As I mentioned in my previous post, I want to revisit my thoughts and feelings on New York, the United States and 9/11, having not done so for over fourteen years, or over 7,463,640 minutes.
In getting back to writing, and trying to use words to bare and be open, reflecting on two things I love (New York City, the USA) and something that deeply pierced and hurt that love (September 11, 2001), will be an interesting journey. (Side note; I’ve been looking for my Statue of Liberty, USA flag pin that I mention in my previous post, including digging around in my parents house. Has not been found yet…).
I have been mesmerised by New York City the three times I’ve visited. Although I’ve fallen in love with San Francisco, I find myself often thinking of the Empire City. I won’t compare the two, because that isn’t fair, each one touches my heart, but I will venture into how New York City has taken ahold of mine.
Most recently, I we visited in July and August 2015. I was amazed at the breadth and depth of the city. Where in Melbourne, Sydney and San Francisco, one can traverse a good portion of the city in a day on foot, New York offers a density that doesn’t allow this. Streets and Avenues offer too many interesting sights, sounds and sensations (including smells!) to rush past them. Everywhere is filled with a richness, there is no empty space except the sanctuary of Central Park. Street art here, an interesting window display there, a rich lady walking a poodle here, an amazing musician on that corner. But no horns tooting. Sirens everywhere, usually ambulances and firetrucks instead of police, and incessant. The city is abuzz and is a hive of activity. We had to plan our days into small sections of the city, surrendering in knowing we couldn’t possibly see and experience all the city had to offer, despite trying gamely on the first day. In other cities, one can get a pretty good feel for the layout and find some favourite areas. I felt like New York City was a huge mystery that no one in a lifetime can possibly unravel entirely; almost like a fractal in that the closer you look, the more there is to see and the more immersed you can become.
Central Park seems to be the only true ‘park’ with grass that can be walked and sat on. Many of the little parks had their grassy areas fenced off from dogs and people alike, including the tiny tree plots on the sidewalk. How awful for the dogs! Bryant Park did offer grass to lie on, which a lot of parks seemed to lack, and it was funny being told off by a policeman at midnight, “Time to go home.”
Flat White. Coffee. Cawfee! The lifeblood of any metropolis, and New York’s density, corporate reputation, and Wall Street mentality surely meant there would be good cawfee. Not so much. We spent hours walking from Yelp recommendation to recommendation until stumbling across Caffe Vita in Ludlow Street. With it’s attitude on life, Lower East Side clientele, chilled barista and rock & roll roaster, this was the alarm clock each morning.
Bagels, Bagels, Bagels. A New York religion, and a specialty that seemingly can’t be exported beyond the five boroughs, bagel tastes are specific to each person, but a New York bagel must meet a few criteria: chewy inside, crunchy outside, ‘blistered,’ shiny and boiled. Our perfect morning consisted of leaving our Lower East Side AirBnB apartment, past the crazy neighbour hoarding-lady’s flat, get my bearings (always a challenge for me figuring out east, west, north, south in a grid city for some reason…), walk south to Russ & Daughters (deli, not cafe, important), grab our bagels then continue walking to the aforementioned Caffe Vita for a boost. It is so much fun experiencing the streets of New York before midday, like being behind the scenes of a movie, the mystery is revealed! Beer trucks with kegs refilling cellars of pubs and bars, street cleaners sweeping gutters, no one about, rubbish bags everywhere with the threat of a hot day warming and stinking them up (where the bags go, we never officially found out, just got some local advice that “that’s what happens. The rubbish gets cleaned up.”
With coffee in hand, and bagels wrapped in wax paper, we would find a park bench to enjoy our breakfast before exploring Gotham.
Strawberry Fields (Forever). A moving place in Central Park, opposite John Lennon’s former apartment and home. ‘Imagine’ is inscribed in a circle on the pavement in the memorial space. Many, many tourists scramble to take photos and selfies of the word, usually with a peace sign made with their hand, or flowers, but I think this should be a space of reflection. There are also several artists and musicians around Strawberry Fields.
Pizza, Pizza, Pizza. Another New York institution, the many 24/7 pizza bars around the city. The rules and expectations are simple: thin crust, bigger than your face, freshly made, eat the pizza standing, one handed is best, and flat to get the most taste, not folded. If you’re a fan of Louis CK, then Ben’s Pizza at 123 MacDougal Street near Washington Square Park is a nexus of the universe. It’s not the best pizza (that accolade goes to Joe’s Pizza at 150 E. 14th Street), but it is where strange things happen… First, it’s where Louis CK of the show Louie, is seen in the opening credits (he demonstrates how to eat pizza Noo Yawk style). Second, it’s where we met Antonio Polanco, a guardian Angel, completely by star-crossed chance. Antonio is a poet who lives in Brooklyn, we connected via Instagram, and in the five-borough area where there are more than eight million people, we accidentally meet in the pizzeria of a show we love, who’s creator we happened to meet at Comedy Cellar two nights prior! Whattttttt…
Randolph Moment. This is what happens when stars align and the universe has a plan. The first documented example of this occurred on the 28th of July, 2015. I was ready to go home after exploring the city, only three blocks away, fortunately Luana said “nope, we’re going this way…” towards Randolph Beer (343 Broome Street), where we sat down. I messaged my friend Jeff and his fiancé Stephanie, and they came to meet us. What was a tired moment turned into a fun evening, thanks to not following a plan and just going with it. Randolph Moments are rare, though, and can’t be planned by their very nature. It’s like trying to spot a very faint star, you can’t stare directly at it,you have to look at it from the corner of your eye and never for too long or it might disappear. But when you learn to embrace them (and I’m not very good at that), they are vastly rewarding.
Like the city itself, my writing scarcely does any justice to the scale of wonder The Big Apple offers. Maybe a scratch on the surface, if that. I find it difficult to express my thoughts and feelings on the city, because there is so much that I hold for her: love, amazedness, sadness, intrigue, mystery, sublime. This is a very different post to what I imagined it would be when I started, and that’s ok. Maybe I will close with a poem…
Anything can happen, in a New York Minute.
Love, Louie, laughter and smell.
If you follow your heart, you’ll just stumble in it.
People everywhere, the crowds will swell.
High Line, Lady, Promenade and Met.
But step aside, watch them pass,
Find the hidden gardens and park.
That is where magic will happen,
Don’t look too closely or it may go dark!
Just step to one side, onto that path less travelled,
Be a little afraid, but know something special will hark.
You might just feel your heart aflutter,
And connect with those, and that which matter,
Close your eyes if need be, or take hold of her hand.
I love and have always loved New York and the United States. This is a revisit to my journal and reflection from that terrible time, when I was 18 and about to finish high school. Journal excerpts below, followed by a piece I wrote to reflect and try to understand in my own head and heart what was happening. I have left the piece untouched from when I first typed it on the 13th of September, 2001.
As I retyped my words into WordPress and read it simultaneously, having not read it for over ten years, I am struck by how suppressed or repressed my emotions are. It’s like I am writing it for someone else, or as someone else, and I don’t want my feelings bared. This is what I find hard about writing, as I’ve started again… baring myself and being honest within. I will follow up this post with a reflection on New York, doing my best to be honest and open.
12-13 September 2001 Journal Excerpts
12 September 2001 (Australian Eastern Standard Time)
‘Holy Fuck’ as I said to Dom and Hakon via SMS at 07:07am this morning. A day of infamy. Came downstairs and mum showed me The Age front page, ‘Oh my God’ were my words. Was in a really shitty mood for most of the day. Sad and angry. To think the two World Trade Center buildings are gone. Nick Bensley realised I was angry and we talked – he’s the only sensible one on the issue. Terrible news. Touch rugby helped relieve stress and get my mind off the issue.
13 September 2001 (Australian Eastern Standard Time)
Typed up a 2,500 word reflection on how I feel about this whole thing. The world’s a fucked up place. Spoke to Rebel, Miriam, Andrea in the morning. Sent Ella an e-mail – her friend’s dad was in the WTC. Felt good throughout the day, but extremely sad / shit later at night. Didn’t do literature essay – can’t be fucked and did not feel up for it. A sad, sad day. Feel sorry for poor NYC. Giuliani is a hero though.
11 September 2001 Reflections
12 September 2001
07:03 AEST: Awake but feeling tired, grumpy and sluggish. I was surprised to find a missed call on my mobile phone. Dominic Sidor called at five minutes past midnight. I was stumped as to why, but quickly put it out of my mind; it was probably just regarding some homework.
07:07 AEST: Having changed and headed downstairs, I walked into the kitchen. “Have you seen the headlines?” Inquired Mum.
“No.” I replied. Upon which, Olga held up the paper. War on America proclaimed the headline. A large fuzzy picture of the WTC on fire and a jet confronted me. “What happened?” I asked. Upon hearing the rather sketchy description from Mum, I grabbed the paper from Mum and laid in on the table, surprised I held back profanities and just quietly said, “Oh my God.”
I don’t know whether I was trying to hide my feelings, or from who for that matter, but I did not feel right by continuing with the preparations for breakfast. Inside I was shaken. Breakfast made, I ate it out near the TV. The images shown were shocking. Passenger jets exploding into the immense towers of the WTC. Smoke billowing out. The eventual and gargantuan crash of both structures. Not to mention the destruction at the Pentagon. I could not finish my breakfast. My hands shook slightly and I felt an odd mix of feelings that didn’t become clear until later in the day.
Upstairs, preparing for school, I paced around my room thinking about the news. I sent two text messages via mobile phone to two close friends, with very brief, but very precise messages. I was surprised to have one call back, and stuttered into the phone that I would speak with him at school.
I left the house in disbelief. Carrying the front page of the newspaper in my pocket, if only to remind myself of what happened. I was amazed at the almost regardless mood aboard the bus and with peopleI spoke to. People simply did not care a great deal. They spoke of other things.
I spent the day in confusion, rage and sadness. I barely managed a smile or a word and was appalled at people’s attitudes towards the strike. Insensitive jokes were being made; a lot of people were not interested and instead pursued leisure activities. I spent every free moment at the CNN website or watching TV. Nick Bensley and I realised school chapel was not a pressing matter and instead proceeded to find a classroom with a TV in order to try to grasp the situation. Many people speculated on the situation but I, however, preferred not to talk about the tragedy. I found it disrespectful to speak on something I knew very little about. I got angry hearing about people talk about the strikes and found I could only have sensible conversations with more mature people, yet I still offered little input. The most relieving conversation I had was with Nick Bensley – who understood the situation and treated it as I did. Other people attempted to show off how much they knew about the situation, something I found disgusting. Others were almost proud of the attack.
Throughout the day I did not and could not work. I was quiet for most of the day, often reflecting on how the world had just been shaken. I love New York City and really like the United States: I wanted to help and felt frustration at not being able to. I felt wrath towards the cowardly attackers and I felt sadness that two things in my life that meant a lot to me were severely hurt. It was sadness, though, that didn’t seem to be felt by anyone else except those in the US. I was sure people care but why wasn’t anyone showing it? Surely people felt as I did: helpless, disconcerted and uneasy.
A game of touch rugby after school helped relieve my distress, anger and sorrow. For 45 minutes I forgot all about the events of the day and previous evening and enjoyed a friendly game among friends. Post-game, I looked around, took in the glorious feeling of the warm sunlight falling on my shoulders and enjoyed the feel of grass under my bare feet as I realised how glad I was to be living in Australia.
On the bus home, reading another newspaper, I kept realising the enormity of the situation – some of which had worn off me. Upon returning home I immediately watched BBC and CNN for practically the rest of the evening and night. Hours of shocking images continued to assault me. Footage from almost every angle of the aircraft crashing into the towers, people dangling and falling out of the WTC, the mayhem and mess after the collapse of the buildings. It started to sink in that the famous twin towers of New York are gone forever. I looked at a panoramic print of the famous NYC skyline in my room – the most prominent feature being the twin towers strutting out far above the rest of the city. Unbelieving that they were nit there any more. I was quietly stunned that I had once stood in the foyer of both of the massive towers that no longer existed. I realised September 11 would never be forgotten. I had lived on a historical day that my children would ask me about. I felt sad for a good primary school friend, who had lived in New Jersey, now living in England, who’s sixteenth birthday fell on this same day. I had sent her an email the day before wishing her “a great day” as well as other wishes. I didn’t feel guilty, just extremely sorry for her and I sympathised for her. I wanted to comfort her and speaks to her, but at the same time didn’t really know how to go about doing so. Mum called her – to speak to her mother, but they weren’t home and instead Mum left a message. I couldn’t email Ella (my friend), I thought it would be too unfeeling.
On the internet later my anger stirred again – people had chosen extremely insensitive and thoughtless ‘MSN’ names. I realised a suspicion I’d harboured for quite some time – most people are ignorant, stupid and uncaring. People were lobbying false charity by committing deeds that had no impact on the events of the day (altering MSN status to ‘Busy’). This angered my further and I told a few people not to do so; that if they wanted to show respect, ‘pick up a weapon and stand post,” figuratively speaking. What I meant: do something that actively affects the state of the world. I was frustrated there was nothing I could do to help the United States. and New York City.
Sick of the feeling over the internet, I logged off. Minutes later a good friend called: Nick Bensley. I realised he may have been my closest friend when he noticed I was nit happy today and he called as a result. We talked for a bit about the strike, there were moments off absolute silence and we also tried to relieve tension with jokes and other topics off conversation. I felt better after speaking with Nick. Still feeling helpless and frustrated, I decided the best I could do was find all my New York memorabilia. For some reason, this gave me a bit of security. Looking at maps and postcards from New York, although I realised everything was different now, they helped. A final ‘security blanket’ and something which made me feel like I was doing something (although I realise it was absolutely minimalist), was pinning a small American flag / Statue of Liberty badge to my blazer as a sign of respect and mourning. Following this, seeing as I regularly have a spa at night, usually in the presence of accompanying music: after deliberating, I felt I could still enjoy a spa, and it might help to relieve stress. Instead of modern or rock music, I decided opera classics likes Verdi were more appropriate, and they were – my mind occasionally wandered off-topic to the music I was singing to. I thought of Dad, who was on a two-week holiday with an American and two Australians in the outback on a 4WD trip. They knew the news – I wondered what they thought. In a way I was glad Dad wasn’t here; things might have been a bit more emotional if he were. Throughout the night I kept a close eye on the clock – having mentally calculated the local time in NYC, I awaited the hour when 24 hours had passed since the first strike (2245h AEST). I found myself occasionally worrying about people I might have known to be living in NYC or in the WTC – but wasn’t exactly relieved even though I didn’t.
13 September 2001
I woke at approximately 6 am to a feeling of sickness. I turned the TV on to catch up on the news and lay in bed for an hour in a surreal state of mind. It had been 24 hours since I found out about the terror and about 30 hours since the actual events transpired. I woke with the knowledge that this moment in my life was to be a significant one in not only my life, but for the rest of the world and history. The news reported little change, they merely reminded me of the magnitude of the strikes. The atrocities of the previous day’s events were only starting to sink in. I was still shocked, but realised it was another day. I couldn’t believe my reaction. Surely I should be more upset. I felt I should be crying, and I wanted to, but simply could not. Maybe it would come later, when the shock wore away. Breakfast was spent the same way; in front of the TV. The day was much the same. People seemed to have forgotten the tragedy already – and I was appalled. Whenever I caught myself thinking of something else, striking images of the jets crashing and the twin towers gone brought me back to reality and made me aware again on the gravity of the tragedy. At one stage I realised I actually had not thought of the attack for quite some time, only to once again bring forth the images of death and grief back again. People at school were joking again over the strike; proposing to “bomb the Arabs” among other tasteless jokes. I was pleased, however, that my mood had certainly improved. I dod not feel distress about the calamity, but certainly had not let if far from conscious thought. I could have an occasional laugh though, and let the terrorist strike out of my mind for brief periods.
Arriving home, I once again switched straight to the BBC and CNN and stayed glued for the remainder of the day. I was appalled at the horrifying death toll count. I tried, unrealistically, to put the disaster out of my mind as I struggled to simply try to enjoy myself for a bit and ‘de-stress.’ I could not, however, suppress emotions and thoughts for a long time. Going on the internet to talk topple did not help; hardly anyone mentioned it. Most people were more interested in their weekend plans or the latest gossip. Once again, I was appalled and logged off – feeling saddened by people’s reactions. I proceeded to watch the news stations and distinctly remember the moving images of the firefighters and rescue workers sifting through rubble and using a charred shell of a fire-truck as a base of operations. As daylight broke over NYC fir the second day since the tragedy, the valleys of destruction that the cameras revealed were alarming. It resembled stereotypical images and thoughts of The Apocalypse. These images brought my emotions close to the surface, and I felt immense sadness watching these scenes; for the victims, survivors, rescue works, Americans and everyone affected by the tragedy. NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani struck me in particular as somewhat of a hero. His city, the city he had rebuilt, had been struck down resulting in thousands of deaths. Yet, he strode through the streets and wreckage with pride and and a sense of endeavour. He conducted himself during the press conferences with amazing and admirable self-control, precision and honesty. For someone hurting beyond belief inside, he presented the strong image Americans and New Yorkers in particular needed to help proceed with the rebuild task. I harbour the deepest respect and prayers for Mr. Giuliani.
It was relieving at times, and this happened yesterday as well, that occasionally I would go outside to say hello to my dog, only to be completely relaxed and happy. It sounds trite, but I could look at my dog and play with her, and the evil acts that just occurred vanished from my mind and I felt pure happiness simply playing with a harmless and lovely creature.
Towards the evening, approximately 48 hours after the attack, the weight of the circumstances took their place and the initial shock and disbelief started to leave me. Instead of anger and incredulity, I now felt scared and apprehensive about the future. Not exactly scared of threats of war or more terrorism, more because I felt there was absolutely nothing I could do to help, when I so desperately wanted to. Just as America began cleaning up the wreckage, I started too left the shock leave me, and found it replaced with weariness and an empty sadness, and almost numbness to the carnage that had unveiled. I could still think back to the images of the explosions and could still tell myself “Someone blew up the WTC,” to once again conjure up thoughts that evil does exist in the world, and I feel humbled again. I found myself watching TV and forgetting that this tragedy really happened. I then forced myself to remember the above thoughts, usually to accompanying graphic scenes on the television, only to find myself shocked and scared again at the thought that the US was crippled today. Less than one hundred men crippled the world, scarred history and destroyed the future. I never imagined that an unseen enemy like this could ever do such damage to the United States. Thoughts of an unsure future then begin to haunt my mind and it is disconcerting that nobody knows what happens next.
As I finish putting my thoughts to paper, it is disturbing that Mum just found out from England that one of Ella’s friend’s father was in the WTC during the tragedy. Helpless as I feel,the best I can do is write an email to her. Knowing someone personally affected by this is not a nice feeling. I feel sorry for her, and want to speak to her – but, alas, cannot right now. I looks to be a long night – I’ll see if I can catch her online, as well as writing a personal email to her. Life has to go on and homework has to be done, I realise this; but it can wait two days. Human tragedy, in my mind, takes precedence over academic requests. It is undoubtedly a sad day, and I can feel emotions stirring again. Perhaps the face that someone I know know has been affected triggered it, but I’m overcome by an extremely sombre mood. I don’t feel like writing more. I would, however, encourage people to do as I’ve done, record their thoughts and feelings on paper, print them, read their writings back to themselves and maybe even share their thoughts. If nothing else is understood about current affairs, and even though the future is perhaps looking bleak, depressing and unclear, at least you have got your thoughts clearly on paper.