Sunday, July 17, 2005

The News From New York, Part Two.

Here is the second half of that letter written just after the September 11th attack on the world trade center in New York. I was working as a bike messenger that day and this letter is an account of my recollections. It was written at an internet café on the following Saturday and I am presenting it here without altering the original format or even spellchecking it.

September 11th was the second time in my life I have been in a “The world is coming to an end” sort of situation. Or maybe the third. The first time it happened was when I was living in the San Francisco bay Area. I am talking about the October 1989 earthquake. At that time, and during an all Bay Area World series no less we got hit by a 9-point-something quake and a lot of San Francisco proper went liquid on us. It is interesting in thinking about the two days to compare the sorts of things that went through my mind during and after. During both episodes, I think I kept my wits pretty well about me. I know I make a big point of this in this piece of writing, but I think I did ok during the 89 quake; I kept my eyes and ears open, did what I could to help and did what I needed to do . But when I say I kept my wits about me, this really has nothing to do with a deeper feeling having your feet pulled out from under you. It is really unnerving to have the whole world change right before your eyes. So many things that we take for granted just up and went away. And you tap into survival instincts that for the most part, we really don’t utilize on a day to day basis.

And as far as that goes, in my mind during the 9/11 catastrophe I was definitely thinking that I was much tougher and stronger than during the SF quake. For one thing I was older and had more life experiences to draw on. And also, thanks to the sensory assault that is messenger riding, I was a bit thicker and more inured. But I know now that after 9/11 just as it was after the SF quake, I was obviously not the same. I remember that in San Francisco both my ex-wife and I were both in a different state of mind if not another world entirely for the better part of six months afterward. We were in shock. Actually, we didn’t really know that we were until months later when it finally lifted and we could see that we had been acting and thinking much differently. We had been much more careful about things. Or maybe, skittish is a better way of saying it. The fear lingers. New York was exactly the same. And of course of course that episode personally also had greater financial problems added than after the SF quake.

Looking back at the situation, I see now that I was really out of my head after 9/11. I mean I don’t think I was any Tom Cruise out there, but I didn’t lie down and die. In fact, if anything I did just the opposite and became even more aggressive than usual. But those planes knocking down our buildings were really something. Those people jumping out of those windows. The smoke. The smell. The firemen pulling bodys- body parts out of the steaming rubble. You couldn’t ignore it and you could just “work through it”. What was going to happen next? How would the government react? What would we do now? Will there be a war? Would there be social changes? Would this end up being a step toward world peace? Would it be a wake up call? Or would it be WWIII? What are we going to do?

Well this is now four years later. And a lot of those questions have been answered. And as far as my life is concerned, I thought I had found a way to make a fresh start. Well, I thought I had until Poland saw fit to give me an episode pretty much equally as shocking when they pulled the Zaremba/Wiesniakowski stunt only 8 months after 9/11. But that of course is another story.
Anyway, here is the second half of the “News From New York”.

thursday was warm. and on thursday, people went back to work. business as usual. wednesdays mood
of gentle curtesy gave way to the anger of the return of reality. i say reality, because even in
the face of such an enormous series of events, the truth of the matter is we had to go back to
work because nobody was going to pick up the tab if we didn't. new york is like a great wheel that
just rambles on, unfeeling and uncaring and we, the people who live here both feed and fear the
wheel. the realaztion that we were going to be in trouble financially really struck home on
thursday and what we did, what the people of new york did is what we do best: in the face of any
obstical, we went back to work. business as usual. work to new yorkers is all encompassing. we do
it for the money and for the status and for the...stuff, but we do it also as a salve against all
of the things we hate in the world. of coarse what ! we hate, is what we have created by the way we
live, and the irony of this catch 22 is that not only do we understand this (i think the very
heart of what we call being hip in new york pertains to just this dichotomy)but we use it as our
badge of courage and honor and the dividing line between who we are, and who you are...whoever you
may be. we live corruption. we swim in greed. treat a new yorker with kindness and you are messing
with his mind, but try and tear him down, or insult him and he is in his element. we eat hate for
breakfast, dry and without sugar. world trade center knocked down? 5000 dead? gotta get to work
because there's gonna be a recession to beat the band coming and coming fast. and so we went back
to work. business as usual. i was on my bike from the bell on thursday. i got a series of runs
sending me uptown into the 80's on both sides of the park. and it was on this run when i got to
click models on 27th street to make a drop! that i got a call from john, our dispatcher, telling me
that there was a bomb scare at grand central station and that he thought that i should return to
22nd street and wait it out. rob, the desk guy at click, asked if we could make a drop at 919 3rd
avenue for him. john said to just leave the books and that we were not risking a run at this time.
i argued that i didn't believe there was any bombs, the attacks were about surprise and the damage
was done. the terrorists were not going to risk capture now and these bomb threats were just some
new york crackhead, fruitcake being....well, we are known for these folks. john said that the
threats were there and buildings; we being closed and people evacuated into the streets and so it
wasn't worth killing yourself for a buck. so i left the books behind. got in the elevator and made
it to the ground floor before trying one last time. coming back up to twelve, i told john over the
radio that the very ide! a of backing down to terrorism was at stake. if we genuinely believed in
this thing that we do here, and i mean the whole stupid capitalist deal, then it was an almost
honorable thing to do to run the packages. i mean, that if click models thought it important
enough to send seven photo portfolios of seven skinny, pouting male models without two chest hairs
between them over to bloomingdales just for consideration for a advertisement for some clothing
line, that we were obligated to get it there for them. this was business. and that we could do the
job off getting over to bloomingdales, was the pride an essence of what we as couriers do!

i took the books. and it wasn't easy. the cops closed 8th avenue (bomb threat) and so i had to
weave up 9th against traffic to get to 52nd street. i picked up two packages and made my way
across town. there were a lot of people on the street at park avenue (bomb threat) bit i dropped
at 345 park (bomb threat n! earby) and went on to bloomongdales corporate offices (no bomb threat)
and dropped my books and called in. all in all there were 90 phony bomb threats in the city on
thursday. we got a total of 64 calls for the day. i delivered 20 of them.

at the end of the day, i stopped into the office before heading home. todd and jj were playing
chess and john was on the phone. i started to tell john about a retaliation theory i had. my
thought was that what this whole terrorist attack was was a nothing but a landscape job. i said
that what the terrorists had done was not just swiping our planes and killing a few thousand of us
but that they had messed with our public icons of power. this was about symbols and what the
extremists were trying to do was diminish the "image" of america. i mentioned that really, they
probably had a right to be angry based upon any number things the USA has done to mid-eastern
nations, both in public as in the gulf war and cove! rtly (let's not forget Iran-scam here). so my
thinking was that we had to do something big and public and image based in response. we couldn't
be covert because we called the hijackers cowards for being gorilla fighters and we had to tell
them we are coming because we said that the sneak attack was not correct. i also said we shouldn't
kill anybody while doing this because the wasting of even more lives is as futile as the loss of
those people on the planes or under the rubble. so i suggested that we give plenty of notice,
television, radio, print media, etc, everything we can do to tell them we are coming and to get at
least 100 miles away. if anybody wants to stay behind and martyr themselves it would be by their
own choice to do so. and on the appointed hour, and in full view of the world we should drop an
h-bomb on mecca. not one of those hiroshima bombs that takes out a mile or so, but one of the big
bettys, the ones that can turn the entire ! sacred place of the yearly pilgrimage into 50 or so
square miles of polished glass with a twenty year radiation threshold. evaporate it. and maybe
when this was done, the sheer ugliness of these two acts might actually wake us up and stop the
wheel for a while. maybe long enough for us to figure how to do the simple things like feeding
each other, and learning how to make this one simple world we live in worth living in. i mean
simple real estate: where do you want to live? a war zone or a park. you decide.

but the guys weren't up for my point. there wasn't any opposing ideas, they just didn't like mine.
they were just putting me down because, well, that's what we do. we play defense here in new york.
we give you a hard time. and todd is a big guy. he works out, plays a mean game of chess too, but
to be frank, i kinda took offense to being put down considering the day i had just had. i mean
while i was out there out there dodging historical ci! vilians trying to keep this thing going, todd
was eating chicken, playing chess, and at least as far as his breath was telling me (he was
screaming in my face) spent a good part of the day drinking. now as i said, todd is a big guy, and
he didn't like me standing up to him. and you know i did. and in a new york minute, he was asking
me to step outside with him. and so i was faced with a number of issues here: if i did fight him,
i was in trouble. it wasn't so much that i was worried about taking a beating, it was that in
order to end the fight, because he is so big, i would have to do something that would seriously
hurt him. and this sort of thing isn't going to anybody any good. but on the other hand, if i
backed down, i would be basically agreeing to let this dull thud of an ego have reign in the
office, which would inevitably drag all of us down and endanger the business. so, no choice but to
do it. i took off my glasses and went outside with h! im insulting him every step of the way. and he
crazy, he was going to find me in my neighborhood, i was going to see nothing but fists, i was
going to get fired, he was going to show it to me...his breath stunk. i told him to show it to me.
he never threw a punch. my guess is his lack of real moral high ground prevented him from doing
anything and in the end he walked. and me? i was pretty pissed off. i mean, i really thought i had
done the job that day, overcoming quite a few obsticals to do it. and to get throttled for
proffering an opinion was downright insulting. i mean, i ask myself: why are you breaking your
back for these animals? and i said this to todd. specifically i said the words with great cynesism
implied: "wonderful breed of people you are". now what i was referring to was my office and
company. i was calling them lowlifes for what i thought was basically...acting like lowlifes. but
todd is black. and so is jj. and the immediate tho! ught on their part is that i was making a racist
remark. i told todd that he would be worthless if he was green and that i was referring to his
character, not his color. but as i have said the wheel rolls on. there wasn't going to be any
fighting, just a lot of threats. and now i am a racist as well. a beautiful end to a beautiful
day. the last warm day of 2001. i left rolled over to the subway. a pretty black lady flirted with
me as we waited for the a train. i thought she was cute. i guess this is one of those things when
there is great tension in the world. she toyed with the idea of missing her D train. which was
nice of her. but in the end, she got on her train and i got on mine. and no, the irony did not

i didn't sleep very well that night again. amy called again at about midnight and we talked for
two hours or so. my alarm didn't go off and i didn't wake up until 8:00. i called in and said i
was late and why. i guess the news! of the fight had gotten around. there was tension in daves
voice. i said i would be in at about 9:30. dave said to try and get in by 9:00.

friday it rained. and more then just rain, but a cold miserable wintery rain. on the plus side, it
knocked a lot of the smoke from the sky and cleaned the air. on the negative side, it made
everything even more miserable. in the pits, the relief workers now had slippery steel and mud to
contend with. and to make matters worse, there were no survivors pulled from the wreckage to
bolster their spirits. by now, the news had told us the the FBI had done a good job of tracking
down the bombers and who they were. there were arrests at the airports of other would-be
the machine was regaining speed. the president showed up in new york and that turned what was
already an oppressive state into something close to martial law. you had to show picture id to get
onto any street where there was a police pr! ecinct, 5th avenue and 34th street around the empire
state building was shut down. the 79th street transverse across central park was closed. i had a
surreal moment at the old daily news building at 220 east 42nd street. the entry foyer of this
building is famous because of the giant globe and what is sort of a planetarium there. i
understand that schools used to make field trips just to look at it. because of a bomb threat
there (what else?) security was not letting anybody go upstairs so that we had to call up and have
someone come down to get their packages. i showed my id's and was waiting for my phone calls to be
answered and i guess i must have wandered a foot or so too far to my right because the security
guys got on me. now, all things considered, i was getting a little tired of this and so i held my
ground and pointed out that these guys busting my chops for doing my job wasn't making anybodies
life any easier. and the fact that i was rig! ht just made matters worse as these knuckleheads were
trying to figure out exactly how much power they had to use on me. i guess they would have shot me
if they thought they were justified. there is a grand piano in the foyer behind the globe, and for
some strange reason it was being tuned at that moment. i guess even piano tuners know that they
must continue to feed the wheel so there was a sound track to this standoff as the the tuner
pulled and stretched the straining tones into unisons. the tension broke when an employee came
down to claim his package. i wished them all good day, and got on my bike.

most of the additional security in the city was because president bush, a most uninspiring man,
came to new york and gave a depressingly uninspiring speech. i heard a joke at 224 west 57th
street that went something like: during the cell phone call from the hijacked jetliner, the guy
tells his wife that they are going to rush the hijacker and s! top him before the plane has a chance
to hit camp david and hurt the president. and the wife after thinking for a moment says "well now
wait a minute..." tasteless, i know. but by friday, we were back at work. we really have no
choice. the wheel rolls. you outrun it or it runs you over. it is an irony that we have enslaved
ourselves, not to ideals, creeds or beliefs, but to a fiscal self imprisonment. another courier
pointed out to me that we all frankly hated the wall street suits. we hated their haughty attitude
and how they looked down their noses at us. they had the money and the privilages and we were the
filthy unwashed. i mean, we don't get respect for a job well done, we are dogs to them. and as a
courier riding up out of south ferry anywhere near 5:00 meant challenging a phalanx of jay walkers
with absolutely no regard for lights much less some idiot baring down on them on a bicycle. i
mean, they just took care of themselves.

but t! hat is the point. we compete for resorses with each other. we are adversarial. we win or we
lose and any bravado we may have is nothing but a soldiers bravado at having lived through the
wars. we win or we lose. and just like the soldier, we are used by the generals, pawns sent out
for the gains of those with the power to send us to our deaths. and this week this i guess simply
brought this analogy from some bit of rhetorical imagery into a bloodthirsty reality. we are not
innocents, we were soldiers for the cause. all of us. we contributed, and built that damned wheel.
maybe now we say that we were just following orders. or that we were following the natural order
of things. but the work that we do, our actions have their reactions. if we are winners, then
someone somewhere must be a loser. and sometimes, even a loser might just stand up and have his

there was a slogan in the paper on friday that i think was at the heart of the issue fr! om this
week. it was in a call for the lighting of candles or the carrying of flags, some display of
solidarity. and it asked that we make the display to "show that they were wrong about us"
show that we didn't really have it coming. that we were innocent of waging a war against the
world. that we weren't exploiting the rest of the world the way the newscaster have exploited the
events of the last few days with their constant heart wrenching special reports, the way the
bombers have exploited the panic stricken public... the way that bloomingdales exploits... and
click models...and cavalry couriers...and me...

we have no shared consiesness here in this country. our philosophy is to divide, separate, and
push from within. we have, as has been noted, 5% of the worlds population and yet we use 25% of
it's resources. we are everywhere now. we are the worlds policemen. we are not well liked to say
the least. and on tuesday, we got a real reminder of that. we have pushed and manipulated both our
own population and the peoples of the world. and for some reason, we as americans choose to keep
our heads in the sand as to what we do. perhaps we accept the gifts that have have gained by the
exploitation of others. we feel we are entitled. we pray to god for the vanquishment of our
enemies. and we do not feel at all at ease with the thought that the enemy might just be
ourselves. friday night, we lit candles and waved flags. we like symbols. we like things rosy and
simple. we like things to be painless. but have we taken our opium at the expense of others?

late friday afternoon, wet and cold form the rain, tired and shook from the events of the
week...the fight with my company...the flood of pictures from the news...from so much work, so
much riding...from the pictures of those buildings burning and falling...the empty crater, seen
from the ferry, of what was once the tallest buildings! in the world...of the pictures of people
choosing to spend the last minute of their lives trying to fly rather then being roasted like
pigs...of the nice smile of that lady who accepted a package from me on the 79th floor of wtc1
last thursday and of the view from 78 i saw before coming down...of the smell of the smoke in the
air...of the sight of the people basking in the park in their bathing suits tuesday, wednesday and
thursday...of the sound of that man on the radio we didn't vote for mumbling some rubbish about
hope and punishment...of the sound of the guy who got voted in because we insisted that we should
have the right i shoot each other...of the anger in my friends voices because i said we should
just do something...

i dropped my last package on 83rd street on the upper west side. i believe i did about 35% of our
deliveries this week. i debated myself weather i should take the train or to ride the last five
miles or so to mi pueb! lo. the train ride would be easier and i could sit down and rest a bit. but
i thought that the ride would do me good and it was probably better to ride because i might catch
cold if i cooled off before i got to a warm shower. so i decided to ride. i turned left on central
park west and headed north. they are repaving CPW and the top layer has been scraped off. they
don't repave much in my neighbor hood. i rode to the left of the lane, on the stripe so that i
could ride on smoother pavement. a cab coming from the opposite direction forced me onto the
gravely section and my rear tire flatted. i guess i would ride the train after all. and as i
walked my bike to the station i did notice one last irony: the cab driver was, of coarse, arabic.
business as usual.

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