Sunday, September 12, 2004
An encore presentation for the third anniversary of 9/11 (no calls please):
SATYA'S SEPTEMBER 2001 NEW YORK DIARY....
WEDNESDAY MORNING SEPTEMBER 12
As you know, I'm in New York for the first two weeks of a monthlong workshop with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, director of the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. As usual, I'm staying with M., who's been home because Blue Man Group was canceled of course. Earthlink is out in the northeast, which means we've had no E-mail for some time. I found a Chicago dial-up number and so far so good.
We are below 14th Street at 11th, and if you've been watching the news you'll know that everything below 14th is closed, part of the "frozen zone." There are checkpoints and police all over (and national-guard-looking types farther uptown, also supposedly some tanks), and barricades at side streets. Last night Hudson, the major street we're just off of, was full of ambulances. Up and down, up and down, sirens at regular intervals. It's a route to Chelsea Piers (where we did yoga Tuesday morning), and also we're not far from St. Vincent's Hospital, which has taken in a lot of victims. M.'s roommate brought clothes there yesterday and today I'll go over and see about donating blood since (a) I have a donor card and (b) I'm O-negative. He also said that by the time he got there (5 PM or so) the shelves of the corner store had been picked clean of bread and produce.
M. and his roommate were watching The Event on TV Tues AM when the second plane hit. A few minutes later they lost the broadcast, because the transmitters were on top of the World Trade Center. Now we're stuck with sucky channel two, which comes from the Empire State Building. "We're getting cable when this is over," M.'s roommate said last night. Assuming it will be over.
As for me, I was coming out of yoga at Chelsea Piers and walking south with a friend when I noticed a huge cloud of smoke in the sky. We turned a corner and my friend's mother grabbed us and said, "You have to see this. The World Trade Center is on fire." We followed her to a little island near where Eighth Ave turns into Hudson. Just one building was on fire, and everyone thought it was a freak accident; somehow a plane went out of control. Many people were on cell phones, telling their friends what happened, asking about their welfare. I looked away to talk to Jennifer and her mother about something, and when I looked back the second one had been hit.
Everyone got really scared and nervous. We knew by then that it was no accident. More cell phone calls. Then a blond guy on a cell phone said a 767 had hit it. People got even more upset; some started crying.
On the way back to M.'s there were groups of people standing on Hudson, just staring south toward the burning buildings. At that point both towers were standing, and it was a beautiful, cloudless day, except for the angry black puff of smoke. The biggest crowds were gathered around cars with the radios full-on and the doors open. Every once in a while an ambulance would head north. It was election day, so there were little groups of poll watchers or electioneers or whatever they were in matching blue T-shirts, also listening to radios.
I found M. and the roommate in the living room, staring at the blank TV screen and listening to NPR. I dropped off my yoga mat and grabbed a camera. When I took a picture of the towers (still standing) a guy walking by said, "That's sick. That's sick."
We ran into M.'s friend Emily H. (co-founder and editor of the on-line magazine SiliconSalley.com) on the street. She'd just awakened to the whole mess and suspected the entire kitchen staff she works with at an Aussie restaurant was up at Windows on the World, where they also work part-time.
We went over to see Paul G. (a Glaswegian like M., he's the one who penned the short-lived musical Bright Lights Big City). He and his family live in SoHo, which is much closer to the blast than we are. There were hordes of people walking north, away from the disaster. We watched the buildings collapse on TV, and then ran out into the street (Thompson) to see it firsthand.
People were screaming into cell phones with those New York accents. Also crying, "I can't believe it, the World Trade Centa is gawn! It's gawn! Oh my gawd!" It was so bizarre, because the WTC so dominated the skyline-it's what everyone looks at when they want to know which way is south.
Then there was a gas leak scare at Sixth Ave, and people were running down the street (south!) toward the devastation. The Paul G’s were especially freaked-out because they had three kids in a Jewish school uptown. They learned that the school was in lockdown, and every time the phone rang, we all jumped. Miriam, who'd seen the whole thing while jogging along the Hudson, was still wearing her workout clothes. Paul finally found a cab and got the kids-and the neighbor's two kids-home. They kept saying "Who would do this?" and no one could really answer, although it did come across that it was "people who hate us."
At yoga earlier I stood in line to kiss Guruji's feet and told him my name. "You come to Mysore?" he asked. "Yes," I said, "In January," and he patted my cheek twice and said, "Good, good." Now it doesn't seem like such a sure thing.
Everyone finally agreed to stock up on a bunch of food-I wanted to the minute I heard nothing was coming into Manhattan-and we finally went back home to old channel two. A lot of places were closed. I got the last two sandwiches at a place across Hudson, which was out of ice and bread. For some reason the Magnolia Bakery was open. When the roommate came back from giving clothes at St. Vincent's, he said there were tons of hip West Village people there, standing calmly in line, waiting to give blood with the same cool demeanor they have while shopping. Indeed, everyone is very calm and helpful. They even give way on the sidewalk!
At night we tried to go back to Paul G's. I brought bandannas in case of dust as well as a flashlight, passport, and contact lens stuff, in case we couldn't come back. There was a checkpoint at Houston. After being foiled by one officer we took a different route. M. lied and said we were staying there, gave the address. They let us through, saying, "As long as you're not tourists going down to take pictures." While the West Village was full of people with dogs/cell phones/cigarettes/hip outfits eating at the few restaurants that were open and cramming the bars that had cable, SoHo was a near-dead zone. We saw people camped out on the sidewalk on lawn chairs, listening to portable radios and talking quietly. Every once in a while you'd see exhausted people with stethoscopes, face masks, and scrubs walking home, dazed. There was a major convoy of earthmovers, rescue squads, and dump trucks in front of the fire station; also a dust-covered pickup with a large square hole in its windshield. After seeing the Paul G’s, who were finishing up dinner and watching cable, we went back north to our place. On the way out, a civilian told us that we wouldn't be able to get back in, and I doubt we'll get to see the Paul G’s today.
There's no yoga-the outgoing message on the answering machine says it'll resume tomorrow and everything is closed. Including Urinetown, which we'd finally gotten tickets for. (I went to the World Trade Center on Saturday to get some at TKTS, which was closed. While walking through the cavernous, near-empty WTC mall and trying to figure out which tower to enter, I thought about the 1993 bombing and how it happened the day I met Jim and Kai and drove them to the train to NYC.)
Since Blue Man's still canceled we'll visit Emily, who has cable, and I'll try to give blood. It's all very strange. I'm supposed to fly back Saturday night on American but who knows. At least they're finally letting people out of Manhattan.
Some friends from Glasgow made it here from midtown today, where they are staying in a hostel. They had no trouble with the subway and got past the barrier guards by saying they were coming to visit us (they're young women with charming accents, which didn't hurt their case). They first saw the news yesterday on the huge TV screen in Times Square (which they said is bereft of people this morning). People were standing there, staring in disbelief. The girls had bought postcards of the WTC, "ten for a dollar." All of their plans have been put on hold, but their #1 priority was to shop anyway, so M. pointed them toward Bleeker Street.
People are cramming the coffee shops, which are out of bagels and bread. The workers look tired, the lines are long, strollers take up a lot of space. The playgrounds are full, and people are out with their dogs. There is a giant, benign-looking white cloud hovering near the gaping hole where the twin towers once stood. The newsboxes contain yesterday's paper, the one with Bill Ayers in the arts section talking about how great it is to bomb things, and we're still stuck with channel two (which keeps showing the same stairwell survivor from the second tower who went down 82 floors to safety). Word is that Chelsea Piers is now a morgue. There's an ice rink there. Got a call today from Teresa W. who used to work at the Tribune. She came down to do yoga and cover arts out of the Washington Post's New York bureau (on 57th). It took her two hours to get to work from 23rd Street yesterday, after she convinced the driver of an express bus to Queens to drop her off at 57th. She acted as editor/coordinator for the reporters covering the disaster on Tuesday. The pay phones are free, and so is the subway.
Dreyfus (my brother, who looks like the actor) called and said that our cousin Craig, who works for the government, is worried and that there could be as many as 50 terrorists in this particular cell-most of whom are still at large. The airports are still closed, he says, because they expect more from them. There are gas lines and price gouging ($4/gallon) in McHenry. One wonders if one shouldn't get her ass to Penn Station and buy a ticket to Chicago.
I heard that Bill Ayers's book tour is canceled. Smart move. Who knows what will happen next. Wonder how long I must stay in this dorm situation, and if we should get more food, since nothing is coming into this part of Manhattan.
1:30 PM WEDNESDAY
We went out to stock up on groceries-even M. was up for it. On the way out he wondered if his health club was open-I think he wants to go swimming.
We went to the health food store, figuring that most people would avoid it. Sure enough, the shelves were bursting and even being restocked. We got bread, rice, canned beans, cheese, granola, Rice Dream. M. pulled out a charge card but the cashier didn't know whether or not it would work so we paid cash. Now I am worrying about whether we should go to the cash machine and pull out what we can, since there are long lines. On the way back we noticed the white cloud is coming our way. It's still sunny here but not for long. The atmosphere is slightly hazy and our throats hurt and it smells like burnt metal. I just noticed that it's coming into the apartment. The falafel place reopened and was doing brisk business. While eating we noticed Janeane Garofalo walking her dog and greeting her public. The White Horse was bursting with people, also the sidewalks were full. It looked like a street fair, only the streets were empty (but for ambulances and police).
People call at regular intervals wanting to know if we're OK, but trying to call out is a joke. We cleaned out the fridge. Every once in a while Rudy Giuliani is on TV, giving a speech. He is far more reassuring than anyone from the federal government-even the people who hate him love him right now.
10 PM WEDNESDAY
The acrid white cloud of poison is here, and the air conditioner cannot filter it out. That seems to rule out those flimsy masks, too. Dreyfus said people below 14th are at risk for asbestos inhalation. M.'s bicycle outside is covered with a fine gray dust. At Emily's earlier we discussed whether or not to evacuate. But to where? The Amtrak trains to Chicago are full and we have no car. If we go to Brooklyn we won't be able to get back below 14th, because M. uses a PO box and does not have a single piece of ID or even a bill or piece of mail with his address on it. What with the military and police and barricades and stockpiling food and threat of civil unrest (too many people around with no work to do) and more destruction and everyone walking around upset, it's just like being in one of those "other" countries.
I went down to St. Vincent's, which was not taking blood. People everywhere. Handwritten signs saying "Come back tomorrow," and a huge line for volunteers. Also those people holding pictures of loved ones. I considered going uptown to give, but probably would not be able to come back down, as they are checking IDs at 14th Street. Bob E. (the dancer and former director of Link's Hall, who now lives in Brooklyn) called from the other side, saying he was not able to cross the street. He also said people were lining the West Side Highway and applauding the rescue workers. We went down (me wearing a bandanna over my mouth) and this was indeed happening. They had thank-you signs and American flags and NYC T-shirts (for the record, there were a couple of men in turbans, too). They even applauded military vehicles and the police. M., who is not a citizen, did not seem to want to stay, so we left to visit Paul G.
This time M. was not able to talk his way onto the other side of Houston; they wanted ID (on TV they're saying this zone is in a "state of emergency"). I asked the officer for an extra face mask but he had none. You could see across the street to SoHo, which was empty, all the shops closed. On our side: people dining al fresco. We are basically stuck between 14th and Houston because of the ID problem. We are stuck, stuck, stuck and it suck-suck-sucks. I can't even help by giving blood, because all the donation sites are above 14th. Yoga's supposed to start up again tomorrow but it's south of Houston so it looks doubtful.
I spoke to Teresa again, at the Washington Post. She was at Staten Island covering triage there. No one was coming in, so she was about to return to Manhattan. I wish I'd applied for my press pass a few weeks earlier so I could at least be doing something. It's probably at the post office right now, waiting for me.
Best conspiracy theories heard today:
—Plane that crashed in PA was shot down by U.S. (E-mail).
—The hijackers had anthrax on the plane, and that's what we're all breathing (Miriam's sister, who also thinks The Sopranos suffers from bad writing).
—Big gas leak downtown threatens all of lower Manhattan (Dreyfus).
—Many people with professional cameras, wandering around.
—Villagers dining al fresco, sans masks.
—A sign in a store window: "No Today's Newspaper."
—Biography Bookshop open for business.
—Not one commercial on TV.
—Same two anchors on channel two since yesterday; tonight they switched sides, which was disconcerting.
M. just walked in and said they evacuated the area around the Empire State Building because of a bomb threat. We are situated between the ESB and the former World Trade Center.
Maybe Greyhound has an open seat.
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 13
Last night the roommate brought the day's paper from The Other Side, which was a treat. It was the Daily News but the whole thing was about the WTC and I couldn't put it down.
Got up at five to try to make it to yoga, which was supposed to be in SoHo at the Puck Building today. It's still closed, so it's being held at the sponsor's studio. Before I left I watched some channel two of course. People are now bringing in the toothbrushes and hairbrushes of missing loved ones for identification purposes. The anchors had changed places again. During the walk the city was quiet, quiet, quiet, except for Sixth Ave, which had a lot of what seemed to be nonemergency vehicles. Somehow everyone had managed to hose the dog urine off the sidewalks, which were still wet. Instead of the WTC there was a white glow telling me which way was south.
Houston was still barricaded. I took Crosby over and walked right up to one of the police officers (by the way, they tend to be thin here). I explained that I was trying to go to a yoga workshop, and it worked! After a bit of hesitation he let me go. Maybe he was tired. Behind me I heard, "We're in!" from someone also carrying a yoga mat. She was wearing a dust mask and walked in the street "because of the rats." Garbage hasn't been picked up in a while and is piling up everywhere. At least the wind has changed direction; maybe we can open the windows today.
There were about 40 people at yoga; I didn't see anyone else from Chicago. Most seemed to be from the area (including Willem and Gwynneth, natch). The woman checking people in was on the phone, telling the person on the other end that she couldn't help them get across Houston. No one talked before class, which was unusual. During practice Guruji didn't make a single joke; he was businesslike and class went quickly. I was distracted, weak, and stiff and had no balance. We heard more sirens than usual. Before savasana, we were told to call after 11:30 to find out if/where we will practice on Thursday. Only about 15 people had shown up for the 7:30 class when I left at 7:40. One of the students was telling someone, "If it were just the bad smell, that would be one thing...."
M. just came in and said, "I wonder what the New Yorker cover is going to be." He won't find out anytime soon, since mail service below 14th Street has been suspended since Tuesday (still no current newspapers, either). Ray Hanania is on public radio talking about anti-Palestinian sentiment. His Chicago accent is thick; maybe Ghada Talhami was already booked.
After class I sat outside the studio and watched a truck unloading produce at World Farm, Inc., which seemed to be a good sign. I also eavesdropped on the yoga people who were unlocking their bikes. Here's what I heard:
Woman A: "I live above the bomb squad [a few blocks over from us] and to get out of my house yesterday, I had to show three pieces of ID."
Woman B: "Everyone was running north to get away from the buildings, and I was running south to get my kids."
Woman C: "That's awful."
Woman B: "But they're alive."
Man: "I was at the Empire State Building last night during the bomb scare. I ran with everyone else. When I came back they'd broken into my car and stolen everything."
Woman D: "Who? The police?"
Man: "No, whoever was still there after I left."
One thing we have not heard since Tuesday morning is music.
On the walk home I saw a Starbucks in SoHo that was closed (but Dean & DeLuca was open). On a corner I ran across a makeshift memorial with flowers, candles, photos, and a bottle of water. I saw a single class photo of a young man dangling on a wire from an awning. A boy in a white shirt and navy pants was turning away from a Catholic school that had a sign on the door: "Closed today. Watch TV and listen to radio to find out about tomorrow, 9/14." He looked sad. I also saw a sign in a hardware store window: "Sorry. Out of dust masks."
I took Broadway home and when I got to Houston there was a crowd and lots of police. I was able to walk across the border freely, but on the other side there was a huge line of people waiting to have their IDs checked so they could get to work south of Houston.
The bagel place was still out of bagels, and they are no longer asking for blood.
6 PM THURSDAY
Giuliani said they will reopen lower Manhattan (to Canal Street) tomorrow so that commerce can resume. I can't get through to the yoga center. On-line I read that 300 people in Bridgeview, Illinois, stormed a mosque. I've seen nothing like that here.
They keep showing the people on TV with the pictures and descriptions of loved ones. I can't imagine what it would be like to watch the plane plunging into the building again and again on TV and not know whether or not they were there. I've recently lost three souls very close to me but at least had some warning and was able to be there comforting them (and myself) as they passed on. And at least I know what happened to their bodies. These people have no such closure, so they walk around with the pictures.
We decided to try to visit the Paul G’s this afternoon. The plan this time was for Paul G to meet us at the Houston border at Thompson Street. (He was going to share a flask of Scotch with M. if we couldn't get through.) There were people on the streets as we made our way there, but not as many as yesterday. Store owners were sticking American flags on their awnings. At the army surplus place on the corner M. heard this exchange:
Man: "Do you have any American flags?"
Owner: "No, all gone."
Man: "Do you have any red-white-and-blue flags?"
Owner: "No, all gone."
Man: "Do you have any flags?"
Owner: (hopefully) "We have the Indian flag."
As we went further east and south the air got more acrid, and we put on our bandannas. There were only a few people at the barricade. Paul G stood on the other side, holding the corner of his polo shirt over his nose and mouth. He came over to get us, then introduced us to the border guard, who waved us through after looking at our ID. The officer did a double take at my passport, turning it over to see what it was. (I have it with me because the drive-through teller at the bank failed to return my driver's license the day before I left Chicago. Gee-I could escape to Scotland, too.)
Most of the Paul G family was inside, bored. Their school is way uptown, and subway service below 42nd was suspended this morning (yet Broadway shows resume tonight). The girls were watching soaps and trying to do math homework. One was wearing an NYC T-shirt. They said they'd gone out of the house on Wednesday, after the air cleared. Both air conditioners were running. Paul G had a headache and soon I got one, too, maybe from watching the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen during Laura Bush's smug speech.
Paul G said he'd be happy to return to Glasgow until the end of the year. "If something else happens, I'm leaving New York." His parents left New York on a cruise to Bermuda on Saturday and are not allowed to sail back into the city; they'll have to come ashore elsewhere and take a bus the rest of the way. M. wondered if they shouldn't just get back to Scotland as soon as possible. He's supposed to go Sunday for Rosh Hashanah and his father's 75th birthday. Every time he expresses concern that his vacation will probably be cut short I say, testily, "There are a lot of people who will never go to Scotland, ever."
I decided to go back to 11th Street to take a nap and nurse my headache. M. walked me to Houston. SoHo was still dead. This time the border patrol had extra face masks. On the way home a designer handbag store and some shops that sell chess supplies were open; so was Temple in the Village, my favorite Asian/vegan buffet. I stopped to fill up on tofu and greens. While I ate there was bad air coming in through the open door. I saw a sleek Village woman walk briskly by. She wore a white dust mask and had a cell phone pressed to her ear.
When I got home there was a message from Bob Eisen saying he'd sneaked past the guards and was below 14th Street.
They just evacuated the Senate and closed the airports. I wanted to go to Times Square to pick up some $2 I Heart NY T-shirts tomorrow but it'll probably be evacuated, too. Maybe I should look into renting a car.
9 PM THURSDAY
The smoke is back. We just returned from walking around the neighborhood. In front of a closed fire station there was a not-so-makeshift memorial with many candles and really beautiful flowers as well as poems and pictures of missing people. It glowed and smelled good; there was a poster asking us to pray for the firehouse's missing "brothers," and a list of names. A crowd was gathered, very quiet.
There are "missing persons walls" all over the place, especially around St. Vincent's-on bus kiosks, empty walls, phone booths, media vans, and pizza parlors. Each has a flyer asking people to check on missing neighbors' pets and to contact the ASPCA if they can't get in.
Near one of them was a large piece of plywood, painted white. In red lettering it said, "We Are Stronger Now."
Some people have taken to dressing in the American flag like it's Carnival. Only about a sixth wear dust masks; there are many with New York City T-shirts. The homeless do not seem to be doing any better than usual. There are boxes here and there for the collection of work gloves, dust masks, and flashlights. We walked to 14th Street, and while there were still barricades, pedestrians could move about freely.
St. Vincent's is still drawing a huge crowd. People were adding pictures to missing persons walls and watching the press sit in their corral awaiting their cue. Most reporters and producers wore American flags of some sort. One walked around holding a handwritten sign above his head: "Anyone from Colorado?" He had no takers.
We felt the subway running under our feet on the way home-below 14th Street!
Just outside the house we saw drag queens in the park, applying makeup and getting ready for the evening.
The roommate has figured out how to get channel seven (by running the antenna through the VCR), which is a real treat.
Dreyfus just called and said people in McHenry are driving around with American flags on their cars; he saw one pickup with a Confederate flag on the other side. He also said someone opened fire on the owner of a gas station in Gary, Indiana. He was an Arab-American who had lived there for 11 years.