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xmag.com : October 2001:New York State of Mind

I was awake at the dawning of the new world.


I got up early that day. I had coffee, thought about what to wear. Took a hot bath. Wanted love, real estate and rock and roll.

I was surviving after five months in the naked city, and feeling pretty damn victorious about it. I was loved and respected and had even managed to beguile two local fishwrappers to dish on my persona that very week. New York Magazine was running a piece about my sexual exploits called "The Newbie" (in which I was described as an atypical ex-stripper with a first-class education and cowgirl eyes who covers her mouth when she laughs) and in days my first big piece (regarding my first big love: rock 'n' roll) would appear in the Village Voice. Portland friends were coming to visit for the CMJ music festival and I was closing in on an apartment and a drummer. The weather was perfect. It was Fashion Week. It was September 11th.

I ran to catch my subway at Borough Hall in Brooklyn. It wasn't packed like it usually was. I got cozy for the ride to midtown as the train lurched under the East River and into Manhattan. By Bowling Green I got a seat. The next stop was Wall Street, and the end of the world as I knew it.

At Wall Street, a handful of guys in suits got on, looking about as happy as guys in suits EVER look. They were chattering like gossip columnists at a wedding, something about airplanes flying into buildings. The World Trade Center. And that this was probably the last train in any direction that we were on, hallelujah, and that they were goin' to New Jersey.

The atmosphere changed perceptibly. I glanced around the subway at everyone else who was glancing around the subway. We were petrified. The train stopped at Fulton Street, right under the World Trade Center, and the doors seemed to never close. I did not want to be underground. I wanted to run the hell out of there and keep running to the south Bronx. Or to South Dakota.

Each subway stop offered its own destiny like a choose-your-own-adventure book from my childhood. Brooklyn Bridge: I could run home to Brooklyn. But if the shit hit the fan, I'd be stuck there, on Long Island. I'd played enough Risk to know that. If I got off at Union Square, I could sleep off this nightmare at a friend's house: all the late-night Village people were undoubtedly still snug in bed. But again, if this was as bad as as it sounded, that whole area might be pretty ugly, too. So I stayed on 'til Grand Central, my usual stop, and dutifully went to my two-day a week 9-5 copy-writing job, unsure of what else to do.

When I got to Fifth Avenue, there were hordes of people gawking in horror at the towering inferno down the street. Some were crying. All were on cell phones. I went in to my office where my boss, the author of the businessman's Bible, The Power of Yes, tried assuaging me with statistics:

"The odds are one in eight million you'd be on that floor when the plane hit....just relax and find some work....probably more like one in ten million...." Hadn't he heard there were two planes? i.e., HIGHLY CHOREOGRAPHED TERRORIST ATTACK?! All the secretaries were crying. The Pentagon was hit. My supervisor grabbed my arm, saying, "Let's get some tea and get to work." Instead we went to see Evelyn, who had a daughter on the 83rd floor. That girl was dead. We all knew it. I was out of there. I might be the new kid in town, without that New Yawk tuff to talk me down, but I had survival instincts and they were screamin'. There were other targets all around us: Times Square, Grand Central, the Empire State Building, the U.N. Building. I was Snake Pliskin. I was Escape from New York. I was walkin' to Connecticut in my slutty Florentine boots­not quite made-for-walkin', and carrying a five-pound Proust novel­not quite made-for-carryin'.

Walking up Park Avenue, I was most shocked by all the people doing their normal New York things. The gal on the corner was still distributing flyers advertising $3.99 lunch specials, as if this mass migration of people might be her big break. Old dudes were still lookin' me up and down and young dudes hollered and whistled from cars. Near the Met, a T-shirt guy was straightening his wares, many with that old familiar skyline, the skyline of the old era, the old civilization, an age of innocence when people wrote magazines about clothes.

But it's all over now, baby blue. The soulless silly zeitgeist that was the best my generation could dish up is dissipating with the dust. This horrible cataclysm has given our lives gravitas we've never known, and overnight. Entirely new ways of surviving are percolating on the streets of New York. One can only pray what results is not an era of terror or vengeance, but of heightened consciousness, faith and love. And subsequently trenchant art, words and music.

By Wednesday the 12th, when the new era was self-evident and there was no turning back, what was most haunting and bizarre about this island-wide crime scene is how normal and calm everything was: how New Yorkers were desperately clinging to their little everyday rituals, and how these little things­getting out of bed, buying orange juice, riding the subway, walking the dog, writing about clothes­will rebuild this nation more than billions of dollars of federal aid or the second-grade sound-bites of our President and all his men and women. These people have got the weight of the world on their backs, and they look it. People have turned inward, they've been brutally reminded what's really important and they are sad, so sad. But they know where to turn for help: They turn to each other, and they turn to their God. This is one town with a heart big enough to heal the whole nation. And I heart it more than ever. I heart New York.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Mom's burying her head in the New York Times and Dad wants us to have our passports ready in order to move the Las Vegases back to Norway. But I've listened to his sermons enough times to know what I gotta do right now. I'm walking the NYC streets; I'm sayin I-love-yous; I'm listening to strangers. Cuz the most important thing in times like these, says the Reverend, is just to be present.




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