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Memory of a Beautiful September Morning – September 11, 2001

With all the other September 11 anniversaries going on, recollections from the big players, I thought I should relate my tale:

I was working tech support for C-level officers of Siemens Business Services in the Citicorp building, 53rd and Lexington, 56th floor.  I was preoccupied with casting for a table read of Wittenberg, my prequel of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  I was composing flyers and collecting headshots between printer problems and password resets.

That Tuesday morning, right after 9 AM, I stepped out of the server room and noticed the smoke coming from the World Trade Center, and every employee on the floor was nose-pressed against the glass windows.  The southern view shows a glorious view of the Chrysler Building on the left, Empire State Building on the Right, and WTC in the middle, downtown.

I stood, nose-pressed to the window glass with everyone else for a moment, then ran to an employee’s desk, tried to bring up CNN on the internet for some explanation. So many other people were trying to do the same thing that the site was down.  All we heard was that a plane had flown into the building.
We looked around — a perfect September day.  Not a cloud in sight.

I called my father in North Carolina.  “Hello,” he began, clueless.

“Dad, what’s the report?  What are they saying on the news?”

“Bren, I just got out of the shower and I’m naked.  What are you talking about?”

“A plane just flew into the World Trade Center.”  Can’t remember what my father said, but it was something about putting clothes on, turning on the TV and calling me back.  So I hung up.

Then I saw another plane, “Hey, is that another plane?  It looks like it’s… It’s heading right for the building! ”  From that distance, it looked small, but then it pierced the WTC and the yellow and red explosion  — something I had only seen in movies until that moment  — sucked the air out of the room.

We all gasped. Women screamed.  We ran to phones.  The report was almost immediate: “They believe there are up to 8 more planes in the air.”  It didn’t take us more than a nanosecond to count: WTC… Empire State Building… Grand Central Station… Chrysler… Citicorp.

“Get the hell out of the building.”

My boss called, asking the tech support staff to secure laptops in case the officers need to shift to the satellite location for a few days.  “Screw that!”  I said, grabbing my bag and heading for the elevators.

As I exited the building, a German employee turned to me, “What does this all mean?”

“It means we just went to war,” I blurted, and headed directly to an electronics kiosk across the street.  The radio was on and a handful of people were glued to it.  It was then that we heard that one tower fell.

A passerby asked for the latest.  I told him one tower had fallen.  He looked baffled and asked what I was talking about.  The idea was impossible.  “I said, the tower fell.  There is only one World Trade Center building now.”

He braced himself against the counter as I gritted my teeth.  I exited the kiosk and headed south.  I wanted terrorists running amuck on the streets so I could kill every last one of them.  Or I was going to help save the victims.  Something, I didn’t know, and I was pissed the mayor wasn’t directing us,  but against the flood of New Yorkers heading north, I was heading south.

At Grand Central Station I got in a cop’s face, “What are we supposed to do?!”

“I don’t know.  Just, just get off the street.”  We still didn’t know that Mayor Guilliani was trapped in a building near WTC, but I remembered I had a friend living on 43rd and 5th, so I redirected my steps on the chance he was home.

He was home, and he let me in.  We spent the next three hours staring at his TV, discovering what the rest of the planet knew about the falling towers, the missing planes, the train system shut down, commuters walking across bridges to get off the island.

My friend looked at me tearfully, “Almost 50 THOUSAND people work in those towers.”

I said nothing for a while.  Until we heard a report that the 1/9 trains were running.  Many people were heading for the hospitals to give blood.  Something to help the city.  I called another friend, Ryan,  who lived at 165th, near the hospital.  I announced like Mussolini that I was coming, that he was taking me to the hospital to give blood, and then we’d decide what to do next.

When I left the subway at 168th Street, Ryan called and said there were lines around the block for giving blood.

And that the hospitals didn’t need blood.  There weren’t that many survivors.

I walked home from there.  My voicemail was blinking  — calls from my father saying he’d tried calling my cell phone but the cell lines were down and he hadn’t heard from me in over 6 hours.  I called, reassured him that I was fine.

Then I hibernated, as most New Yorkers did, for the next several days.

Later I learned that an actor friend had been downtown for an audition that morning, and spent the next 36 hours running an abandoned Burger King to feed the service workers, breaking into apartments and stealing food to cook in the Burger King microwaves to feed the firemen and other service workers.

There are times I think that I might have done that, though 36 hours is a long time under that kind of stress.  Our service workers were under it a lot longer, with few breaks and time running out on survivors buried beneath the towers.

And we didn’t lose 50,000, only 3,000. That was a miracle. Story upon story emerged of people who overslept, or dozed off on the train, or otherwise found themselves inexplicably elsewhere that morning.

Still, my brother-in-law lost the entire NYC branch office of the company he worked for. Along so many police and firemen scrambling to save others.

I grew tired of print problem whining.  Rudeness on the subway.  I asked for a leave of absence to have conduct my table read. To focus on my passion.  It cost me the job, but as we discovered, life is short.

Ten years on, we know the statistics.  The loss.  We started strong, hunting the Islamic Jihadist terrorists or Radical Muslim terrorists and Fascist Islamists or what other accurate description of our attackers you prefer.

I wrote a terrorist action script…  and shelved it since Hollywood no longer wants to make movies with Muslim terrorist villains.  My research (after all, what did I know about Islam before 9/11?) brought me to a fascinating medieval conflict that became my Knight of the Temple script.  That too is proving difficult to sell in Hollywood.  We shouldn’t expect a remake of El Cid anytime soon either.

Now living in California, I published my Wittenberg play, and its themes of repentance drawing enemies into a new relationship are still as relevant as ever.  But I also know that’s not possible for some enemies. The Israeli mantra of “Never again” still rings loud as I look back on that beautiful Tuesday morning.

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