Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 11:53:09 -0400
Subject: Wednesday Update from NYC

Good morning.

The weather is absolutely beautiful again in Manhattan today. I'm looking out my window westward and it looks exactly the same as it always has any other beautiful morning here. For a moment, part of my mind sees that and takes hold of the idea that everything really is OK, kind of the way you feel when you come out of a movie theater and see the world and remember that it was all just a movie. But of course, it was all real. It still seems surreal, but it was real. My view looks exactly the same, but Manhattan will never be the same; not just the skyline, but the psyche of the city, which is now shaken in a way that I'm sure it has never been shaken before.

Of course it's not just this city. Is it an East Coast-centered view of things, or do we all not live in a seriously different world now?

I'm surprisingly tired. After the news of the attack broke yesterday, I spent the entire day with low-level shakes and a knot in my stomach, the kind I used to get when I got into a fight. I went out for dinner with my friends Arthur and Matthias last night and they both told me they felt the same all day long. This is all very exhausting.

The city is very quiet and last night the East Village was like a small town in the country. Instead of the sound of cars, there was the sound of people talking and televisions that had been set up on the street. Most of the restaurants and cafes were closed, but it was beautiful weather, a nice night to be out with friends. I was grateful not to be alone.

Today Manhattan is basically closed for business south of 14th street. My apartment is at 15th Street, so there's a lot of activity in my neighborhood. I went out this morning to buy the paper, visit my bank, and perhaps get a few groceries. You may be pleased to hear that there is no run on groceries, nor is there run on the banks here, but there is a run on newspapers. The vendor I spoke with told me that he had already received two ordinary shipments of the Daily News and the Post, both of which immediately sold out.

People on the street were looking in vain for the New York Times. The vendor told me that it had not arrived at all today. I heard two people passing by, one of them disgustedly saying, "It's printed in New Jersey."

A dozen city buses were lined up along 14th Street at First Avenue, waiting to receive new routes. Bridges and tunnels into Manhattan are shut down, except for subway traffic, pedestrian traffic, and emergency vehicles. I wonder how long they will stay closed. I have enough ordinary food, but what if I want some blueberries with my Sunday brunch?

At the Korean shop where I usually buy my fruit and vegetables, the father of the family that runs the shop was at the cash register. This isn't normal. He can barely speak English and he's about seventy years old. As I was shopping, Jenny, his delightful young daughter arrived. She told me that she'd had about three hours sleep. Her phone was ringing all night with calls from relatives in Korea, then she had to get up early to take a train from Queens, because the buses were not running to Manhattan. Her father got up at 5:00 a.m. to come in and make sure they would be able to do business at their shop on 14th Street. As we were talking, a Korean shop owner from 10th Street came in looking for quarters. Damn. A quarter shortage already. I hope Alan Greenspan is taking swift measures.

It was disturbing to see Jenny's father running the cash register. I expect of this kind of disturbing feeling to happen again and again for perhaps the next year, as one by one I discover that people I knew were killed in yesterday's attack.

My friend Michael and I are unable to locate Geoff, who is subletting across the hallway; and I haven't heard from my former girlfriend, Nana, who lived one block away from the WTC. The cumulative grief in this city is going to be practically unbearable.

I ran into my friend Chris, a composer who lives in my building. He was out this morning looking for a paper, despite having the flu and a temperature of a hundred and two. I told them that the papers were sold out and he could go back to his apartment and rest. "I came out to buy a paper, and I'm going to buy a paper, dammit!" he said, seriously, but humorously. I understand his feelings. You can't just sit in your apartment and watch TV all day.

I can't just sit in front of my computer screen all day either, so I'll send this off and go out and buy some more film and then head downtown, if that is possible, to take more photos. But let me leave you with a few little images and experiences of the aftermath:

Fighter planes flying over me as I do my Tai Chi on the roof. It will be a long time before people here are comfortable with planes flying overhead.

Policeman everywhere, without their usual smug indifference. (Encountering a kindly New York cop on the street is a startling thing.)

Early evening, a strangely empty and quiet China Town, the tranquility punctuated by various police-escorted convoys: -Two bottled water trucks (Poland Spring and Deer Park). -Twenty empty dump trucks. -Six engines from the Hauppague City Fire Department.

A roving campaign van for the city primary (which was scheduled for yesterday, but now postponed) announcing, "If you have type-O blood or type-O-negative blood please go to one of the following locations ..."

A woman cop, who had been at the World Trade Center when the second plane hit, saying, "I'm ready to turn in my badge. They can have my paycheck." Then, a moment later, "It was like in an dream, you're runnin' in slow motion."

Crowds of people gathered on street corners in the shadow of the plume of smoke and dust, all gazing toward the constantly changing view of the financial district.

Discussing with an Orthodox Jew and a Chinese-American woman the rising prosperity in Brooklyn, at a police barricade on the corner of St. James and Madison, manned by an Italian-American cop.

A nurse in full white uniform, with her face mask on, jumping on her bicycle and heading back through the police barricade, saying, "I have to get home and take care of my kids and then come right back."

A yuppie of some sort offering two little black kids twenty bucks for a burnt piece of a World Trade Center fax. The kids accepted his offer in a heartbeat. I sort of hoped that they had faked it to make a quick dollar, but the way it was burnt was unnatural. And where would those kids have gotten a piece of paper from the World Trade Center?

A fellow standing next me said that a friend in Brooklyn told him that papers from the World Trade Center were fluttering down on Brooklyn like propaganda leaflets. Funny how the tools of capitalism are pieces of paper, and funny how they can be carried across a river on a plume of smoke and dust and jet fuel.

Thank you all for your phone calls and e-mails of support. Please forgive me for not responding individually right away. I'm tired and busy, but I'm really fine. I enjoy writing about this, which is probably good, since I am a writer. There's also the possibility that writing is part of some cathartic self-therapy thing, right?

We'll see.

Take care. I'll send more soon,

Kurt


PHOTOS

 © Kurt Opprecht, 2001

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