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Didn’t go into work today. Everybody’s too shaken up, not really jittery, but stunned, numb and in a daze. Still can’t believe that the Twin Towers don’t exist anymore. Got up late and went out with Elizabeth to get the papers and eat breakfast.
Getting the paper was not as easy as it sounds. The first five stores and newspaper stands had nothing. The sixth one had the Post, which we bought, but they hadn’t received deliveries of anything else yet. We walked up to 86th Street, checking more places along the way for the Times and the Daily News. The city was still pretty much shut down, and I guess there were no drivers available to take the papers to the stores.
We walked over to Gracie Mansion, the Mayor’s house, where two dumptrucks with huge wheels stood filled with sand. They blocked East End, presumably against truck-bomb attacks. We walked past them and their camouflaged guards, and sat by the East River. Normally, the skies would be filled with planes taking off from LaGuardia and Kennedy. Instead, the sky was empty and silent aside from a fighter jet that periodically tore through the air.
It was another bright, sunny, warm day, and we enjoyed our weekday off as much as we could under the circumstances, which is to say not very much. We flipped through the Post and absorbed the depressing pictures from the day before. When we had our fill, we got up and started walking downtown, towards home.
My friend Mark called on our way back, and we decided to meet for breakfast at a diner on 79th and First. Elizabeth and I arrived before Mark, and as we waited, a New York Times delivery truck was unloading a few bundles at a newspaper stand on the corner. I wanted a paper but decided to wait until we secured a table.
When Mark arrived, the three of us took a booth by the window and immediately ordered coffee. As we waited for it to arrive, I took the opportunity to go out and fetch the Times. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one in search of a paper; the line was halfway down the block towards York Avenue. I balked and decided to come back later.
I came back inside, sat down, and sipped the steaming coffee. Mark grabbed the Post and looked through it for a while as we traded various stories we’d heard about the day before.
There was the story of the couple who held hands and jumped from one of the towers as the flames pushed them to the window.
Or the story of a trader who put a colleague from Cantor Fitzgerald on hold as another call arrived, only to find silence when he returned to the original call.
We’d heard about the Fire Department Chaplain who was administering last rites to a fallen fireman. The Chaplain was killed, crushed by the falling body of someone who had jumped from the towers.
The wife of a friend reported being on the treadmill at a health club. A woman next to her was on the cell phone with her husband as the TVs above showed smoke spewing from the towers; her husband was stuck in one of those towers. She heard him scream, and she looked up to the TV to see the first tower collapsing. The call went dead.
After each story, we sat in silence, looking down, or out the window, slowly sipping our coffee, but not looking at each other. It was as if each story needed its own little period of mourning, and out of respect for this need, we didn’t disturb each other with eye contact or talk.
After a while, we couldn’t talk about it anymore. I don’t even remember what we did talk about, because the memory of the events of the day before overshadowed everything else. All I remember was going back out to the newspaper stand midway through breakfast, only to find that they had sold out of the Times.
Elizabeth and I went back to my apartment and spent a few hours sitting limp in front the TV, flipping from news station to news station. Different stories, different camera angles, and different opinions were thrown at us. We had no motivation to do anything other than sit and stare. At some point, I went outside to throw out some garbage. The wind must have shifted, blowing the smoke from the fires at the World Trade Center uptown.
It was a metallic, oily, sulphuric smell mixed with the odor of burning plastic. With each inhalation, my nose and throat stung, and in the thirty seconds or so that I was outside, I became nauseous. Back inside, I noticed I was developing a splitting headache. I could only imagine how bad it was for the people working down at Ground Zero.
Sitting around being passive for so long began to make Elizabeth restless, and she wanted to go back to her apartment. When I walked her to the 79th Street crosstown bus, we both took socks and held them to our faces, covering our noses and mouths so we wouldn’t have to breathe in the foul air.
When I climbed into bed that night, my throat was still sore.