Thursday, September 12, 2002

Sometime after 1 a.m. Tuesday night I turned the computer off, put my shoes on, and grabbed the discthing. I wasn't sure if I'd do a bike ride, a beer thing (2-4-1) or what. Once I started riding, with the soft sounds in my ears, I headed to the West Side. I thought I would merely get to the Hudson, and relax and reflect on the bicycle path there that I'd been to so many times last fall. I paused briefly at Carmine and Bedford, the spot I stopped last year on the night of the 11th, around the same hour, remembering. The black man sitting on the curb playing the saxophone, and the man standing on the corner, oddly alone and looking as if he were waiting. Because I had stopped at the traffic light, he had looked over, and we wound up talking for a few minutes about his brother who he hadn't heard from in a few hours, who he expected to provide food and a place to sleep for the night. The crescent moon to the north grabbed our attention simultaneoulsy, we grew quiet, and then parted. That thought fading, I continued west, and once at the West Side Hwy, I headed south, just to see how far the path would take me, and was surprised how quickly I got all the way downtown, suddenly at the spot I had not actually been to all year. I wound up just standing there, straddling my bike between my legs, as a handful of other late-night people milled around. I turned the discthing off, but kept the headphones on for a bit as protection against strangers. Was suprisingly unemotional, but I allowed whatever thoughts to flow through as they needed to. A bunch of satellite TV vans, the site itself lit up with huge football stadium-like lights. I could not see in, as there is a fence, but rather looked around, at all the witnessing buildings surrounding the site. This is the only place that the flag has seemed appropriate, comforting, in fact, to me. Everywhere else I see it I have suspicions of thoughts and agendas far different than my own - war, revenge, unquestioning loyalty to people and things that need questioning now more than ever. But here I am content to accept only a spirit of rememberance in my head. Cars whiz by, sometimes stopping as there is a traffic light here at West Street and Liberty. The occasional loud radio surprisingly doesn't soften, even when the driver figures out where they are. The hum of trucks and the sight of an occasional worker-type indicate that preparations are still being made for ceremony in the morning. I can see the huge Century 21 sign across the way on its building, a huge flag behind me on the World Financial Center, and a few spots clearly carved out (but currently empty) of the surrounding buildings for newscasters and "dignitaries" to have their view. Seeing it empty, and fairly quiet, colorless, late at night, I am somehow ok that it'll be remarkably different in only a few short hours. After maybe 20 minutes I start to head back north, pausing once more for a different angle, slowly passing a solitary woman in quiet tears. Intending to head back, I wind up riding around the site, a block or two away, but from several angles, and seeing more tribute-like items scrawled on walls, left at corners.

I wind up going for the 2-4-1 beer, but stay long enough only to have the first beer, and the chip entitling me for another stays in my pocket, unused. Across the street, at The Cock, the dense crowd seems more drugged-out than usual. I have a joint stuffed somewhere in a pocket, but the music, the "vibe" here doesn't feel right. Everyone is glassy-eyed, a few silly dancers seem to only bump into me, not into the rest of the crowd. I don't stay long, I ride aimlessly towards my home, and it's not long before I am asleep.

In the morning I woke up for only a few minutes around 10 am, long enough to hear that the world was very quiet, a cool breeze from the window urging me to go back to sleep, and I did. Maybe an hour later I wake, the kids in the playground nearby making their usual noises, screams and laughter, very reassuring. Coffee, blog-skimming, laundry, and later a bike ride just around the park nearby, I took it easy, enjoyed the relative quiet this part of town affords. In the back of my head I knew there was lots of activity elsewhere, the occasional plane or helicopter straying way over east, above.

Worked scheduled for 6, I got there my usual 15 minutes early. It was slow for the first hour and a half, something that was expected. Suddenly it got busy, and I was unable to quietly contemplate, greatful for that. At one point a woman with a large grinning face starts to order, prefaced with "I have a question" Apparenlty she wants a la carte what we only serve as a meal, I explain the menu a bit, she asks for suggestions, consults with her tall, but unhelpful husband, I keep smiling (the computer screen actually says SMILE! SMILE! SMILE! on it in case we forget). She orders something finally, which of course involves making several more decisions, she hands over money, I smilingly hand her change, she asks for one of the bottled sodas. As I hand it to her, and some more change, she smiles widely and says "thank you for being so patient with me, it's been a long day, 12 hours at Ground Zero." I finally look beyond her face, and take in the flag pin on her shirt, the surprisingly inoffensive patriotic t-shirt, her husband is wearing an FDNY memorial baseball style cap, and some Veterans t-shirt. I smile more genuinely now, nodding quietly towards her, my eyes - no, you are at work, hold it in.... I wait for their order, it seems to have quieted down, and I look them over. They look like the "ugly Americans" that you see on the tour busses, or in foreign capitals, with loud clothing and phrase books. But I am also seeing their eyes, and I only see 2 other humans, and am warmed by their tired eyes. When the order is ready, she isn't in the store, but he is, I hand it to him, wish him a goodnight, and he inspects the inside of the bag breifly, heads to the side counter and looks to be struggling with hot sauce. I offer one of our small pre-wrapped containers, advising it might be easier for him, he smiles, thanks me, takes it as he allows our eyes to meet only briefly. I am grateful to have seen just two of them, and not a mass on some television screen. No doubt very different from me, but a subtle, welcome reminder of my own values, treating people as individuals, not dismissing them because of looks or perceived differences, and all that crap. I head over to the counter and straighten out the newspapers left there, N Y Times headlines screaming for my attention, I bury them under some local, less obvious distraction.