then there was the sunshine. It bathed the city in perfect weather,
as if it were a glorious day. The blue sky was like a big pool
inviting you to swim in it. The only thing that made the day less
than beautiful were the ominous clouds of smoke following us home.
and the smell. A slight burning smell. In the days and weeks to
come, that smell would occasionally swell with something sweetish
and dusty. It was the smell of decaying flesh. For awhile, certain
subway stations had to be kept closed. Not because there was anything
wrong with those particular stations. They were closed because
of the smell. It was so strong, it overwhelmed people and made
them gag; it made them sick.
on 9/11, in the open air, the smell wasn't strong. We walked home
in the sunshine. There was a strange feeling of elation upon us.
All of us. There was almost a party atmosphere in the crowds of
people on the street. We had survived! Something terrible had
happened. Something unthinkable. Unbearable. But we had survived.
Something about surviving and the adrenalin it produces does something
to you. It makes you feel super alive, super aware, and, yes,
even happy. And the brilliant sunshine intensified those feelings.
In retrospect, it seems bizarre to have felt that way. It seems
wrong. Thousands had died. How could I be happy? But I was. I
was happy to be alive. Happy to be on the street. Happy to be
in the sunshine. I can't deny it just because it seems inappropriate.
Because in some inexplicable visceral way, it was appropriate.
the crowds approached the Manhattan Bridge, we learned that the
authorities had opened it to pedestrians. We could go home, after
all. So along with thousands of other people, we crossed the bridge.
On the other side were people in the streets and along the curbs,
handing out bottles of water. We still had a long walk to Park
Slope, but at least we were in Brooklyn .
walked down 68 flights of stairs, and then 15 miles of city streets
that day. Catherine walked about 10 miles. We were tired, but
we hardly even noticed it. There was too much else to think about.
that evening, there was a wind blowing from the direction of Manhattan.
Looking out the living room window, I saw a sheet of 8½
by 11 sheet of paper blowing around in the parking lot. Remembering
the paper flying through the air right after the North Tower was
hit, I couldn't resist the urge to find out if one of those sheets
of paper was in our parking lot. I went outside. I picked it up.
Sure enough, it was a sheet of letterhead from a company that
had been in the World Trade Center. I held it in my fingers. I
smelled smoke and kerosene in its fiber. I read the address. This
had been on someone's desk or in some photocopy room. In another
life, this piece of paper represented business as usual.
while later, I got a call from my boss at Morgan Stanley/Dean
Witter, where I worked as a computer analyst. Morgan Stanley had
offices on many floors in the South Tower. I was on the 68th floor.
Most of our data was stored in computers in Texas. My boss, who
had also been on the 68th floor, called to see if I was alive.
By the next day, I was back at work, working from my home computer.
everyone who worked for Morgan Stanley/Dean Witter in the World
Trade Center survived 9/11.
three years, they would lay off a vast number of employees who
had been in the World Trade Center. I figure they were worried
about liability. That's why they got rid of those people. Besides,
they no longer needed American computer analysts. Workers in India
were cheaper. Why didn't they lay me off? I'm not sure. They probably
would have gotten around to it eventually. But why did they wait?
Why did they hesitate? I was beginning to get confrontational,
so maybe they were afraid I might be the one to cause them trouble.
In 2003, my wife's boss died and HarperCollins kicked her out
the day after his memorial service. The double blow was traumatizing
for her, but it was offset a bit by a generous inheritance. Her
boss left her quite a bit of money. So the result was that we
didn't need either HarperCollins or Morgan Stanley. People who
don't really need the companies they work for make it hard for
those companies to control them.
to say, both Catherine and I have grown pretty disillusioned with
back on 9/11, we still had a few illusions, although we no longer
the attack, I used to have about a dozen small toy cows who could
moo. My colleagues rightly considered me to be a bit of a nut
with a weird sense of humor. My cows stood in a line along the
top of one of the walls of my cubicle in the World Trade Center.
People passing by on the way to their own cubicles would pass
the toy cows and I would have the cows moo for them.
9/11, those cows became a topic of macabre humor among us. We
called each other to make sure we were all alive, and without
fail, at some point in the phone conversations, there were the
toy cow remarks. *Did your cows make it out?* everyone asked.
*They're probably hamburgers now, right?* said one. *Maybe ground
round?* said another. *No, ground chuck! Get it, Chuck?* (A lot
of my colleagues called me Chuck instead of Charlie.) By the time
we had a temporary office to go to, I had replaced the toy cows
with one crazy little cow who laughed maniacally and went *moo,
moo, MOOOOO* and laughed maniacally again. I called it the *mad
cow.* I said it was the only cow who had survived but he had gone
mad cow helped us keep a sense a humor when we didn't even have
decent desks to sit at.