Thursday, September 11, 2008

finish line, memories, sadness

Official opening of The Invitation last night with the New York Times sitting there in the house, incarnated in the person of Neil Genzingler. It was our best show yet, so we'll see what they say.

We did our job now he has to do his.

It's the anniversary of that terrible day and I'm sitting right where I was sitting seven years ago, about a mile and a half east of where the towers used to stand.

This from the journal:

Manhattan shut down south of 14th Street. No planes in sky except for occasional jet fighter. Streets deserted. Death toll still unreported, guesses range start in low thousands. Tired, unable to sleep. The ghosts of the dead drift by the window, invisible and in infinitesimal tiny fragments. We breathe them in; we wipe them from our sills. Or are we the ghosts, still walking, lost, looking at each other questioningly and silent?

Gallows humor arrived today. Someone blames Peter Vallone in a last-minute bid to suspend the election. The happiest man in America? Gary Condit. Bush openly and deeply mocked, of course. All the officials on CNN seem red-faced, drunk. Endless replay of the planes plowing into the towers, fireballs blooming, gray smoke billowing, covering the view like a window shade drawn over a private act. And even seeing it the second time I know it will join the greatest hits clip with the Roman candle Challenger corkscrewing through the sky and Reagan being pushed to the ground by thick men in suits.

Today in a gesture of resilience and an admission of exhaustion I mute CNN and put on Cowboy Junkies, The Trinity Sessions. Nancy and I eat breakfast, eggs, waffles, coffee.
No newspapers. No school kids in the yard across the street. No death toll. No words, of course, but there are always words. Incomplete, embarrassing, mawkish, but necessary as oxygen. They are arresting people in Boston and southern Florida. They are digging through mountains of rubble in lower Manhattan. They are driving trucks of blood into New York City. German shepards are patrolling empty airports, stock markets are shivering and sliding in Asia, gas prices are spiking in St. Louis, people are weeping with no hope of comfort, children are dancing in the streets of foreign capitals, lawmakers are being briefed, the Cowboy Junkies are singing on my stereo. I am writing this. We are all moving on. The dust of the dead coats my tongue as I light another cigarette.
The wife of an old friend, a veteran of the 93 bombing, works in the second tower, 97th floor. She hears the impact of the first plane, sees the opposite tower burning...

Old friends, lost by time and geography, call, some reaching our parents. We speak. Our language consists of "We're OK. We’re OK. Is everyone OK? Yeah. Yeah, we're OK”. And we are. Dazed. Shaky. But OK.
First words from the politician’s mouths are vengeance. Retribution. All the carefully-coiffed melonheads of power directing the world to "make no mistake" "Don't doubt our resolve". When at anytime in the last 25 years has any individual or nation on this earth doubted American resolve? We were the ones who invaded Grenada, remember? We invaded the Philippines. We blew up the Chinese embassy and refused to apologize. Is our resolve in doubt? Bush, blinking, round-eyed, assures us that the foundation of our resolve is secure. Repeats "we're at war", so many times it's as though he's trying to convince himself that this is really happening.

Journalists and politicians join in the indelicate but unavoidable dance, blood and money.

6:51 PM No milk in either bodega. Have to show ID to policeman at all cross streets on Houston and Delancey. City is strange; I realize there is no rhythm. Usually the city's beat is as hypnotic and intrusive as house music. We are adrift. I hear a recorded message. "Due to the events of Sept. 11th.”

Mom gets "due to a tornado in the area of your call.” As we hang up she says, “Oh, and watch out for that tornado, kiddo.” CNN scrolls, "Across the nation Americans gather around televisions at stores, bars, airport lounges." It occurs to me that you could run this banner underneath any news story at any time, this being a consistent activity of Americans.

Last night I drink over half a liter of Johnny Walker Red. No buzz.

Wednesday night: We got to Amy's birthday party at a restaurant in the West Village. The wind is blowing north and the smoke is bad. Run into Bree and friends. At the bar we're in Belfast. Meet a cardiologist who has been called down twice, done nothing. I ask him what it's like. He grins, shakes his head, and says nothing. We drink. Bomb scare at the Empire State building. We drink. Buy soy milk on Ave A on the way home.
Walk by vigil at Washington Square Park. In the darkness lit by hundreds of candles we hear a crowd singing God Bless America. The smoke hangs above the park.

A bad day, made bearable by the love and support of a lot of friends.


Heather said...

Love how you mention the rhythm of the city. It's true, it beats. New York is a machine that churns and clicks and moves in time. I felt it the moment I arrived and now it beats in my chest. It's why every place else I've ever been feels less alive.

You're right, that whole week there was no rhythm. None at all.

John said...

I remember riding uptown on the F train a few days after the attack and it was quiet and still, everyone looking down, and I started thinking how, without being an asshole about it, I had to make an effort to buck up and start moving like a New Yorker again.

We got the beat back in a few days, but it was a random, drifting time for awhile there.