The Best City in the World

I apologize for not blogging until now. I’ll get to that.

The World Trade Center has loomed large in my life for the past year. See, I live right here. That red star in the center of the map is where my apartment is. And the site of the World Trade Center is just southwest of that big black dot. (Yeah — where the blank space is. Eerily and presciently, Yahoo! Maps has always represented it with a blank space.)

Whenever I walk out of my apartment building and look to the right, I can see it looming across the river. Monolithic twins. From where I live, they’re enormous. Whenever I walk to the PATH station — in other words, whenever I go anywhere — they’re right there. During the day they gleam silver; at night, they light up the sky. They’re my connection to New York; they’re the only buildings in Manhattan’s financial district tall enough to be seen over the buildings in Jersey City. Whenever I hate the fact that I live in Jersey City, I can walk outside and look at the Twin Towers, and they reassure me that Manhattan is just a stone’s throw away. The World Trade Center is reassuring; it anchors me to New York, psychologically.

Even when you’re in Manhattan it anchors you. If you get off the subway and don’t know what direction you’re facing, you just look for the World Trade Center and you know you’re facing south.

The World Trade Center doesn’t just anchor me to the city psychologically. In order to get into Manhattan from home, I take the PATH train. It’s a four-minute walk from my apartment to the Grove Street station, and from there, there are two PATH lines into Manhattan. If you look at this map, you can see that one goes to Christopher Street, 9th Street, 14th Street, 23rd Street, and 33rd Street, and that the other goes to the World Trade Center. I travel both lines with equal frequency. It’s great to take the World Trade Center train, because it’s only a seven-minute ride, and when I get off there, I can hop onto the 1, 2, 3, 9, A, C, E, N, or R train, which take me almost anywhere.

At the end of every workday, I take the World Trade Center-bound train home, even though I get off before the last stop.

When I’m coming home from Manhattan on a Friday or Saturday night, I often prefer to take the subway down to the World Trade Center and take the train home from there, because it’s usually quiet and practically empty, while the other line is always filled with drunk loud people on the way back to Hoboken and takes forever.

There are tons of shops on the lower level of the World Trade Center, too. Because it’s so close, I’m there all the time. It contains my closest big bookstore — a Borders. I’ve been there a lot. There’s also a Gap and a J. Crew and a Sbarro’s and a Warner Brothers Store and a little cell phone kiosk. There’s a Duane Reade drugstore that’s open 24 hours; it’s a great place to pick up some random toiletry or candy bar while I’m waiting for the next train home.

In fact, I was just at the World Trade Center on Monday. Since I have two weeks off, I’d decided to take a walking tour of Brooklyn Heights. I took the train to the World Trade Center, bought a banana at a food shop right there in the mall, and then I hopped on the 2/3 to go to Borough Hall in Brooklyn. Such a convenient trip.

In the evening, on the way home, I stopped at the Gap at the World Trade Center because I really needed a new t-shirt. I rifled through a pile of them. I went into the fitting room and tried on several. And I finally wound up buying one. That receipt at the top of this entry is my souvenir. This is kind of weird, but I sort of feel like I saved the t-shirt from a horrible experience. I know, that sounds really bizarre.

All this writing and I haven’t even described my day.

After coming home from my tour of Brooklyn Heights on Monday, I planned to go back into Manhattan that night and hang out at a bar or club. So I logged into the New York City chatrooms and asked what there is to do on Monday nights. I wound up chatting with this guy for a little bit, and he was kinda cute, and eventually we decided to meet up. M just moved to New York a week ago from San Francisco and hasn’t started his new job yet, so, like me, he had nothing to do the next day. Therefore, we could stay up as late as we wanted. I changed, showered, took the PATH up to 9th Street and met him there.

The odd thing is that M lives off Sixth Avenue and 10th Street in lower Manhattan, on the very same block as my therapist’s office. That’s kind of bizarre, huh? I always have therapy on Tuesday nights, so this would be great — I could hook up with the guy on Monday night, and then on Tuesday night I could go back to the same block and my therapist could help me work through the guilt.

We went to his apartment. We talked for a while. M was a nice guy and seemed intelligent. And eventually stuff happened. Oh BOY did stuff happen. It was… amazing. It was the best sex I’d had in ages. We made out for three whole hours. It was amazing, amazing, amazing.

At around 2:30 in the morning we fell asleep.

At around 10:00 the next morning, we woke up and had a little bit more fun. His air conditioner was on, but over it we heard some sirens and beeping coming from Sixth Avenue. It’s rare that I spend the night in Manhattan — let alone wake up there in the morning — so I figured it was just part of Manhattan life. We also heard what sounded like cheers. Since today was supposed to be New York’s mayoral primary, I figured there was a political rally or something. Then we heard what sounded like a woman’s scream. Yup, just another excited person in New York.

I decided to leave. I didn’t want to waste my vacation lying in bed. I planned to take the PATH home, take out my contacts (which I’d slept in), shower, change, come back into Manhattan to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or something, and visit my therapist in the evening. I put on my clothes and said goodbye to M. He seemed a bit disappointed when I said I was going to be on my way.

It was around 10:50 in the morning when I walked out of the building and walked toward Sixth Avenue. There were crowds of people walking by. I’m not usually in Manhattan at that time of day, but I didn’t think there were usually this many people walking along Sixth Avenue down here.

On a whim I decided to cross Sixth Avenue and then I turned south. I saw a huge mass of dark smoke at the south end of Sixth. Wow, a building is on fire, I thought. That must be why all these people are standing around staring south. Two women were staring at it and talking, and I went up to them and asked what building was on fire.

“The World Trade Center just collapsed,” one of them said to me. “It was a terrorist attack. Planes crashed into both towers and then they went down. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon.”

Holy fuck.

Now that I thought about it, it had seemed like something was missing.

I stared at the rising smoke, not realizing that if I’d been outside 20 minutes earlier, I probably would have seen the second tower collapse.

I went over to a van where people were gathered around and I listened to the radio with them for a while. They said that all transportation in and out of Manhattan was closed. Even the subways were shut down. Oh, so I’m stuck in Manhattan. Great.

I decided to go back to M’s building. I had his cellphone number, but the payphones weren’t working and I don’t have a cell. And when I got back to his building I couldn’t buzz his apartment, because there was no logical correspondence between the numeric keypad and any building residents.

So I did the next best thing. I walked over to my therapist’s building and buzzed her. I told her who it was and she let me up instantly. She was waiting for me when I got up the stairs. She must have thought I was in danger or something. But I just wanted to use her phone.

We went into her office. “Wow, this is highly unorthodox, isn’t it,” I said. There was a TV on, so we watched it for a little while, both in shock. Then I used her phone and called M — somehow managing to get through — and asked my therapist if our appointment that evening was still on. It was. Okay. I’ll just spend the day with M, I figured.

So I went back to M’s apartment. He’d already heard what had happened.

Shall I mention again that M just moved to New York a week ago?

We watched TV. He doesn’t have cable, and the local NBC and ABC affiliates had both been knocked out, so we watched CBS. CBS must have totally scored today.

With his cellphone I finally managed to get through to my mom in northern New Jersey, because knowing my mom, she’d be worried sick. My dad’s on business in San Francisco right now, so she’s alone. She said she’d left me two messages and had e-mailed me and had indeed been worried sick.

I told her I was in Manhattan.

“You’re in Manhattan?” she said weakly. “What the hell are you doing in Manhattan?”

Yeah, mom, like I knew the fucking World Trade Center was going to blow up today.

I lied and told her that I’d gone out with a few friends the night before and had crashed at a friend’s place in the city.

She wanted a contact number, so I gave her M’s cell number. (Um, that didn’t feel bizarre at all…) And she told me — well, basically ordered me — to call her later on.

I checked my e-mail on his laptop. Messages from various bloggers and other friends, asking if I was okay. I responded to every e-mail. I thought about blogging really quick, but I didn’t want the URL showing up in M’s Internet Explorer history.

I knew that one of my friends from college, Doug, worked in the World Trade Center. I have this very close group of friends from college — we’re like a family. He’s one of them. Most of us met up in June — but Doug couldn’t make it. And even though he lives and works in Manhattan, I haven’t seen him in over a year.

I hoped Doug was okay.

M and I decided to go out into the world and see what was going on.

We walked south along Sixth Avenue. The smoke was amazing — an enormous, thick, black, churning, rising mass. It looked like a volcano. We just kept staring as we walked along. Ambulances and police cars and random vehicles with lights on top kept rushing north along Sixth. Every few minutes there were a few more. The sirens kept coming. People were walking along, talking into their cellphones, walking their dogs. Some people were walking north — from the direction of the explosion — with facemasks hanging around their necks. A vehicle sped up Sixth Avenue covered in white debris, leaving some of it in a trail on the ground. A restaurant was passing out cups of water. We listened to another radio.

We continued walking south, getting closer. Finally we got to Canal Street, where police barriers kept the crowds from going any further. So we walked east along Canal, stopping at every intersection to gape at the dark smoke again. Unbelievable — where there used to be these enormous twin towers there was now smoke. Tons of people were walking around in shock, many talking into their cellphones. It was like a war zone, it was like Armageddon, I felt like I was in a movie.

A few more debris-covered vehicles zoomed by, leaving trails of smoke.

We got to the Manhattan Bridge, where there was a mass pedestrian exodus to Brooklyn. It looked like the New York Marathon in slow motion. We decided to walk across the bridge to get a better view. And the view was stunning. Thick black smoke rose in a plume from Manhattan’s financial district, into the sky, blowing all the way to Brooklyn, where it was whiter. The sun was covered in darkness. I looked up and it was an orange ball poking through the dark smoke.

We were about halfway across the bridge and decided to turn back. But the cops stopped us. One way only. Oh, shit. First I was stuck in Manhattan, and now I’m stuck in Brooklyn?

My mom’s gonna kill me.

When we got to Brooklyn the crowd was still walking. Cops everywhere. People giving out free water.

Fortunately the subway was finally running into Manhattan, so we found a station, hopped on, and got off at Union Square. Phew.

Everything was closed. Even the huge Virgin Megastore. We were starving, so we walked along 14th Street back to Sixth Avenue. Everything was closed, everything. Restaurants, stores — all closed — on a weekday afternoon in Manhattan.

Miraculously, French Roast was open and it was bustling. It’s a coffee shop/restaurant on Sixth and 11th. We ordered food. I ate a hamburger and fries. I thought, here are all these people hanging out eating lunch, and the World Trade Center blew up today.

Then it hit me that I had my college friend Doug’s home number in my wallet. In my wallet there’s this little scrap of paper on which I have random phone numbers scribbled down. His is one of them.

I borrowed M’s cellphone and called Doug’s apartment. His roommate, who’s also his friend, answered.

“Is… Doug there?” I said awkwardly.

It turned out he wasn’t there, and his roommate didn’t know his whereabouts.

According to the roommate, Doug had gone to work that morning.

I asked if he knew what floor Doug worked on.

It turns out he worked on the 100th floor of the first tower to be hit. The tower was about 110 stories tall.

Doug worked above where the plane hit.

The roommate had talked to Doug’s mother. Apparently, after the plane hit, Doug called his mother to tell her that he was in the building and couldn’t get out. He also called his girlfriend, apparently.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon and the roommate hadn’t heard from Doug at all.

That’s all I know.

I left my number in case he learned anything more.

M and I finished eating. We talked about our bizarre day. He said he was glad I’d come back, because he’d hoped to see me again.

“I guess this is what they call a bonding experience, huh?” I said.

Afterward we went back to his apartment. I answered more e-mails. I desperately, desperately, desperately wanted to blog, but I just couldn’t risk doing it on M’s computer.

At 6:30 I walked down the block and went to therapy. There were no cars on the streets. Just some people walking around. It was like a ghost town. Almost all the stores were closed.

Anyway, I already had plenty I hoped to talk about this week in therapy, and now, on top of that, Manhattan was a war zone. Let’s just say that there were no lulls in the conversation.

After therapy I went back to M’s place. We watched more TV. It turned out the PATH trains were running again. Hallelujah! I could get home!

First we watched the president on TV.

I know we’re all supposed to rally around the president at times like this, but the guy looked like a scared little kid and exuded no confidence. I wonder how scared shitless he was.

I have never missed Bill Clinton more than when I watched Bush speak tonight.

After he spoke, M walked me all the way back to the PATH train. I’d thought the Christopher Street station was open but I was mistaken. We had to walk all the way up to 33rd Street. We walked past St. Vincent’s Hospital, where there were tons of ambulances and medical personnel and blindingly bright lights.

Finally we got to the station, and we hugged and said we’d hang out again. He told me to call him. And I think I will.

I went down to the PATH train. Eventually it started moving. We zoomed past the closed stations — 23rd Street, 14th Street, 9th Street, Christopher Street — all eerily empty.

When the train got to New Jersey I felt myself exhaling. I’d never been so relieved to get back to New Jersey.

When the train got to my station, I walked up the stairs, got outside, and stared at the spot across the river where the enormous World Trade Center used to be.

There was darkness.

All these things have happened today and I can’t process it. Even if I break it down into smaller events I can’t process it. If one U.S. commercial flight had been hijacked, that would have been horrific enough. But four commercial flights were hijacked today. And two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. And the World Trade Center was destroyed. And a plane crashed into the Pentagon. And a plane crashed outside Pittsburgh. And every single commercial flight in the entire nation has been grounded for the first time in history. And Major League Baseball has been shut down. And the Emmys have been cancelled. And Broadway was dark tonight.

And Borders Bookstore, and all those books that I’ve browsed through, and all those t-shirts that I rifled through at the Gap yesterday — they’re all gone.

And one of my favorite ways of getting into Manhattan — with all its connecting subway lines — doesn’t exist anymore.

And my friend Doug is probably dead.

It’s been a crazy, crazy day. I can’t fully process any of this. I’m sure none of you can, either.

But in a perverse, voyeuristic way, I feel really lucky to have been in Manhattan today. The whole world was watching, and I was less than a mile from the scene. I’m going to remember this day for the rest of my life. Like that even needs to be said.

This was one of those rare days when Manhattan felt like a small town. A crazy, eccentric, shell-shocked town, but a small one nonetheless. Everyone on their cellphones. Everyone walking across the bridge. Everyone gathered around radios. Everyone staring at the smoke.

I’m a New Yorker by birth. I was born in Manhattan and spent the first three years of my life in Queens. And you know what?

New York is the best fucking city in the world.

I love this place. And if those assholes think they’re going to scare us — they’re not. We’re tough as nails and we’re not going to take it. We’re going to keep on loving our city and living in our city like crazy — partying our asses off and dancing the night away and going to museums and going to lectures and hailing cabs and checking people out on the street and bragging about how we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world.

They think they can scare us? Hah. They think they can demoralize us?

Then they don’t understand New Yorkers —

or Americans —

or human beings —

at all.

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