Saturday, October 27, 2001

On the list of nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine reasons I should never be in charge of doling out money to people in need … is the simple fact that I seem to take …

EVERYTHING SO %$#@^&* PERSONALLY!

AAAAK!

On the heels of having had such a positive experience, interviewing victims for “Safe Horizon” last week, I was feeling rather cocky when I went back the other night.

Yes, yes, yes, here I am the guardian of the good, I told myself, chest
puffed out even more than usual and lemme tell you, this chest does not need to call any further attention to itself.

Sheesh! Did all you guys (and girls) stop breastfeeding too early?

Anyway, I picked up Kathleen, my leatherette Buddhist bathroom designer pal, and we went back for another night of volunteering on Pier 94.

We were given new guidelines immediately; the well had run dry for all the car service drivers. Evidently, someone at United Way woke and
said, “Hey those guys still have jobs! We can’t give them a thousand bucks just because they lost their WTC fares!”

A good point, I suppose since there are more than enough jobless, homeless folks who could sure use that thousand bucks.

Plus I was getting tired of looking at a waiting room full of Middle Eastern guys who talked constantly on their cell phones and wore more gold around their necks than I will ever own.

(Note to PC monitor) Hey! I’m not generalizing! That’s what I saw!

So with pen and guidelines in hand I went up to the waiting room desk for my first ummm client. A rather sizable guy with an overstuffed briefcase, bursting at the hinges took my hand.

“The internet company I worked at closed cause of the WTC and then promptly relocated to Florida. I can’t get a hold of them, get paid nothing.”

“Okayyyyyyy. How much was your weekly pay?”

Seventy-five dollars an hour. I usually made fifteen hundred bucks a week.”

Shit! I thought to myself. This guy was making some bucks.

As it turned out, he could neither prove his income nor that he even worked at a downtown company. He had an unsigned letter, no pay stubs and when I called what was supposed to be the company in Florida I got someone’s personal answering machine.

I set him up as “file pending” and sent him home empty-handed.

“Hey at least the food is free! Why not grab some dinner and come back tomorrow with signed papers! “ I called out to him as he trudged away, utterly dejected.

That was pretty much the way my night went.

Jobless victims with not even the smallest amount of proof of their predicaments.

“I’ll set you up as pending … pending … pending …” was my mantra.

By the time I got to my worst case, I was ready to commit suicide with a sharp No. 2 pencil right there at my interview table.

She was an older woman, perhaps early 50s, with tight little dreadlocks and sad eyes. She started crying as soon as we sat down.

“I have no money. My son is out of work. We are getting evicted. No one will help me.”

“Did you lose a job below Canal Street?”

“No.”

“Did your son?”

“No.”

“Did you live down there?”

“No.”

“Did you lose a loved one down there?”

“No.”

Sigh.

There was nothing I could do for her.

So what did I do?

Natch.

I asked for her home address and told her I would send her a check toward her rent from my personal banking account.

She thanked me (and seemed rather unsurprised, all things considered), and I sent her off for her free dinner.

“Do you think she was conning me?” I asked Kathleen over our volunteer meal of mashed potatoes, tortellini and salad on Styrofoam plates.

“Maybe, but Buddhism teaches you that anytime someone asks you for money, it’s like God asked you.”

Sigh.

I really can’t do this anymore.

I’m much better at flipping burgers.

The mashed potatoes were good though.

Monday, October 22, 2001

So am I am the only one who watched the 50-hour long “Concert for New York” on VHI and cried through 51 hours and fifteen minutes of it?

Sheesh! Even The Who made me cry, although that might have something to do with how old those guys got while I wasn’t looking. Man. Roger Daltry’s got those hanging grandfather ears that dust the tops of his shoulders. Pete Townsend looks like Sean Connery’s older brother. But WTF. The boys can still rock!

Seemed like the only one of the classic rockers that hadn’t shown any signs of slowing down was Mick Jagger, natch. He’s the same ol’ wily, manic pogo stick he always was, skipping from one end of the stage to the other.

Tell me the truth girls. Don’tcha just hate a man who weighs less than you do?

Anyway, all the boys were there, as you probably know, and they all rocked on with nary a tech problem or hitch that I could see, anyway.

But then my homophobe alarm started going off when Melissa Etheridge took the stage. One second into her first song, her mike went dead, so she had to keep banging on her guitar, till they got her a new mike, then someone squashed a fireman’s hat on her head, so she couldn’t see. And when she started into song number two, she had to switch guitars because the first one had been tuned by Helen Keller.

But Melissa kicked ass, as usual and even made me like Bruce Springsteen for a moment by cranking out “Born to Run.”

Always hated The Boss. It’s a Jersey thing. No offense to all you Jerseyans. It’s just that I hated living there so much as a teen that I built up a natural dislike for Bon Jovi, Springsteen, The Asbury Jukes … Michelob Light … anything that reeked of Exit 11.

But I digress.

As I said, I cried myself silly. I cried that The Who got back together for this. I cried at every camera close up of someone holding a photo of one of the heroes killed in the WTC. I cried at the shots of the New York skyline with the towers still there. I cried because I just hate The Backstreet Boys so much.

My inner ’70s rock babe was getting down, big time, but my outer New Yorker was having her intestines wrapped around her heart.

Damn! It was touching.

My fave moment of the whole night; the tough guy firefighter from Rockaway who upstages Michael J. Fox and tells Osama bin Laden to “kiss my royal Irish-American Ass!”

You gotta love a moment when a no-name bruiser from the boroughs can cause the crowd to ask “Michael J. who?”

I was also partial to the Woody Allen short film that ends with Bebe Neuwirth (oh you know that actress who played Frazier’s wife) talking on her cell phone saying things are so strange ... she heard Al Sharpton and Giuliani are getting a house together on Fire Island.

Ahahahhahahahha.

By the way, did anyone notice that all the firefighters booed when they brought out their fire chief for intro? Or was that just the sound system sending a wailing, steady, bass OOOOOOOOOOOOOO?!

I loved it all, dearies, even John Cougar Mellencamp, who sets off my Jersey alarm, too, even if he’s from Indiana.

It was a great night to be a New Yorker, and everyone was a New Yorker last night, well at least everyone in Madison Square Garden or in any home that got cable.

I fell asleep as Paul McCartney capped the show with “Yesterday” and “Let it be,” which suddenly sounded as though they’d been written for the occasion.

I never liked the Beatles, either, and there’s nothing New Jersey about them,(’cept maybe the hair). I just hate boy groups.

But man ... last night, I felt like McCartney was some kinda prophet!

“Yesterday ... all my troubles seemed so far away. Now I need a place to hide away. Oh I believe in yesterday.”

So do I, Paul. So do I.

“When I find myself in times of trouble....[insert Jewish equivalent of Mother Mary] comes to me ...speaking words of wisdom ... let it be ...”

AAAKKK!

I gotta go buy more tissues. …

Friday, October 19, 2001

It was my chic downstairs neighbor Kathleen who helped me discover that there was a way I could stay involved in the WTC tragedy and actually remain above Canal Street.

Being the hardcore type of gal that I am, I've felt all along that the only way I could help was by getting within a couple hundred feet of the towers. Like the sheer amount of dust I inhaled would deem me worthy in same way.

Hey, I never said I was fully screwed in.

Anyway a friend of Kathleen's was heading up an organization called Safe Horizon that was giving financial aid to WTC victims. Kath got us signed up for a night shift.

Safe Horizon is sponsored by United Way and the September 11th Fund. It's a huge operation nestled into Pier 94, the one-stop-shopping oasis for the bereaved, jobless and homeless victims of the WTC collapse.

The giant structure on the pier, normally used for fashion shows and other large-scale functions has been divided into countless booths and tables, where representatives from the many agencies offering help to WTC victims sit waiting to cut through the red tape and offer food vouchers, money and counseling, pronto.

To see this place is awe-inspiring. There are family help centers, mental health support units, free food cafeterias, give-away items, and everyone from the armed guards to the Red Cross water girls seems to keep smiling.

After Kathleen and I went through three security checkpoints, we were given temporary passes and sent to Safe Horizon for training.

We sat through a 45-minute talk that explained the process of interviewing victims for financial compensation.

For those who lost jobs below Canal Street, we would look for pay stubs, work ID and possibly a note from an employer. We would then present the person's case to an approver who would hopefully give it a thumbs-up, and we'd be able to tell our client that in about an hour, they'd have a check for two weeks' net pay.

For the homeless, we would look for a lease, mortgage statement, driver's license -- whatever they had that would prove they lived in an area that had been deemed unfit. Then we were authorized to reimburse them something toward their hotel bills, clothing bills or rent.

For family members of the missing, we would try to just help them out on whatever bills they brought with them.

Mostly we were told that we'd been running back and forth to the approvers asking questions a lot.

We did.

We were all asked to sign a confidentiality form, which is why I won't mention anyone's name here. Not that I would want to.

My first, shall I say, client, was a driver.

The bulk of the victims turning up in recent days have been drivers from car services who lost a lot of their business in the WTC disaster. Once the word got out that we could offer them up to a thousand bucks, a whole lotta drivers started coming down.

It's a lengthy process for compensation. You have to sign up for an interview, wait about a week for the interview, then wait several hours before your name is called.

But it's worth it. I hope.

The man was young and Middle Eastern, very polite and very nervous. He came prepared with vouchers and pay stubs that proved he had at least 10 drop-offs in the WTC area in one average work week. I was able to match the account numbers on his pay stubs to WTC-area companies, which proved very quickly that, in fact, a noticeable chunk of his weekly pay was now missing.

I took him over to our notary, had his signature notarized and then presented his case to the approver, who stamped an OK for one thousand bucks.

"Why not go have a coffee and a snack for a bit, or walk around? You'll be getting a check in about an hour."

"Thank you!!!!" he said, ecstatic.

What a nice way to start things off, I thought to myself as I walked to reception to pick up my next client.

Naturally, things changed.

We had been told in advance that some victims might be in a bad state emotionally, and that if we were worried, we should offer to escort them to a Red Cross counselor.

I was worried about this young woman from the second she shook my hand. It felt as though she were about to implode.

She'd been working at the Century 21 that you have probably seen on the news. The one right there at the WTC that looked so eerie, rows of new clothes covered in thick, gray dust. She'd watched people jump from the building, lost her job (at least until her employer is able to transfer her), and probably knew plenty of people who were now missing.

She didn't have much documentation. I was able to piece together what she did have, and she was approved for two weeks' pay, plus a hundred bucks toward the three pairs of shoes she'd lost in the wreckage.

After I gave her the good news, she let me walk her to the other side of the pier to the Red Cross station.

She seemed weak, and I couldn't keep myself from placing my arm around her shoulders as we walked.

"You take care of yourself," I said taking her hand.

"Thank you so much!" she said, still shaking.

It was very hard not to cry.

My last client of the night was a young man who had been forced out of his home and was still not allowed back in. An armed guard had escorted him up the 22 flights to his apartment for one chance to get out what items he could. He'd dragged what her referred to as "200 pounds of crap" down 22 flights.

Since then, he and his fiancée had been living in a hotel.

His cell phone bill alone was 900 dollars.

This was a tough case, as he didn't have any receipts, anything really except his driver's license that clearly stated he lived in one of the "unfit" zones.

Ultimately I was able to get a verbal confirmation from the assistant manager at his hotel and, between that and his driver's license, we were able to approve him for $1,500 worth of assistance toward his many bills from being displaced.

It wasn't much, I suppose, but it was something.

"If you're still homeless in two weeks, you can come back and try for another check," I said, shaking his hand.

"At this rate … they won't even tell us if we'll ever be able to move back in."

"Take it easy," I said. He laughed and walked away, scratching his head.

I never seem to know the right thing to say.

"How was your first night?" I asked Kathleen on the way home.

"Not bad, really … but I'm ready for a drink now."

"… And some food!" I screamed, feeling half-starved.

We grabbed a cab on the highway and headed off in search of this thing called "decent Japanese food in Manhattan."

There wasn't any dust on my boots when I got home that night, but I felt as though we'd returned from the trenches all the same.

It was a good feeling.

Monday, October 15, 2001

Back in the saddle again …

Never mind the fact that back in the saddle for moi, means catering four weddings in a row, up to 200 guests per wedding.

Let me tell you, that's a lot of baby carrots!!

Sheesh!

But it was good to get back to work.

Good to focus on stirring the sauce instead of just how many news folks caught anthrax today.

The first wedding was the roughest, because somehow, after September 11th, making chicken stock just doesn't feel that important anymore.

Then, there were all the small parts of my caterer's work day that have been changed because of the WTC.

Deliveries, take an extra hour or two or three or even (AAAK) four to get through because of the security checks for commercial vans.

But I'm not complaining. I'd much prefer to have my salmon show up three hours late than let another terrorist attack Manhattan.

There there's the little matter of so many businesses abruptly closing.

The day before my first hell weekend, the owner of the company that supplies my pastries called. She spoke in an eerily calm voice: "Due to the loss of our … um … downtown business, we are going out of business … today."

There's nothing like finding and buying 240 pastries on 24 hours' notice to get a girl's blood moving.

But, WTF. Even buying retail doesn't faze me after September 11th.

Nothing does.

So I did what I could to keep my spirits up while helping some lovely couples try to find a way to take a break from death and celebrate life.

I wore an American flag wrapped around my head, which had a twofold effect: It showed my patriotism, and it kept my crazy head of blonde mishegash out of the vegetable curry.

We were all glad to be back at work, back together, this dysfunctional fun-loving group of freaks that make up my catering family.

José is out of work now. His restaurant in Federal Plaza was not be able to recuperate from being shut down for so long. But he was in high spirits all the same. Unemployment and an amazing joie de vivre kept him joking.

"Welllllll, helloooo darlings," he said walking into the party location. "Have you all missed me terribly?!"

"Yes, mamasita!!!" we all replied.

The weddings went fine, natch, all four of them, although there was the little matter of the groom from the first wedding crashing the cocktail hour for the second wedding, the bridesmaids from the second wedding trying to steal my hors d'oeuvre tray flowers, the brother of the groom from the third wedding demanding to be fed three hours before the reception began and the synagogue for the fourth wedding neglecting to mention that they didn't have air conditioning … or, evidentially, an exterminator.

Oyyy!

But for me, it all came together last night. The two brides, (yes, two brides, dearies) were so madly in love that no one in their combined families of very straight Jews and Italians from the outer boroughs could do anything but kvel.

"Kiss her again!" screamed the big-haired aunt from Long Island, and the brides were only to happy to oblige.

I cater a lot of weddings, but rarely see a couple so in love that it's out and out contagious. Even the Equadorean janitor hiding in the sanitation room with a mug of scotch looked touched.

I wound up getting teary-eyed with Carolyn in the kitchen.

"I'll never have that … " she whined while washing the strawberries.

"I want that! I want that!" I bellowed, taking my sorrow out on a very moist eclair.

Oh well. Sugar's almost as good as lov,e isn't it?

Then I hear Bride A announce to the cheering crowd, "Can you join me in thanking a very special person who made this all possible?"

Hmmm. Wonder who that is?

"Rossi, can you come out here please?"

And I am called out, blushing red from head to sauce-covered toe while the guests join the happy brides in a hearty round of applause.

Sigh.

Maybe there's hope for us all yet.

There are certainly enough sweet potatoes.

Thursday, October 11, 2001

I went up on the roof deck yesterday.

How the sound of those words used to thrill me. … "Why not come over and have some wine on the roof deck?"

This is the very first place I ever lived in New York that had access to the great outdoors. (This means access to open air, not nature, although there are two trees that I can see in the back.)

I've been living in NYC for 20 years now. YES, 20 Years!! Oddly, I only just realized this. I've been saying 17 years for about three years now.

Odder still, September 11th would have been something close to my 20-year anniversary. I moved here sometime around late August or early September of 1981.

This was during New York's high-crime era. My present neighborhood, Alphabet City, was nothing but a sea of heroin needles, Polish immigrants, homeless people and dealers.

My first two apartments in New York were in a Chasidic neighborhood in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, during the height of Crown Height's racial tensions.

You could say I pretty much moved to New York during one of its worst times and promptly moved to one of its rougher neighborhoods.

I was broken in quickly.

I grew up on the Jersey Shore, only an hour and 15 minutes away, but it might as well have been 500 miles away. I was practically run out of town on a rail the day I highlighted my hair in pink.

However much Jersey has progressed since then, it wasn't exactly the hippest place in the universe in 1980.

I was born to be a New Yorker.

Since the murder of The World Trade Center, a lot of folks seem to be talking about what exactly makes a New Yorker. I think that's pretty easy to figure out. The New Yorkers are the ones screaming "Get out of my town, you %$#&%% terrorist bastards!" or "You think that's enough to make me leave Manhattan! $#@!! I've got rent control!!!"

Well, that's not quite fair, actually, because most of the real New Yorkers I know can't afford the rents here anymore, so they're spreading out into Jersey City, Westchester, wherever is commutable. But make no mistake about it; they're still New Yorkers.

You can pick them out in the check-out line at the supermarket. They're the ones drumming their fingers on the magazine rack and chanting. "Just how long is this gonna take … ladyyyyy!"

From my early days, here, I saw a lot of people come and go. My roommate, Davy, ran home screaming after he was mugged. Another roommate of mine high-tailed it back to the Midwest after watching the news too many nights in a row.

As I said, this was the high-crime era of NYC.

If you made it here for three years and still liked New York, you were a New Yorker, and nowhere else in the world would ever do again.

I think of New York as a drug of some kind. Once you get hooked, you're hooked for life. You can move away, but you'll always be known as the New Yorker.

Once I moved to Provincetown, Mass. For six months. I loved it. I still do. Six months was great! A year would be fine, too. A year is probably a perfect amount of time to spend in a town dedicated to sex, booze, beach and partying in the spring and summer, art, writing, reading, all sorts of culture in the fall and total unending depression in the dead of winter.

I fell in love with the town, but there wasn't a single day that I ever felt like a townie. I was always the New Yorker in P-town. Wearing black in July might have given me away. Even my bikini was dark blue.

I don't know why we New Yorkers have such a disdain for wearing anything that isn't black, white, gray, blue, smoke, teal or dark green, but we do.

There's a reason New Yorkers wear sunglasses in Miami … at night.

For the past 20 years, I haven't thought much about being a New Yorker. My friends and family say I am what they'd call "the quintessential New Yorker," or some say "the most New York, New Yorker they know." I guess the fact that I always take this as a huge compliment means it might be true, or perhaps it's the fact that I wish they'd just get to the point already.

Since September 11th, I feel as though New Yorkers have been baptized.

We've been baptized by fire.

I went up on the roof deck yesterday. This used to be one of my favorite places in the world. The World Trade Center on the south end of my roof, the Empire State Building on the north. I felt perfectly perfect in their valley.

I don't last long on the roof anymore, hardly ever come up now. I walk my big, fat, black cat on the roof. He's a tad, well, challenged, so I keep him on a leash and walk him, else he might take a nosedive off my charming old brick building.

Everything's fine until I look up. Then I see it; the carved out place in the horizon that used to be the WTC.

Then the slide-projector in my head starts up again, and I see the first tower implode. I hear my neighbors screaming. The goose bumps crawl over my arms and legs just like they did that day. I usually start to cry.

I've haven't been able to erase the feeling of watching thousands of heartbeats end.

I doubt I ever will.

I fight the urge every day, to close my business and go back down there and beg to dig in the rubble with the clean-up crews. But I know I'd only get in the way.

Besides … going out of business is no way to help New York.

I love the common roof deck of my little 10-unit building. It's on my list of the things I always dreamed of having one day in NYC: a roof deck, a terrace, a fireplace and front steps to sit on. Oh, a front stoop; that would be like a dream come true.

Life is strange.

I might even leave New York one day, (when I'm very, very, very, very tired) in search of open space, green (dark green) things around me and the chance to live somewhere in my old age that's larger than 700 Square feet … or I might just move to the Upper West Side.

Hey that's right next to Central Park!! Practically rural!!

Tuesday, October 09, 2001


Strange things are happening

It was Debbie’s birthday, a fact that I suspect she felt conflicted about, given all the sadness in the world and especially in New York City these days.

So conflicted that it wasn’t until the afternoon of her birthday that she decided it would be all right for her to call up some friends.

She had taken hearing Sixteen Candles on the radio that morning as a sign that the universe wouldn’t mind her accepting a bit of joy.

"Can you meet at The Hudson for a drink? … It’s … um … my birthday," she said, a bit embarrassed.

What an emotional minefield this time has become. You can rack yourself with guilt for wanting the simple pleasure of a cocktail with friends, the faintest hint of a birthday celebration.

I was thrilled to meet up with her.

Like most of my friends, Debbie and I have not seen each other since the world ended.

The Hudson was trendy, crowded, smoky, laced with attitude and overpriced drinks, too fabulous, darling, and … well, you know all the things that Ian Schraeger hotels are supposed to be.

But it was fine.

Personally, I always appreciate a cocktail waitress with a neckline cut to her navel.

Three more of Debbie’s gang showed up -- Leanne the outspoken one, Suzy, the wild one, and Evonne, the quiet, complex one, whom I knew nothing about and still don’t. We sipped our drinks and swapped "Where were you when it happened?" stories for an hour or so.

Suzy had been two blocks away when the plane hit. As she climbed out of the subway that morning, she saw pieces of the WTC on the ground. She went to work on Wall Street thinking it would be much safer to be indoors, and watched, with the rest of her horrified the co-workers, as the sky turned black.

"It was like midnight, total blackness," she said with tears in her eyes.

Now Suzy’s boss has her sing songs about America for her co-workers. It’s good for morale.

After downing our spectacularly overpriced beverages, we left the den of fabulousness and walked a few blocks until we found a mellow little Italian restaurant with an incredibly hideous mural of clowns with huge, beaklike noses and muscular asses.

There’s nothing like a clown with a big nose and a tight ass, I always say.

We sipped pinot noir, ate our salmon and debated the politics of New York vs. the world.

Leanne was angry. She had clearly taken this attack as a personal assault. "This is my city. Look what they did to my city!!"

Debbie was quiet, content to let us all vent. She listened intently.

Debbie is an incredibly kind person.

We sang to her and she blew out the candle flickering from the chocolate mousse.

Then we left.

Suzy split off to go, hmm, uptown, I think, and Debbie, Leanne and I went on a long walk through midnight Manhattan.

We didn’t say it aloud, but we were taking back our city, sauntering, defying all the things that go bump in the night, from West 58th Street to 34th Street

We hit a police blockade and were told it was nothing to do with the disaster. Nowadays, you assume any police block is a bomb threat.

We walked a little farther and came upon a much larger police barricade. The whole street was taped off. Traffic was being diverted and a crowd was gathering.

"What’s happening?" Leanne asked the cops. We were scared. We thought, "What now?"

"The façade of the building is falling down," the cop said, pointing to the old three-level with the tacky bar on the first floor.

"So it’s nothing to do with terrorists?" we asked.

"Nah. Just an old building," he said.

We laughed out loud when we realized that we had all collectively said, "Oh, just a building coming down. It’s nothing."

How changed we are. … Just a normal shooting, just a regular fire, nothing to worry about.

We crossed the street so as not to be hit by any bits of building and found ourselves in front of a fire station with a memorial that encompassed its entire front and stretched halfway down the block.

Pictures of the 14 firefighters who had been killed from this station were mounted on the wall. Underneath was an avalanche of flowers, stuffed animals, letters and burning candles.

We stood there on the sidewalk in between the crumbling building and the mourning fire station for many minutes.

"Look one of them is Jewish," Leanne said trying to break our blue mood. "You never see Jewish firemen."

We kept walking. After a few more blocks, we passed a bronze sculpture parked on the sidewalk. It sat perched on a flat bed trailer. The sculpture must have been 10 feet high or more. It was simple and beautiful, a bronze firefighter bent over in prayer. His hand had been filled with rosary beads by passersby. There were flowers and candles all around him.

The prayer was in case he might not make it back.

He didn’t.

We kept walking. We walked through Times Square and reminisced on how much more we liked it when it was seedy and real. The new Disneyesque Times Square was both pretty and repulsive.

"At least Show World is still there!" Leanne said.

"Remember the peep shows?" Debbie asked.

We passed the Port Authority bus terminal and looked up at the huge American flag. Each star was a big as our heads.

Even at this hour, there were a dozen or so entrepreneurs peddling American flags, sweatshirts with American flags on them and my fave insignia. "New York, U.S.A."

"I’m a native New Yorker," Leanne said. "This city is in my blood. It’s like they attacked my farm."

"A lot of people say get out of town ..." Debbie chimed in, "but it’s just too weird being anywhere else."

"I feel ashamed to say this …" I said stopping for a moment to look at each of them, "but right now. ... I guess I feel a little superior to the rest of the world. Like New Yorkers are the best."

Leanne laughed. "We ... New Yorkers have always felt that way. Why should now be any different?"

We opted to take the subway even though it was after midnight because we wanted to be as embedded into this city, this night, as we could.

Debbie and I took the Q train.

It felt good to be underground. We were taking back our city, from above and below.

We parted company at Union Square. I kissed her good-bye and stepped out of the car.

Then I saw it.

A suitcase.

Sitting there, all alone.

There was no one around it.

No one near.

A piece of terror started to form inside my stomach.

I looked around for a cop.

There was no one.

I ran to the exit.

It was locked.

Suddenly I felt trapped inside the station … with the suitcase.

I had to go back, past the suitcase again, to the other exit.

I began to feel the need to run.

Then I saw them, three cops guarding a WTC memorial.

"Excuse me," I spoke, shaking slightly. "I just saw a suitcase down there by the downtown Q. There is no one with it. Just the case. Normally I wouldn’t panic, but with things the way they are …"

I did not have the chance to finish my sentence.

The cops thanked me and raced toward the suitcase, talking on their walky-talkies.

I watched them run off and wondered for a brief moment if I had wasted their time sending them off to examine a simple old abandoned suitcase, or if I had signed their death warrants.

Then I got the fuck out of the station as fast as I could.

I think it went ok.

I didn’t hear any explosions last night.

There weren't any more sirens than usual.

Just a suitcase … weird place to leave it, but everything’s a little weird these days.

Debbie called in the morning to thank me, and I told her about the suitcase.

"Hell of a way to end our night together," I said.

Sadness entered her voice as she said, "Even a suitcase isn’t just a suitcase anymore."

Wednesday, October 03, 2001

I’m what you call an old-fashioned girl.

I was the last person I knew to switch from a rotary telephone to touch-tone. (Hey! It wasn’t that long ago!!!) I’d probably still have a rotary if it weren’t for all those answering services that force you to punch in who you want to talk to.

“Press one for customer service. Press two for the location nearest you. Press three to scream into the telephone.”

How I used to love that rotary dial noise: brrrrrwwwwweeeeehhh … rrrrrrrhhhhhhhaaaa …

Admittedly I had a lot more time back then.

What can I say??? I’m ruled by nostalgia! I get misty-eyed at the sight of an 8-track tape.

Yes, yes, I know, darlings. None of you remember 8-track tapes. But can’t you appreciate the pleasure of hauling around a cassette the size of a video that hissed through every song?

Hmmm. OK, it needed a bit of improvement.

Anyway, as a writer, I’ve always had this huge need to see my words wind up on the printed page.

Don’t know why, because clearly folks who are like me, who aren’t exactly mainstream, are much more appreciated on the web than by the hordes of old-school editors in the print world.

So … as with all of my clearly passé notions, it took a concerned friend to coax me along.

In my case, it was Nancy, aka Jill Matrix.

I was on my annual self-pity whine about how I dreamed of writing a weekly column about anything I wanted … a column that would wind around and around whatever subject thrilled me at the moment … a column … that … that …

Well, thankfully, she stopped me, or I’d still be sitting here whining and not writing.

“What you need is a website,” she said.

To which I replied … but I don’t know how, where, what … helpppp … etc., etc.

She said, “Hang on.”

And in about five minutes she had created a website for me at blogspot. Whatever that is.

“What would you like to say?” she asked.

And as at all great moments in my life, I was struck absolutely dumb.

“I’m Rossi. Welcome to my brain,” was all I had in me.

But I recuperated, natch, and having a site that I could finally pour my manic, rambling self into seemed absolutely freeing.

I wrote two columns in the week prior to September 11, 2001.

The first was just a light, rambling rant about my day.

In the second, which I spellchecked at 8 a.m. on September 11, I wrote about how I loved noise and hated quiet. I wrote that quiet made me feel like 1,000 bankers were sitting on me. I finished the rant and e-mailed it to Nancy (who fixes my shockingly flawed punctuation).

As I was sending the e-mail, I got a phone call from a client to tell me that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. Shortly after, the phones went dead, and my life and everyone else’s were changed forever.

As you’ve probably read or can read from these archives, I watched the towers topple from my roof. I paced Manhattan trying to help and trying to make sense of it all. At times, I went into a very dark place.

My cute little weekly rant became an echo of the countless images of death, hope, terror, wonder, sorrow, warmth that were unfolding around me.

I wonder who I would be today and what I would be feeling if not for this new friend in my life, this thing that listens to all I have to say … this site.

Hours after the towers were murdered, I wrote about it here.

The day I joined a group of New Yorkers cheerleading for the rescue crews on the West Side Highway, I came home to transcribe it for these pages.

When I finally found my way down to ground zero and found myself utterly speechless, Nancy gently suggested I describe it for this waiting canvas, and I did.

I tried to explain the eerie, haunted feeling of being in a room filled with 6,000 people on Yom Kippur, when the rabbi had us stand and look at each other, to try to comprehend what the numbers missing in the WTC would look like, if they could all stand up, now, from their dusty grave.

I began to count on this new haven as the one place that I could safely purge all the visions burning inside me.

What I hadn’t counted on was what came back.

First there were the e-mails I expected from my friends.

But then it grew. The friends of my friends began to e-mail me. Then their friends. Then their in-laws.

Nancy put a link on her site, so that her readers could read about my WTC experiences, and I began to hear from them, too.

I began to hear from other people who had read a link on still other sites.

The letters were wonderful.

"Thank you for sharing your amazing experience."

"My heart and prayers go out to you."

I received an e-mail from a young woman in Calgary, a total stranger: "All we hear over here is terrible news. Your story was the first one I have read about hope. Thank you so much. I am sending it on to everyone I know."

I received an e-mail from a Jewish man in San Francisco thanking me for the Yom Kippur story. He sent his warmest holiday wishes.

I received a joke in the mail from someone who just thought I needed to laugh.

I know it’s madness to say I felt loved by these strangers, but the feeling I got when I read their e-mails was just that … a waft of love.

As I begin to emerge from these weeks of bottomless sadness, I feel grateful that I have had this place to document and preserve everything around me and to share it with anyone who could find me.

What a strange time to be a newbie on the web. … What a perfect time.

I’m an old-fashioned girl. But I guess, when all is said and done regarding this new-fangled thing called the wild world of web writing, there’s nothing more old-fashioned than people reaching out to each other in a time of need.

And there you have it.

Monday, October 01, 2001

How long is ok ...

It's pretty safe to say that I have been emotionally submerged in the World Trade Center since the morning of September 11th.

A lot of my friends are gingerly letting go, beginning to shine and blossom again. They are opening themselves up to new beginnings.

And, of course, that's all good.

But not me.

I'm not sure what the protocol is here.

How long am I allowed to mourn before my friends begin to think I am obsessed?

My mother died nine years ago, and I am still mourning her, but do I have the right to mourn for the thousands who died in the towers? The ones to whom I had any personal connection (that I know of) were only the friends of friends.

This time we enter now, 19 days after the very worst tragedy most of us will ever see hopefully), is a tricky time.

Some of us have already moved on, emotionally changed, but ready to take on the next thing, whatever that might be.

Some of us were perhaps never so deeply affected in the first place. These are probably the same people who don't care about anything until it lands on their own doorstep. I pity these people.

There are folks like me, who did not lose a loved one, but saw the towers crumble and spent some time on ground zero seeing this thing face-to-face. We are perhaps, forever altered. I am, perhaps, forever altered.

I have been utterly and completely tattooed.

There are the ones who have lost family, best friend, lover, spouse, child. Who line up on Pier 94 in search of counseling. Who are only now, however reluctantly, asking for death certificates.

There are the heroes, who are still down there. How can they still be there? Some of them since Day One. The only thing I can compare their homecoming to is that of a Vietnam vet. Will they ever really blend in again?

I remember growing up, my mother would tell me the stories of the Holocaust, about our family members who had died there and the stories she had heard from those who managed to escape. She began to tell me these stories when I was quite young, maybe only 5 or 6 years old.

They terrified me.

When I got older I asked her why she felt it was so important to keep telling me these stories over and again, the same stories each year. She said it was so I would always remember. That it was my duty to remember so it would never happen again.

She said, "Slovah ... you must always remember the words ... never again."

So I do remember, and if I ever have children, I will tell them about the Holocaust and make them promise to repeat the words "never again."

Then I will tell them about the towers and try to explain that in every generation, evil, blind, soulless people do inexplicably terribly things.

But the good has always outweighed the bad.

And for those 19 hijackers and the ring of countless terrorists that they sprung from, there are millions of people sending money, donating blood, lighting candles, holding vigils, volunteering, fighting back and holding goodness in their hearts.

19 days after September 11th, I still smell the weird, thick, burnt smell whenever the wind turns. I wonder how long this aftertaste will be in the air.
Or does it stay simply to keep us from passing this on too quickly?

New Yorkers are not known for their patience. There is nothing more intolerable to us than yesterday's news.

But 19 days later, there is nothing about this that feels yesterday. It is all still on us, as surely as the dust and the smoke has been.

I'm pretty sure it will always be a part of our skyline, the what was, versus the what is.

Yesterday was a very busy day. I had meetings, brunch with friends, shopping to do. I woke up determined to not obsess over the WTC. I figured such a busy day would keep me from going back to it.

On my last meeting of the day, I met with a young couple whose wedding I will cater in two weeks.

The bride asked to have her agenda changed to fit in having her guests sing The Star-Spangled Banner in honor of her close friend who died in the WTC.

"We were planning our weddings together. Hers was just 6 days after mine," the bride explained. Then her fiancé nudged her. "Tell her, " he said, "Tell her."

Her friend had mailed her a gift on the morning of September 11th on her way to work. It was a Barbie doll in a hot red outfit. It was just a fun joke-gift between girlfriends. The sexy Barbie had reminded her of her gal pal. So she popped it in the mail and caught the train to work.

The package had arrived yesterday.

"She called me on Monday, the day before it happened and told me she'd never been happier in her life," the bride-to-be said, "That's the only thing I cling too, that at least she got to feel that much happiness."

Maybe today, yes, today, I will not talk about The World Trade Center. I will not think about it, and I will move on with my life.

Enough is enough ... Time to think about other things ... nice breezy day ... a little cold, but nice ... kinda gray but ... nice ... a little sad and overcast ... but ... but ...