Thursday, September 11, 2008

How I Remember 9/11

The phone rang when I was in the shower, preparing to go to Library Tower for a deposition. I heard Len say "Harlan, it's too early for this." Then I heard him say "Hold on, I've got another call....Yes? Mom? Wait a minute..." and the television went on.

Len called to me to tell me Harlan Ellison was on the phone and my mother had called from the East Coast to say that the World Trade Center had been attacked. Harlan didn't want to go down town for the deposition. Library Tower is the tallest building in Los Angeles. It may be the tallest building west of the Mississippi. He thought it could be another target. (He was probably right. I've been told that the military was scrambled to keep an eye out on all such landmarks.)

I assured Harlan I'd see if we could postpone the deposition, but one lawyer had flown in from D.C. for it. I began trying to reach opposing counsel and the law firm where the depo was supposed to take place. I finally reached the firm and the receptionist said they were being evacuated from the building. She called one of the lawyers who got in touch with me. We agreed to reschedule as soon as we could located the lawyer from D.C. and figure out what was going on.

That was a relief. I didn't want to be away from home either.

I finally tracked down the lawyer from D.C. He had flown in the night before and gone for an early morning run. When he got back to his room and turned on the television, he thought he was dreaming. He couldn't reach his wife in Northern Virginia. He had four relatives who worked in the World Trade Center complex. One of them worked for Cantor Fitzgerald.

I tried to reach both of my nieces, without success. They had moved into Manhattan the week before, over Labor Day Weekend. One lived in the East 50s in an dormatory appartment with a south-facing view. The other lived on West 15th Street. Their cell phones weren't working. Their mother was in Des Moines in a panic.

We spent the day with an eye on the televison, while we tried to contact family and friends by phone and by e-mail. A friend, another lawyer who lived around the block, came to sit with us. She didn't want to be alone. Her brother was in the Air Force and she was concerned about what he might be doing.

Nobody wanted to be alone. Calls went out for people to get together for dinner. So many of us are transplanted New Yorkers, from the City, the Island, or Upstate. We needed the opportunity to talk about what was going on.

We had plenty of people to worry about, who live in or commute to the City, but one by one folks checked in by phone or e-mail or onto list servs to let us know they were safe. We were lucky:
the lawyer from D.C., my sister-in-law, and a friend from the barn lost cousins. A number of people I know lost friends or colleagues.

My middle brother was on a business trip to the midwest and had to rent a car to drive back east because all flights were cancelled. He travelled with a co-worker, whose friend from high school was on the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. They had heard in detail about the cell calls home to family from that flight.

I met a member of the Air Force a year or two later who described watching the plane hit the Pentagon as he walked to his car.

While we watched the towers fall on television, my friend Ginjer watched from her office window a few blocks away. As she stepped out of the subway that morning, she saw a fire engine go around a corner so fast, the tires on one side were off the ground. She looked up, saw the smoke, and called her husband to tell him that the WTC had been attacked again. He told her what had actually happened.

Len and I returned from a 10-day trip to Philadelphia and New York City on September 7, 2001. We flew out of Newark Airport. Airport security stopped me because the underwiring in my bra set off the metal detector. How ironic is that? I haven't flown since.

I was in the WTC only once, when a friend of mine was an executive at Dean Witter. The view was great--especially when the space shuttle Enterprise made a circle of Manhattan which we watched with amazement. We had both missed the news that it was happening. John passed away almost 20 years ago, so I wasn't worried about him while I watched the towers fall. In a way, the WTC never played an important part in my visualization of the New York skyline. I tend to think of mid-town, with the Empire State Building and the Chrystler Building and the much more elegant Art Deco designs than the cold, straight WTC towers interrupting Manhattan's graceful slope south. But on that trip to New York, we had been within a few blocks of the towers at night. They were more imposing at night than during the day, and the memory of their mass that night is what I have to judge just how much devestation was caused by the collapse.

On the evening before we flew back, I had dinner with my niece Kristina. We were walking through Times Square and an emergency vehicle went by. Kristina said to me that she worried about how fire engines and ambulances could get through traffic for a big emergency. Five days later, she had her answer.

In many way the terrorists won, because they played into the hands of the appointed puppet and his keepers, who have used the spector of 9/11 as a boogie man which is shaken in front of the populace whenever it looks like they might emerge from the dark ages of the past seven years. Our constitution has been raped by the party whose nominee "knows how to find Bin Laden" but won't reveal the secret until he's elected.

I've heard things like that before. Richard Nixon had his secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. He got elected and the war went on until after he was forced from office. John McCain's words just show that he's the king of the "me first" politicians, putting self before the good of the country and its citizens. He should be ashamed.

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