Unreality

Unreality

I didn’t sleep last night. I was up until after five in the morning — writing the previous blog entry, catching up on others’ accounts, answering e-mail, reading the New York Times on the Web.

Finally, at around 5:30, I got offline and checked my phone messages. Around midnight there had been a message from — of all people — Wes. (If you’re new here, that link will catch you up.) He had called me from vacation in North Carolina to see if I was okay.

In the midst of all this chaos I was relieved to feel ordinary human emotions for once. I was touched, and I felt a pang of guilt about my night with Matt. I had pretty much decided that things with Wes were over, but I listened to his message and now I didn’t know anymore.

It was absurd that I could be thinking about such things at a time like this. It all seemed so trivial. But it was nice to be reminded that such trivial things continue to exist.

After I listened to the message I crawled into bed.

I’d been up since — well — I had only slept sporadically on Monday night, because I don’t sleep well when I’m in bed with someone. So I wasn’t going on a full night’s sleep anyway.

And yet when I crawled into bed at 5:30, I tossed and turned.

I started getting these hallucinatory fears. I thought I heard a noise and I was convinced that Osama bin Laden and his henchmen were going to break down the door of my apartment in the darkness and get me. I actually had to open my bedroom door and make sure my apartment was empty. I guess I was just emotionally and physically drained.

At around 6:30, it was getting light out, so I put on some clothes and walked down to the harbor on the Hudson River at Exchange Place, which is directly across from lower Manhattan. It’s about a 20-minute walk east from my apartment. Jersey City has its own bustling financial district there — much smaller and newer than Manhattan’s, of course — and there’s a pier.

When I walked out of my apartment, it was the first time I’d seen the empty skyline in daylight. The Twin Towers were nowhere to be seen. There was nothing but sky. It was like someone had taken an eraser and just erased them away.

When I got to the water, there were police cars and emergency vehicles and officers. There was a yellow police line blocking off the pier and a cop was standing by, but a few people ducked under the line without a problem, so I did as well.

The sun was rising over the skyline and a cool breeze was blowing. Several amateur photographers had set up tripods and were snapping away. I leaned on a railing and stared. The smoke was still churning, and now it seemed to be floating west into Staten Island and New Jersey. As the sun rose, sunbeams pierced the smoke, turning it a sickly brown and a jaundiced yellow.

A few boats were in the harbor. A lone helicopter was flying back and forth, patrolling the sky. I could see it and hear it. It was unnerving.

To the south, in the distance, I could see the Statue of Liberty.

I looked back at the skyline across from me. No World Trade Center. Just a big gap, and all that smoke and ash still rising. I thought about the enormous amount of smoke and ash that has to have been created by two 110-story buildings, full of furniture and people, burning and collapsing.

I kept looking, and I realized I could see twisted metal sticking out from the side of one building. With my naked eyes.

Two men wearing hardhats that said Sprint came up to me, asking me if I could identify any of the buildings still standing. I couldn’t. Apparently they needed to know because they were they were trying to restore emergency phone service. I wasn’t sure exactly what they were doing, but it wasn’t my place to ask.

At around 8:00 a police officer came over and announced that anyone who wasn’t emergency personnel had to leave, so I left. On the way home I bought copies of USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the New Jersey Star-Ledger. As I walked back to my apartment I scanned the front page of the Journal. I saw a mention of Cantor Fitzgerald and I caught my breath, because that’s where my friend Doug worked. Apparently the people in the Los Angeles office had the people in the New York office on speakerphone, and the New York people were panicking about the plane that had crashed below them and all the rising smoke. I wondered what Doug had been doing at that time. Cantor Fitzgerald takes up — I mean took up — floors 101 to 108 of the building.

I almost cried right there on the sidewalk. And my eyes are welling up again as I write this. I just can’t believe it.

You graduate from college and so many of your friends go to work for consulting firms and investment banks and brokerages with these prestigious names. You send out resumés and go on interviews and get hired. You expect to make a great salary and get valuable work experience and start to build a terrific life. You’re young and you’re living in New York City. You go to work and you compile spreadsheets and have meetings and write on whiteboards and talk on the phone and meet with clients and send money to your college alumni associations. When you get a chance, you go out to bars in Tribeca with your coworkers and you hit on people and you talk about where you went to school.

You’re not supposed to be trapped inside a 110-story building that’s rapidly filling up with smoke and jet fuel from a hijacked airplane.

It makes no sense.

I went to law school. And I’m thinking to myself, what if I happened to work for a law firm at the World Trade Center? It’s totally possible. I keep imagining myself trapped inside the World Trade Center and calling my parents and being scared to death.

I got home and looked through the New York Times. There was a picture on page A7 or A9 that I’ll never forget. It’s a man, upside down, falling from the World Trade Center. One of his legs is bent and the other is straight up and he’s wearing a white shirt and dark pants. You can’t make out any features on his face, but his body looks limp, devoid of life. He almost looks like a scarecrow.

That picture terrified me. It’s going to give me nightmares.

I wonder what possessed him to jump out of a building. To jump out of a fucking skyscraper! I wonder what was going through his mind.

And yet apparently some other guy jumped off the 80th floor and held onto some debris and landed and survived.

You’re trapped high up in a burning skyscraper and the air inside is filling up with smoke and heat. Outside there’s fresh air. What would you do?

How the hell would you decide what to do?

Okay, I can’t write about this anymore.

At around 9:00 a.m. I had a bowl of Corn Flakes and went to bed. I was exhausted, but I didn’t sleep well.

I woke up at around noon and decided I was going to go to my parents’ house in the northern New Jersey suburbs. You know what? I’d planned to spend most of my two weeks off visiting various interesting places in New York. Now what was I supposed to do? Plus I wanted to see my mom and my brother and just get out of the area for a while.

First I spent a couple of hours on the phone with people. I talked with my mom. I talked with my dad, who’s stuck in San Francisco. My landlord called to see if I was okay. I called my “office mom” at my old job to tell her I was okay.

I talked with CanadaGirl, who works in midtown. She’s in that same close circle of friends with me and Doug. We talked about Doug and we were both near tears. We’d never had a conversation like this before. We’re in our twenties. We’re supposed to have lighthearted conversations. Hey, what movie should we see? What bar should we go to? What time should we meet up? I can’t wait for Tim’s wedding in November.

We’re not supposed to be talking about how our friend has probably died in a terrorist attack!

Then I talked with my friend Nick. Nick also works in midtown. He was supposed to have an interview at the World Trade Center at 6:00 yesterday evening with a Peace Corps recruiter.

Obviously that didn’t happen.

After I got off the phone I packed up four days worth of clothes and left my apartment. On the way out I checked my mailbox and found the latest issue of the New Yorker waiting for me. I took it with me. It seemed pathetically, woefully out of date.

I walked to the PATH station. There were signs on the turnstiles saying that the ride was free. I walked on through. Two transit officers were there to answer questions. I walked down to the platform.

Usually, when you’re waiting on the platform at my station and you hear a train coming, you have to look and see whether it’s the 33rd Street line or the World Trade Center line. But there’s no longer a World Trade Center line.

On the long, convoluted ride to my parents’ house in the suburbs — PATH train, Newark City Subway, New Jersey Transit bus — I nearly lost it several times. Many people were reading newspapers. Everyone looked tired. I’d close my eyes and think of everything that had happened. I couldn’t take it. My eyes kept getting wet.

When I got off the bus and walked down the block to my parents’ house, I noticed that my mom had put out an American flag. I smiled and I wanted to cry again. I went inside, put down my bag, went upstairs. Before she looked at me she said she was going to use the bathroom. I think she would have burst into tears otherwise. A few minutes later we hugged, and the puppy jumped all over me.

We walked the dog and then my brother came home, along with his girlfriend. We watched so much TV. Way too much. We ate dinner (thank god for mom’s food). I talked to my dad on the phone again. I talked to my best friend. I talked to my grandmother. She says that my 92-year-old grandfather has no idea any of this is happening. That’s a good thing. Nobody born in 1908 needs to see this.

Back to television.

Television during a crisis is painfully addictive. It’s like the Entertainment in Infinite Jest. You absorb more and more information and see more and more visual images and you can’t take it anymore, you want to stop thinking about it, but you can’t stop. You just keep staring, absorbing, a mindless zombie.

While we were watching, we learned that the Empire State Building had been evacuated because someone had called in a bomb threat on the 44th floor. They closed off traffic and they sent in a cop and a dog. It turned out to be a false alarm. Thank the Lord. What kind of a sicko would do such a thing?

I’ve been trying to avoid information overload. I’ve purposely avoided going to MetaFilter because I know I won’t be able to stop reading and it’s going to make my head explode. As far as blogs, I’ve been trying to stick to my regular reads, for the same reason. And among my regular reads, Choire’s photos and his story are fascinating. Ghostly empty streets? Military officers? ID checks? This is Manhattan!

You know, I feel so relieved to be in the leafy suburbs at my parents’ house after being so close to everything yesterday. But at the same time, I envy my friends who are still in the city. I envy Choire for being able to experience this and go around and take pictures. Things aren’t as exciting out here.

It’s just my usual Manhattan envy coming back in a twisted form. An echo of the world as it used to exist, with ordinary human desires and dreams and hopes.

Jesus! My blog is supposed to be about my personal life, and my anxieties about jobs and romance, and wanting to live in Manhattan.

My blog is not supposed to be about life in a war zone.

Look at Choire. A few days ago he was writing about Fire Island and today he’s documenting armageddon.

It’s sort of like during World War Two, when you’d see all the Warner Brothers cartoon characters selling war bonds and fighting Hitler, totally out of context.

What the fuck is going on here? Life seems to be on hold. Wonderbar and the Phoenix and bar-hopping seem to belong to a long-lost world.

Everybody says that our generation has never known fear and death. The GI’s fought in a world war and the Baby Boomers had Vietnam, but we Gen-Xers were living our lives in blissful, innocent ignorance, with our dot-coms and our lattes and our cool music and our booming economy, safe at home.

That’s not true anymore.

The world has become real. Or is it unreal?

I’m not sure I know the difference right now.

One thought on “Unreality

  1. Hi

    I stumbled on your blog as a link from several others (my brother is Dave Boyes who has ‘Minkered’ blog) and, although I don’t know you and am in London, I just wanted to say that although we are so very far away from you our thoughts are with you ….

    I feel so helpless here – the whole thing unfolded for us at work just after lunch early afternoon on Tuesday. I work for a radio station so we were kept right up to date with events almost on a minute by minute basis as things changed, putting out bulletins every 15 minutes. To see it live on TV was bad enough, and I watched, transfixed and in tears….but to experience it the way you did is almost unthinkable.

    And now the enormity of it is starting to sink in as we watch TV and see pleas for help to find missing loved ones, with very little hope.

    The next few days and weeks may be harder still for you – so much for you all still to go through … and we wait with our breath held to find out what other, potentially more sinister events may happen as a result. I am not religious but have to admit that I am praying right now. All of us in the UK send a huge hug along with our love and warmest wishes to you and your families.

    Karen

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