My diary diary for August 4, 2001 is just two lines: “Drinking martinis and Pisco Sours at the top of the World Trade Center. Hard to see; can’t see the city.”
A month later, the bar disappeared, fixtures and fittings crumbled within the cloud of atomised humanity. The world is in shock, and New York is in mourning.
But on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, I was not in New York City; I was on the island of Nantucket with a small crew of Irishmen – carpenters and painters – repairing an old cedar shingle house.
With a hangover that feels like a dogfight behind my eyeballs, I slipped into the store to grab a bagel and some hard black coffee. On the newsstand, the front page of the New York Times is about the mayorâs race, and bipartisan agreements to revive the economy. It was a slow news day.
The music in the radio store was interrupted by an announcement. “Reports are coming in about a twin-engine plane crashing into one of the World Trade Towers.” The man nodded behind the counter and said, “Perhaps some senile dentist from New Jersey, is lost in the fog.”
It made sense, though it was a hot morning and there wasnât much chance of fog. I picture the pilot of a small Cessna, thick glasses and the sun shining directly on his face. I feel sorry for him, because the sky is a big place, and you donât really expect to feel an obstacle.
An attack on America is the last thing that comes to mind. After all, itâs been a long time since Ramzi Yousef drove a truck full of bombs in the basement of the World Trade Center. The plan was to demolish the North Tower into the South Tower and bury 35,000 souls under the rubble. Ramzi, the Wile E Coyote of the terrorists, was hit in a fight and lit a twenty -foot fuse. He killed six people.
The time was about 9:00 and I would take my coffee to the wharf, where the incoming ferry from Hyannis would grind against the rubber buffers. Nantucket thrives, but does not include wealthy tourists and summer residents; their term ended a week ago, on Labor Day. Now, working men and women are emerging from the wings to clean up the mess left by three months of adventure. We came from Boston and New York with mops, buckets, jigsaws and paintbrushes.
The bagel is like a delicious window, and the coffee makes a passed weedkiller. A woman was hurrying to the edge of the shore, her face flushed, tears on her cheeks. “It’s horrible,” he said, “it’s like the end of the world.” I should have asked what he meant, but seven years in New York taught me not to engage with people sobbing while talking about the talk. In any case, it’s time to get to work.
I take the open Jeep, provided by the homeowner, and head to work. The hangover begins to bite, and sharp fragments of last night are pricking the memory balloon. Am I at every bar on the island? I remember the old joke, “Irish people only drink on days that start with the letter M: Monday, Moosday, Mensday ….”
The house we work in is modest by Nantucket standards, but it has amazing ocean views, and is right next to Tommy Hilfigerâs $ 25 million mansion, which he will eventually lose in a divorce. I pull out of the house and notice something unexpected: the silence. No hammer, no grinding, no sanding, no saw. Above all, there is no swearing and swearing. Itâs pretty much like the end of the world.
Inside the house, the silence was broken by a muffled voice on CNN.
“It looks like the plane lined itself up perfectly to reach the building.”
When I enter the living room and see the asheno faces staring at the screen, we are clearly not talking about a myopic dentist who is from Jersey.
The rest of the day turned into a battle against failed communications. All cell phone systems are falling apart. Land lines also. We need to go back to the city, to family and friends. Beloved ones.
The tools are already packed. The house is locked. Tickets for the ferry purchased. Back on the mainland, we piled on the old Ford station wagon, and began the five -hour journey to New York city. There was no conversation and this road, the busiest in America, seemed to close around the car. Our thoughts, the only traffic.
Finally, the loud noise of Manhattan: police sirens, fire trucks, and F-16s roaring above. Everyone wanted to go to town and help, but no one wanted to see the gaping wound.
According to a man at my local bar, âif you want to attack America, you donât bomb New York; we have no Americans here. Itâs just a group of immigrants tied together with a subway system. If youâre looking for Americans, go to Nebraska. â
An Afghan taxi driver told me, “I’m not ashamed of who I am, but I have a friend from Kabul, he lives in Brooklyn and wears a T-shirt that says, Proud to be Puerto Rican.”
The New York Times began printing obituaries, hundreds first, but thousands more. We read as much as we could, but itâs hard to reach the dead. Graffiti appears on a wall in Central Park: âAmerica. Love it or leave it, “but sometimes, a country is too big to love, and a city is just the right size. A city can easily fit within the human imagination.
In my apartment, stuck in the refrigerator with a magnet, a piece of documents that should be taken care of for a long time. I laid them on the kitchen table. Form N-400 is twenty pages long and each question must be answered correctly. This is the first step on the path to citizenship.
Barry McKinley is author of A Ton of Malice