But I’m getting ahead of myself. I was born in NYC in Bellevue Hospital (yes I endured years of remarks about the nature of that facility). My earliest recollections of NYC were using my slingshot to attempt to break the glass light globes in front of the UN Building, or going up to “tar” beach in the summer. Coney Island and Nathans Famous were always high on my priority list.
I watched the Twin Towers go up, floor by floor and eventually I sold the lockers that went into the fast food restaurant that was on the observation deck. It was always a thrill to go up to the top.
My wife was a Queens girl, first Jackson Heights and then Corona. In Corona, her house was situated on 3 lots so she was special, she actually had a backyard to play in. I was fascinated that every time the 7-line would pass behind her house on Roosevelt Avenue, the entire house would shake as if we were experiencing an earthquake. From her bedroom window, we could look directly into the windows of the subway at the passengers passing by.
After we were married and we decided to start a family, we chose peace over opportunity and moved upstate to the Adirondacks. But I never lost my love or fascination for New York City. Every time I drive on Route 3 in NJ headed for the Lincoln Tunnel, my heart throbs just when you hit the curve and all of lower Manhattan comes into view. And what a view it is.
On the day of the attacks, I had taken off from work and was still in my pajamas when my phone rang. “Are you watching TV” was all that came out of the receiver, not hello or how are you, but are you watching TV.
The call was strange but what I saw when I flicked on my TV was even stranger. I saw the Towers burning almost like a Steven Spielberg movie unfolding before my eyes. I couldn’t believe it.
The month before, I was up in the Towers with one of my daughters visiting from Florida. We stood on the roof under a hot midday sun, and now the Towers were burning. And when the Towers came crashing down, I wept for the first time in many years. I spent the next 24 hours watching the scene play over and over again, switching to all the major cable news networks. I tried calling many of my friends and family to verify that they were not near downtown but the phone lines were jammed and the feeling was unsettling.
Three days later, I decided to see for myself and traveled down to NYC. It was the evening and there was absolutely no driving close to Ground Zero so I parked near Little Italy and began the long walk downtown. The site was still smoldering and there was a smell of burning rubber or plastic in the air. The streets were lined with dump trucks and volunteers and Ground Zero was surrounded by a temporary link fence.
After walking for I don’t know how long, I stumbled upon a gate guarded by 2 NY State Troopers. Imagine that, NY State Troopers in NYC, that was a first. I’d never seen Troopers in the city before. So I walked over to the guard house and began a conversation.
The Troopers were friendly, from the Binghamton area and they identified the DDGM emblem on my golf shirt. As it turns out, they were both Masons. After some chit-chat, one of them asked if I wanted to go in. They gave me a hard hat and a particle mask and in we went. I could not tell you where in the complex I was, but a red, molten hot glow emanated from down below.
The photos were not very clear because it was nighttime, but the one I like the most is the one of the giant flag hanging from a building near the entrance.
The scene was surreal and the stench was overwhelming. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of volunteers clearing the rubble. Maybe they were looking for survivors but after seeing the devastation up close you almost knew that surviving was not an option.
As I stood in the middle of all that devastation, I remembered a time long ago when we heard on the radio that they were filming the last scene of King Kong. It was 2:00 AM but we drove into the city and there lying in the center of the square between the Towers was a giant King Kong, dead, surrounded by military vehicles. It was a thrill to be in the crowd. I was there once again, but the thrill was replaced by terror and rage.
The walk back to my vehicle was long and depressing. I didn’t know if I was shedding tears of sorrow or if my eyes were just burning from the fumes.
A few blocks away from Ground Zero I came upon a sidewalk cafe. There were a number of patrons sitting at tables on the sidewalk, eating dinner like nothing had happened. My first thought was how could they stand the stench but then I realized that they could do nothing else but to get their lives back to some semblance of normalcy.
I returned to my quiet home in the Adirondacks the next morning. There were no signs of terrorist attacks, no signs of devastation or death, just peace and serenity. Somehow the landscape could not purify my damaged soul and I knew then that my life had changed forever. Not a day goes by that I don’t look up at that photo of the Twin Towers that hangs above my desk and wonder why.
On this day, I pray for the victims, their families, the servicemen and women that have fought to valiantly protect our freedoms, and most of all, I pray that God will always protect the United States of America.