea if it's entirely accurate, but it's so poetic that it must be partly true.

A fully loaded fireman climbs stairs at the rate of about one minute per flight.

The men from the FDNY that entered the North Tower to fight the fire and evacuate survivors were headed to the 93rd floor. They were blind and deaf as soon as they entered the stairwells. The tower collapsed after an hour.

They never had a chance.

And they did it anyway.

When I get home this evening, I'll be playing Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and having a drink in honor of the men who looked Death square in the face, said "Fuck you," and kept climbing.

Join me.


Anonymous said...

Nice tribute to ordinary people who did heroic deeds that day.

Pockets said...

I'm none too proud. All machismo, balls, and gumption out the window...I was fuckin' terrified. For all the politicians who told me in the days that followed that being terrified was finalizing a "win" for our attackers, and to whatever degree of correct they might have been, those first couple of days, I don't think any such philosophical, pin-prick sized nugget of wisdom permeated through the metric ton of speculation/news which captured my second to second attention over the ensuing 80 hours without sleep. My spine quickly returned, post slumber, but I would be less of a man today if not to presently and readily admit that a hairline string of terror is still needling in me enough to sway an action or two. Seven years later, I still can't write about it. I write to purge, to move on, to be done with. 9/11, I'm not done with. There's something about that little fiber of fear that makes me feel as if writing what I remember from that day, what I need to move on and let go, is to feel secure enough once again and open myself up to another attack. It's the fear of creating a prophecy that would self-fulfill in no time, as if terrorists could read minds or give a personal shit about me. Maybe next year.

bullet said...

I'm not saying I wasn't scared. I guess I was just too concerned to be much of anything else. Had to take care of the wife, let the parents know, find a way home or a place to stay, etc.

When I got home and could actually see the smoking wreckage across the river, I was terrified. Ditto when the F-15s kept whizzing past my window. And the empty streets of Manhattan. I was plenty scared, just not right away.