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Discovery in your book of a journal entry from a year past:
Divided We Stand is unlikely to be given its due in my lifetime, I
must content myself with recognizing the fruits of my labors as they
manifest anonymously, or under others’ bylines – as the narrative of the
almost twin towers unfolds.
Who knows? I tipped the reporter from Bloomberg to the issue of
the WTC’s unretired bonds and here it emerges, or rather pokes its nose
above the surface for an instant in today’s NYT at the top of page B4:
“Because the building was financed with PA bonds, which place
restrictions on any sale, Vornado could not buy the complex. But the deal
would effectively give the publicly traded company full control of the 110-
story twin towers…”.
The article goes on to synopsize my book as background without
deigning to mention it by name, then cites the author of the “other” WTC
book as an authority on the towers’ history. But those sentences, however
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 210
there in ink on newsprint. Slowly, slowly the cat claws its way out of the
Up betimes and took yourself by train downtown, lighting at Park Place where
you went the rest of the way by shanksmare across City Hall Park to the R.DOT
(Rebuild Downtown Our Town) meeting at Pace University. There discours’d (Bev
Willis, Susan Szenazy and Liz Abzug having invited you) upon the origins of the World
Trade Center before a gathering which treated yourself in the most respectful manner,
of which you felt most glad. Coming up to greet you afterwards, a tall man, whom you
no wise recognized, but he gave you wonder at the news that in Riyadh, in Felix Arabia
where once he worked, there were built by Yamasaki some time in the ‘70s, twin towers
on the general plan of the trade center, but smaller, to house the Saudi Monetary Fund,
and this we both did marvel at withal.
Met also there an architect who has writ an article upon the connection between
Yamasaki and the Bin Laden family, and Yama’s use, so she says, of Islamic motifs
which did inflame some already extreme believers to acts of violence – against the trade
center especially. Yet she noted not why they would for this reason also despise the
This Laurie Kerr did also say that the towers collapsed at the speed of gravity,
offering no resistance from within. Whether this is true or no, you cannot say, yet when
she said it, you did see in your mind’s eye, the great buildings as though being dropped
from the hand of a mile-high Galileo – though it is recorded that he loosed instead a
cannonball and a sack of feathers. And moreover came the image of a man leaping
from the window of a tower at the moment they gave way, and him descending at the
same speed as his fellow man who stayed within, and how traveling separately, yet at
the same speed, they might meet the earth together – such are the rare physics of our
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 211
Get off the subway at your home stop and there in front of you, plastered over a
smiling face on a poster, a white adhesive label, two inch by threeish, imprinted:
EVERYTHING IS FINE.
The Constitution is not under attack.
The President is not a thief.
Keep enjoying those delicious all beef McDonalds
hamburgers made of cow lips and anus.
At what point do we collectively acknowledge the culture-changing crash – the
return from the stratosphere to the springy, but undeniable soil? Or have we achieved
You begin to suspect that the unprecedented economic and military power
which emanated from the US, and now proliferates far beyond its origins has rendered
social life in the West incapable of recognizing the actuality of a crash, no matter how
catastrophic. If overnight such a wind blew through that not a stone were left standing
among us – as a result of a million suicide bombers, or some equally great destructive
wave – you are convinced that dawn’s light shining upon the ruins would be broadly
interpreted as yet another great triumph of freedom, democracy, market forces working
their through to the next best possible world.
exposure in derivatives stands at $29 trillion. Is that possible? Did you mishear it?
Aside from the raw inconceivability of this figure, there is the issue of it amounting to
three times the domestic product. There is no perfect analogy here, but one senses we
have entered an era in which a fleet of Titanics, sinking by the dozen, would only spur
us to greater, more scale-free feats of ship building.
Another possibility is that when and if the actuality of a crash forces itself on our
awarenesses, given the degree of our “exposure,” we will prove inconsolable for
generations – perhaps permanently incapable of imagining flight.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 212
The very words you use suck you down to someplace deep. Emerging, you
always sense the tug back into the depths. And the sick feeling of returning to the
surface where you no longer belong. Remember when you were a creature of the air?
Not long ago there was a time when you’d get high by writing.
A milder winter that usual, or at any rate the remembered last. But it’s still
winter and some of us are not dressed for the winter. White fella in baggy shorts on a
cell phone walking down Eighth. Why not?
Overnight Elena’s poem, with which she won “The Arts Respond to 9-11”
competition – has gone up postersized on all the neighborhood hoardings: black and
white and red all over. Magnificent. Sticks to yet leaps off the tired walls – bare type
offering itself ungussied. Machined-down language stands, for the time it takes to read,
on two feet.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 213
• • •
Somewhere down in the pit, pockets of fire still burning. Crews close in on what
the Post refers to as a “trove” of bodies.
• • •
Met, last night, with the Pratt design intensive group, invited by Stephan to
discuss the Ground Zero museum-memorial they’ve taken as a group thesis project.
Where to begin? they asked, all fifteen-odd of them. Begin with a crystalline blue sky.
Begin with a color and a quality. Then release the stone toward the pool.
What characterizes the “clean-up”? Immediate erasure. Move this scrap to this
heap. This fragment to another. Scatter the evidence. Subvert the forensics. Don’t
above all calculate what went into the air – what substances still possess the air. Don’t
read the chemistry of the liquids that runs out the sewer lines and into the Hudson from
the great hosing down. Pulverize the dismemberment. Dice fine the already chopped.
Atomize, semper atomize. Silence the ruins before they can speak. The ruins we hardly
learned to know.
• • •
Hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies die in a freak frost in central Mexico.
They rain out of the trees, their collective wingspreads deep and wide enough to carpet
the Bathtub’s bottom, whenever the diggers reach it. If only the mariposas were here,
not there. Should we bring them north in a shrouded train for burial by the Hudson?
Where Robert Moses’s Coliseum once stood, The Time Warner Center, a.k.a. One
Central Park rears up, its monstrous, tortured gridwork of beams absolutely dwarfing
Columbus stuck up on his column marooned like a flagpole sitter left over from the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 214
south end of the Trump International Hotel and Tower, stands a chrome-plated globe,
roughly thirty feet in diameter, planted on a pedestal. In this morning’s late winter sun,
the globe, with its jagged-edged continents overlaying a gridwork of longitudes,
resembles nothing so much as a kindergarten project (“OK kids, we’re going to make a
model of the world out of tinfoil”) gone absurdly out of hand. True, the flashy metal
served to distract the eye, but for little more than an instant amidst this hodgepodge of
urban mixed signals: the gilded, overwrought memorial remembering the Maine, the
funky old Huntington Hartford building, traffic islands, radiating arteries and
beckoning parkland. Now, Trump’s globe has shrunk still further – it looks no bigger
than a cat toy when set against the vast backdrop of the AOL Time Warner Center as
the towers extrude from their massive, asymmetrical plinth. Thus dwarfed, the silvery
earth seems less a planet than an unhappy moon, knocked out of orbit, isolated in an
alien landscape that can never be home.
Across Broadway, the city’s latest twins are not billed as anything so modest as a
nexus of world trade. Bold type bannered across the scaffolding announces the coming
“Center of Everything.” Unlike the oddly passive quality of the WTC’s aggression, the
Everything towers present all acute angles and fractal edges undergirded by a heavy-
duty steel cage – trusses and buttresses abound. No ticky-tacky bar joists hold up slab
floorplates – this puppy is massively overbuilt. Though their designers could not have
anticipated September 11, the violent feng shui of the AOL twins fairly taunts passing
jetliners to make their day. These two-billion dollar babies won’t just kill planes, they’ll
From within the matrix of steelwork draped with immense American flags, a
repetitive infernal clanging. Soon – you don’t know when but it’s bound to happen –
the anvil chorus will shift location across Eighth Avenue to the very base of the
roundabout and modulate from sounds of construction to those of demolition. They’ll
be taking down the Huntington Hartford building, even now encased in a matrix of
scaffolding. Built in the early sixties as a gallery to house Hartford’s collection, then
taken over by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and now abandoned, Edward
Durell Stone’s strange caprice, the silliest, most endearing slab building ever designed,
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 215
the scaffolded walkway below.
How many more days? All at once you hear, close at hand, a sardonic laugh,
No, it’s a horse neighing – you see it pass, at full trot, lip curled, pulling its carriage,
empty of the customers whose heads you imagine might press close together, framed in
the canopy’s heartshaped rear window – like the irising down of a silent film. The
sound of another set of hoofs, and a second horse, a dappled gray, follows just behind,
the driver, sitting stiff as the whip he holds vertically, muffled against the cold breeze.
Then another horse cab appears and another, a half dozen or more – a cavalcade –
rounding the corner of Eighth Avenue, clip-clopping east along 59th Street. For a
moment your mind tricks you into believing the city’s slipped back a century and
change and these beasts have trotted north from Longacre Square. Where do they
stable the carriage horses now? A few years ago you saw some stables way over in the
far west lower fifties, not far from where the aircraft carrier lies berthed in concrete. But
which street exactly? Somebody knows. Not you.
Glance at your watch. Almost ten. Within a few moments, these animals and
their drivers will assume their stations at the hackney stand between the gilded
Sherman memorial and the Plaza fountain, and stretches west across the bottom of the
park toward Sixth Avenue. Now they are hurrying, as fast as circumstances will
permit, to begin their workday, to the place where the horses, their muzzles deep in
feedbags, and the men, talking in clusters will await the opportunity take whomever
has the time, the inclination and the do-re-mi, on the most sedate ride in town.
T. has forgotten the keys to his office, so you have your meeting an immense,
echoing café on Greene Street. Ideal for a gallery space of the mid-seventies, but now a
sort of holding chamber for a transient population of urban passers-through. How
much the young peoples’ possessions, scattered on chairs and tables – backpacks, cell
phones, CD players, laptops, articles of dark overclothing – look like the debris blown
out of an airplane.
Awful thoughts. All the time.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 216
You read an estimate that since 1950, the year that you were born, your country
has spent $17 trillion dollars on its military.
The winter you were in gestation, George F. Kennan, a high foreign policy
official circulated within the State Department a memorandum allowing that:
situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming
period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of
disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense
with all sentimentality and daydreaming…
These notes have become increasingly notes to yourself. You still relish
conversations with others, but even with intimates feel it is best to be very circumspect.
You observe that it is as difficult now to see the World Trade Center, as it was
before its destruction. But it is a subtly different form of “unseeing.” Increasingly you
are fascinated with ways of unseeing. You think back at your mother’s terror when the
ball of the moon was hidden behind the Empire State’s superstructure and the only
visibility that emerged around the edges was the bent light of fear.
The media is, of course, still covering the WTC story, and never more literally
than in the sense of a burial. You think of your cats endlessly working over their litter
box, attempting to mask, at an olfactory level, their presence as predators. The stakes of
their hunt, so they are instinctually aware, depends on the suppression of evidence.
And so they rake their cat sand over their telltale droppings repeatedly and from every
direction, never satisfied with the result. With the WTC, we witness the burial of a
possible political awareness unframable in the grammar of our cultural lockdown.
For every story printed, ten unasked questions. Impermissible questions. What
is permissible takes new and strange forms, as though the visual world of mediated
images has been genetically modified for maximum disconcertion value. Eventually, I
suppose, the shock of biting into an apple that tastes like fish wears off. We adapt. We
come up with a new idea of what an apple is. We are dealing with the explicit existence
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 217
Page fourteen of the Times: today’s installment of Portraits of Grief, the brief,
intimate obits of those – apart from the hijackers – who died on the planes and in the
trade center on 9/11. WTC. Each “portrait” indeed include a photo, passport-sized, of a
“Man With Many Sides,” or a woman who had “A Thing About Cats” or another, gone
before his time, who possessed “A New Passion.” In total, fifteen miniature faces,
nestled into print, surround the dominant image on the page: a spontaneous shrine
assembled at a park in a New Jersey town, replete with flags, flowers, candles,
snapshots of the dead and an assemblage of reverently-placed tchotchkes. This shrine
shares a common vocabulary with a thousand, or ten thousand others – it is familiar
and particular. Like the rest of the page, the picture of the shrine is printed in black and
white and framed to such perfection that we might, if we could, reach in and touch the
slate atop a brick wall to which a photo has been taped, or feel the warmth of a glass
candle holder, or lift for a moment, the brass lantern that serves to weigh down one
edge of a delicate flag.
But then there is the opposite page of the spread, the recto page, the visually
privileged page, from which leaps – in brilliantly colored stars and stripes, augmented
by blonde, and peachy fleshtone – an exhortation by Macy’s to “Ride the Red White &
Blue Wave” of spring swimsuits. One model, three poses, all frontal – the sea and sky
at her back. How to choose among them? A “TOMMY Signature flag X-back softcup
tank…” or the “NAUTICA striped softcup tubini…” or “VM SPORT Big Apple NY
triangle softcup bikini.” Or shall we splurge and go for all three?
Each style has its distinct charm, all are swimsuits, they do what swimsuits do.
Yet so presented, they become, in their arrested moment, utterly particular, though not
nearly so cluttered with detail as the adjacent shrine. But now the cat claws its way out
of the bag, or rather stops for an instant in its eternal scratching at the sand, for if one
looks as closely at the ad as at the opposite page, one sees that the “Big Apple bikini”
features on its left cup, hovering northeast of the model’s heartbeat, the red, stylized
shape of an apple imprinted on the navy blue fabric, surmounted by white capital
letters: “NY.” The model would place her hand over this message if she were to pledge
allegiance, but she stands not to attention, instead at rest, weight on left leg, hip jutted
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 218
eyes from the rays of the sun.
Thus, by increments, by leaps and bounds, by whatever means narcissary, a
whole culture arrives at a ground zero that is no longer a place where something
happened, but rather a burnt-over district of the mind.
• • •
A party in celebration Marshall’s appointment as Distinguished Professor. Talk
with Mel. He spent days, in the immediate aftermath, shooting the crews emerging
from the WTC site, and due to an inadequate mask came down with inhalation
pneumonia. High fever, hospitalization, near death. Saved by antibiotics and
acupuncture. Well recovered though – he looks more robust than you ever seen him,
better coloring. You’d never know he’d been sick. When you leave he wraps you in a
strong, almost vice-like hug.
The doctors showed him his x-rays, pointed out the white stuff coating his lungs.
What was in there? he asked, and they told him. A toxic mix, containing among other
things pulverized asbestos, fiberglass, and human particulate.
Are some of us more vulnerable to breathing in the stuff of our fellows than
Suddenly it strikes you, after all these months of rumination: they died for our
sins – the sins of greed and imperialism we cannot apprehend, much less own. This is
the fire that, beneath the threshold of consciousness, fuels the drive, propounded in
evermore militant language by organizations of the WTC widows and orphans, to
preserve the entire sixteen square acres, as a permanent, undeveloped memorial –
eternally sacred and hallowed ground: a graveyard without bodies. When the towers
fell we lost our real estate Notre Dame. Now we dig our way toward Golgotha.
Heretofore the office tower stood as the supreme symbol of urban wealth extraction.
But might not the place where so many were martyred, in the long run, generate more
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 219
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