Photo taken by my Mom from the South Tower: Office Buildings are 1 and 2 World Financial Center. Same height despite the appearance.
I worked at One WFC, which has the square top. My apartment building is directly behind my office and was part of the Gateway Plaza Complex.

The Long Journey Home

“Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius!
“Send your ships into uncharted seas!”
Friedrich Nietzsche Of Good and Evil (1882)
————————————————————-
Take out your own garbage!
Pack it down 35 flights!
Jeff Howard October 2001

Locked Gateway.

For seven weeks after Sept. 11th, I stayed at Noreen’s place in Riverdale. FEMA and the Red Cross offered to put me in a hotel, but I declined. I saw no reason to add to the economic cost of this tragedy. Besides, I needed psychological bonding with my close friend during and after this most shattering experience. Of all the residential housing in downtown New York, none are closer to the WTC site than the 21 apartment complexes in the Battery Park City neighborhood, and of these complexes, none are closer than Gateway Plaza, which is where I live. Three weeks after Sept.11th, twelve apartment buildings were reopened to their residents. The following week eight more reopened, leaving one remaining complex closed: Gateway Plaza. It would remain closed for three more weeks.

The ABC’s of Living Downtown.

The open complexes were open in name only because few residents were moving back. The biggest concern facing potential returnees was the question of air quality. The fire at the WTC just wouldn’t go out. It would die down for a few hours, sometimes even for a day or two, and then it would flare back to life after debris removal introduced fresh oxygen to some smoldering hot spot (the fire lasted until December 19th). Week after week, downtown was blanketed with a noxious odorous haze hanging ominously over it. The EPA tested the air for asbestos, mercury, dioxins, the various alphabet chemicals (PCBs, PCDDs, PCDFs), and a host of other deadly chemicals I had never even heard of.

I Can Smell Your Fear of Taking a Bath.

Then there was the most infamous potential danger facing BPC residents: “The Bathtub.” The bathtub is a seven-storied deep slurry wall built around the WTC site before the construction of the towers took place. This retaining wall’s purpose was to keep the Hudson River/NY Harbor seawater from flooding the WTC site. The post-Sept. 11th concern (simplified) is that the retaining wall structural integrity was compromised and additionally was pierced by the falling spheres of the tower in the collapse. The immediate ramification of this structural damage was limited because the tower spheres, as they penetrated the wall, acted simultaneously as plugs. Additionally,  holding up the weakened retaining wall was over a million tons of debris, which now shored up the retaining wall; probably better now than ever before.

The hypothesized peril would unfold as they removed the debris, the retaining wall loses its support, and as they pull the penetrating spheres out, the plug becomes unplugged. The resulting onslaught of seawater would pour in subterraneous through the landfill ground of Battery Park City. Not a good thing. As the soil beneath BPC becomes more and more saturated with water, it would form an underground river pouring into the WTC site carrying with it the ground beneath BPC. Theoretically, as more and more of the underlying ground washed into the WTC site, the foundation and footings of BPC would be eroded beneath our feet. The resulting instability could then cause the buildings of BPC to begin to sink or tumble into the Hudson River. A most distressing, if improbable, possibility.
Residents willing to overlook the dangers of moving back into Battery Park City had one more hurdle to overcome: the awful smell that permeated every nook and corner of the neighborhood. The sickly sweet smell of decomposing bodies was by far the worse on the soul. Still, from a strictly odious perspective, hosts of offending smells were strong enough to send even the most committed of the early returnees packing. The sharp, acidic smell of burnt metal hung in the air, but the worse smell of all was the overpowering stench of antiseptic that permeated throughout the area. They were dumping antiseptic onto the site by the truckload to keep the spread of potential infectious diseases at bay.

With these dire conditions, it was apparent the well-publicized openings of the outlaying apartment complexes were just for public relation. In reality, the neighborhood was not fit to re-become a community yet, so the residents stayed out, most of them staying in some nice hotels in the interim.

Homeward Bound.

Finally, after two false starts, the fed’s gave permission for Gateway residents to move back. I thought about delaying my return until conditions improved and the “authorities” knew enough to formulate some crucial questions, much less the answers to them, but in the end, I made my return post-haste. As a single, able-bodied man without a family, I considered it my civic responsibility to help the crippled area get back on its feet. Venturers were sorely needed to start the long journey back to whatever type of normalcy we’ll find at the end of this arduous challenge. I would not be stupid about this, but I was going to test the waters to see if the trying conditions would be bearable. Besides, I always had the choice of returning to Noreen’s if I felt the process was putting me in dire physical or mental jeopardy.

Single Beacon of Hope a Dope

I moved in three days after my building officially reopened. On my first day back, I had this feeling of total isolation. I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I was the only one back on my floor. I knew my neighbors on either side of me weren’t there because they were both moving out (one had children and the other couple felt too traumatized to move back), but the whole floor felt deserted. Finally, after night settled in, I stepped outside to see if there were any other visible lights on my floor. There wasn’t. Nor were there any lights on the floor beneath me or even on the floor below that. In fact, except for my apartment, there wasn’t a single light on from about the 20th floor to the 35th floor. “Damn”!

The building wasn’t completely dark. There was a scattering of lights, but none on the upper floors. Examining the lights closely, I noticed the lowest floors had several occupied apartments, and the middle-level apartments had a few lit-up windows. In contrast, the top floors had none except the bright beacon of light shining from my apartment like the North Star. It was very creepy and disconcerting.

We’ll All Go Down Together.

About a week after I moved back, I got on the elevator, and it was a rare moment because someone was already in the car (in those early days back, we held the elevators for each other not only out of good manners but also for the rare company). My elevator companion was an Asian woman in her early 40’s wearing a dark fretful sulk on her face. She had already pressed the 19th floor. I said hello and pressed the button for the 35th floor. My floor selection transformed the woman’s expression from a dark scowl into a big smile. It turns out she had some deep reservations about being on the 19th floor, especially with few residents living above her.

“You live on the 35th floor!” She blurted out incredulously. “Aren’t you nervous?” I told her I wasn’t nervous and had complete confidence that the bathtub situation was well under control and… blah, blah, blah. The more I talked, the more she relaxed and beamed an ever-growing smile. It was evident that the fact that I, an outwardly normal rational person, had the confidence to live on the 35th floor gave her a measure of comfort and security. When we reached her floor, she said goodnight and started walking out, but stopped. Turning back to me with a strange smile, she blurted, “Of course if you’re wrong and there is trouble, you’ll be in much more danger than I”. She found this rather funny (I assume it was stress related), so amusing that she actually snorted. As I joined in, laughing, perhaps a trifle nervously, the door closed, cutting off her second snort mid-stride, and the elevator continued upward, carrying me to my isolated 35th-floor perch. [Gradually, the ratio of occupied apartments improved until about four months later when Gateway reached a 50% occupancy ratio (pre-Sept. 11th ratio was 98%), and my once lonely outpost was no longer so lonely. [Like the number of checkpoints, the ratio of lit-up windows to dark windows became another litmus test on our progress towards normalcy.]

And the Secret Handshake Went Like This

I gained entry to my apartment each night by passing through five military checkpoints spread out over the (now) half-mile trek through the deserted streets. [Before 9/11, my subway stop was in the WTC, an easy one-block walk]. This usually involved simply showing ID to the soldiers on duty, but sometimes it involved a brief question-and-answer session.
[The number of checkpoints dwindled as the weeks passed until after six weeks of limited access, we were down to one final checkpoint set up on South End Ave one block away from my apartment. It would remain in place for three months. Strangely and without rationale, it made me feel privileged.]

Ill Winds Blowing

Residents quickly learned a few tricks vital to good mental health survival downtown. Foremost was the morning ritual of checking the wind direction before venturing out. By looking out in the morning at the waves in the bay, I could determine the direction of the wind (they strongly encouraged us to keep our windows shut for the first six months). If the wind direction was blowing from west to east, I could walk outside and breathe normally without trepidation. But if the wind was blowing from east to west, I had better do some mental preparations before venturing into the odorous nightmare waiting to assault me. After a while, I found that even the bad days were bearable so long as they didn’t blindside you.

Of course, it wasn’t a zero-sum game. If the ill winds were blowing away from us, they were blowing towards someone else, usually towards Wall Street, located directly across the ruins from us. A friend who works in the Wall Street area had a rough time with the whole situation. Comparing notes with her, I found that almost every time the odorous condition in Battery Park City was acceptable, theirs on Wall Street was intolerable. Naturally, the inverse was also true, except, of course, on those dead calm days when the putrid nightmare drifted in both directions. No free lunches here.

A Monster-Ball Hoedown

When I was ten, my Dad did a major expansion on our home. To cut down on the cost, he did much of the excavation himself, using a backhoe borrowed from work. I marveled at how his expertise turned the machine into an extension of his body. I was awed by the way he made the machine seem eerily alive . He was a smooth operater.

But as proficient as he was, my Dad never made the machine tango like the giant grappler/backhoe operators at Ground Zero. These operators were true artists of mechanical movement, each movement a mesmerizing expression of fluid grace coupled with unbridled power. I loved watching these colossal machines from the rooftop of my building or even in the comfort of my apartment as the TV camera captured the intricate waltz of these voracious dinosaurs weaving and
bobbing as if in rhythm to a musical beat discernible only to monsters’ ears.

In those first weeks, before trucks could get into the area, the grapplers formed long daisy chains passing the debris down from one to the next and so on, much in the fashion of a mechanical water brigade, but executed with such patterned precision that the machines give the uncanny impression of bowing to one another.

The dance of these diesel monsters became particularly compelling at night with a forest of stadium-styled floodlights shadow-lighting every movement like an elaborate puppet show.

But as the midnight hour approached, these beasts took on a more sinister form (albeit, one exclusively in my head), producing eerie bone-chilling soulless cries of the most unearthly nature I have ever heard. Some screeches were unimaginable. I mean, obviously,  I knew it was just metal scrapping metal as the twisted beams were pulled apart. But to hear it late at night with ears already keenly tuned to hear anything slightly resembling whatever sound a collapsing bathtub would make, was to lose my logic and bravo as my imagination ran amok.

[Footnote: The hardware was so impressive. There were grapplers, cats, picks, diesel excavators, and giant cranes soaring into the sky. One machine, imported from a site in Illinois, had an eighty-foot arm ending with shears capable of snapping steel beams in half. A virtual parade of dump trucks lined up waiting their turn. For the first six months, I never saw a moment where there wasn’t at
least a dozen trucks waiting for their turn to enter the “ruins”. ]

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and to Love the Bathtub.

The Tower’s collapse destroyed much of the machinery on my rooftop (such as generators, and ventilation systems) and was replaced with new equipment. The misfortune is mine. The new generator is not only audible in my apartment, but its location must be directly above my bedroom because it’s there that I can feel its vibrations when it kicks on. It’s most noticeable when I’m lying on my (semi-) waterbed because the water works as an efficient conductor of the vibration energy. No wonder I slept restlessly those first days back, lying in bed, feeling my bed and heart palpitate in sync as I contemplated existentialist babble of my life’s coexistence with the bathtub. Counting imaginary sheep may or may not help problem sleepers sleep, but counting imaginary water leaks in the WTC bathtub is the equivalent of free-basing no-doze. Nonetheless, after a few days, I counted the imaginary leaks less and less.

Then on my second Saturday back, I went to bed around 1:00 a.m. but awoke about an hour later with a terrible start. My whole building was shaking, and so was I. I knew immediately this wasn’t any vibrating generator. My mind screamed out my greatest fear: “The bathtub, holy shit, the freaking bathtub collapsed!” I grabbed my pants (I’m embarrassed to say they were already neatly arranged on a chair in my bedroom optimized for a quick escape) and ran into my living room. By this time, about 20 seconds had passed, and as suddenly as the shaking started, it stopped. “What the hell?” I put on my pants and a shirt and ran out into the hallway. It was ghostly still, but then it would be because no one else on my floor had moved back. I walked to the staircase and opened the door to listen, but there was only silence. I went back into my apartment, turned all my lights on, and conducted a meticulous examination of my walls and ceilings for telltale signs of cataclysmic building stress such as cracks or bulges, but there was none. Next, I opened the window, listening for any warning sirens, screams, shouting, anything… Nothing. What the hell was going on? Had I imagined it? Was I cracking up under the pressure of some type of post-traumatic stress syndrome? Maybe I was because, unbelievably, I went back to bed and drifted into what had to be a nightmarish sleep.

Upon waking up the next morning I was relieved when I turned on the news and discovered that Manhattan had experienced an earthquake. Who would have imagined? It was the first one I had ever heard of in New York (although I found out later they are not as rare as I thought). The epicenter was downtown, and while it only registered 2.6 on the Richter scale, that was ample enough to spook semi-frenzied residents living under the Sword of Damocles “The Bathtub.”

A Time of Building Paranoia.

This apprehension of falling buildings was so strong that there was a prevailing sense that other buildings in the area could be subject to collapse even without further disturbances from an outside calamity (i.e.-bathtub). Indeed, in those first few days, lingering concerns constantly interrupted September 11th rescue work. At first, much of the attention centered on a 54-story building known as One Liberty Plaza (on the other side of Ground Zero from Battery Park City). The concern was that this situation was so without precedent that who could say with certainty that the impact did not disturb underlying foundations, especially with many of the area structures built on landfills (including the Towers themselves)?

Structural engineers gave the building a clean bill of health (footnote 1) and yet the apprehension persisted, especially among the construction workers. Perhaps, in their previous jobs, they’ve witnessed the fallibility of engineers one time too many, or maybe it was simply that when you see the most massive of all buildings go down, all other buildings in the area begin to look suspect.

In time, while the concern lingered, it faded in intensity, and work proceeded relatively unhampered. Then, about a month later, I heard at my office that the construction crews at Ground Zero were increasingly convinced our former work building (1 World Financial Center) was also showing signs of structural tilt. Engineers were again called in, and while early testing indicated all was fine, it was purportedly not a unanimous opinion. As I heard it, the information came from someone outside my department but with close ties to a contact in our real estate department. I didn’t believe it, or at least I didn’t want to consider it. I did not even inquire as to the direction of the supposed tilt. Not that it wasn’t a pertinent question with my apartment building directly across from my former work building, but I was too adamant in my skepticism to indulge in further questioning about the situation. More to the point, I think I felt that to ask additional questions would have given credence in my mind to the possibility being an actuality.

Of course, I was kidding myself, thinking I could ignore this rumor merely by not asking additional questions about it. The seed of doubt had been planted and was growing. By the time I got home, my concerns had heightened to the point that I immediately conducted my impromptu visual survey. Now, of course, you really can’t see a slight tilt of a building with an untrained eye, but not being one to let reality hinder imagination it took me all of five seconds to make out a pronounced perceptible tilt, although I was admittedly relieved to note the tilt leaned eastward, away from my apartment building. The relief lasted all of 30 seconds until a visual examination of the west side of the building likewise showed a tilt, but this time decidedly westward, directly towards my apartment. Finally, to add icing to the paranoia I already had half-baked in my head, I took a few minutes to examine my apartment building visually. I found it to be leaning with a pronounced southward tilt. Ugh! At this point, I realized that since I didn’t know what I was doing (besides spooking myself), it would probably be better for my mental health if I stopped examining nearby buildings for tilts. It was good advice, and after a day or two (and the accompanying restless nights) I forgot about the silly tilt business. Just another baseless rumor to get snookered into enough to fret about and then forget about as nothing substantial develops. An excellent rule of thumb for the future would be to ignore all rumors more than twice removed. But whom am I fooling?

Footnote 1.) The engineers tried to make short work of the rumors by running a comprehensive battery of tests proving the building to be 100% structurally sound. The city followed up with frequent pronouncements confirming the structural integrity.
New York Times – “There are no structural concerns with this building,” said Ilyse Fink, the director of communications for the city’s Department of Buildings, reinforcing a message she has delivered almost daily since Sept. 12. “It is not and was not in danger of collapse. The building is structurally sound.”

But you can’t keep a good rumor down; even two months later, a building reopening was delayed after newspapers published reports of inside rumors of a dangerous tilt. After a barrage of public pronouncements from the city and the feds regarding its safety the building was finally reopened, but as you can imagine, only with much trepidation on the part of the tenants.

Whole Lotta Thumping Going On

In the aftermath of September 11th, over 1.5 million tons of debris were removed from the site. In the first weeks, they carried the debris out through the two downtown tunnels, the Brooklyn Battery and the Holland Tunnel, both closed to public traffic chiefly for security purposes but additionally to facilitate the transportation of the debris out of the city. Although the Brooklyn Tunnel remained used for debris removal over the next six months 1, another alternative developed that was more up to the Herculean process with less disruption to most New Yorkers.

About three blocks away, a mammoth water barge-crane operation was established. Basically, the dump trucks were loaded up with debris and then driven to the loading area, which consisted of a giant crane with the largest flat-bottomed shovel I’ve ever seen. The dump truck would back onto the shovel and dump its’ load. The crane carried the debris up and over my old running/biking path before unloading it into a huge barge. The remains of the two 110-storied towers and all the rest of the debris was removed in this manner, shovel after shovel for almost a year.

The process captivated me; I often walked down to the area to watch the operation. The weight of the debris of each shovel was so heavy that each dump produced a booming “thump” as it fell into the barge, followed by a sizeable plume of World Trade Center dust kicked into the air. There were two sets of crane operations set up, back-to-back. Usually, both ran simultaneously and took about a minute or two per load. The hitch is the operation ran 24/7 and was only 50 years feet away from a few apartment buildings on the northern outskirts of BPC. The sound was audible in those nearby buildings and felt as well. Some dumps were so pronounced it rattled the dishes; other lighter dumps only rattled high-strung nerves. It was like Chinese water torture for them, and most of those residing in the immediate area had to move back out. These people were initially the best off of all the BPC residents because they were far enough away to avoid many of the problems that those of us closer faced, but once this operation started I wouldn’t have traded places with them for the world.

The towers’ collapse left 1.5 million tons of debris. It is estimated this barge operation removed 1,350,000 (90%) of this debris. With the giant scoops removing about 20 tons per load that equates to a total of 67,500 dumps which breaks down to 250 dumps per day, averaging about 10 dumps per hour or about one load dump every six minutes every hour, day and night for nine months. “Thump!”………………………………………….”Thump!”

Many of the larger steel beams were still loaded onto flatbed trucks for stress investigation testing. Later the beams were sold to Asian steel re-millers, who would melt down the beams and remold the molten steel into new beams for new construction throughout the third world. The only exception is those beams set aside for later distribution to various museums and the nine tons of steel beams melted down for the construction of the bow stem of The USS New York guided missile destroyer.

A Chill in the Air.

Sometime in the months after the 1993 bombing, my parents came out for a visit. The rebuilding process captivated my Dad but especially so by the heavy machinery queuing up at the footsteps of the South Tower. Most interesting to both of us was a series of three or four giant locomotive-sized power units which I took as generators but which my Dad correctly identified as giant air-conditioning units. It turns out there were seven of these units intended for placement in the North Tower sub-basement. Each of these units could hold up to 24,000 pounds of Freon gas and consequently was a significant source of concern in post-September downtown.

If released into the air in large quantities, Freon gas is extremely deadly, with the definition of toxic levels being measurable in units as small as ounces. Clearly, the 168,000 cumulative pounds held in the seven tanks, if released, would be a bit over the threshold of acceptable levels. The initial danger from a leak or rupture stems from the fact that it’s a heavy gas that aggressively replaces oxygen. The first peril, therefore facing the hundreds of rescue and construction crews from contact with the gas, would be that of suffocation. But the danger did not stop at suffocation, nor would it be limited to those in the pit. The deadliest scenario would occur if the escaping Freon gas came into contact with an open flame (a 99.9% certainty at the still-burning site). The resulting chemical reaction would convert the Freon gas to an airborne form of hydrofluoric acid and phosgene gas (better known as the mustard nerve gas used so horrifically in World War One). Anyone who read of the horrifying chemical gas casualties in WWI would realize the extreme danger this posed not only to the workers in the pit but for the surrounding areas as well, for all the downtown area.

The danger would exist wherever the prevailing breezes would carry the drifting clouds of mustard gas. At last, something to take my mind off the “bathtub” situation. I wondered if disaster did strike would my 35-stories buffer be higher than a drifting cloud of mustard gas capacity to float up in such a short distance? I hoped so, as I had serious doubts that mustard gas was one of the air impurities my $29.95 air purifier protected against.

They set a warning system up at Ground Zero for the workers (although escape for them would have been almost impossible), but nothing to warn downtown residents. Indeed, we weren’t even informed of the danger until the New York Times exposed the threat in an article written in November. The problem is that even by the late date that the article was written there wasn’t any way of deciphering the damage to the giant tanks. For all they knew some or all the Freon gas had escaped and was pooled up in the sub-basement awaiting exposure as the deconstruction of the area released the gas to open flame.

Finally, by the end of November, the crews had cleared enough rubble to gain access to an underground tunnel and cavern from which an exploratory party could be sent deep into the bowels of the ruins. After a harrowing search, the team found and carefully examined the tanks. And while all tanks were either crushed or vented, the extensive readings they took in the surrounding areas were negative, indicating that all the gas must have been released in the initial collapse on September 11th. The theory is the inferno was so intense that it simply evaporated the Freon gas instead of reprocessing it.

We know there wasn’t any mustard gas in those giant debris clouds encompassing the downtown area as the buildings collapsed, but we can see now there are theoretical scenarios in which there could have been. Turns out that Larry and all those others running in terror from that first debris cloud had the right instincts. It just strikes me, once again, as extraordinary the unknown dangers the city faced on that day and, unimaginably, how much worse the day could have been.

Ghost Cars

One of the most challenging emotional and constant reminders of 9/11 seemed relatively innocuous initially. On the main street (South End Ave) in Battery Park City and several side streets, all vehicles were towed away to make room for the rescue efforts. But on the rest of the streets, the cars remained,  parked in limbo for almost two months until a “backdoor” exit was finally opened at the southernmost point of the Battery Park City neighborhood. The flow was one way. Vehicles were to be taken out of BPC; they were not allowed back in.

After about eight weeks of this one-way exodus, only about a dozen cars were left, and those (literally) damned cars tore our hearts out twice a day as we filed past them on our way in and out of our neighborhood. My grasp on “what these cars were” crept up on me gradually, a dreadful realization reluctantly seeping into consciousness. Even when I first acknowledged the notion, it remained just a hideous suspicion, but as the days, weeks, and even months passed, it was no longer possible to deny the awful reality that the owners of these cars had perished on 9/11. My last hold at deniability ended as R.I.P. messages appeared on them, painful messages of condolences etched out in the dust and dirt.

The cars’ conditions continued to deteriorate as more weeks passed, the caking of the muck on the cars thickened, and tires went flat, even so, the authorities did not tow them away. After about four months they let vehicles back into BPC, but the ghost cars remained unclaimed and unmoved. Worse, they stood out more than ever alongside the non-deserted cars. In the end, the only thing sadder than seeing these ghost cars every day was when the vehicles were finally towed away some eight months after 9/11. It’s strange how the finality of things can hit home through small events, but that first day I walked past the empty spaces where these cars had been parked was very difficult indeed. Life downtown was very grim sometimes.

The Downtown Two-Step.

Yet, as the days went by, life downtown was also improving. It was a slow yet fluid series of restored services, privileges, and improvements marking miles-tones, gradually making life a little better and hopeful. The recovery phase was often two steps forward, one step back, sometimes concurrently.

For example, for our first few months back, access to the Gateway complex was gained by walking around to the back of our building, down the esplanade, through a back building to the courtyard, and finally to my building. When this was changed, it was a cause for minor jubilation. We would once again be able to walk down our street to reclaim a valuable snippet of land back from the clutches of the disaster.

The catch is that those first few trips were heartbreaking as we filed past our old neighbors. The restaurants, dry cleaners, drugstores, etc. all were boarded up (with messages of vengeance spray-painted everywhere) and looking like they’d been closed for years and wouldn’t be open for years to come. Would these old retail neighbors, many proprietors whom I knew by name, ever be back? It was so dispiriting to see my immediate neighborhood looking so forlorn and deserted.

Moving On Up – To the East Side

Another ripple effect from the opening of my block is that it permitted moving access to my apartment complex for the first time since September 11th. Access had been granted for a few weeks at the other apartment complexes in Battery Park City, all of which were inundated with a constant and depressing flow of moving trucks, but that was a mere prequel for the big production developing at Gateway. A massive event tied into not only the size of my complex but also its right-next-door proximity to Ground Zero. All this pent-up demand resulted in the most surreal scene one could imagine. The convoys of trucks resulted in the complete gridlock of the immediate neighborhood.

I felt bad for those trying to move under these most trying conditions, especially since many of those leaving were the ones most traumatized by 9/11. Any move can be stressful, but this was extraordinary. Take your most stressful move, factor in 9/11, then add the caveat of pitting yourself in the battle for control of elevators with dozens of other stressed-out tenants for the honor of moving your asbestos-contaminated (verdict is still out-I, don’t believe it) possessions raises the bar on stressful moves more than just a little. And these were the lucky ones who had movers aggressive enough to have maneuvered their truck within a reasonable radius of the apartment complex. Others would be left to try again the next day.

I saw a lot of tears in the neighborhood that weekend. Adding insult to injury, for those remaining, were the flyers the movers distributed throughout the building once they had obtained access. Lots of potential customers to solicit, I guess. The atmosphere was that “of last one out…”

The Lunatic is in My Head.

Tracers? I mean really!
Embarrassing at best.
Opening evidence in my insanity hearing at worse.

Easily. the most true-to-form post-9/11 rule downtown is that as soon as you start to get back to life approaching normalcy, it’s time to get whacked on the back of your head again. Two months have passed since the earthquake, the bathtub is where I shower, and I’m sleeping just fine. “But just when you think you’re out, they drag you back.”

On a Saturday in mid-January, at about 4:00 a.m., I woke up with a start to the (louder than usual) roar of an approaching overhead fighter jet. [All of us in post 9/11 BPC have gotten used to fighter jets flying overhead day and night. They’re more than welcome for obvious reasons. In fact, on a satired “Top Ten Reasons” to stay in Battery Park City, number one was 24/7 fighter jet protection.]But this early morning, as I listened and waited for the jet to pass overhead, the sound grew and intensified like never before until it became impossibly loud. So loud that my building was shaking. I sprang out of bed, ran to my window, and saw that the horizon before me was filled with white tracer lights shooting through the air.

Holy shit! This can’t be happening! My eyes were fixated, wide-eyed open, unblinking. For a split second, I struggled to make sense of this impossible scene, but then with a literal blink of my eyes, poof, the anti-aircraft tracers disappeared! Huh! I rubbed my eyes, and still nothing but the early light of the breaking dawn. Oops, never mind, the vision was nothing more than morning sleepy-eyed white dot syndrome mixed in with a heaping dose of Looney Tunes. But the roar of the jet(s) was real and remained impossibly loud, and the items in my apartment were still rattling, probably pretty much in synch with my chattering teeth and knocking knees. The sound gradually dissipated, but it was still another 10 seconds before there was silence. I still saw nothing, but with the sonic show over, I didn’t know what else to do, so ludicrously, I went back to bed and fell asleep immediately, just as I did after the earthquake scare. How and why I keep going straight back to bed and achieving improbable immediate sleep after experiencing these acute stresses? My best guess is “delayed fainting.”

Later that morning, I got up, and turned on the news, just in time to hear a newswoman reporting that the Air Force wasn’t confirming or denying that any of their aircraft was flying over Manhattan the night before. Hell, we know they are flying over ten times daily; we don’t need confirmation on that. Why was last night so different? Why was the sound so thunderous and why did it last unexplainably for almost two minutes? (I still don’t fully understand the time aspect). What was happening last night? After a couple of days of public and media pressure, they finally admitted that two of their pilots, on their own initiative, gave Manhattan a one-two high-speed, low-attitude early morning fly-by buzz, a.k.a. “Top Gun” style. Hilarious guys, why don’t you fly off elsewhere and see if you can find a ski tram cable wire to cut through? Playing games with high-powered military jets makes no sense, but when the game involves purposely harassing the already amply traumatized residents of lower Manhattan, it raises the bar to a new level of ludicrous. It was my first flash of anger towards the authorities since Sept. 11th. I must be getting back to normal.

The weeks are flying pass rapidly now, one blending into the next, with downtown life steadily improving by degrees until recently when I was asked for the one-thousandth time how things were going downtown I was able to answer with my pat answer “fine”, but now with 60% sincerity.