It’s been 13 years since the fateful day of September 11th went down. Last year I ran the story about that day that I wrote for my book, The Boy Who Would Be A Fire Truck and I thought I’d put it up again this year. And yes, I’m using a tragic anniversary to plug my book. What’s more American than that? Anyway, here’s my story and remembrance of being in New York City on September 11th, 2001.
The Weird Day When The Sky Went Brown
I’ve seen the sky in many colors, various shades of blue, gray, black, purple, but up to that day, I had never seen the sky the color of brown. It kind of made me feel sick in a weird, Twilight-Zone-William-Shatner-see-a-monster-on-the-airplane’s-wing kind of way. And it was a grotesque brown color; it looked like Satan had vomited a stomach full of Yoo-Hoo all over the Manhattan skyline. After a couple of minutes of staring at this stomach-turning mess of a sky, I turned around and looked uptown and the sky was blue. Then I turned back around, looked downtown and the sky was still brown.
It was really weird. Like some kind of a whacked-out nursery rhyme: Downtown brown / uptown blue / knick knack paddywhack / give the dog some glue.
September 11th, 2001 started weird and just got weirder and more sickening as the minutes turned into hours and the brown day careened into a purple-black depressing night. The day had started for me with a strange series of clicks emanating from my phone.
I work nights so I have a schedule that’s opposite of most people. I keep Elvis hours, I sleep in the day and wake up in the afternoon so I always keep the ringer on my phone off and turn the volume on my phone answering machine all the way down. So while I never hear the phone ring or the messages people leave, you can hear a click when someone calls. On this day, just as I was falling off to dreamland, I heard my first click.
Weird, I thought, I wonder who’s calling me at this hour? Then I started to drift off to slumberland once again.
Then another click.
And another. Another one. Anotheranotheranotheranotheranotheranother. Click. Click. Clickclickclickclickclick. Click. Clickityclickclickclick. Clickclickclickclickclick. Clickclick. Clickclickclickityclickclickclickclick. Clickclickclick. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK.
This went on for a while. I’d just about be asleep and then another series of clicks would rattle off like a hyperactive machine gun spraying wake up dust all over my kingdom of sleep. Finally, even though I was dreary-eyed tired, I got up, scaled down the ladder attached to my loft bed, and stumbled over to the phone answering machine. The little red light on the gray and silver rectangular machine was blinking in a hyperactive fashion. It was about 1:30 in the afternoon.
“Who the fuck is calling me?” I said to myself as I turned the volume up on the answering machine and hit the “play” button.
Now this is where the weirdness really kicks in to a nerve-rattling gear. I’ve never had so many messages on my phone machine in my life and I didn’t understand a single one of them.
BEEEEP—Hey, Marty, this is Tom, just calling to make sure you’re okay, call me when you get a chance—BEEEEP.
Tom is my older brother, who lives in New Jersey.
“Why in the fuck is he calling to see if I’m okay at this hour?” I wondered.
Then—BEEEEP—Dude, it’s Alex, I rode my bike over the Brooklyn Bridge. I saw the people jumping out of the buildings, call me when you can. I’m drinking already—BEEEEP.
Huh? Alex is one of my best friends, who used to live in Brooklyn.
“People jumping out of buildings?” I thought to myself. I was starting to feel like you do when you've smoked too much pot and start jumping out of your skin as paranoia strikes deep. And with every message, I was feeling more and more creeped out.
There were messages from everybody in my family, almost everybody I know in New York, and messages from old friends from my hometown of Peoria, Illinois. And they all were pretty much the same: “Are you okay?...call when you get a chance...are you all right?...we want to make sure you’re okay...”
Nobody said what had happened. Everybody sounded weird and more than one person was crying. I was starting to imagine apocalypse. Now.
Finally, after I listened to all of them, I looked at my window and wondered what in the fucking hell was lurking out there. I keep black construction paper taped over the two small windows in my apartment to keep the sunlight out (Elvis hours and all) and for a couple of sickening minutes I just stared at my black windows and trying to imagine the horror that was happening on the other side. Finally I walked over to the door that leads to the roof overhang and slowly and carefully opened it up and poked my head out like a turtle coming out of his shell. When I looked outside, I was shocked.
Everything looked normal.
I looked outside and nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Sure, I heard some sirens, but that’s standard operating procedure for New York City. The sun was shining brightly, the sky was bright blue and was dotted with white fluffy clouds. A bird flew overhead and a warm breeze hit my face. Maybe Hell wasn't hiccuping after all.
Then I shut the door and turned on the TV.
I can’t remember which station it was, but I remember looking at the screen, seeing planes flying into buildings and people with horrific zombie-like faces running away in big crowds from giant dust clouds. My jaw dropped and I grabbed my stomach. It kind of looked like New York and I instinctively and quickly turned the channel, somehow hoping that would make these atrocious scenes go away.
After I watched the TV and figured out what happened I went outside to the street, looked downtown and saw the brown sky. I should’ve walked away from it, but I wasn’t thinking clearly and started to walk towards it. Throngs of people were walking like zombies towards the brown sky. Before I knew it, I had joined this silent, lemming-like parade.
Regular traffic was shut off after 14th Street, so it got increasingly surreal the closer I got. No cars except cop cars, army helicopters were buzzing overhead, there was a strange brown sky looming overhead, people were walking willy-nilly in every direction, everybody with a dazed "how-could-this-happen?" look plastered on their puss. Some people were openly weeping.
Army men with guns dotted every street. Cops were all over the place. TV cameras and the talking heads from all of the news channels were blithering and blathering on every other corner. It was chaos. I got pretty close and then decided I really didn't want to be down there anymore. What I wanted was a beer, so I turned around and started walking towards the blue side of the city. It probably wasn’t normal anymore either, but it had to beat the brown side of town.
I wandered to many bars that afternoon and evening. The atmosphere in the bars was weird. They were all filled with people drinking in almost total silence while staring obsessively at CNN on the television sets. I finished the night off at a bar called the Stoned Crow in Greenwich Village drinking beer after silent beer while watching as CNN endlessly replayed the tape of the planes flying into the buildings. Finally I couldn't watch it anymore and decided to go back to my apartment.
On my way home, I bought a six-pack of beer from a Korean deli on Sixth Avenue. The little fiftysomething Korean man behind the counter took my money and put the beer in a brown paper bag. I had bought beer from this guy many times before and usually he was a pretty grumpy character. This night though, after he gave me my change, he touched my arm as I grabbed the bag and said, “You be safe, okay?”
I looked at him and nodded, I couldn't talk because I felt like I was going to start crying. I remember wondering if I was going nuts.
When I got back to my studio apartment on 16th Street, I opened a can of beer and looked at the round plastic clock hanging on my wall. It was 12:24AM. The day was officially over. I felt a small speck of relief washing over me. I took a long gulp from the 16-ounce can of Budweiser and thought to myself: “Jesus, what a weird fucking day.”
Insanity laughs under pressure we're cracking,
Can't we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can't we give love that one more chance?
'Cause love's such an old fashioned word,
And love dares you to care for,
The people on the edge of the night,
And love dares you to change our way of,
Caring about ourselves,
This is our last dance.
This is our last dance.
This is ourselves...
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