Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Chapter two

The next day didn’t happen. Really, on September 12th, if you weren’t actually in the pit, I don’t think it existed for anyone. I remember when I was living in California in 1989 and we had that huge earthquake that I was probably feeling some sense of shock for maybe eight months after. Shock is a big deal. I definitely think that human beings are far more fragile then we would like to believe that we are. I actually did get up and go into work on Wednesday. I wasn’t the only one. But our business was to deliver packages for other companies who needed these things delivered within a short time. I think we got five calls. Maybe six. I mean, somebody came in to work, but the city has some seven million people a day during the week so four calls, though not absolutely nothing does constitute a drop from the usual 350 to 400 calls a day the company usually handled.

I went in again on Thursday, and on that day we got 45 calls. I did fifteen of these runs. That was an interesting day. People did come in to work. I personally think it was the money. I know it was for me at least. Shock or no shock, there are bills to pay, situations to be dealt with. New York is a money town and it is an expensive town and I don’t think there are really so many people who could simply stop. I don’t and didn’t see this as a patriotic act; I saw it as a physical necessity to continue if you are able. The thought of stopping is too profound to be dealt with on such short notice. Any war does this to people. This was Pearl Harbor happening again. But I suppose the people in Pearl Harbor had to go back to work as well.

I know that my little situation was just precarious enough to disallow thoughts of a work stoppage. I don’t think I had thoughts of civic grandeur; I needed to do what needed to do because there was no other choice but to do so because there was no one else that was going to do this for me. And I know that I was not alone in this thought. I mean there were a lot of people who came back to work for the money. I think a lot of people stayed home but were afraid. I am sure over the next few months there was a drop in the population that actually lived in Manhattan and I know that there was a decline in business that still exists at the time of this writing.

I did 15 of the companies 45 runs that day and I a quite proud of that. And I had to fight for them a bit because the company wanted to shut down and call it a day. There were 80 phone-in bomb threats in the city that day and each and every one of them was taken seriously. Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building; almost every large or landmark site got a call that day. At about one o’clock, I was standing in the offices of the Click modeling agency holding about seven or eight portfolios that needed to go across town to the business offices of Bloomingdale’s, and my dispatcher was telling me to drop the books and to go home because of the bomb threat at Grand Central Station. Thousands of people were told to exit onto the surrounding streets and I was told that there was no chance that I could go through. Well, really, I am not so dramatic but I disagreed with the situation. I made some speech or other that this was our business and that I tool it seriously and that we were supposed to be experts at dealing with such problems and that getting through the city quickly regardless of obstacles was what we were there to do and that I really didn’t believe that there were any bombs at Grand Central station because New York is a city so filled with nuts, that the actually odds of there being such a thing there today was none. He agreed with me and I took the books and rode over to Bloomingdale’s. There were in fact a few thousand shocked New Yorkers standing out on 42nd street, but getting through was not such a big deal. I made the drop and called in empty and told the dispatcher about the traffic conditions. I think the company benefited by maybe $20 or so, and so it was ok. I didn’t die and nobody blew anybody up.

I got a call to go across the east river to New Jersey at the end of the day. I was happy because it as an expensive run. I rode to the ferry docks on west 42nd street and took the boat from there. I got to see what had happened to Manhattans landscape first hand. The whole of the south part of the island was filled with smoke. The apex of the city had become the Empire State Building again. Those towers were really huge buildings. I was thinking of what the skyline looked like from the Staten Island Ferry or from New Jersey when riding into Manhattan by bus. Now the Island simply sloped down to the seaport and ended there. Everyone on the boat stood at the back staring.

I got a call to go downtown the next day to Jay Street to drop off some photos. The military was now in place and so I had to show my manifest to soldiers and to cops every few blocks as proof that I had some real business down at the south part of the island. The smoke was still really thick and I must admit I was not going so quickly. I wanted to see everything. I made a right on West Broadway and got my first glimpse of what was left of the towers. The pile of rubble was perhaps ten stories tall and you could see great chucks of the mesh jacket that was the faзade of the towers jutting out of the pile. I have always described this moment as being like the moment in the movie “Star Wars” when Obi Wan Kenobe feels the planet get blown up and says he has felt the cries of so many people. I swear you could feel this there. I don’t know if it was from the people who were working to help dig at that time or from the pile itself. Or both. I remember feeling the same thing when riding my bike to the site of the Treblinka concentration camp on a cold winter morning 18 months later.

As I said you could smell the smoke for months afterward. And the change in mood was everywhere. For about fifty days, riding downtown was an ordeal because there were so many cops and check points and rules as to where you could go and couldn’t go. I got pretty good at getting through the points but I like to think that it was simply because the guys who were doing their job knew me and knew that I was working as well. And the security got so tight, everywhere. Before, when you needed to get into a building, you just went in and if you knew your job and you knew the people you were working with, you could get moving pretty fast. I always thought that this was one of the real skills of the job, negotiating the people to get your package to where it was supposed to go. But after, everything changed. There was ID checks and bag checks. Companies rerouted the deliveries to different locations around the buildings and everything slowed down. Some of the changes were reasonable and some were poorly thought out. There was one or two drops that were automatic waiting time just for the call because they were so slow that we didn’t even want the calls any more. I think that there were some frictions. I have a few bad memories of security people enjoying this newfound sense of power. But all in all, I think that people accepted this little slice of martial law as some necessary thing.

But the money stopped that day. And this was the second huge economic hit the city had taken. New York was king during the Dot.Com boom, and it was a great time to be doing bikes then as well. All of the riders were making money, and those of us who worked for Urban Fetch or Kosmo.com were making really good money. But the computer money stopped just a few months after the millennium celebration. Amazon went down, the Nazdaq crashed. If you lived in New York at that time, it was a pretty normal thing to be taking coffee next to some paper millionaire or other. Everybody had a moment where the dream was possible. Everybody had a story about what they were going to do if only… But when these Zeppelin like enterprises came down, the money flow throughout the city slowed as well. And if things were only normal before September 11th , afterward was the end of the world.

In the first months of the year 2000, I could expect better than $1000 a week for riding, In the first months of 2001, when there was only normal work to be done, working harder and smarter and needing to have built my own shop just to keep my bikes running, I could count on five to six hundred dollars a week from riding, as much as eight for a different company, and possibly $100 extra from outside work doing tune-ups, building wheels or buying and selling bikes. After, it was all of this work for food and shelter. I don’t think I minded the day to day of living in New York, and I loved that I was doing bikes. But without the money, New York just isn’t the same. When they love you, there is no place in the world Like the Big Apple. When they love you, you feel like you walk the earth like a king. I had a silly habit of riding through Times Square

Without holding the bars. I liked having my friends shout my name as I rode by like I was in some bike race or other. But on the down and outs, there is no lonelier place. And I was alone there. I had some friends that I hung out with. I did what I did. But there was nothing really there to look forward for me. I stayed and I worked day after day, but there simply wasn’t any joy in the life any more. Even the New Years celebration of 2002 was over policed to the point of torture. There was no commingling with 2 million or so of your closest friends. There wasn’t even a party. They didn’t even have toilets for fear of bombs being placed in them. So if you couldn’t hold your water, or if you had no problems pissing on the street, you got to stand, dead sober in the coral listening to the taunts from the police at your stupidity for having come. I lasted until 10 O’clock and then took the train home. I called my grandmother, a new years baby from 1908, and wished her a happy birthday at midnight, and then went to bed.

A story about Egor

Ok, so I don't have many things to talk about, but perhaps what is here is interesting… I am possibly a few moments away from an invitation to teach school here in Belarus. If I gain the invitation, I can get a work visa. And this is good. I still have some problems for this, such as not even having enough money for the work visa but things are not so finished. Not yet. Tomorrow I will know all, and if I can work things out, I may teach English here at the university.

Other than this, I have this story to tell about Igor.:

The man’s name, and this is the guy who always comes to say hello to me when I go to the chess club, is Borus Vasilovich. Borus Vasilovich is a very nice man I think, and I think as well that he does a very good job of teaching the game of chess to young people. I absolutely think that Igor has become a better chess player in direct relation to the help of Borus Vasilovich. Now Igor did not do so well at the chess tournament last week. IN fact, one Sunday he had a very bad day indeed and lost all but one game, this being one of the two games that Tatyana and I saw. So he did not achieve this third ranking as he wanted and we expected and we must wait for the next tournament to see if he has in fact the skills to be a third rank player.

I played a game with Igor last night before bed, and although I did make a poor move, losing my queen early, I managed to mate Igor with a large material advantage at the end game. So something is up. Igor behaved quite badly after the chess tournament. I think the pressure of his life and of these tournaments is starting to get to him. I think that the hopes of the family for something good to happen are a lot to bear for a little guy, but really, there simply is not so much else to look forward to.

So yesterday we got a call from Borus Vasilovich that there was going to be a physical examination at the sports medicine clinic in conjunction to the chess club. Borus Vasilovich said that Igor was going to have to have a urine sample and to go or to have his mother go there in the morning. Borus Vasilovich said that this was very important. When he got home, Igor told Tatyana and I that Borus Vasilovich had told him that he must pee in a bank (jar) for the examination. He then told babushka that Borus Vasilovich had told him he must pee in the bank for the morning. Babushka then told us that Borus Vasilovich has said that the boy must pee in the bank, and that we should make sure that this bank deposit should be made in the morning. I mentioned that the bank could be filled any time but I was told to be quiet and that if Borus Vasilovich said that it was in the morning, then this is when the bank must be filled. That evening, Tatyana reminded Igor that he must piss in the bank for Borus Vasilovich. Igor then went to baba and reminder her about Borus Vasilovich and this bank filling, which inspired baba to return to Tatyana with her emphatic request not to forget about Borus Vasilovich and the bank and the pissing, which only made Tatyana mad because she in fact was the one who told Igor in the first place. I tried to be calm only mentioning the pissing, Borus Vasilovich and the bank five or six times. That night before bed, while I was happily beating him at chess, Igor mentioned that he had to pee, and I made a move to say something about Borus Vasilovich’s bank, but was quickly shushed. I didn’t sleep well last night, though I don’t think that Borus Vasilovich had anything to do with this. Baba, as usual, was punctual with her wake up call at exactly 7:00 am. She was quite direct about making sure that all was in motion, and took the trouble to mention that in fact, this was the morning that Borus Vasilovich told us that Igor must piss in the bank and that we must not forget this. Tatyana reminded baba that she knew all about Borus Vasilovich and the bank, etc, and that baba shouldn’t pay such close attention to these things. Igor was slow getting up. He is always slow getting up in the morning. He has grown tired of soup in the morning and would prefer not to eat anything at all. This however does not fit the machine that is our house. So, everyday now is a creative war to get the kid to choke down baba’s soups. I in fact like baba’s soups, but I suppose that it is possible for this soup to loose its luster after a while and now they do nothing for the kid whatsoever. This morning was no exception, and though I am already without interest in the daily mantra of admonishing the kid to eat, Tatyana is still full of the old fight. However, the war over the eating of the soup superceded in the minds of all, the request of Borus Vasilovich, and while avoiding the kitchen, the boy, needing to piss, as does any normal boy, walked into the toilet, ignored the bank sitting just to the right of the bowl (as well as the request of Borus Vasilovich), and promptly pissed and flushed, the sound of which bringing an eruption from Tatyana and baba, probably loud enough to wake Borus Vasilovich, who lives several kilometers away.

However, the machine is the machine, and there are only so many minutes to actually get the kid to school, so there simply wasn’t enough time to run liquids through his system in a large enough quantity to produce a second batch of urine sample. This of course being the first thing that came to anyone’s head. And of course, Igor is piss shy, as are most boys of any age, and having this particular function be the center of attention as well as the urgency of a ticking clock pretty much stopped up any flow that that river would have normally produced. So there was simply nothing else that could be done. Obviously this was some failure on the part of the family. First there was the disgrace of Igor’s failing to become a third rank chess player, and now this scandal of the failure in the toilet. Words like insanity and stupidity flew through the house and were undoubtedly heard by poor Igor who was standing in front of the toilet, trying to produce some liquid other than tears for Borus Vasilovich’s bank, sitting empty in front of him. I was softy-singing words like: Fish… Water… River… Sea… Which was no help other than inspiring some mild laughter from the toilet.

Finally, like a great biblical miracle, Igor came through, and we were in the banking business at last. We packed him off to school, on time plus or minus a minute, and finally the dust was allowed to settle in the home which was allowed to become calm once more.

And did you know that Chiyim Weitzman, the first president of Israel attended school here in Pinsk? It is true! Today while dropping of the bank at the hospital we saw a plaque on the wall of the hospital, which used to be Tatyana’s school, that Chiyim Wietzman had attended the school from 1885 to 1892 and had lived in the village of Motile, which is not far away.