Thursday, September 11, 2003

I am a New Yorker by birth and I lived there full time until I left for college in Boston. At that point I became fairly typical, falling in love with this amazing city, and I decided to make my life here. But I am still a New Yorker if you scratch my skin even very lightly; there is a kind of bond or brotherhood among those of us who were born and raised there that links us to "The City" forever. So as today approached, I promised myself I would go easy on the 9/11 documentaries and events just to stave off as much stress as possible since I can still replay all those images on the back of my eyelids without assistance of media.

But, of course, I was drawn to them inevitably. PBS ran Rick Burns' lates chapter in his history of the City, a three hour, mesmerizing and quite beautiful history of the Twin Towers from their troubled, politically poisonous gestation to the aftermath of their fall. For more on this documentary, go to . International politics are not the point of Burns' treatment, being mentioned only as is necessary to set up what happened. The focus is on the City and its people. I couldn't leave it. There is the horror and the compassion; the instant transformation of Rudolph Giuliani from hated, almost fascistic strongman of New York to Saint Rudy who attended every funeral, put his arms around children and embraced all New york in the process. This, by the way, is also the Rudy Giuliani who, astonishingly, moved in with good friends, a gay couple for the duration of the crisis and who said yesterday on one of the early morning news shows that Father Mykul Judge, the out gay Catholic priest, had been his personal confessor and dear friend whom he had consulted for the last time just ten minutes before Mykul died in the fall of the first tower.

Then this morning I put the radio on in the car on the way up to work and broke down as the names of the dead were being read at Ground Zero by children of the victims. What pushed me over the edge was the girl who had been reading with poise and dignity who ended her group of names with " . . . and my father, Kevin . . ."

In 2001 I got down to the City the moment they would let cars in again. The streets were empty, essentially. Lots of buildings like power stations and other high risk facilities were locked down. But the fire stations were mobbed. They looked like Spanish churches during Holy Week, with huge blow up photos of their dead mounted on the facades, surrounded by written tributes and letters of condolence taped up to every surface. Outside the Lincoln Center Station on Amsterdam Avenue were tables set up along the sidewalk piled high with sympathy cards, baked goods, lit candles and flowers. A long strip of heavy paper like a photographer's seamless portrait backing was filled with messaages and signatures from hundreds of students and faculty at the Julliard School of Music. There was no fire truck in the station any more. Somewhere trapped in the wreckage, surely. The line waiting to get to the open garage doors to speak with the surviving fire fighters were dropping off checks, offering whatever consolation they could. Some couldn't speak, they just offered their gift, threw their arms around a fireman and hugged for a moment before moving on. It was New York at its very finest. God love them.

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