"Mid-Town High Rise" is the name emblazoned on the trucks and walls of the NYFD firehouse on the north side of 51st Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues. It's a nickname: the NYFD doesn't give its firehouses names, and officially this one is "the 8/2"-home of Engine Co. 8 and Ladder Co. 2, and HQ for the 8th Battalion.
Next door, to the east, is the NYPD's 17th Precinct police station, where about 40 cops are lined up in two rows, facing the precinct house. On command they face left, march to the 8/2, face right, and present the firefighters with a large wreath. Then, one by one, each cop shakes each fireman's hand. Most of those here are New Yorkers, but not all: there is a scattering of cops and firemen from all over the country. One of the firemen is a volunteer from Cincinnati; another is from Oklahoma City.
The volunteers are needed because the 8/2 lost 10 men on September 11. Their names are listed on a large poster on the left wall outside the firehouse: Chief Tom D'Angelis, commander of B8, Captain Fred Ill, commander of L2, and Firefighters Mike Clark (L2), George DiPasquale (L2), Dennis Germain (L2), Dan Harlin (B8), Tom McCann (L2), Carl Molinara (L2), Dennis Mulligan (L2), and Rob Parro (E8). Below their names: "We are keeping the light on for you." Below that are color photos of the ten, in two rows of five. The 8th battalion has three other firehouses in mid-town Manhattan, but the 8/2 has suffered the most-10 of the battalion's 17 lost.
In front of the poster, candles burning in glass containers fill an area maybe five feet by four. To the right a larger area with flowers. Not your little bouquets-these are 5-gallon white plastic buckets filled with flowers, maybe 25 of them. The same buckets they are using at the site to clear rubble. And on both sides of the firehouse are dozens of letters, notes, and childrens' drawings. The precinct house has its own candles, flowers, letters and drawings. A cartoon shows Superman, Batman, and Spiderman lined up at a barricade at the WTC site, with a weary fireman and policeman passing by. The superheroes are asking them for their autographs.
New York's fire and police stations have become shrines. Knots of people stand in front of them, reading and fighting back tears. I ask one of the firemen about Fred Ill, whose name I read as "Fred III." The fireman says, "Fred Ill-he's chief of Ladder Company 2." He will keep using the present tense for Ill, I suppose, until a new commander is appointed.
On the morning of September 11th I was typing on my computer when the phone rang. It was my younger daughter, Sara. Sara lives in Brooklyn and works at a gym in lower Manhattan, at Christopher Street and West End Avenue. She normally takes the subway to work, but that day a girlfriend gave her a ride. Four minutes after they passed by the World Trade Center, heading north on West End, the first plane hit, and she called us on her cell phone. "You won't believe this," she said, "but a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center-turn on the TV." I did, and saw the second plane hit. Immediately, the phone rang-Sara again. Everyone at her gym was on the roof watching the North Tower burn when the South Tower got hit. They were crying and in shock. Body-building champions were crying and in shock. After that we couldn't get through to N.Y., and she couldn't get through to anyone. I finally reached her around midnight. She said that that I couldn't imagine what it was like: an endless parade of bloody, ash-covered people trudging up West End Avenue; a policeman, collapsing in the middle of the street, choking, calling for water. The gym was offering people water, showers, and towels. Her boyfriend, Kyle, was on the roof of the building on 35th Street where he works when the second plane hit. He walked down to the gym, and they walked home together to Brooklyn.
My wife Jane and I had a houseguest from California who was supposed to fly home the next day, but couldn't get a flight until Sunday. The day before she left my cousin Judy called to tell me that my 86-year old mother was in Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. She'd fallen and was badly hurt, but the more serious part was that the doctors said that she'd collapsed because her heartbeat had become irregular and her lungs had filled with fluid. They were trying to stabilize her heartbeat. Jane thought I needed to go to New York. Judy also said that a neighbor in her apartment building, a single woman who worked on the 100th floor of the WTC, hadn't returned from work on the 11th. Wednesday morning, September 12th, the tenants held a meeting, divided up the hospitals and morgues, and fanned out looking for her. They didn't find her. Sara said my mother looked like hell. Jane got me a plane ticket for Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday, September 18
Rosh Hashanah-the Jewish New Year and start of the preparation for Yom Kippur-the Day of Atonement. At synagogue instead of the traditional skull cap I wear my NY Yankees cap. Then, though normally I wouldn't travel on Rosh Hashanah, Jane took me to an almost deserted McGhee-Tyson, where my bag was searched and they were confiscating nail clippers. I changed planes at the similarly deserted Charlotte airport, arriving at Newark around 9pm. There, in a huge multi-flight waiting room that two months earlier at 11pm had held maybe 600 people, the 10 or 15 people who got off my MD-80 were the only travellers to be seen.
I could have stayed with relatives, but the Marriot on Third Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Street was a short walk to the #4 subway that could take me to Montefiore Hospital, and across the street was a subway stop for the F-train that takes you to Sara's apartment. Other than the driver, I was the only American on the van from the airport to Manhattan-the other passengers were from Copenhagen, Zurich, Japan, Israel, and Argentina. The young man from Copenhagen said he'd heard they were searching all luggage going into Manhattan. I said that I doubted it-if they did, traffic would be backed up to Pittsburgh. From New Jersey we saw the smoke rising from the bright WTC site; in Manhattan below 28th Street we could smell the smoke-the disturbing, acrid smell of burnt plastic.
I was the last drop-off, and when it got down to the driver and me, we started chatting. It turned out that he, an immigrant from Jamaica, lived in Queensbridge Houses-the same NYC Housing Project I'd lived in until I was 11, when my mother and I moved to the Bronx. I'd lived at 41-10 Vernon Blvd; he lives in the building next door. The supermarket at the oval in the project's center, he told me, was still there, though no longer an A&P, and the playschool (now, "kindergarten"-in 1948 German terms were out of favor) I'd attended was also still there. His mother had been born two years before we moved.
There were two other customers at the hotel bar that night: a man who said he works for a company that makes x-ray detectors, and that he'd been at the Knoxville FBI office two months earlier, and a health-care analyst from Merrill-Lynch, whose work occasionally takes her to Nashville.
She'd worked on the 36th floor of the South Tower ("Second hit; first to fall," she said, as though it were a badge of distinction), and lived across the street at Battery Park City. Her apartment building was being used as a morgue, and Merrill-Lynch was putting her up at the Marriot. After she got out of the WTC she'd gone to her apartment and watched from her terrace. She said she'd seen about ten couples jump from the fiery WTC hand-in-hand. She was angry, because there was a rumor that some of the jumpers had been pushed by a crush of people behind them. She had a very clear view, she insisted, and no one was pushed: they jumped. (Looking out a classroom window from a greater distance, a pupil at a nearby elementary school told his teacher, "The birds are on fire!")
Wednesday, September 19
The best subway entrance for the trip to the hospital is on the northeast corner of 51st and Lexington. I could get there by going west on 52nd and then south a block, but I'm drawn to the firehouse, and always go down 51st. This morning I notice that one of the posters is a warning about a scam: a request for donations for the families of lost firefighter's to be sent to a PO box at Grand Central Station. I imagine the firefighters won't have much trouble getting the cops at the 17th to look into this.
On the subway ride north I'm reading stories in the NY Times. There's Fern Strauss, who worked on the 31st floor of 7 WTC, and didn't realize until after she'd gotten to safety that some of the debris she'd passed through was body parts. (Exiting the WTC, people had to pick their way around severed heads, feet, and so on. Also, an office chair with a segment of someone's back attached.) Fern lives in Manhattan. She wanted to join her family in Queens for the Jewish New Year, but "couldn't get it together." Sharon Wingate, 25, a Verizon employee, was in Brooklyn checking a new data line to a shoe store when she noticed that it was "snowing paper." She walked down the street to get a view of Manhattan and saw the second plane hit. A week later she says, "It's in mind all the time."
The #4 train to Montefiore Hospital rises up out of the ground just before Yankee Stadium, and for the rest of its run in the Bronx is an elevated train ("el"), running above Jerome Avenue. In 1959 I once cooked and sold 1400 hot dogs at a double-header at Yankee Stadium, and I still remember the breakfast stadium employees used to get at the Jerome Avenue Cafeteria under the el: orange juice, pancakes, oatmeal, two eggs with bacon or sausage, milk and coffee, for less than a dollar.
In the Bronx the train passes through poor Hispanic neighborhoods that look better than they used to-some serious urban renewal has been going on. A few tenement windows sport flags-American, Mexican, and Dominican, but mostly the flag of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, frequently in tandem with an American flag. You see American flags here about as frequently as you see them in white neighborhoods. In Harlem you see more American flags than in white neighborhoods. And there are more candles and flowers at fire stations in poor neighborhoods than at those in rich ones. At one fire station in a poor Brooklyn neighborhood, I read, a guy shows up with his checkbook, calculates the bills he'll have to pay that month, subtracts that from his balance, and writes a check for the remainder to the firehouse.
Crime is down about 33% since September 11. So are auto sales.
The next Sunday Times, as it happens, runs a story about the neighborhood my train passes through. Lucy Garcia, it said, ran out of her office at 5 WTC when the first plane hit, and walked home, arriving seven hours later: "I saw this man falling," she said. "It was so sad because as you saw him falling from the window you see these little faces looking out the window. I was going, 'God have mercy on him. Jesus, please help that man.' He's like a rag doll just falling out the window."
Edison Alcantor and some of his friends walked into a bodega and asked the Arab Owner, Kalid Ahmad, "Are you happy about what happened today?" Alcantor says, "I really went in there because they're Arabic. To see what was on their mind. If they had been happy, I would have snuffed them." Mayor Giuliani says that when he saw a man jump from the 104th floor of the WTC, he knew nothing like this had happened before in NY. Giuliani watched as the man leaped from the building, fell, and slammed into the pavement.
A sign at the hospital elevator bank: "Due to the overwhelming public response, we are not accepting whole blood today." The sign is there for the duration of my visit, along with an addendum saying that they are accepting epherisis donors for platelets. What is epherisis?
At the Intensive Care Cardiac Unit (ICCU) my mother's heartbeat is still irregular, and they're adjusting her medication. She had a bypass years ago, and the cardiologist tells me that if they did an angiogram now they'd find a lot of blockage, but at her age, aggressive treatment is not a good idea, so they don't intend to open her up.
Heading north in the morning the #4 was almost empty, but in late afternoon for the trip south it's crowded, and during the ride a couple of people pass through the car selling AA batteries. At first I think it's a scam, but people buy the batteries-2 for a dollar Duracells, in their packaging--for their fading Walkmen, and I realize it's a legitimate service. One day a woman selling batteries spots a friend of hers sitting in my car, sits down, and the two commence rapid-fire Spanish chatting. They get off at the next stop, arm in arm, still chattering away.
One type of business I never figure out. Every once in a while someone passes through the train selling little plastic boxes that emit funny beeps and chirps. What's that about? The sales pitch is in Spanish, which I don't understand.
Back in Manhattan I try to buy a small spiral notebook at a store in the Citigroup building, which occupies the block north of my hotel. The building has four entrances. I try the northeast one, but an employee wearing a blazer says the entrance is closed "because of the events." I try the south entrance, but there fliers say that it, too, is closed. It's raining and, disgusted, I give up. Three days later I try the west entrance; another employee wearing a blazer tells me it's closed "because of what happened." I feel it, too: the awkwardness of trying to refer to something to which no one wants to refer. It's real problem-you think about it a lot. During my visit a consensus seemed to develop around "September 11th," but in the last few days "the attack" was gaining favor. The display windows at Saks Fifth Avenue have an elegant solution. The merchandise has been removed; instead, each window has a single spotlight illuminating a rough-hewn black slab that covers most of the window's floor. On the windows, in white, the inscription: "With gratitude and admiration." All the big stores on Fifth have removed the merchandise from their display windows.
My high school, Stuyvesant, used to be located at 15th and 1st Avenue, but it moved to a new building at Chambers Street, 4 blocks north of the WTC, and now just outside "the hot zone." (It is literally hot-underground fires keep parts of the rubble at thirty degrees above the ambient temperature; if firemen stand still their rubber soles start to melt.) Stuyvesant students, an announcement scrolling across the bottom of CBS-TV says, will tomorrow report to Brooklyn Tech-our traditional rival-at 11am. They'll hold split sessions: Brooklyn Tech students in the morning; Stuyvesant students in the afternoon. The first lunch period will be at 9:18am; the last at 5pm. The subway stops south of Stuyvesant, shared by the #1 and #9 trains are closed-the Times says 1/5 of a mile of tunnel has collapsed. Giuliani adds 900 to the missing, as foreign governments report on their missing citizens. 76,459 tons of rubble have been removed from the site.
Sara is joining me for dinner, but "because of what happened" the hotel won't admit anyone without a room key, so the front desk calls me when she arrives and I go to the lobby to escort her in. One of her best friends, Kate, she tells me, who moved here two years ago when Sara did, said she can't take it anymore. Kate caught a train to Vermont and from there made her way home to Ohio; she says she's never coming back.
I tell Sara that she, with NY blood in her, is made of sterner stuff. She's depressed, but sticking it out. A friend of hers at the gym is certified for mountain rescue, and has been helping at the site. He says they're mainly finding bits of intestine. Sara says she doesn't know what they would do without Mayor Giuliani: "He's like a father to the whole city." The next day Kyle tells me that the very qualities that made a lot of New Yorkers dislike Giuliani are now what makes him so effective and reassuring.
We eat at a Japanese restaurant around the corner, and then stop by the 8/2. (Stopping by at firehouses is now a normal NY social activity.) Sara baked two apple pies for her local fire house-Park Slope's Squad 1, which lost 12 of its crew of 27. (Some reports say 30, but Squad 1 was understrength by 3 on September 11.) I tell the firemen that I raised her, and she's never baked a pie for me-I didn't even know she could. "At least you still have her," one of them says.
Thursday, September 20
Riding with me down in the hotel elevator this morning is a blonde with a nightstick stuck on her suitcase where normally you'd see an umbrella. I ask her about it: she's a cop from Buffalo who came down to help. One of a group of Buffalo cops who came down to help.
The usually empty lobby is packed: an insurance company, USAA, has brought in people from out of town to help process claims. Computers and printers being unloaded from vans fill the hotel's luggage carts. A local USAA employee is telling the new arrivals about another USAA employee who was driving up West End when a chunk of concrete hit the hood of his Volvo, crushing it. He managed to go three blocks before the engine completely died; then he ran. Everyone is amazed at his quick thinking.
At 5'10", in New York's Asian and Latin American neighborhoods I am usually the tallest person on the block. Walking on Jerome Avenue from the subway station to the hospital, I pass La Lomita Antojitos Mexicanos, Khyber Afghan Halal Meats-featuring beef, veal, goat, chicken, spices and videos, a kosher butcher, and a Spanish-Chinese restaurant, El Nuevo Palacio Chino, whose specialties, proclaimed in neon, are Chop Suey and Bifsteck Marisco. (Around the corner, on Gun Hill Road, a taco stand spells it "bifstek.") A nicely-dressed black woman walking down the street is very loudly saying to an imaginary companion, "Yes, I'm temporarily unemployed, but . . . ."
My mother's heartbeat is now regular. If it stays regular, the doctor tells me, they'll send her to a cardiac rehab facility for two weeks before letting her go home. She wants to go straight home, but she's too weak to walk.
Sara is working late, so Kyle meets me for dinner, and a starving Sara later joins us in the hotel bar where she wolfs down a sandwich (after I get her in the lobby). Kyle, like many New Yorkers, can only get CBS on his TV-most NY TV stations had their antennas on the WTC-they're now broadcasting from a tower in New Jersey, but it's half the height of the WTC, and many neighborhoods can't pick up the signals. In response CBS has gone to an all-news format, covering bridge and school closings, etc. We are the only customers in the hotel bar-so far, it has never had more than three customers at a time, even though it has probably the best happy hour in mid-town Manhattan: free chicken wings, and a cocktail is $2.50. CNN is on the TV, and a pundit says there are no lucrative targets in Afghanistan. Isn't the bulk of the Taliban's army dug into fixed positions, facing the troops of the Northern alliance? Sounds like a lucrative target to me.
Sara's gym, Crunch, is letting rescue workers use their facilities for showers, naps, free massages, etc. This morning at 8 a fireman showed up and asked if he could take a 15-minute nap on one of their massage tables. When Sara left, 12 hours later, he was still asleep.
Friday, September 21
Sara's subway is delayed for 90 minutes: she gets up at 5, leaves her apartment at 6:30 and gets to the gym at 9, missing two appointments for a loss of $80. She has no clients in the afternoon, and joins me for a trip to the hospital. At the 59th Street station we change from the #6 train to the #4, which runs in a tunnel under the #6. A young, ruddy-faced fireman in dress blues asks us how to get to the #5 train. In Manhattan the #5 shares track with the #4, so we tell him to come with us. I've already seen several firemen in dress uniform that day, and ask if there's some ceremony. "No," he says, "just funerals-lots of funerals."
They're moving heavy equipment to the site-a sign that they don't think there are survivors left. Until now almost all the rubble has been removed by hand, in those 5-gallon buckets.
Jane arrives tonight for the weekend, and says the airports are still deserted.
Saturday, September 21
Jane and I go to visit my mother. As we walk up Jerome Avenue from our stop, a middle-aged, shabbily-dressed couple enters a McDonalds and then immediately storms out, the woman walking ahead of the man, shouting at him, the man trying to keep up with her. They keep this up as they round the corner at Gun Hill Road and head up towards the hospital. Jane and I stop to buy tacos from a taco stand-a milanese and a cecina, which a Guatemalan customer has explained to us. Near the hospital entrance the couple are resting, silent.
Then we take the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge stop: Jane wants to see the WTC site; Sara refuses to go near it. We walk down Park Place and join a parade of people, marching south, peering down every side street. Cops keep everyone moving-you can look, but they won't let you stop. The site itself is blocked by chain link fences and police barricades. Looking west down the first street, Vesey, you can't see the site, but you see huge, jagged shreds of metal sticking out from a building on the north side of the street. Fulton gives you a view of WTC 5, a burned-out, blackened hull. Maiden Lane reveals a similar WTC 4, which will be torn down a few days later. From Libery Steeet you have a partial view of the 16-acre site we've all seen on TV. An entire Zip code has been obliterated: NY, NY 10048 no longer exists.
Where the twin towers, 1 and 2 WTC, collapsed, the rubble is six stories high. Two other Trade Center buildings, heavily damaged by fire and debris, completely collapsed: 7 WTC, a 47-story office tower across Vesey Street, whose 23rd floor housed the city's Emergency Command Center, and 3 WTC, a Marrriot Hotel. 6 WTC, like 4 and 5, is partially collapsed, as is 130 Liberty Street, just to the south the of the WTC About 20 nearby buildings are damaged, includng the Verizon Building, next door to 7 WTC--some of them may have to be demolished. The site is in a valley from our vantage point, so it's hard to estimate heights or get a sense of scale, but the jagged shell façade of Tower 2-the south tower-seemed to me to be about 15 stories tall-later USA Today says 20, the Times says 15.
The parking meters at the WTC have melted. The financial district has lost 36% of its rental office space-13 million square feet destroyed, 16 million damaged--about 10% of Manhattan's total rental office space.
Steel I-beams have been punched six feet through the street and now rest in the subway tunnel belowground. Where WTC 2 and 7 fell, the debris crushed the tunnel; at the Cortland Street station the I-beams, spaced 5' apart, that support the tunnel, are bent.
What was a bustling business district is now a pilgrimage site. There are about 20 cranes there. One, a Liebherr LR1280, is 280' tall, and can lift 300 tons; the Caterpillar 345 Ultra High Precision Excavator, with 80' arms, can lift twenty tons, and its jaws can cut through steel beams. The cranes built their own bases from debris steel beams. Headquarters for the rescue effort is at an elementary school: PS 89. The debris is loaded onto trucks and barges, then sent to Fresh Kills landfill, in Staten Island, reopened for this task. The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, closed to normal traffic, is open only to debris trucks. At Fresh Kills ("Kils" is a Dutch word for an ocean inlet) the debris is shaken through 4" mesh screens by mechanical filters. There 800 humans, assisted by cadaver dogs, search the residue for body parts, watches, jewelry, wallets--anything that will help families find something to bury. Body parts are put in waiting refrigerator trucks.
The two largest NY rental agencies are forgetting their normal 10-12% commission on 6 and 12-month leases, and say they'll find a way to punish any rental companies that try to profit from the situation. A landlord provides an apartment to a woman who is burned out, and has a truck deliver furniture for her-no charge,
As we head back to the hotel there's a funeral for five firefighters at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The coffins are then carried to the nearest fire house-the 8/2.
Jane and I meet Sara and Kyle at the hotel. Sara tells me that today a moving company cleared out Kate's furniture and belongings and they're headed for Ohio. We take a cab to the theater district to see the revival of "Kiss Me Kate"-with audiences sparse, Sara and Kyle have spent the afternoon on line in Times Square and gotten us ½ price tickets. A relative suggested we see "Urinetown," but we all wanted to see something less political. Traffic is bad, so we abandon the cab three blocks short of the restaurant where we're having dinner, and walk up Eighth Avenue. At 48th Street and Eight Avenue we come across a Ninth Battalion firehouse-shrine. This particular firehouse has lost 15 people; 9th Battalion as a whole has lost 44-the worst casualty rate in the city.
The play is sold out; the audience enthusiastic. Ten shows were supposed to close that weekend due to the sparse attendance since 9/11, but five announce they'll continue. At "Kiss Me Kate" the union refused to take a 50% pay cut to keep the play open, but announced today it would accept a 25% cut, then agree to another 25% cut if the proceeds from the second cut went to provide free tickets for the families of rescue workers.
We help a blind man with his dog find a cab. He loved "Kiss Me Kate" but says he felt "Urinetown" was a rip-off, and we're relieved. It takes maybe twenty minutes to get him a cab, and then the driver says he doesn't know if he can take the guy to South Ferry to get the ferry to his home in Staten Island, but that's their problem.
On Broadway, on a trailer, is a life-sized bronze statue of a mourning fireman. It was commissioned by a county in Missouri to honor its firemen, cast in Italy, and shipped to JFK airport, where it arrived on September 10. Then everything shut down, and the statue was stuck at JFK. The Missouri county decided that this was a message about where the statue really belonged, and donated it to the NYFD.
Passing the 8/2 on the way back to the hotel I notice a new addition: a dark gray stone, maybe one foot by two, with a carved inscription: "No farewell words were spoken/No time to say goodbye/You were gone before we knew it/And only God knows why." I ask the firemen who donated it, and they say they don't know--a guy just came buy and dropped it off.
Back at the hotel I read in the Times that 1,500 children of employees of Cantor & Fitzgerald, the big bond-trading firm that occupied top floors in the 1 WTC, have lost a mother or father. Cantor & Fitzgerald has 617 employees missing and 17 confirmed dead. The Times also reports that in Peshawar, Pakistan, the local paper says that 4,000 Jews worked at the WTC, but not one of them showed up for work on 9/11. The article said the US is investigating "how they got their advance information, and did not go to work."
Sunday, September 22
Judy's synagogue held a funeral today for the missing tenant, though there was no body or coffin.
Jane goes to see my mother, but I take the day off and, as usual, stop by the 8/2, which seems to draw me to it. I chat with two volunteers-a white fireman from Oklahoma City, and a black fireman from a Cincinnati suburb. They tell me that at the site there are two ways of finding human remains-you watch the dogs, or you poke through swarms of flies. (A woman, listening, says, "But don't flies carry disease?") I ask one of the NYFD firemen why so many firefighters were lost from Battalion 46, in central Queens. He says that the 8/2 routinely responds to their fires, and they routinely respond to Manhattan fires, so that they'd show up at the WTC site was normal, but their heavy casualties were probably because they had a lot of rescue people.
It turns out that 20 of the 21 missing firemen from Battalion 46 were rescue or squad; in Sara's 48th, 11 out of 13; in Staten Island's 211th, 11 out of 11; in the Bronx's 14th, 6 out of 6, and in the 17th 7 out of 7. Of course, a lot of non-rescue firefighters were lost as well: none of the 17 missing from B8 were rescue, nor were any of the 22 from B6, 21 each from B1 and B10, 20 from B57, or 19 from B32; 32 of B9's 44 missing were engine or ladder.
New York has four kinds of fire companies: engine, ladder, rescue, and squad. The engine companies are the guys with the hoses, and they usually arrive first at a fire. In most cities they station themselves outside burning buildings and pour water into the buildings, but the NYFD engine companies, perhaps because of the large numbers of tall buildings, have a reputation for fighting fires very aggressively: they tend to take their hoses into burning buildings, and fight fires from the inside.
The ladder companies knock out windows, rip off siding, and in general vent buildings, and rescue people, often using their ladders to bring people down.
The rescue companies also rescue people, but for them that's their only job.
The squads do everything, and some other things as well, including diving underwater. They're often counted as rescue, and in the figure above--11 rescue personnel lost out of 13 in Sara's 48th battalion--12 of the 13 were actually Squad 1. Back from the hospital, Jane tells me that on the subway two black kids, maybe 10 or 11, walked into her car, announced that they would do the T-Bone Shake, and commenced to shimmy and shake. They made about $7 for their brief performance, she estimated, but then a large black man in a suit said in a booming voice, "These kids should be home doing their homework," and the donations dried up. Sara was on the F-train one day when an apparently blind man passed through, rattling his cup and asking for donations. A woman with a Jamaican accent called out: "That man lives on my block, people, and he ain't blind-he sees as well as you and me." He didn't get anything. As the man was about to move to the next car, the Jamaican woman called out: "Watch him-he can see!" Sure enough, his vision returned as he moved through to the next car. Jane and I take the F-train to Brooklyn-we're going to have dinner at a restaurant in Sara's neighborhood. On the train a young man, maybe 22 years old, is talking loudly to no one in particular. Jane, who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, asks me what percent of New Yorkers are crazy. "Eighty-five," I say.
Another man enters the car, and in a booming, authoritative voice announces that he's a Vietnam vet, working for a charity that benefits all races, and that a lot of vets aren't getting their rightful benefits. He pulls a torn, filthy, paper cup out of his backpack, but no one gives him any money. When we get to Brooklyn I start telling Sara the story, and she finishes the guy's speech for me. We have a seafood dinner in a Peruvian restaurant--this ain't Knoxville. Walking back to the subway, we pass Squad 1. There are reports that the NYPD will close Squad 1, and transfer its remaining firefighters to the rescue squads that have lost so heavily. The neighborhood is indignant; the firefighters are indignant; the wives of the missing firefighters are indignant-they say the fire house is like a home to them, and they don't know where else to go for comfort.
The next day the survivors of Squad 1 have to go to funerals, but they leave two firefighters behind to keep the city from locking up the fire house in their absence. There's a rally: the Times says 500 neighborhood people show up; People says 5,000. The NYFD announces that it never intended to shut down the fire house-it just wanted to transfer people temporarily because so many rescue squads had been all but wiped out-but it's decided to not do anything. Squad 1 will stay where it is. It's a victory for Squad 1 and Park Slope, but NY doesn't have many rescue companies left-several have been wiped out. Let's hope they're not needed soon. The 8/2 lost 7 people from Ladder Company 2, which has a normal compliment of 6. The alarm came in during a shift change, and both shifts headed for the scene, so they lost more than they'd normally have. I've heard that a policeman was at City Hall submitting his retirement papers when the call came in, and that he rushed to the site and was killed. But then I've heard a lot of things that turned out to be false. Funerals for NYFD people killed in the line of duty traditionally have large turnouts, mainly of other firemen. But there are now so many funerals that the Fire Department is asking civilians to attend. 90,000 tons of debris have been removed from the site.
Monday, September 24
Jane flies back to Knoxville. Mayor Giuliani announces that the city will provide expedited death certificates for relatives of missing people.
Last night, my mother had a dream about her mother, who was taken to hospital and died there. Now she's decided she doesn't want the hospital to do any more tests on her.
The Times reports there are dog teams at the site from as far away as San Diego, south Florida, and Germany. Sigourney Weaver was slinging hash for rescue workers at the site. A "confused soldier," it reports, "asked the actress her name; she made one up."
Yesterday the federal government announced that it would return its flags to full mast, but at the 17th Precinct and the 8/2, flags are still at half-mast. They're still at half-mast when I leave for Knoxville. I suppose they'll stay there until the last funeral is over.
Television stations are announcing changes in subway service due to the attack. In Brooklyn, the J-train will replace the R-train, with extended service from Broad Street to 95th, and the M-train will replace the N-train, with extended service from Chambers Street to Coney Island. In Queens the R replaces the Q, and the W replaces the N. The #1 bypasses Chambers Street, and southbound stops at Franklin Street, replacing the #3 to Brooklyn, and ending its run at New Lots Avenue. The #2 bypasses Chambers and Park Place. The #3 southbound ends at 14th Street (instead of at New Lots Avenue), where you can change to the #1. The #4 and #5 skip Wall Street. The #9 no longer exists. The A-train skips Chambers Street; the C-train skips Chambers and the World Trade Center; the E-train, southbound, stops at Canal.
The NY subway system is amazing. Its ability to deliver large numbers of people-4.3 million riders on a typical weekday--to small areas made the WTC possible. It makes it possible for me to get from mid-town Manhattan to Montefiore Hospital in one hour for $1.50, and for Sara and Kyle to get from work to my hotel and then to Brooklyn quickly and cheaply. It has enough track to reach to Chicago; it's police force is the 5th largest in the country; busy lines, like the #6, have a train every 90 seconds at rush hour; it has about 6,400 cars and uses about the same amount of electricity as Buffalo. It has 14 tunnels, 68 bridges, and 468 stations.
It also has accidents, and crews trained to deal with them. To cut through steel and get to injured people. Two hours after the second tower fell, it had a 5-block convoy with, the Times said, "every conceivable piece of heavy equipment" heading for the WTC site. Its people were there for the first three days, and the Times recorded their story.
There was Dan Ramlal, who, "when he found a tiny, almost unrecognizable doll, jumped down to pick it up, as if it were evidence of life on another planet. 'I wouldn't let go,' he said. 'I thought it had to mean somebody was down there'".
A supervisor: "You had to tell the guys, 'If you are not off your equipment and back at the staging area within two minutes after the whistle blows, you are off the job.' You had to threaten. Nobody wanted to leave."
Joseph Calozzo, assistant chief of the track division: "We'd be up there, burning through metal and pulling beams away, and the dogs would start to go crazy. And you were just sure that they had found somebody. You wanted to find somebody so bad. And then a fire chief tells you that those dogs are just trained to find cadavers. Not live people."
There are about 350 dogs at the site-half trained to find cadavers, and half to find live people. They work 12-hour shifts, just like the humans (1,000 humans per shift). Those working hot areas wear little boots, but some can't, because they are trained to find live people, and to jump off rubble when it shifts under them, and the boots would interfere. Veterinary stations wash the dust out of their eyes, and treat cut feet. Dehydrated dogs get IV fluids. The dogs trained to find live people have a problem, because there aren't many successes. Their handlers hide and let the dogs find them-to keep the dogs from getting depressed, they say.
The humans stuff Vicks Vaporub in their noses when a cadaver is discovered-the odor is strong, and humans aren't trained for it.
Steve Buscemi, the actor, lives in Sara's neighborhood, and she often sees him on the street and always greets him-Sara loved his performance in "Fargo." From 1980 to 1985 he was a fireman at Engine Company 55 in downtown Manhattan. When the planes hit he made his way downtown, donned a uniform, and spent the next 60 hours working on the pile.
At Al Nijah University in Nablus, Hamas's student auxiliary opens an exhibit about the Palestinian resistance. It features a recreation of the Jerusalem Sbarro's attacked by a suicide bomber, complete with fake severed body parts and scattered slices of pizza. For times more Israelis died at the WTC than at the Sbarro's.
Sara went to a local beauty shop this afternoon, and had her hair dyed blond. I wonder what she'll look like.
100,000 tons of rubble have been removed from the site.
Tuesday, September 25
Today the subway will take me on a journey to my youth. I catch the W-train at 59th Street and take it to Queensboro Plaza-my station until I was eleven. Entering Queens the subway becomes an el, and I see my old projects, looking just as I remember them. The Goodman's Noodle Factory-where I once went on a school field trip, culminating in a free package of noodles--is now something else, but amazingly, Greybar Electric is still there, just as it was in 1953. From the subway platform almost everything looks just as I remember it, though a modern office building looms to the east.
I take the #7 to the end of the line-Main Street, Flushing. For four years I took a bus-the Q42, I think-from the Bronx to Queens College, and every day it passed through Main Street, Flushing. The area is now a Chinese neighborhood, and I don't recognize anything. A billboard shows a river cruise ship, with the legend, "The Majesty of the Yangtze-victoriacruises.com." I have lunch in a Chinese cafeteria where no one speaks English-four entrees, rice, and soup, for $3.95 including tax. I'm not sure what I'm eating, but what I thought were spinach noodles turn out to be seaweed.
Then it's back on the train. I've gotten interested in the subway system, so I'm headed for the Transit Museum in Brooklyn to buy a book or two. I take the #7 to Jackson Heights, where I change for the G-train to Hoyt-Schermerhorn, where I change for the A-train to Jay Street, and then ask people for directions. I walk five blocks to the Transit Museum, which turns out to be closed for renovations. So it's back to Jay Street, catch the F-train to Broadway/Lafayette, catch the #6 south to Canal (the northbound #6 doesn't stop at Broadway/Lafayette), and then the northbound #6 to 51st Street.
It's happy hour at the Marriot, and there are 16 people at the bar-until today there had always been three, except for the 16 there for the President's speech. Sara and Kyle arrive-blonde Sara looks pretty cool. We take the #6 train south for dinner at Tabla-a sort of nouvelle Indian restaurant.
Walking from the restaurant to the subway station at 14th Street, we pass walls covered with posters of the missing. There are some of these further north in Manhattan-I've even seen some for pets-but here they're really thick. A photo of someone, usually a happy family photo, a description, identifying marks. Sara notices one she's seen at several other locations, miles apart, and wonders about the people who've wandered all around Manhattan, posting these things. What were they hoping for?
Always there are small groups of people studying the notices. You can't help but stop and read; it seems disrespectful to scurry by, oblivious. People get attached to their favorites, and stop to peruse them each time they pass by. A bond develops between the living and the dead. The Times reports that on Carol DuPlante's poster a green heart eventually appears with the inscription, "Carol, RIP." At Bellevue Hospital, it reports, when the ink ran on a wall of fliers in the rain, an official became heart-broken. "It seemed to him," a friend said, "as if the tragedy had happened all over again." The NYC Parks and Recreation Department announces that it is going to archive the posters put up on its property-none will be thrown out.
At the 14th Street station entrance a man is shouting about something. Sara is surprised-usually that man is at Chambers Street.
A New York Times poll says that 92% of Americans are for war, 82% are for war against countries harboring terrorists, and 72% are for war even if it means thousands of American military dead.
A peace march from Union Square Park to Times Square draws 300 people-the N.Y. metropolitan area has a population of 16 million. Several TV stations decide it's not worth covering.
The Times also reports that at 125 Cedar Street-the apartment building closest to the WTC site-Peter Davies, allowed by the police to briefly visit his apartment, finds a Raggedy Ann doll on his terrace. It must have fallen from one of the planes, he figures.
My aunt Ethel, at 80 my mother's youngest sister, calls to tell me my mother's going to be released from the hospital at 10am. She calls again just before midnight to tell me what bus to take to the rehab clinic in case I'm late getting to the hospital.
Wednesday, September 26
Days earlier the hospital social worker had said that when my mom was released it would be at 1pm. I arrive at the hospital at 9:20am to learn that 1pm is correct, so I take the subway back to Grand Central Station where, Sara's told me, the Transit Authority has a store that keeps erratic hours. I get there around 10:30, but the store is closed; its employees seem to be wandering around. "Come back in an hour," one of them tells me. "I've got to go to the Bronx soon," I reply, and hang around the door. Seven minutes later the store opens, but it doesn't have what I'm looking for. Patronage jobs, I figure.
I'm back at the hospital at 12:20, after stopping on Gun Hill Road for a taco. The taco is served on a paper plate nestled in a sheet of tinfoil; the tortilla is the same size as the plate, and I eat a third of the plate before I realize it, and show the taco man what I've done. "Oh, my God!" he says. But I don't seem worse for it, though as I continue up Gun Hill Road I'm spitting out bits of paper. At 1:38 a nurse tells me that the ambulance that's supposed to take my mother to rehab will be there in two minutes. At 3:20 the ambulance calls to say it's in heavy traffic, but will be there in 15 minutes. It arrives at 4. Its crew is from Queens, and they don't know their way around the Bronx-they've probably been lost for the last two hours. I guide us to the rehab facility, and give them directions back to the hospital, which one of them writes on her arm.
The rehab clinic is bright and cheerful, with a high patient-to-staff ratio-an orderly facility, unlike the apparent bedlam of the Montefiore ICCU.
Yom Kippur begins at sundown. The clinic is in Riverdale--there's no nearby subway line, so for $3 I take an express bus-the BxM1-to Manhattan. Near my hotel, at Central Synagogue, people are lined up to get into the evening service. It's too late for me to change clothes and attend. I can't fall asleep until 6am, and wake at 11:00. It's the first time I've missed Yom Kippur services in maybe 25 years.
115,000 tons of rubble have been removed from the site.
Thursday, September 27
Donations to help in the aftermath of the WTC attack total about $100,000 for every missing person.
Dinner tonight at Judy's, with Judy's husband, two friends of theirs, and Sara and Kyle. One of the guests, an anthropologist who studied with Margaret Meade, works for the Museum of Jewish Heritage, which was housed at the WTC and hence no longer exists. Her office, fortunately, is southeast of the site. Through her office window she has a daily view of a Coast Guard cutter that now protects the NY harbor. I saw it-a roughly destroyer-sized ship mounting a 3"gun--as as my plane came in for its landing. Strange-it's like World War Two déjà vu.
Her husband knows a lot about the subway system, and tells me, for example, that the former IRT trains-now the numbered trains-run on a narrower gauge than the others. Like Kyle, they've been only getting CBS, but unlike Kyle, they finally broke down and now have cable.
Friday, September 28
A new rumor is spreading through the Arab world: 5 Jews were arrested in NY for dancing on a rooftop during the WTC attacks. A Hamas website says this isn't being reported in the US because Zionists control the media. An economist in Islamabad says US Muslims "are generating much of the anti-Israel vitriol on the Internet," according to the Times.
My mother seems to be doing well. In Riverdale I chat with a 97-year-old patient, Alex. "'Alexander,' if you have the time." He grew up in Pressburg in Czechoslovakia, left in 1939, and spent World War II with the American army while his brother was in the British army. My mother, he says, dresses like a princess for dinner.
Saturday, September 29
It's cold and rainy. Alex tells me that he worked for Patton-he has a photo of himself with Patton. Also, he says he once danced with Marlene Dietrich. He was with the 2nd Armored Division for a year, and becomes excited when I tell him that my uncle Maurice, who'll be there later today, was in a tank-destroyer with the 2nd Armored Division. Two days before the war ended, Alex says he drove a tank, which he wasn't supposed to do. The tank hit a mine, he was wounded, and he's been in pain ever since. He sobs. Then, seeing my NY Times, he asks how the Mets did last night. I give him the sports section.
My mother finally realizes that her real problem is her heart. Walking back to her room from the dining room she uses a walker-when she fell she wouldn't even use a cane and was proud of her independence. She seems short of breath, but when I ask her about it, she says she's fine.
Ferries are now taking the relatives of missing people to the WTC site. The ferries leaves from mid-town with about 50 relatives and a chaplain. At the site, as they pass, rescue workers pause and remove their hats. Nine-year-old Jeannette leaves a note: "Please help find my daddy. I miss him very much. Please. I beg you." When she and her mother get home, there's a phone call from a cop at the site. He says he'll do his best to not let her down.
Sara's in Chapel Hill for the weekend, for a ceremony at the medical school where our other daughter, Jessica, just started medical school. Kyle and I go to the Metropolitan Museum to see a Breughel exhibit, have dinner at a German restaurant, and then go to my hotel room to watch the UT-LSU game on ESPN. Ethel calls to say that my mother had trouble breathing, is on oxygen, and may have to go back to the hospital. Ethel wants to know if I can see my mother in the morning, but I can't-the van is picking me up at 8am to take me to the airport.
138,000 tons of rubble have been removed from the site.
Sunday, September 30
It's a gloomy day. The van heads down Canal Street toward the Holland Tunnel-the south side of Canal is a militarized zone, blocked off with barricades, police, and soldiers.
Air travel has been picking up, and there are newspaper stories about long lines, but at the US Air check-in there's only one person ahead of me. After passing through security, where they let me keep my nail-clippers, I have a three hour wait for my plane. The US Air departure board lists 11 flights on time, 4 cancelled. The Pittsburgh airport, where I change planes for Knoxville, is bustling.
In NY I saw a newspaper photo of a young woman, descended from Harvard, with a sign: "An Eye For An Eye Leaves The Whole World Blind." Our government is not proposing an eye for an eye, but the elimination of state-supported terrorism, so what is the point of her sign? To demonstrate her moral superiority to us slobs, I conclude.
Some people say we must try to understand the terrorists' concerns, and compromise with them. Usually this is followed by a very short and selective list of their concerns. The list does not suggest we meet them halfway by allowing girls to go to school until they're 16 years old, rather than the Taliban's 12. Perhaps instead of the death penalty for preaching Christianity we could compromise with a lifetime prison sentence? What compromise might we substitute for the death penalty for homosexuality? For writing books clerics condemn? For adultery? Could we, as another compromise, move toward a legislature with one house elected by the people, and the other appointed by religious leaders? Compromise? It used to be called appeasement. It also seems disingenuous: protestors complain that we support dictators by trading with their countries--and in the same breath call for an end to the embargo on Cuba. They protest our bombing campaign against those who are attacking us, but did not protest our bombing campaigns against those who were attacking Bosnians and Kosovars. There's probably a consistent set of principles that could reconcile this, but what would it involve-selling Coke and Whoppers in France or Pakistan as a war crime?
And it's an appeal to magic: we're under attack and these people are carrying signs protesting American military action. I picture the sailors at Pearl Harbor in 1941 trying to ward off the bombs raining down on them by singing "We Shall Overcome." Do the protestors with signs saying "Violence Only Leads To More Violence" realize that if their slogan is true, we must take military action, and that if we can refrain the slogan is false? Are they thinking at all?
The radical left is engaged in a carnival of nostalgia and narcissism that is alienating them from the rest of the political spectrum. A University of Tennessee Daily Beacon columnist wrote that at a post-9/11 anti-war rally in D.C. "the masses" were fed vegan meals. Doesn't she realize that "the masses" eat Whoppers, pizza, and tacos? Does any sense of reality remain? If a new Senator McCarthy arises to denounce "the traitors in our midst," will these people have any sense of their own contribution to his success? The 10/2 Wall Street Journal has an interview with an 11-year-old, one of 700,000 students at Pakistani fundamentalist religious schools. The boy is asked whether a man has ever walked on the moon. "'This isn't possible,' the boy answers. What is two times two? Silence. Eager to impress, though, he announces that dinosaurs exist: 'the Jewish and American infidels have created these beasts to devour Muslims.'" What sort of dialogue can we have with this boy or his teachers? I will take at least a generation to turn things around. As for me, I've put up a new sign on my office door: Give War a Chance.
Donations for the families of Mid-Town High Rise can be sent to the Engine 8 Ladder 2 Association, 165 E. 51st St., Manhattan 10022.