Sunday, September 12, 2021

So it's been 20 years

September 11 always bums me out and now it's been 20 years. Wow. 

I was at work on the 8th floor server room, in the 42nd street office of MSO Living and it was early in the morning. I had picked up a coffee (black) and a lemon poppy seed muffin from the Mezze place on 44th. The beloved C called me and said, Hey WNYC (the New York City NPR station) says a plane just went into the trade center. Apparently, they could see the trade center buildings from their conference room. 

 So, I went up to the 25th floor where the PR women had a TV because they always monitored the shows and I said, “Hey it looks like a plane went into the trade center.” We tuned into the local news and people were calling in and saying that a plane was flying really low. We could see the towers on the TV screen and we could see the towers from the window. Was a thin stream of smoke already starting? Probably, I can't be sure now. And as we watched the screen and the window the second plane hit. And Ruth called one of her friends in the CIA and said "It's terrorism, Islamic." And remembering when Timothy McVeigh had blown up the building in Oklahoma City and how everyone thought it was middle eastern terrorists at first - "I said how do we know, it's just happened." And that's when Ruth said her friend was at the CIA. 

 It was Tuesday, the sky was bright blue. I was wearing red keds and red and white checked capris and a white linen shirt. Later, I remembered feeling happy that I hadn't worn heels. 

Early in the morning the internet and phones still worked. It took about a half hour for all of that to become intermittent and then fail. 

 It was Tuesday and that meant that it was payroll day and I thought well, I'll help Luz get payroll in because the last thing we need right now is to not have money. Because we were media and publishing, a lot of the people who worked there were working for experience rather than money and rent is expensive in New York, which is to say that you could hire talent for cheap and they would hope to parley that into a more lucrative career. We had a dedicated modem for payroll transmission. The phone line failed. After about 20 minutes of trying, I said, let's try the internet method - since we still had internet at that time. I had been testing the internet method of transmission so I re-jiggered the setting and pointed our test environment to our production environment and then the internet failed. I had a challenge now. I told Luz that we would make a disk copy, so I got a disk and put the payroll files on there. Luz had somehow got through to the payroll service and they were uptown and we could drop off the disk there. 

Luz and Tom and I walked out of the office towards Grand Central Station. There were tons of people. And we were standing on 5th Avenue in the middle of the street with a direct eye-line towards the towers when they collapsed. Was everyone silent? Did everyone scream? I don't remember, I remember the horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. Afterwards, Luz - a total New Yorker - grabbed the last taxi on earth and she and Tom took off. Payroll was delivered. Luz and Tom got home. 

 Back at the office, someone had ordered Pizza and no one knew what to do. Around 2:00 the beloved C called(!) and the plan was for me to walk to the lower east side to our brother's house. So, I set off - again thanking the stars that I had not worn heels to work. 

There was an eerie silence, there were no planes in the sky. Not a lot of traffic. It was hard to walk towards the burning towers, everything in me said I was going the Wrong Way. A truck back-fired and I dropped to the sidewalk and rolled against the side of the building. Yes, it was an over-reaction. But I'd never been in a bombed city before. 

I got to the lower east side. I bought a pack of cigarettes. I started smoking again after 6 months of not smoking. I stayed with E and V for a while and then we noticed the F train had started to run again. I got on the F train. I got home. Chris said he just walked to the east river and boats were taking people across. 

 The towers burned for days it seemed. I don't remember how many days. We were in Brooklyn and had been able to see the towers from our stoop. One summer evening we had been on the roof of the building, drinking wine and there was low cloud cover. We watched and I noticed that there were lights, randomly appearing in the clouds. I said "Hey are those aliens?" Soon enough we realized that the clouds were moving and parting and the lights were the lights of the offices in the twin towers. 

It seemed the towers burned for days and we were in the direct line of the smoke. You could walk outside and see bits of spreadsheets, parts of photos, pieces of resumes and memos floating down from the sky; the smell of smoke was pervasive. I thought, I'm breathing in the ash of people who worked in the buildings. 

 The subways were quiet when people started going back to work again. People were jumpy. Empty packages left on the subway would get reported, the trains would stop, delays were common. I was on a subway and this big guy had a long, thin bag - something that looked like a rifle carrier, and he got out a balaclava and put it over his head so you couldn't see his face and I got out at the next stop. 

 And then - everyone forgets about this. But the anthrax thing happened - our local post office at work was closed. People reported that their magazines had "white powder" in them. And the FBI had a small footprint in the Starret Lehigh building where we worked. They basically had parking there. The FBI moved into the building since their building downtown had been destroyed and we were suddenly working in a "protected" area - army soldiers with guns set up barricades and patrolled. The cooking editors baked a lot of fancy cookies for them. 

But I never wanted to go to war. I didn't think that going to war was a good thing. I didn't understand why we were invading Iraq - a country that had nothing to do with the attacks. I went around saying "But Sadam Hussein is a pan Arab nationalist and not an Islamic extremist - they don't get along. This makes no sense." It's why I didn't want to vote for Hillary Clinton she was such a hawk on the war and we wanted to grieve.

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