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And 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.

 

That 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.

 

But 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.

 

As 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 .

 

I 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.

 

Later 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.

 

A 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.

 

Nearly everyone who worked for Morgan Stanley/Dean Witter in the World Trade Center survived 9/11.

 

Within 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.

 

Needless to say, both Catherine and I have grown pretty disillusioned with corporate America.

 

But back on 9/11, we still had a few illusions, although we no longer felt safe.

 

Before 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.

 

After 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.

 

The mad cow helped us keep a sense a humor when we didn't even have decent desks to sit at.