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Ground Zero

Photograph taken on 9/11/06 by Wifey Kim

I generally shy away from all things 9/11. I think Tommy Gavin from 'Rescue Me' epitomized my stance on the issue when, in Season 2, he knocks over a folding table set up at Ground Zero, from which an accented immigrant is selling 9/11 commemorative t-shirts, baubles and cookies. This shit really happens. In fact, it's happening as I type.

Because of this crass commercialization of 9/11 and the general need by many people to capitalize in some way from the events, I've intentionally shied away from discussing them here. Then I read Mean Gene's post about where he was when the Towers fell. Reading it brought a chill down my spine. Reading posts like that show me that not everyone is capitalizing on the tragedy. Some people just feel it, and they do us all a favor by sharing. Thanks, Gene.

When I woke up on September 11, 2001, I flicked on the radio to Howard Stern. I had to get my ass in gear for law school, and Howard always accompanied my preparation. At the present, he was discussing something innocuous, like Anna Nicole Smith or Pamela Anderson, but then producer Gary came into the studio and announced the news. At first, I though it was some sort of joke, so I turned on the television. There it was, one tower with a gaping hole in it. I immediately thought it was terrorism. The news announced that it was likely a radar error, and I was relieved for the 2 minutes before I witnessed the second plane collide with the buildings. I sat down and stopped getting dressed. I wasn't going to school.

That night, I played host to my aunt and her co-worker. They were both stranded in the City after the Towers collapsed. The trains weren't running, the roads were in gridlock. No one wanted to be in NYC, and I could understand why. I figured that we were only at the start of something. Anyone who could arrange to hijack two planes and fly them into the WTC would be smart enough to have a phase 2. I pictured planes flying into buildings across the US. I pictured car bombs exploding in parking lots under government buildings in the mid-west, and lone gunmen shooting up movie theatres in California. Neither happened.

My apartment at the time was at 34th Street. It was about 3 miles from Ground Zero, by a rough estimate, but to people unfamiliar with the city it was in NYC, and they thought I was right in the middle of it. I wasn't. I was safe in an apartment building. I could see the plumes of smoke from my rooftop, but little else on that day. I received calls from family, friends, and distant acquaintances. The distant acquaintances, I despised. I couldn't help but feel like these people just wanted to feel connected somehow, as they searched their mental contact list to find anyone in the NYC area.

Okay, I sound bitter. And I was. But let me offer some further insight into what it really was like in NYC after 9/11.

My buddy Platinum was working for CBS News at the time. On 9/13, after a 72 hour shift, we agreed to meet for food by his office on 62nd street. It was probably a good 5 miles from Ground Zero. On my walk over, I noticed an eerie silence in the City. There were no cars. There were no people. Those who I did see had the same shell-shocked look on their faces. This was after 2 days of fear. If you've ever seen Vanilla Sky, there is a scene in which everyone disappears from Manhattan and Tom Cruise is left spinning in the middle, shocked at the vast emptiness. This was Manhattan on 9/13.

Plat and I found a restaurant that was open. It was a hot day, and the big windows that made up the walls of the restaurant were gaping open. While we ate, I smelled the scent of charred rubber, metal, and flesh. We were 5 miles from Ground Zero, but the smell was still strong. I barely touched my plate.

A couple of nights later, I was lying in bed. I could still smell the burnt rubber stench of Ground Zero. My roommate and brother, Keith, was in Florida. In fact, he was there on 9/11, which was a good thing, since he worked in Bldg 7 of the WTC. Knowing Keith, he would have been standing outside the buildings gawking up when they fell. Knowing Keith, a part of him felt like he missed out by being in Florida. Funny how things happen. Anyway, I was alone, and I was still a bit nervous about the WTC. I was about 4 Avenues (in NY-speak, that means 8 blocks, approximately) from the Empire State Building, which was thought to be another major target. I was in that period of half-sleep, where you think you are awake, but you aren't quite sure. Just then, I heard the explosion. My eyes shot open. I turned on the radio and the TV simultaneously. I waited to hear news that the Empire State Building was bombed. I readied myself to head to the tunnel out of New York, or the East River, where I would swim myself to the safety of Brooklyn through syringe and sewage-infested waters. Nothing appeared on the TV. Nothing was said on the radio. I called my Mom to make sure that I was just dreaming. I don't think I was ever so nervous to sleep in my life.

Yesterday, I was talking to wifey Kim about how people feel connected to 9/11. We all have our stories, but it can sometimes be difficult to hear someone from the west coast talk about how their cleaning ladies' nephew was near the Towers that day. Others talk about how that morning they were thinking, Gee, I think I'll go to the Towers that day, but never did and were lucky because of it. These same people live 150 miles from the City and have never been to the WTC, and rarely, if ever, come to the City on a week day. But then I realized something. For the last 5 years, I've felt disgust for these people, but they were not wrong. We WERE all affected by 9/11. They may make their connection through some tenuous string of people or possibilities, but they do it because they were genuinely affected. I'm sorry I've been so bitter. It really just seems silly now.

I now live less than 4 blocks from the gaping hole that used to be the Twin Towers. I used to go there for lunch when I worked on Wall Street. My coworkers and I would sit in the middle of the towers, on the rim of the fountain, and eat our lunch while we shot the shit. Now, the area is fenced off. Nearby buildings are almost done with their repairs, but the hole remains. Opportunistic Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants sell their NYPD hats and 9/11 photographs, the kind that change when you move them left and right, like some sadistic Cracker Jack toy. Those people can all go fuck themselves, as can most of the people who buy from these opportunistic slags. But the rest of you, god bless. The loss of the World Trade Center rocked us all in different ways. I know that I have changed in ways that I cannot express to you in words. It's a sad day in New York. Thank you to the rest of the US for being with us that day. Thank you to the terrorists for being so short-sighted in their planning. I'm no Bush supporter, and we haven't caught Osama Bin Laden, but we haven't been attacked again on US soil either, and that's got to count for something.

posted by Jordan @ 5:24 PM,


At 6:59 PM, Blogger GaryC said...


I've often wondered how you felt about that day and how close you were when it actually happened. I had no doubt that your "view" would not be one of "on the fence." I, myself, was in Pennsylvania that morning, not too far from where the plane went down in the field. Surreal would not begin to describe the feeling that came over me.

Having been through the bombing in OKC (I was four miles from it when it went off) and spending the next few days in total shock, I was probably a bit better prepared for it than most, but that shocking feeling never goes away.

And you are right, not being attacked again on our soil has to count for something.

Nice post, brother.


At 7:32 PM, Blogger Doog said...

Excellent post.

I'm a left-coastie, and five years ago my wife and I spent all day trying to get through on the phones to aunts, cousins, and family friends to make sure they were all right. On the "tenuous connection" topic, I might be able to offer some perspective.

You watched 9-11 unfold through your apartment window. You smelled heard the explosions, saw the billowing smoke, smelled the burning rubber and decaying bodies. Hell visited NYC on that day, and you lived its reality.

On the west coast, we watched 9-11 through our TV's. We looked out our windows and saw birds riding a light late-summer breeze. We heard the sounds of children laughing and playing, and we smelled the fresh-cut grass from our neighbor's lawn. The terrorist attacks were horribly distant, unnervingly detached - there was a jarring dichotomy between our immediate existence and what we saw on TV. We needed some way to make it real - after all, so little of what we see on our TV's is "real". Some had to grasp at straws - like the cleaning lady's nephew - to come to grips with the reality of 9-11. That doesn't mean they don't care, or that they're selfishly looking for some connection to impress the neighbors. It's just the only way to comprehend and understand the reality and finality of it all. Hopefully, that makes sense.

Know that, even five years later, you and all of your fellow New Yorkers remain in our thoughts and prayers.

At 10:34 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Doog, I know now that my attitude about it was wrong. That realization was part of the impetus of the post. Thank you for your insight.

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Pokerwolf said...

Great post, Jordan.

Those of us who live near Washington, DC went through similar situations on 9/11/01. My wife was working one block from the White House at the time. My Dad had friends who were killed in the Pentagon attack.

In an even more spooky and scary coincidence, a friend I've known since high school had to cancel his flight that day due to scheduling issues. He had a seat on the plane from Boston that slammed into the towers. He scanned the boarding pass he had printed for proof.

It's very hard for people who experience a large tragedy first-hand to accept that other people who live in other areas can be affected just as deeply as they are. Make sure you forgive yourself for being human, Jordan. I'm glad you've let go of your bitterness. That sort of thing only festers and prevents people from living the best life they can.

I'm game for some Chinese poker, but I'll need to play for small stakes (I'm talking like $.25 a point or so) because I don't have a large bankroll and I've never played Chinese poker before.

See you in two weeks, dude!

At 9:35 AM, Blogger CC said...

Ironically, I listened to this recording of Howard Stern on YouTube (9/11/01) yesterday:

At 10:40 AM, Blogger WillWonka said...

Thanks for sharing.

At 3:24 PM, Blogger TripJax said...

Yeah, thanks for sharing J. I appreciate hearing it from you.

At 8:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was a tough day for everyone. I felt such deep sorrow for all those families that lost loved ones. Even today seeing the images bring back such rough emotions. The fact that people are trying to capitalize on the tragedy makes me physically ill. Are we as humans so drawn by money that we forget the big picture? Even in poker, it is a game, a way for us to make money, but on the grand scheme of life, there are bigger fish out there. My thoughts are still with everyone that was affected that day.

At 9:31 PM, Blogger RoccoBoxer said...

Wow, very sombering account. Also, watched several videos on U-tube. It is too easy to forget we are really still at war. I mean we all know it, but this all really brings it closer to the heart.


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