The Rising: 9/11

Towers of Light, 2014 photo by DMT

Towers of Light, 2014 photo by DMT

Towers of Light, September 11, 2015 photo by DMT

Towers of Light, September 11, 2015 photo by DMT

[For an introduction to this piece, please click on the link to the September 11 post “The Rising”]

Text by DMT

————– September 11 —————

On the evening of September 10th, I had just flown back to New York from Alaska. Normally, as I ride in a cab from JFK, I love to see the two huge towers of the World Trade Center looming in the distance as I head into Manhattan. But on that evening it was really foggy, and unfortunately I couldn’t see them at all.

I used a radio alarm clock in those days, and when it went off to wake me up for work the next morning, it was not music. It was a man’s voice saying [and this is almost verbatim, I remember it like it was yesterday] “…both towers have now fallen. Both towers of the World Trade Center have now fallen and are no longer there…”

I thought about it for a second, my mind still foggy from sleep, thinking that it was some kind of joke or radio drama, like that War Of The Worlds thing a long time ago. But as I realized that it was real, I shot out of bed and stood in the middle of my room, listening to the news. I had no television, so I had no way of seeing any images of it, I just stood there and listened in absolute shock. I remember standing in the middle of my bedroom in my underwear, listening to the radio and crying like a baby.

Then I suddenly thought of my best friend, who I’ve known since we were little kids in Minnesota, who worked on the 34th floor of 2 World Trade Center at Oppenheimer Funds. I grabbed the phone to call his office, not realizing what a stupid thing that was to do. It never occurred to me that his office didn’t exist anymore. But when I realized that I had voice mail, I listened to it. It was a message from him, saying that he had gotten out of the building and was all right, and was going to try to find his wife [who was working for Merrill Lynch in the World Financial Center, right across the street from the WTC]. Since I knew he was all right, I decided to go up on the roof and see if I could see anything.

All I could see from my apartment rooftop was the huge cloud of smoke billowing up from behind the buildings downtown. I ran over to Kennedy’s, the local pub, to watch the television. The place was packed, but nobody said a word. Everybody was absolutely silent, staring up at the TV. That was where I first saw the images of the planes hitting the buildings. I was so shocked and so extremely sad, I didn’t know what to do or think. The first instinct was to run downtown and help in whatever way I could, but they closed off the entire area, nobody could get in or out unless they were an emergency worker. So I went to the hospital to give blood [at that time, everybody still thought there would be a lot of injured victims, and news channels were recommending that people give blood for the expected huge influx of trauma patients].

I walked to work that afternoon because they shut down all the subway and bus service. I walked down the middle of 9th Avenue, there were absolutely no cars. I walked by another hospital, and workers were running down the avenue pushing stretchers downtown, thinking that they’d need all the stretchers they could get down there. The entire way to work, I was looking at the smoke coming up where I normally would have seen the towers. When I got there, the office was closed. They told us to go home. Me and two of my co-workers went to a pub and watched the news. That was when 7 World Trade collapsed. I remember seeing an endless stream of ambulances and police cars flying down the avenue, and the ones coming back uptown in the other direction were completely covered in grey dust.

—————– Aftermath ——————-

The entire city had a feeling of nervousness about it. That first day, nobody knew anything – who had done it, etc – so everybody was expecting another attack, but nobody knew where or when it might happen. I distinctly remember walking down the street, and there were these two blonde girls, probably about 19 years old, walking up the street and talking and laughing. I was enraged. I wanted to grab them and yell in their faces “Don’t fucking laugh! There is absolutely nothing to laugh about today! Don’t you fucking know what’s happened?!” They were the only people I saw laughing or smiling for at least a week. That was the feeling, very grave.

Another thing I remember about the mood in the city around that time was the sense of togetherness. That doesn’t make sense, I can’t think of the right word for it, but people actually looked at each other in the streets and subways. We made eye contact and nodded to each other. There was a feeling that we were all together in the suffering and anger and fear. One thing that all New Yorkers have in common is their love for this city, and when it got attacked we were all kind of united against a common enemy, as they say.

Immediately after the attacks, we started noticing fighter jets above the city. There was such an overwhelming feeling of anger and fear, that the sight of our planes in the sky was almost exultant. I’d be walking somewhere and suddenly hear the super loud ass-tearing sound of a fighter jet [I don’t know if you’ve ever heard one, I’m sure you have, but it’s a much more violent sound than commercial jets for some reason], and I’d look up and see an F-15 or an F-16 flying right over the tops of the buildings, its wings loaded to the tits with missiles. Everybody would look up and cheer. One time a guy in front of me raised his fist and yelled “Yeah! Don’t fuck with the USA!” And I kind of laughed, because he had an English accent. But that’s how it was, everybody felt united, even foreigners. I know, now it already sounds cheesy, that kind of patriotism, but it was very real and very poignant at that time.

And soon after that, maybe Sept 12 or 13, the entire city was overrun with military. There were Humvees in the streets with soldiers manning 50-cal machine guns on the roof turrets. There were soldiers walking the streets everywhere. Further downtown and around other sites that I guess were considered possible “targets”, there were even more. Navy Seals on the river at the pier where their ships were docked. Very serious guys in black uniforms with sunglasses and black body armor with a small yellow “CIA” on the vest, standing around with assault rifles. There was an aircraft carrier out in the harbor, maybe the JFK, I forget which it was. All of it made us feel great.

They blocked off the city at 14th Street at first. Nobody was allowed below 14th, even people who lived there. Then they moved the barricade down to Canal Street, and started letting residents go below. I got down there with a friend of mine who lived down there, and I took some pictures and a little video. I actually have a few minutes of video from the 11th, but I couldn’t bring myself to tape much that day, somehow it felt like exploitation at the time. Now I wish I had kept the camera running all day.

One of the things I’ll never forget is the “missing” signs. Immediately after the 11th, people started putting up Missing signs for their family members who never came home that night. They had no way of knowing what became of their loved ones – whether they were dead or just trapped in the rubble, or lying in a hospital somewhere unidentified but alright, or just staying with a friend. They made signs with photos of the person, their name, where they worked, etc. It was so sad to see them – thousands of them, seeing the photos of the people smiling, in some cases with their kids or families – and knowing that they were probably not really missing, but dead. And the worst ones were the ones that said “employee of Cantor Fitzgerald” because that company was located right where the first plane hit, and nobody in the entire company survived, so you knew that they would never see that person again.

All of the parking lots at the Long Island Railroad stations still had cars parked in them for weeks after that day. Those people drove to the station on Sept 11 and took the train to work. They never made it back to their cars.

The firehouses were also very hard. They lost so many guys trying to save other people. People in the neighborhoods started bringing flowers and candles to their local firehouses. The firefighters hung photos of the guys they lost on the outside of the house, and all the flowers and candles were on the sidewalk under them.

I was in my bar one night [yeah, it was “mine” – I never paid for a drink in that place, and the 4am closing time meant nothing to me] and this group of peaceniks came in to have a little hand-holding, candle lighting bullshit ceremony. I was alone at the bar and I wanted nothing to do with peace. They kept trying to get me to join in, and I kept telling them politely that I was not interested. They finally got me to stand in their little circle while they went around and each of them said what they prayed for. “I pray that peace prevails and there is no more violence.”  “I pray that our government shows forgiveness.”  “I pray that we realize that war will not solve anything.” Well, I owed them honesty at least, so when it came to my turn I said, “I hope that we kill every last one of the bastards who are responsible, and that we bomb the shit out of them until the pile of their dead is higher than the pile of our dead.” Then I went back to the bar and finished my drink, assuming that they finally agreed that they didn’t want me in their little group. So the city kind of was divided into two camps, the peace-seekers and the revenge-seekers. But still, there was absolutely no acrimony between us.

—————– The Story of T.P.M. ——————-

Since I was sleeping throughout the attack, I can offer no account of the actual event. My best friend, however, was in the building at the time. He told me the entire story in detail a few days after the 11th, because, as he put it, “I’ll probably never want to talk about it again, so I want to tell you about it right now.” So I’ll give you his story now.

He was at his desk on the 34th floor of 2 WTC, looking at a photo of me on top of a mountain in Alaska that I had emailed him the previous night. He had forwarded it to his wife, who worked across the street, and was on the phone with her asking her if she had received the e-mail yet. While he was talking to her, they heard a huge explosion and felt the building shudder. He hung up the phone and ran to the window, seeing the huge fire near the top of the number 1 tower. He said there was an announcement over the building’s emergency PA system telling everyone that an airplane had accidentally crashed into 1 WTC and that everyone should stay at their office and not leave the building. Thankfully, T. and his co-workers said “Fuck that!” and ran down the stairs as quickly as they could. [He said my picture was still up on his monitor when he ran out, so I kind of went down in 2 WTC, too.]

When they got down to the lobby and made their way to the main doors, which face the plaza between the two towers, he saw bodies slamming into the ground. He said they looked up and saw people and fire raining down from tower 1. One of his co-workers had survived two combat tours in Vietnam and said that September 11th was far worse than anything he ever saw in Vietnam. T. said that he knows that he saw it, but that he can’t visualize it anymore, like his brain blocked the sight out of his memory already.

Since going out the main doors was clearly not a safe option, they turned to the similar doors on the back side of the building. By then there was a long line of people waiting to exit through these revolving doors, and T. and his friends waited their turn. Just as they were finally approaching the doors to leave, the entire building shook violently, and flaming metal started falling down right in front of the doors, killing everyone who had been just in front of him. [This was the second plane hitting his building, although he didn’t know that at the time.] he said that if he had exited those doors five seconds sooner he would be dead now.

With these doors now also no longer an option, they headed down to the subway station under the building. This was/is the Chambers Street E station. The tunnels for the station connect with the Chambers Street A & C station, which is several blocks North of the Trade Center, so he was able to use the underground tunnel to get safely to Chambers Street. When he came up the stairs from the subway, there has a huge jet engine on fire sitting in the middle of the street. It had sheared off from the wing of the second plane when it hit his building, and it apparently didn’t land until Chambers St. [Talk about a surreal thing to see in the middle of the street! But I guess that would be the *least* surreal thing to have seen that day.]

He ran to a nearby store to use a telephone, which was when he called and left me that message that he was all right. He also called his parents, obviously. He tried calling his wife’s office but there was no answer. Just as he was letting it ring, he saw her running up the street in the throng of people fleeing the area. He dropped the phone and ran out the door and grabbed her. If you can imagine how many people were running panicked up the avenues at that time, and how large the area is, it is nothing short of a miracle that he saw her running by that store window at that time.

They made their way together to the apartment of one of T.’s co-workers, who lived in the area. [Interestingly, it was the building that I live in right now.] There they and a group of friends from the office sat and watched the news. When the tower collapsed, they were in a complete state of shock. Until then, it was just a fire. An obviously deliberate attack, yes, but the building was still there. He said the darkness came down the street and suddenly it was pitch black out the window.

That’s most of what he told me. At the end of the day, they ended up walking home. Every single person in his company [Oppenheimer Funds] survived. They are now located in the World Financial Center, where his wife was working that day, but he is no longer with them. He and his wife both work happily in midtown now.

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