September 9th 2001 was an amazing day. Four of us stepped across the Williamsburg Bridge as if we were the “Sharks” and “Jets” from West Side Story. The illusory view from the bridge reminded me of the “Wizard of Oz’s” Emerald City.
I had to be dreaming. The Hamburgers from Peter Luger’s were weighing us down like Sea Lions sunning their satiated blubber. The burger and happiness slowed my mind. I scanned lower Manhattan. The World Trade Center stole my eyes for just that single moment from the bridge. My camera had danced with the “Towers” for more than 30 years. I made some more pics. Maybe New York was the Emerald City. Memory is a fragile beast.
We exited the bridge like children. We spoke about the privileged moment. We agreed that sometimes New York is like enjoying lollipops during Christmas.
We were home.
Everyone imagines the sound of the end. Sometimes it is simply as Ingmar Bergman’s “Seventh Seal” illustrated, a quiet chess match. Sometimes the sound is silent. Quiet is the most frightening sound.
On September 11th our morning routine was interrupted. TV’s silent broadcast, the telephone’s muted rings. It was sometime after 9:00 am when my wife called her office. The receptionist was hysterical. She was screaming that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. I grabbed my camera and rode the elevator to my building’s balcony on the 30th floor. I stood from 22nd street shooting film as if a nightmare needed to be recorded. It did!
The nature of life as I knew it vanished. I needed to get closer. I walked a few blocks south of Washington Square Park from Madison Square Park. I felt the day hammering my head. The foreign debris I was inhaling stopped me in my tracks. I turned back. I arrived back at home. I became acutely aware of death in an unprecedented way. Maybe The Rapture creeped into my mind.
Millions of people were suffering across the globe. I stared at the television. I wanted to make more photographs. I was motionless. My mind and eyes could not escape tragedy. My brain had been forever branded with “never forget”.
FRAGILITY of LIFE:
For days I stared north into New York City. The view south was bedridden with a never ending haze. Soldiers stood ready around Madison Square Park. Soldiers and “First Responders” grappled with a city that was descending into hell. I sat at my window as sounds of sirens whirred throughout the city.
Twenty-Third Street was the thruway to the Twenty-Sixth Street Armory where I was told the triage took place. Every available vehicle seemed to carry parts of life and death to the Armory. We were dispirited at best. What would it take to live with a semblance of peace of mind.
Days passed. Then one dark afternoon, a yellow school bus with black drawn curtains drove by my hellacious window. The curtains prevented my eyes from actually seeing what I perhaps had imagined. I had imagined death sitting in each window seat. It was a window into what might have been the darkest moment in my life. The breadth of that tormentingly tattered vision is forever sealed somewhere in my dark side.
A few days later, when the “no fly” restrictions were lifted, we flew to Chicago. We had originally planned the trip weeks before the attack. When we arrived, O’Hare airport was nearly empty. Whatever eerie might mean to some, to us it was like stepping on ghosts. Maybe ten people wandered the corridors. We sensed as we walked towards the outside a cool air. It wasn’t just around us. It was inside the air we haltingly breathed.
For a few days it seemed we had encountered a parallax view. Oddly every Chicagoan knew we were from New York. People from every corner of the city overwhelmingly embraced our concerns. We swept through Wrigley Field, the Architectural Boat Tour and so much more.
We could breathe. We were free.
The next day we heard that there was a bomb threat at the Sears Tower. It was a false alarm.