For months after September 11th, strangers in New York talked to each other.
If you were in a restaurant or a doctor’s waiting room or on the subway, you’d inevitably overhear someone talking about the attack. And you’d join in.
You’d ask where they were that day, and tell them where you were.
The people with the real stories are the ones who got out of the towers, got other people out of the towers, were supposed to be in the towers, or lost someone in the towers.
I wasn’t one of those people. But I still remember the day.
Here are the parts I remember best:
Was still asleep when the phone rang, at around 9 am. It was my friend Allison*, who asked, “Are you watching this?”
Got annoyed and wondered why she thought I’d be watching the same thing she was. Found that presumptuous.
Turned on TV, saw big, smoking hole in the World Trade Center, and felt sheepish.
Went up to roof to check out the smoke pouring from the South Tower. Came back down and watched the 2nd plane hit, on TV.
Allison called again. She thought we should leave the downtown area. I agreed.
Put on sneakers and met Allison on the corner. Bought a bottle of water and some granola bars for the walk uptown. It was only a 1-hour walk to my parents’ place on the Upper West Side, but when survival mode kicks in, you buy water and granola bars. **
Merged into flow of shell-shocked people, all making their way uptown. There were no cars. Just a mass of people filling the street, moving in one direction.
Power-walked while Allison struggled to keep up, because her sneaker was chafing. Tried to be patient while she stopped every two blocks to pull up her sock, and then when she had to find a deli and buy bandaids.
Was in a hurry to get to safety, and, while we’re being honest, to get some exercise. This was my workout. Before everything happened, I’d planned to go for a run.
Passing that guy.
On the way up Sixth Avenue, we passed people clustered around parked cars with open doors, blaring news from their radios. We passed people who were sobbing, dazed, bleeding, and/or desperately trying to get a signal on their cell phones.
We passed a man who sat on the steps of a church, watching all these people go by.
He was grinning from ear to ear, like it was birthday, and masturbating.***
The weird mood on the Upper West Side
Once we reached 60th Street, it started to feel like a different planet. People were milling around casually. Pushing strollers. Having breakfast outside. Going for a jog.
“How callous,” I thought, wishing I could go for a jog.
A group stood in front of a window with a TV in it, watching the smoking towers and and chatting sociably, as though they were watching the Playoffs.
All day at my parents’.
Parted ways with Allison when we got to my parents’ street. She was going further uptown, to be with a guy who wasn’t very nice to her.
For about the fifth time, I tried calling my boyfriend, the guy who wasn’t very nice to me. His wife answered. I hung up.
Sat in the kitchen with my mom and sister and watched the TV coverage on an infinite loop:
Plane 1 hitting, plane 2 hitting, billowing smoke, freaked out people, collapsing towers, Rudy Giuliani with a mask over his mouth, George Bush reading to children.
Plane 1, plane 2, smoke, people, collapsing towers. Giuliani, Bush.
Being bored, going downtown, feeling kind of inappropriate
By evening, my sister and I were restless. There was no new information on TV.
Left Mom and Dad’s place together and walked downtown to The Red Cat, where we’d been invited to hang out. It was closed, but the chef had cooked dinner for a small group of friends.
(Among them was the guy who would become my husband. He didn’t know this. He was there with a girlfriend.)
Felt strange being at a sort-of party, but everyone wanted to be around other humans. And booze.
The food was gone when we got there. We were hungry. Went in search of dinner in the East Village, the only place we could think of that would have restaurants open. The rest of downtown was deserted, but the East Village doesn’t follow the crowd. It’s too indy. People were somber, but they were out.
On Avenue A, we found a bad Thai place and ordered bad pad thai.
Marian went back up to our parents’, and I went home.
The air reeked of burnt…everything. That smell would linger for weeks.
Kept the windows closed so the fumes wouldn’t get in, and turned on the TV.
Watched plane 1, plane 2, smoke, people, collapsing towers. Giuliani, Bush.
Dialed married boyfriend and hung up on his wife.
Went to bed.
What were you doing on 9/11/2001?
Were you in NYC? Were you dazed? Freaked? In denial?
Did you see a man whacking it in public?
Tell me in the comments.
*Friend’s name changed to save me the trouble of asking friend if she minds me using her name.
**UPDATE: Friend just read post and reminded me that we also had wet bandanas. In case we had to walk through a fire, I guess. Or in case the dust cloud caught up with us.
***UPDATE 2: Friend also reminded me we’ve always referred to the guy on the steps as the Masturbating Bum. I didn’t want to say bum, but now I do. Because that’s the truth. The masturbator was a bum.