To Reflect And Serve – From The New York Press

The Core Belief

(This piece was first published in the Wednesday September 20, 2006 edition of the New York Press.)

I woke up at 9 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 to my Klaxon alarm clock wailing away. For some reason, I had fallen asleep on my couch the night before while reading Practical Homicide. An NYPD detective had given it to me so I could ensure that the novel I had written was procedurally correct. I pushed the large blue textbook off my chest, reached for my glasses and turned on the radio.

“In case you’ve just joined us, a plane has hit the World Trade Center.” The voice on WCBS 880 AM said.

Fucking great, I thought. In mid August, some French daredevil had tried to land on the arm of the Statue of Liberty and now some dickhead was trying to outdo him. Downtown would be closed for a month while they fixed the damn building. Leave it to the fucking French to screw up this town.

“Oh my God. They just hit the Pentagon.”

I sat straight up and turned on the TV. We were under attack. Both towers were on fire and they were showing video footage of people throwing themselves from the top floors, near windows on the World. It never occurred to me to run over to Fifth Ave., look downtown and see the towers burning. I just sat there and watched until the first tower collapsed. I quickly bathed and threw on my clothes and off to work I went. I had no idea what else to do.

The Park Avenue Country Club is located at 27th and Park Avenue South. I ran up Lexington Ave. At 25th Street, I passed the Lexington Armory. On top of the stairs, I saw a soldier, helmet on, automatic rifle in hand. He was glaring at those of us running by. You knew he was told to put two in the chest and one in the head of anyone he didn’t know who tried to get in. There were many people milling around the area, trying to use the pay phones. It seemed that no one’s cell phone was working. It never occurred to me to call anyone. I turned the phone on and found my parents had left a voicemail message. Although I couldn’t get through to them, I did manage to get a call to my brother in Jersey, telling him to let everyone know I was fine.

The PACC was the largest Sports Bar in New York. I worked the joint for over two years. Like every other sports bar, it was home to just out of college frat boys, 50-year-old fat frat wanna-be’s and the women who thought that this male behavior was acceptable, even desirable. However, during the days, the PACC was populated with CEOs, advertising VP’s, actors, athletes and sports agents. My job was to run their neighborhood bar at lunch. A glamorous high profile gig for a guy used to pouring pints of Bud and shots of Jack to former junkies and 
NYU students.

When I got to the bar, 10 people were already watching as the second Tower collapsed. A blonde woman stood with tears streaming down her face. Some guy who might have been trying to cop a feel off this girl three hours ago was now trying to comfort her as best he possibly could. I brought her over a glass of water, after I stowed my bag behind the bar.

“Are you alright?” I asked.

“My friends, the people I work with…” She pointed to the Tower. It was all she could get out.

The opening manager was on the phone the owner trying to figure out if we would open that day. One of the servers was walking out the door when our manager came out to tell us we’d be open that day.

It suited me just fine. The only thing that was going through my head thus far was that I had a shift that day and I had to work it. The bar filled up. At times it seemed like half of the city was coming through the doors. The triangular bar was swamped, four or five deep. It was too busy for me to keep up with the drinks being ordered from the floor and the people pushing towards the wood. Dan, one of my regulars, who usually ate a sandwich or burger with a diet coke, was drinking Amstel Lights in three or four sips.

Around 1 p.m., I heard someone screaming about poison in the air. “The planes were full of poison.” For some reason, that got inside my head and I started shaking. I would make three or four circles of the bar and then stop for some water. It finally occurred to me, after about 30 minutes, if there were poison or some sort of chemicals on the plane, it would have dissipated or I’d be dead soon anyway, so what the fuck? I just concentrated on the job and making sure the people were taken care of.

That was when I first noticed that we had some people come in covered in ash, looking like zombies. Some were bleeding. We managed to get them cleaned up and the ones that needed medical attention, we got over to Bellevue.

The owner of the bar ended up being my bar back. Whatever I needed, he got for me: booze, glasses, etc. Finally, 8 p.m. came around and my replacement came through the door. As I gathered my paperwork, he told me that one of his cousins worked in some Kiosk beneath the South Tower.

“Any word from him?” I asked.

“He’s dead, Alex.”

“Have a little faith. Maybe he just hasn’t been able to contact anybody yet,” I said.

“He’s dead,” my replacement said. He counted his bank in and started working.

My tips were enough to cover my rent for the month plus half the next. It felt like blood money and I thought about donating it all to charity. I mentioned this to the owner as he walked by. He brought me a big shot of bourbon to calm me down a bit. “Keep it all,” he said. “That money was earned for a job well done.”

Frankly, I just wanted to get the fuck out of there.  As soon as my money was recounted (I was only a dollar off after doing $2,220 worth of business) I was out the door. Some woman was screaming how it was a party now.  That made me sick. I thought about going up there and hectoring her for several hours but I was too beaten up.  I wanted to get a very big drink and get home.

There was this smell in the air, I had a hard time placing it, but by the time I reached 24th Street and 3rd Avenue, it was overwhelming.

I eventually made my way down to the Deli between 20th and 21st Streets to get a sandwich and a cup of coffee. Outside, the streets were empty but the Deli was mobbed. People were taking everything they could to stock their homes. Huge gallons of water, canned food, frozen food and the like. While getting into line, a woman I worked with a few years earlier walked by me. She looked like she had been run over by a bus. Her blonde hair was totally askew and you could still see the smears of faint mascara she had tried to wipe off her face.

“It’s good to see you Alex. Really good.”

I nodded and said the same back.

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