(my) 9 11 01.
I never bothered to scan these. Haven’t looked at them except in passing, on the way to trying to find some other photos. and most of them I can’t find. It also seemed redundant — both to share them and for myself to reflect on them — since these grainy snapshots paled against the stark relief of visceral recollection.
But as that day recedes further into my own personal history and becomes even more fossilized into the mythology of the country’s, it seems apropos to try and resurrect my experience — as this day, before and beyond anything else, was composed of so many individual perspectives and experiences — before history co-opted it, expedited by the bait and switch shell game that became our foreign policy.
I had been barely asleep, a couple hours maybe, when my friend Adrian called me from England, and was barking about something on my answering machine, something about something hitting the trade center. Through the cobwebs of too little sleep, too much to drink, and too much arguing with my girlfriend, passed out beside me, I remember feeling annoyed. I remember thinking it was probably just a news copter or something (as though this wouldn’t be horrific and tragic enough).
I wrestled myself from the floor mattress and stumbled through my fairly shitty railroad loft on Bowery and 4th street to turn on the television. Sobriety came quick and I called out to my girlfriend to wake up and join me. We were probably going to split up that day. Either that or maybe we’d go one more round, one more week. but this day would put a crimp in our divorce and we wouldn’t split up for about another six weeks — which would segueway into the longest, loneliest, and most surreal winter i had known…and to my eventual departure from new york, where i had only been living for about a year when the planes hit.
It wouldn’t be long before (let’s call her) L., and I were arguing about whether to stay indoors or go to her apartment 12 blocks north on 3rd avenue where she had access to a roof deck from which we could get a better perspective. I was feebly documenting the activity just outside my apartment with my camera— where people bustled up from downtown, spilling out of my bodega across the street, waiting in line for water. I suppose i too wanted to see “it.” It felt bizarre — and would continue to be bizarre for the following days and nights — to see all the activity, to smell the burning which seeped through the a/c vent, to see trucks filled with refuse driving north past my building — but be watching it on television right by the same window, as though it were somehow happening in some fictional far off place. I too was curious but i also insisted we were under attack and probably running around the city wasn’t the best idea. Eventually, after the second tower fell, I acquiesced and we walked up bowery as it turned into 3rd ave, up to 16th, and up to her roof from where I had only just shot those ubiquitous monoliths months before and now shot the iconic thick mass of smoke that stood in their stead — that had been so photographed that my photos have never felt as though I had taken them, and so they have been dismissed, buried in a box.
I was supposed to fly that day. I had been offered a guest star on will and grace, just a day prior. Just another NY day before, guitar shopping with my friend Eric. I remember being ambivalent, annoyed even, by the offer probably because i didn’t want to fly to l.a., because i hate to fly. On the night of September 10th I had been begging my agent to make sure it was a big plane, a 767, because i couldn’t stand the confines and turbulence of smaller planes. I was annoyed. I didn’t feel like flying or doing a sitcom, but as always I felt I was in no position to turn anything down. And this was — supposed to be — a several episode arc on a popular tv show. There was no plan for me to leave in the morning, because the deal wasn’t yet closed; it was meant to close that day and i’d take a later flight. Of course I morbidly reflected on how I could have been on one of those planes, had the deal closed the night before. But that was wholly disingenuous and typically dramatic of me, since I would never have taken a flight that early.
I was worried about my friend, J.P., in the moments and hours after the planes hit. J.P. lived in the financial district and i could not reach him. He would later show up at the apartment and nonchalantly, he’s not like me, tell us how he fled his apartment into that black hole of non-visibility so oft described, only to immediately discover two emergency workers emerging from the darkness. He took them back upstairs from whence he fled, and gave them water and let them wash-up. JP wouldn’t hear or know a thing about these guys for years, until one of them tracked him down and finally got to thank him. JP stayed with us at my apartment for a couple weeks. We shopped — hoarding food with the rest of the city — and cooked dinners for each other. And there was something nice about it. Especially after the acrimony that had infested my relationship with L., before the unspeakable global horror that, narcissistically, I couldn’t help but feel had been born directly from it.
The next day my agent in l.a.(who is no longer my agent) told me the will and grace deal closed and i’d be flying out just as soon as the FAA deemed it safe. “Uh…what the fuck are you talking about?” I said or wanted to say as i explained to the man in La La that i was watching and smelling the world trade center drive by my window as we speak, and, if he thought i had a problem flying before, imagine how i felt now. ”Force majeure, buddy,” I told him. He told me the deal was closed and that i’d be fine. “It’s never been safer to fly,” said the man 3,000 miles away and working in his office on 9/12/01.
After a couple of days L. and i decided to get out of town. She had a friend who lived in long island and I rented a car from a place that happened to be just around the corner. but i remember it was strange, something to do with the fact that we were below 14th st, one of the areas that they blocked traffic from i think, so i we had to walk past 14th to pick up the car from another garage. or something. I don’t know. It felt odd, sort of like relief, sort of like numbness in long island. Both of us felt we needed to get back. it felt — many would say this — like “we needed to be there.” So we came back after a couple days and each night a bunch of us would wonder around the east village like we were in some post-apocolyptic dream, trying to gain some perspective on what had happened. I felt U uttered it too early — that things weren’t as simple as they looked. It never is, why would this be? People don’t simply decide to commit an act of such focused and unfathomable horror out of the complete blue….but yeah, it felt too early to talk politics. but a couple of us did, in sort of hushed tones….as a bicycler would ride by, heading south, towards the scene, his camera dangling round his neck, a respirator around his face — a sic-fi image that grew as commonplace as a hipster’s facial hair. We’d go to this bar, irish bar, downstairs, Scratchers. You could still smoke, we smoked a lot, and we’d talk and drink to all night and it was kind of desolate, not like before. . Those weeks seemed to define that bar for us. And though it had been and would continue to be our bar for years, it is remembered by a couple of pals and myself as our 9/11 bar.
About a week later, i think, I flew to l.a. — the first day they allowed air travel, because, after all, “the deal was closed.” It was the stone age of homeland security: “no box cutters….no nail clippers…” and general bullshit riffing to try and instill confidence in fliers. When i opened my bag in los angles i discovered i had accidentally smuggled nail clippers. My confidence in the FAA wained. On the flight to L.A. the captain had us all introduce ourselves to the passengers next to us…but I — and the woman in front of me — were in single seats and neither one of us introduced ourselves. i just felt shy. and she probably thought i was a terrorist. What was the captain trying to achieve? Was he hoping we would bond in case we needed to take down a group of hijackers? Was he tactfully trying to get us to profile our seat mates? Or was he simply saying, love your neighbor? Either way, the last thing he said before we took off was “We’re all in this together.” “Oh fuck,” i thought, “that just sounds ominous.”
Being in L.A. felt wronger than being in long island. Being on will and grace felt wronger than both. (Ultimately the guest star would prove not to be a several episode arc which made the trip feel all the more frivolous.) This week the studios were convinced al qaeda’s next target would be their various lots. I fell a bit for this egoism since my own dictated that wherever i was, bad things were destined to happen. (i had just gotten off my motorcycle when the ‘94 riverside quake hit and sent transformers lighting up the sky above me, i had been in london when princess diana was killed — though strictly speaking, that happened in france….etc..)
L.A.. just didn’t get it and I felt a sort of queasy gladness that I had been in ny when it happened. It made something that felt like history even as as it was occurring — something that might otherwise feel abstract and other — like something that did happen and happened down the street.
And perhaps i could feel just a bit of its incalculable weight, if never fully comprehend it.