Primary reason for visiting NY was to get my ReVox B77 tape recorder fixed, as I needed it to transfer some old but essential recordings for the Edgar Palm en Otrabanda movie. Then, besides seeing my friends Ira and Ann, I wanted to go by another good friend, Richard, living upstate. As the expression is, I went for business and pleasure. Famous last word.
The flight up (CUR-MIA-EWR, 8/11) was pretty uneventful: We arrived much too late in Newark. Little did any of us, passengers or crew, have an inkling that this was the last full airliner we would travel in for quite some time. After the usual taxi rip-off I arrived at Ira & Ann's Hoboken place. Those cabbies are a real terror! Met, rapped, went to bed.
Which bed was sitting next to the answering machine, waking me up in the morning. I heard Ira's mother asking:Have you watched television?Well, no, frankly - I rarely do, just like I have this habit not to pick up other people's phones (good), or even my own (bad). Somewhat later, we switched it on - of course, getting a shot of the burning WTC towers right away. Flabbergasted? Words fail - one could use up the entire thesaurus and not get anywhere near.
As we were right across the river, we went out to look at it live. Very impressive: Intense smoke was billowing out of the two towers, then still standing. You have all seen it; those pictures I show are at least off the well-trodden track. I have to tell you at this point, the impact was tremendous but you stand there, looking across the river like any stupid sightseeing tourist, and it's very hard to realize what pandemonium it would be in there. Enough of that.
Photo Ira Landgarten
The thing that most people want to know about, what was it like? It was like W.W.III had broken out, that's what it was like. You walked by a Korean grocery - there was no business being done but everybody was watching a tv set. Even on parking lots you found these small groups clustered round the guard house, listening to portable radios. Essentially, I'm both European and Caribbean, where we reckon an enemy may break through the gates or sail into the harbor at any given moment; a lesson we all have hard-learned throughout history, time and time again. The USA citizens never had this experience. They now compare the WTC attack with Pearl Harbor; but after all, Hawai'i is way out there in the Pacific. Not at all the same impact. W.W.II really came much closer to the US home base in the Atlantic and Caribbean.
So people just didn't know how to react. They seemed all, like, shell-shocked. Hanging around in small groups, mulling it over. The three of us were walking back home when Ann suddenly turned out to have disappeared, which worried hell out of Ira. She'd just wandered off to do some shopping, as it turned out later. Normally, she would have told you - it may not be bon ton to use the word but who shall blame her for having been slightly hysterical? Which didn't help Ira much in his worrying about it.
The police then started cordoning off the New Jersey border of the river. Nobody could ever understand how they figured that could be of any use; it's just that they must have felt they ought to do something. (Next morning, the barriers had been taken away again.) So we went home and watched the tube.
Now the American media are very good at handling this sort of thing. Often, great improvisers. You may well talk with disgust about all those talking head shows, but in this case they really filled a purpose. If you don't know or remember, most communications had, before, been switched through the WTC, with the result there were only one or two TV stations left in the air. Everything all those roving crews got on camera was channeled through those - for a welcome change, you could follow all that was going on in one handy package without having to ZAP around for it. So, yes, I have seen both towers crumble down - LIVE! - on television. More and more material kept showing up. The info gathered was as solid as you could ask for, and very well-presented. Television and press really did a much better job than police or fire brigade; you can't help feeling that they had received superior training for just such a contingency.
Ira and I enjoying the view
Still, there was a lot of stuff being recycled endlessly - must have been much worse around New York than anywhere else, where stations could switch to other material. And even then, everybody must have seen that shot of the second plane crashing into the tower until they knew every detail by heart; still do! What I want to say is, the first couple of times I saw it there was a voice on the soundtrackWhat the fucking shit...or some similar expression. This was first bleeped out in later showings, and it was finally mixed out completely. What hypocrisy. You may show those idiot maniacs crashing themselves and thousands of extras to death, but don't shock the public with swearing words. My G*d! it might cost us ratings! EEK! The common denominator still is the innocent 4-year old child (there ain't no such thing, and if there were it wouldn't have any money to blow anyway, so who's trying to fool whom?) - this is where police and fire brigade win out; can't fool those guys that way.
Willy called from Curaçao, of course - I never think to do that. I told herThis is Warand still feel that's the best description. I did call Richard and canceled all appointments. He told me he wasstunned. Man, I was getting afraid I would be stuck in there for weeks! With all flights canceled, I figured all buses and trains would be full. Of course I was wrong: Nobody seemed to dare to travel, a thing I still can't understand. Guess it's much riskier now, over two years later, than in the first weeks following the occasion. But it's like that with any big crash. What I also still fail to get is why phone lines should be disrupted while the internet (using those self-same lines) worked just fine. No doubt there are reasons.
The very next day we went over to Manhattan, shlepping my ReVox to the repair shop. The normal PATH train was out of service, as it used to pass right under the WTC, but the 33rd Street PATH was running. There were a woman and a young guy with a large suitcase on it - pretty suspicious, that! New York was empty. It reminded me of nothing so much as one of the many oil crises, this one in the late 1950s? when in Holland they stopped all Sunday driving to save gas. As I remember it, everybody was delighted with the resulting peace and quiet; so, naturally, those Sunday drivers were allowed back on the road after a much too short while.
I was on yet another errand of mercy, trying to score pens and pencils for Willy'sintelligent plotterby Mutoh; appropriate enough for you? Made some phone calls before I finally decided on a place on Manhattan island, across from the WTC, so I only made it there after a few days had passed. Again, making this sort of impromptu arrangement is what America excels in: All over the neighborhood, you found parked these enormous trailers containing generators, cables spilling out to provide power. Their license plates showed they had come from all over the U.S. But still, hardly any other traffic.
turning my back on it
The same holds for a week later - Ann, Ira and I went down the West side of Manhattan, up to the point where there were police barriers stopping all but pedestrian traffic. Here I have to tell you something that really amazed me and that, to me, made clear how much the Americans were shocked out of their wits by all this. Ira wanted to go further downtown but I told him I'd wait for him at that point - I'd have felt like a fucking sightseeing ghoul, should I have gone rubbernecking down there. OK. So this was the route the fire brigade trucks took to and from. These guys were coming back from their shifts and the people lining the road (just don't get the idea there was a crowd at this point and time) were cheering them. It was downright embarrassing to me: Ira, like me an ex(?)-freak, cheered along with the best of 'em. You have to understand, those guys were sitting there, wasted, in their trucks after who knows how many overtime hours, and then they have to wave back at those fools cheering them along? I'd have laid down on the floor to avoid being cheered at.
Also, New York was constantly being overflown by F-16s or F-18s, who knows or really cares, jets. A fat lot of good that did. Normally, these jets are not allowed in that air space so those brave defenders of the country grabbed their chance. Anyway. Ira and I were at work painting his balcony with some sort of wood preservative, when one came roaring over. Again, embarrassing! Ira jumped up and started yelling at the top of his voice likeYeah! Right on! Get the fucking bastards!shaking his fist at the air. Even a guy like that, like I say, a freak, who left for Europe to avoid being drafted for Vietnam, a musician who once went to India for years to study the sitar - need I say more? has this heavy emotional reaction? Wow! it is in a nutshell.
Now for the fire brigade. With my usual tact, I started making myself popular by telling everybody in sight or hearing how Ed McBain relates that your Isola/Manhattan citizens refer to those boys asAli Baba's Forty Thieves. This because of their fine tradition of robbing your place empty while they are Fighting that Fire. As they were the Big Heroes of the occasion, nobody liked hearing this — but I was vindicated when, much later, in the course of clearing the rubbish on the site, a Fire Dept. truck was found underneath, absolutely stacked to capacity with loot taken from the stores in the WTC. Much booing and hissing from the construction workers at the site. I wrote this interesting observation around to several people, but none ever reacted, right.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
I have always felt the New Yorkees more put on an act ofwe're Big City-zens and we don't trust any strangersthan they really are: helpful and kind. They were amazed to discover this about themselves in that stressful time, and may have forgotten it by now. But I'm sure they still really are as helpful and kind.It took me several visits before I discovered how women check out men in the streets, a thing going on all the time all over the world - only, in NY they have developed their own way of pretending they don't. As a matter of fact, I only found out by watching a chick on what was not her home turf but the island of St. Martin. If you want to know for yourself, go find out for yourself - that's not what this is about.We were standing in a Hoboken pharmacy/drugstore when a guy walked in with this long list of stuff he said was needed across the river. The salesgirl just looked it over and gave it all to him, free, no questions asked; and nobody standing around there was even surprised she did!
What I did not like at all was that revival of patriotic spirit the Americans are pretty free from in normal daily life. But then, you could hear people singingGod Bless Americaall the time - not only a bunch of Congress Members who, after all, get paid for that bull, but also in the parks and on the streets. I thought that as stupid as jet-crashing into towers shoutingInshallah!What I did not think so stupid, most people I talked to seemed to have a feeling that those guys working in the Pentagon got what was coming to them, and that was that as far as they were concerned.
There are rather obvious parallels between the 9/11 attack and the Reichstag fire, which gave Hitler a good excuse, and the means, to grab power. And certainly there has been a lot of Bushllit that would have been impossible without the W.T.C. disaster. But let us not exaggerate. Bush, as yet, is no Hitler by a long way and, more to the point, the Senate is still, if not at work, then at least in business.
I have been told that after a big 1960s store fire in Bruxelles, Belgium, the city stank of rotten charred human flesh for weeks. I have not noticed this in New York, but first, the place is much bigger and I never got really close to the scene; second, downtown Manhattan did stink with an awful, acrid smell, but most of it was carried ocean wards by the wind. Another factor in no burnt flesh smell must have been the extremely intense fire. People put photographs on their websites showing the view from their windows with the twin towers missing; well, you had to tell me that was what was going on there - how could I ever have noticed?
You had these memorial gatherings in lots of places. We visited Union Square, where the scientologists and homeopaths were drumming up some new business by offering free consultations to people in emotional trouble - plenty of those charlatans around. And never-missing preacher persons. Like in 1945 European cities, messages for people were stuck up on walls - with even less chance of someone responding. In Hoboken, there were evening gatherings on the river shore overlooking the disaster scene. Lots ofGod Blesssinging, but don't get me wrong: This was not a circus. There was real grief. Any ass who wanted to stand up and address the gathered multitude with platitudes was politely tolerated. Having said that, I have to remark on the fact that the networks handed out enormous amounts of candles, free. This makes for very good visuals, and candles are cheap, see? I also noticed some people took candles along home without lighting them. See again? Things were getting back to normal already.It was highly amusing to see how foreign television crews, arriving in NY for the first time, rushed off to Times Square to get street interviews there, not knowing there were many other locations in the Big Bad City. This really was not such a good place to get interviews.Likewise, the first station that came back on the air was the one that never showed anything but crass commercial shlock. Nobody was surprised, but everybody thought it remarkable.
Street discussions, home discussions, galore. First, I have to tell you I entirely disagree with all those wise guys telling us how extremely well-planned all this had been, and how very difficult it was to crash a jet into a building with such precision. Haven't those guys ever tried a flight simulator? There's nothing to it. Then, I have this theory how they planned something entirely different. But let me get another thing out of the way, which is all that nonsense about planes fully loaded withhigh-octane fuel. Jet A-1 fuel is not much more than kerosene (which of course burns rather well); aircraft like the Lockheed Constellation and Douglas DC-6 used high-octane, and those have been taken out of passenger-carrying service a long time ago.
A thing that needs remarking on: The Americans have really been asking for it (this does not necessarily refer to their foreign policy.) What happened when all that hijacking started was roughly this: Any gun-waving ass shoutingTake me to Cuba!was, upon arrival there, put in jail, and the aircraft sent back to where it came from. For propaganda purposes this was kept secret - Castro doing something right? Never! So hijacking grew more and more fashionable, while it could have been smothered in the very start.
Did you ever hear of a Dutch plane being hijacked? Well, it has been tried, but there's no future in it. The Dutch, that bunch of pirates, in a hijacked plane don't just sit back like dummies: They take measures of their own to put an end to the nonsense, and this is very well known in the international hijacking community. It has also been known, especially since World War II, that only a few guards are needed to control many prisoners, as long as these feel they are powerless. The lesson that they really are not has since been learned by US passengers. Then, Dutch negotiators never give in to a hijacker, just like Israel.
The New York Times of that very day carried a full-pager on a book on the Weather Underground, of which the author had been a proud member. Imagine, this ‰¤£§¥¶*! who has not changed any of his terrorist murder convictions now is a professor at some American university? And talk about wrong timing - never heard a word about the book since. Serves him right!Update (2008-04-18). The guy's name was William Ayers and he popped up when that Clinton ma'am (a typical 1950s girl student corps president frump — ugh!) started accusing Obama of not being "patriotic" because of his [virtually non-existent relation] with Ayers. What I resented about Ayers was the way he treated all that bomb-throwing as a huge joke. Smoke bombs, like the Dutch provos used to throw, yes - real bombs, no.
We Will Never Forget?
I am convinced that Osama Bin Laden, like all terrorists, is more interested in publicity than in results. Also, his first attack on the same building was foiled, for which he must have wanted revenge. The jackass must have been masturbating for weeks, watching re-runs on his tv set (so sue me, Osama! I spit me of you). My guess is this: The planes approached from two different angles, aiming to topple those towers over by the impact of the crash, one to the North and one to the South, with many more casualties and much more damage. However, the buildings were much stronger than they had bargained for—actually resulting in a much bettershowfrom OBL's point of view.
When you really want results, it would be much easier to blow up some communications center or a railroad junction; much more efficiently pernicious. There is any number of books around listing any kind of location. But that's not a spectacular show at all! So those publicity-seeking terrorists have left them alone. Ed McBain wrote his Money, Money, Money for publication on September 6, 2001, about a Money-Dope-Terrorist conspiracy. (All ye who use the fashionable coke, be aware you are helping to finance terrorism while growing soooh smart... There's just not that much money to be made from weed; when it gets too expensive those unreliableaddictssimply stop smoking it.) Small terrorist attacks are much more effective in disrupting society. Look at Israel.Experts believe terrorists would have no trouble wreaking havoc in America's major cities. The nation's utility lines are so poorly guarded that a gang with a minimal amount of reconnaissance could cause widespread chaos. Bombs or chemical weapons can be made at home with no greater difficulty than brewing bathtub gin. More than two thousand how-to manuals are available in this country. Potent explosives in four or five strategic locations could black out the northeastern United States for weeks, conceivably for months—electricity, natural gas lines, communications.Because Osama and his kind, the same kind of jackasses as our leaders, just want to see their names in the papers, that's why not. A small favor? so be thankful already.
The Silent Brotherhood by Jevin Flynn and Gary Erhardt, New York 1990
John D. MacDonald is almost prophetic in what may be his best Travis McGee book - especially when he marks the possible sequel:
- You can bring everything tumbling down by going after things that would take years to fix. Big gas pipelines and oil pipelines. Bridges and tunnels and big computer places. Refineries and chemical plants and control towers. Blow 'em up and burn 'em down.
- ... crack down on all the people who are nonconformist in any way.
- To close our borders and enforce all our rules would change the system just as completely as any alien force.
The Green Ripper by John D. MacDonald, 1979
The leaders were thinking too big. Why bomb a World Trade Center in New York or a Federal Building in Oklahoma City or a U.S. Embassy in Nairobi or Dar es Salaam? Why bring down an airplane over Knockerbie or La Guardia? Events such as these only created intense scrutiny and enormous animosity. Why not settle instead for leaving a small bomb in a cinema? Or a railroad station? [...]
Why not commit tiny acts of terrorism that will allow them to realize we can strike anywhere, anytime we choose?
Money, Money, Money by Ed McBain, 2001
The show of the stock market re-opening after a week was highly entertaining. It had been obvious for a long time that it was way overdue for a crash, and 9/11 may just have pushed it over the edge a bit sooner. As always, those financial wizards were full of optimism at the end of yet another disastrous day of trading; they kept it up night after night until everybody got bored and it dropped out of the news. Amazing how suckers will keep 'investing' their money in what after all is nothing but a gambling Big Store, and how those Con Men there are generally held in great respect. Read Galbraith's The Great Crash - 1929 on it; a great book that, alas, may never really go out of date.
This is not the place to mention any rumors; merely that, as always, there were plenty around, good news services or not.
In case you're afraid you missed some, check out these links.
By the time of my return flight, air services were being resumed. Passengers were warned they had to check in two hours early because of extensive security checks. So there was a long line of passengers on Newark airport at four a.m., standing around there like so many fools, waiting for the ground crews to take up their positions at the check-in counters - at their normal time. Even now, with people having been unable to fly for a week, the plane was less than half full. But from Miami to Curaçao, business was as usual. Us islanders doan scare easy, mon.I seem to be followed around by that sort of thing. When visiting Gdansk in Poland, there were riots. Milano, Italy: riots. Caracas, Venezuela, Maiquetía airport: riots. Paris, France! Completely forgot till now, three more years later; black Marias all over. Once arrived in Amsterdam and it was such a mess, I started crying... only later I realized it was the tear gas. If those CIA boys were on their toes, they'd have pulled me in for some rubber-hosing sessions long since.
ThefunnyT-shirt can only be of more recent date than the edifying home decor item
all found in Cape Town, South Africa shops - 2007
There ain't no CIA. Any outfit so fucking stupid has got to be a cover for our real intelligence agency.
—Ed McBain, Money, Money, Money
Anything for a Buck
Three days after the disaster, they were already selling these T-shirts on Canal Street.
I could not resist buying one, but would never dare to wear it.
rare photographs of the wreckagecopyright notice
(September 13, 2001)
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