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Random Thoughts on the Attack--From 4 Blocks Away
by Sharon Zukowski


Tuesday, September 11, 2001
(911--is there intentional irony in the date?) The lights blinked. The slight hiccup in the power supply, normally invincible in the Wall Street area, is something that I’ve learned to take as a warning signal. At the same time, someone walking by pointed at the television set we have hung from the ceiling to catch breaking news. The camera showed smoke pouring from one of the World Trade Center towers.

 

We had a TV on in my office and had the surreal experience of watching an explosion and feeling it at the same time. A war zone is the best way to describe what happened. I did not see any of the awful sights, such as people jumping from the towers or the actual collapse of the buildings. But what I saw was awful enough. The sky darkened as the smoke rolled over us, the crowds of ghostly people walking along the FDR or over the Brooklyn Bridge. I joined the marchers (it was so quiet--only sirens and the people from the missions offering us water and bathrooms). It took me close to six hours to get home (usually an hour commute). But true to the New Yorker-form, everyone was orderly, quiet, and helping each other out.

I was horrified, and wondering if another jetbomb was about to strike. A part of me didn’t want to believe the attacks had happened and didn’t want to believe another one could occur. I also didn’t want to think that my part of Wall Street could be a target. I chose to think about something else.

The smoke... the people who waited to be sure their officemates were safe and those who fled without a backwards glance... the walk to the Hudson River and the ferries...

The Spirit of New York dinner-cruise boat became a ferry, moving 500 people at a time across the river. That’s all we wanted to do: get across the river and away from the uncertainty. Let me get back to New Jersey, became the motto of every person patiently, quietly waiting in the hot sun. As if New Jersey was a bunker that couldn’t be penetrated by fuel-laden 767s crashing down at 345 miles per hour. We believed that the horror would not--could not--follow us home. Once on the boat, we sat at a round banquet table with seven strangers, who were no longer strangers. We were related by our journey out of the war zone. Another act of kindness stands out. A
waitress drifts through the crowded room offering rolls. Suddenly realizing that it had been hours since breakfast, we grabbed them and chewed on the dry rolls as the resculptured New York City skyline rose in the background.Plumes of smoke had replaced the tall, silver towers.

I'm glad to be home, but it's going to take forever to forget the site of plumes of smoke coming up where those silver towers used to be, or to wash the grit from skin, or flush the odor of burning wires from my memory. I had planned to settle down and work on my book after walking the dog. Instead, I'm sitting here crying. Houses in my neighborhood have candles on the front stairs (interesting, it's the houses of foreign-born Americans...) Some of the houses have people sitting out next to the candles. The one that did me in was the house that had five girls, a mom and a dad standing on the curb holding burning candles. I found myself compelled to go over and thank them (as I did anyone who was sitting outside). The girls told me that their teacher said they should fly the flag and burn candles. “Wall Street” has been my home for about 20 years now--the candles and the sad little girls were more than I could stand...

This is not a tale of epic proportions. You will not find descriptions of collapsing towers, cascading debris, or the horrific loss of life. Instead, this is the story of a neighborhood. A place where ordinary people walked, shopped, and tried to earn a living to support their families. They bombed the neighborhood that I loved. That I still love...

My daily love affair started with the ferry ride from Hoboken to the World Financial Center. In the morning, I loved to walk through the plaza in front of the towers. I always hoped the fountain in the center would be on. The fountain looked like a black dinner plate with a black-and-gold globe standing in the middle. On one or two special mornings, the fountain came on just as I reached it. At first, water would creep to the edges of the black granite plate, slowly wetting the surface and pouring over the sides. The water flow would pick up speed and, in minutes, would be flowing in rippling sheets that frequently splashed out on the sidewalk...

 

One magical morning that will always stay fixed in my mind, the plaza was completely deserted. The fountain wasn’t on, but the plaza didn’t need it that morning. A light snow started falling, turning the Italian-style piazza into a New York City Currier and Ives print. I remember sending an email to a friend in California describing the scene and saying how lucky I was to walk through such beauty every day...

The concrete benches encircling the fountain were empty in the mornings. The people hurrying toward their jobs in the World Trade Center or World Financial Center skirted the center, seeking the fastest, most direct route to their desks. But my detour around the fountain let me watch the caretakers water the trees and flowers and put in new plants as the seasons changed. Where are those men who kept the flowers blooming? Did they survive...

The plaza was transformed for my evening rush home. Once again, I’d take the longer route and dodge tourists posing in front of the fountain. On hot days, pigeons would wade on the plate and a toddler would occasionally be tempted to follow, only to be called back by a security guard. Tourists from all over the world, especially young lovers, were drawn to the flat space between the towering buildings. How many photos in how many countries
have those towers in the background...

After a quick trip through the bridge connecting to the World Financial Center, I’d head for the ferry. There’s no better way to go to and from work. How many times had I told people of my perfect commute and the postcard-perfect views I had every morning and every night. The trip was beautiful, especially during the fall evenings. The ferry would pull away from the dock and glide toward Hoboken. If I timed it just right, the sun would have set and the lights of the World Trade Center towers would shine, a new type of lighthouse. Not one warning of a treacherous coastline, instead the World Trade Center called to people, inviting them to enter. As
the ferry swam closer to Hoboken, the view grew more and more dramatic...

There are other parts of my neighborhood that I will miss. The bakery where I’d buy scones and olive bread for the weekend. The Lechter’s, which supplied me with many of the gadgets in my kitchen, including the pepper mill that doesn’t work right but that I never got around to returning. The Border’s, which took way too much of my money, and has left me with books all over my house that are still waiting to be read...

 

 

I worry about people, like the women in Evelyn’s who would slip me a cookie or two when I stopped in the morning to buy chocolates for someone’s birthday, or a holiday. Evelyn’s, which supplied the legendary two-foot chocolate Santa Claus that sat in the middle of our Christmas table, was two blocks away from the blast. The shop is too close to the site; I won’t be able to check on them when I go back to work...

The Greenmarket farmers. Where will they set up their stalls? How many were out there on Tuesday morning when the towers collapsed? (I’m sitting here in shock--yet again. It happens too many times. I decide I’m okay, then a thought like, “what about the Greenmarket?” hits and I’m plunged back into disbelief.)...

The Winter Garden--the wedding parties of Asian men and women, posing in full wedding garb on the marble stairs. My child-like anticipation of the Christmas decorations (strings of white lights encircling the columns. The palm trees that never belonged on the banks of the Hudson River. The Christmas trees with their bow-tie ribbons as decorations) and looking forward to seeing the floor being set up for the fancy holiday parties...

Today, Sunday--five days since the attack. I find myself wondering and worrying about the casual acquaintances of my daytime neighborhood. The fruit man, where I brought a banana almost every morning for the past nine years? The man in the coffee cart, who always got the right amount of half and half in my coffee?

That’s a taste of my daily trip: so normal, so breathtakingly beautiful. What bastard could do such a thing?

Random Thoughts Upon Returning
Monday, September 17, 2001--my first day back.
The seasick cop on the ferry. The view. The beautiful day and wanting to puke over the side when I saw the bony steel fingers rising up from the white smoke. The burning odor of burning electrical wires that seeped into my house after the wind changed. My eyes are still burning...

The ferry ride from Hoboken to Wall Street: how is it possible to alternate between admiring the beauty of the Carolina blue sky, the calm waters, the gleaming skyline--and wanting to retch over the side of the ferry as we pass through the smoke cloud, the gap where the towers once stood, and the two bony skeletons of steel?

 

The smell followed me home. From my deck, my place of refuge, the odor of burning electrical wire fills the air. I close my eyes and see the wreckage, the lost acquaintances....

Tuesday, September 18, 2001
I am working in a war zone populated by cops who smile and say, “Good morning,” as you walk past them, National Guard troops with camouflage suits and respirators--and tourists with pre- schoolers and long-lensed cameras. I want to rip the cameras from their hands and expose the film to the brilliant sun...

We find ourselves in the bathroom fifty times a day, washing our hands, trying to feel clean...

Wednesday, September 19, 2001
We’ve almost forgotten where those shimmering silver towers fit into the skyline--until a lung-full of choking, acrid smoke brings it all back. We find ourselves searching the shops for postcards that include the towers....

I joined the shuffle of the crowd along Broadway, one block from “Ground Zero.” Like mourners passing the open coffin, we flash quick glances at the remains. “Keep moving. Keep moving,” the police order. The urge to rip cameras from ghoulish hands and ground them beneath my feet is barely controllable...

Evelyn’s is still standing behind ash-covered windows. The plaza is buried under the rubble...

The barge on the East River that is methodically being loaded with long, silver strands of steel from the towers....

The ferry, observing a “no wake” rule slows as it pulls even with the World Trade Center (will I ever call it anything else?). Creeping by, as if part of a funeral procession, the ferry gives us too much time to view the remains--and to think. After four trips, I no longer want to look at the smoking wreckage. I prefer to turn away from Manhattan and stare at the Statue of Liberty, her torch gleaming in the sun. But I will never be able to turn my back on Manhattan...

I walk into my house and slug down a glass of wine. Then I take a shower to wash the smoke and grit away, and slug down more wine. The sorrow is never washed away. It fades and then springs back when least expected, but sorrow has a sneaky way of doing that...

I am so thankful that I can write about this...

 

 

 

 

*In addition to her 20+ years in the Wall Street community, Sharon Zukowski is the author of five novels (which include DANCING IN THE DARK, LEAP OF FAITH, PRELUDE TO DEATH & JUNGLELAND) featuring Blaine Stewart, a New York City-based private investigator. Sharon is currently at work on a political thriller. By day, Sharon is managing editor of the website of a major Wall Street brokerage firm. She has worked in the financial services industry since 1980 and has worked in Manhattan’s financial district since 1990.


 

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