of September 11th was the New York City Democratic Primary. I went to
early morning minyan at the Chelsea Synagogue next to the famous Chelsea
Hotel on 23rd Street, then went to vote on 18th Street off of 8th Avenue
in Manhattan, four and half blocks away from my 14th Street apartment.
After voting, I went to an electronic repair place to drop off a remote
for my sound system and, on my way there, I saw an airliner fly over my
head. I said to a stranger, "That's too low. That pilot is going
to be in trouble." About six months later, I remembered the low
in the repair shop and news1 was on. Everyone was watching. A very short
time before I walked in, the first plane crashed into the Tower. Then
we saw the second plane.
walk toward home down 7th Avenue, I saw my fire engine company, (that
saved my building from burning down several years before), screaming down
7th Avenue. For most of them, it would be their final call. Every time
a fire engine passes me now I think of 9/11.
smoke streamed from the towers. That day I planned to complete a set of
Commedia dell'Arte masks for a good friend of mine. I turned on the TV
then turned it off. I turned on the radio and got to work. Then the first
Tower fell. Went on my roof. They had 7th Avenue blocked off all the way
down to the Trade Center. Saint Vincent's Hospital took over the street;
everyone was on the street. It was a time to be with the people of NYC
on the street.
two blocks south to 12th Street and 7th avenue, the beginning of Saint
Vincent's Hospital. Out on the street, they had dozens of beds on wheels,
office chairs all with white sheets ready for victims, dozens of IV poles
with bags of various life saving liquids ready to plug into bodies. Everyone
was looking south.
walk away from what was the World Trade Center. The second tower came
down. My friend that just got a job that summer working at Canter Fitzgerald
died then, his son was born two weeks later.
I asked a
NYPD officer, "Do they need any blood?" He told me to
stay there and he went and checked. Coming back he said, "Yes."
I yelled out, "They need blood." The NYPD officer said,
"Line up single file." And about 100 of us snaked through
the medical teams waiting for survivors. Very few survivors were coming.
in line on 11th Street. The line quickly grew so far I could not see the
end, the "type O" blood people were separated out. About an
hour after the Second Tower collapsed we heard the first sound of our
US Air Force and saw them streaking across the Manhattan sky for the first
time. The comments were mixed. Very few people cheered, many people were
silent. Several of us said, "a little late aren't you" and
similar things. There was lots of talk about how quickly are Air Force
could get to NYC from people who had served in the Air Force. Weeks later
I thought of how our great NORAD pilots were sitting on the runway in
their F16s (or F17s or F18s), sitting, waiting for orders. I cannot imagine
how frustrated our pilots must have been on 9/11.
did give blood. About noon, a short female doctor came out and rushed
by. She said, "They have no more room to store blood. Wait if
you want to, but it would be better to go up to another hospital further
uptown." That's what I did after stopping home and calling everyone
I knew who worked down there.
friends survived. I spent most of the afternoon and night with one. His
wife was out of town and did not want him to be alone. My friend lived
next to FDNY Rescue 1, the top rescue team in NYC. One of the chiefs along
with many wives were waiting. He was explaining the pancake effect of
the collapse of the towers. It was Rescue 1's final call.
home down the middle of the street through a dark Time Square with the
only thing lit up: a Morgan Stanley sign with a scrolling phone number
to call for their missing workers. My friend never returned to Ground
Zero. He moved out of state. I walk home alone from Time Square down the
middle of 7th Avenue to 14th Street.
was in a cab when he saw Philippe Petit cross the World Trade Center on
the high wire in the early 70's.
I made contact
with my brother who happened to be close to the World Trade Center that
morning in a taxicab. The cab driver said, "I'm sorry, just have
to go home," after witnessing the collapse of both towers from
not too far away. Almost all the phones were out and only one company's
cell phones were working. Not too many people had that company.
were stopped and there were very few cabs. Everyone was walking. My brother
had to pick up his son from school way uptown. He knocked on the window
of a cab that a fellow was in and asked if he could share the cab uptown
with him. The man, in his 20's or 30's said, "Sure".
The man was a very large man well over 200 pounds and was pale white .
My brother asked, "Are you alright?" The man said, "I
work for Morgan Stanley a few floors below where the plane hit. The impact
blew out all the windows and I saw my colleagues sucked out of the windows
from the air pressure along with all the furniture. The only reason I
was not sucked out was because I happened to grab onto something on the
floor. It took all of my strength to crawl out on the floor because the
pressure was so strong I could not stand up. Crawled to the emergency
exit and made it out." Then he said, "I am never working
for that f**king company again. The next thing you're going to hear me
say is, do you want a milkshake with those fries."
to Pier 61 Chelsea Piers on the Hudson River to volunteer and was told,
"We have no more room for volunteers. If you want to wait you
can wait with the 3,000 people in the skating rink that we will never
use; help yourself. Come back tomorrow early in the morning if you wish."
7 AM I reported again, I took my respirator. Calling a friend at a government
health department, I asked, "What kind of filter do I want in
it just in case I get down to Ground Zero?" My friend said, "Dust
and organic vapors."
Put in the
right filters, put on a back support, and work boots. I headed to Chelsea
Piers and was told, "We do not need you. Try back at around 10:00
if you want to." I walked back downtown along Chelsea Piers at
the end of the Pier. I heard a loud yell from an old friend Jonathan Rackman.
We embraced and talked.
me, "What are you doing?" "Going
home - they don't need any help." Jonathan said, "Stay
here, you can help me, we are getting support supplies for the rescue
workers and feeding all of the ambulance drivers." Ambulances
lined the West Side Highway as far as one could see. I said, "Great".
He put me in charge while he made a delivery of ice to Ground Zero. Working
with another fellow, we quickly organized the supplies in the area: medical
supplies, power bars, water, clothing, and made a food serving area. Putting
together various odd objects to make long tables. By 10:00 AM I had a
crew of over 100 people, and we were getting lists of needed supplies
from Jonathan as well as figuring out what they needed. Making lists,
finding places to photo copy them and distributing them. Supplies were
pouring in. Over that week we had about
we got a big break. We would be shipping supplies down in a Police Boat.
We would load a police boat fully in about 45 seconds, lining everyone
up in a chain gang passing supplies. Somethings we sent down we did not
understand why they needed them. Why do they need so many boots and
sox? Later I found out the boots were melting on the pile from the
heat and lasted only one use. Discovered the EMS Crews were trapped in
their units and could not leave them, so we loaded food on shopping carts
and wheeled up and down the line. We also learned what we needed to support
the EMS crews and they made us more aware that the dust masks that everyone
was asking people to donate were useless. I knew this as an artist.
down power bars and power drinks. Late at night Jonathan came back up
on the Police boat and told us, "No more power drinks. They need
caffeine soda." We found caffeine soda. We also cleaned out Pier
61 F.E.M.A. supply of soda. They were not happy about that. Then Jonathan
told us, "We need it on ice." We supplied ice. All from
the parking lot at the end of the pier.
in a while I would go up to Pier 61 F.E.M.A. (Federal Emergency Management
Agency - they were official, along with official organization people from
various organizations) to ask if they had a certain supply. If they did,
we would find someone to give it to us. Then one time I was told to wait.
Someone needed to talk to me. I said, "I don't have time."
Then I realized it was not a request. I was put in this very dark room
with one computer screen and a man that interviewed me as to who I was
and what organization we were, who was in charge. We were not an organization.
We were citizens from the area and around the world. Artist, writers,
actors, high fashion models, caterers, therapists, bartenders, white-collar
workers, teachers and so on. "But who are you", he said?
"A Jewish artist, actor, mask maker." "How did you organize
this?" "People came and asked what can I do to help and we gave
people things to do that are helping." He said, "We have
to call you something!" I said, "Call us anything you
want. What Pier is that down there?" He said, "Pier 59."
"Great, call us Pier 59." And they did. He asked me to wait
and he took all my identification and came back and said, OK thank you
can go now. And I left back to my crews. Later I found out all the officials
organization people and F.E.M.A people at Pier 61 were waiting all day
to talk to him. They knew there would be big money contracts coming. He
came late at night and I was the only person he spoke with, then he left.
Later I found out several of the official charity people were not happy
with me, because I was the only person he spoke with.
midnight I realized I had been on my feet since about 7:00 AM and knew
if I did not get a little sleep I would start making stupid decisions.
I learned when I met writer Ken Kesey in Oregon to start something but
don't be afraid to hand it off to someone else. So I handed the control
off to three women that took charge while I went to get some shuteye.
On the way home I ran into a local news crew (NYC News1) and told them
what kind of respirators were needed at Ground Zero. They were not interested.
(Mind you I looked like hell and nothing official.) So I went to the other
news crew from Philadelphia. They were shooting people cheering the dump
trucks and emergency vehicles as they went up and down the West Side Highway
to and from Ground Zero. The news crew said they did not have the right
audience for it. I told them but they can get the information to the right
audience and people. They interviewed me for about 10 minutes and I told
them what kind of respirators and filters were needed and what kind of
eye goggles and about my friend at the government health department and
gave them filter numbers. Then the local NY News1 crew came back and interviewed
me. I told them just get the information out. They did. People told me
it went all over the news the next day.
bed but only had visions until about 3:30 in the morning, at that time
I sat straight up in bed and shouted, "3M call 3M they have respirators."
I was about to run down to Pier 61, (they had phones that worked) when
I realized they were closed at this hour. First thing in the morning I
was at Pier 61 and with information from my official friend that could
not get the information through the government system. I told the phone
person to call 3M and told him exactly what to ask for. Then I went back
down to Pier 59. About 30 minutes later a fellow working with Pier 61
F.E.M.A. came down and said, "Just wanted to let you know 3M is
delivering 3 truck loads of supplies to Ground Zero." I heard
it arrived on Sunday and it was in small part because of a Chelsea political
liberal artist. The person working with F.E.M.A. quit F.E.M.A. and started
working with us because he said, "You folks down here are effective
and getting things done."
the ugliest parts of the support of rescue workers was on Friday. We had
fresh construction and FDNY rescue crews waiting to go down to Ground
Zero. We were still shipping supplies down. But no fresh crews were allowed
to come and go. We kept on hearing all work at Ground Zero was frozen.
No search and rescue was going on. Why? George W. Bush is coming to make
a speech at 12:00 noon. We could not believe it. Rescue work is stopped
because of a speech. Why couldn't George W. Bush give the speech from
Washington? He is stopping rescue work! Bush was late; very late
crews were frozen from about 6:00 AM until way after 6:00 PM. It was hard
to believe that Bush and his gang were that insensitive. Every time I
ran into a worker from Ground Zero I would ask him about Friday. Everyone's
words were the same. All work was frozen on Friday.
other great things that we did - we had all professional caters running
the food station and we had all of our physiologists and therapists serving
coffee (it was their idea) and they would do therapy around the coffee
pot because they knew the rescue workers would not come in and sit down.
They helped them, got them talking.
thing Pier 59 did was give people a way to help. I made some of the best
friends in my life those days that I most likely will never see again.
One person that was part of our crew went on to get training and is now
an international disaster relief worker. She bases everything of what
to do right on what we did at Pier 59 when we took chaos and made it work
- helping people. After we loaded a boat I would have us give a hand to
ourselves and cheer. That's how we were able to load a police boat in
less than a minute.
stream though my head. Where was our air force? How can a jet liner do
a U-turn around Cleveland, fly past about 5 US Air Bases, after the first
plane hit the tower and fly in frozen air space after the World Trades
Centers were hit?
there was one official White House person that did do something, US Transportation
Secretary Norman Manetta, the only Democrat
he took action. He alone
made the decision to ground all the air traffic in the United States.
He is the only White House person that acted that day under pressure and
was effective. On 9/11 my sister was flying out of Oakland, California
and my brother was flying out of Portland, Oregon - they found a blade
on one of the Portland airplanes.
of 9/11 is not fear. Almost all of the fear was on TV. The lesson is hope,
unity, love and togetherness in action.
Friday and getting to be sundown, Bush had finally arrived and our relief
crews of firemen and construction workers were still waiting to go down.
Pier 59 was a well oiled organization now and based on Ken Kesey's concept
do not be afraid to step aside; I called a friend and asked if
there was a place I could go for Friday night Shabbos dinner. My friend
said, yes your invited to Yosefa's, in the Village near Washington
Square Park. My 9/11 world was 7th Ave and 14th Street to Chelsea Piers,
I had not walked around the city at all. As I walked to the Rabbi's home
though the Greenwich Village I saw all of the candles. They were everywhere,
thousands of them. Bus shelters turned into memorials covered with pictures
of the missing and amazing number of candles. The pictures of the missing
were everywhere you looked, on every lamppost, covering the out side walls
of the hospital and there were the people walking from hospital to hospital
and asking every stranger, "have you seen my loved one."
Passed one firehouse in the Greenwich Village, the entire sidewalk was
covered solid with candles, flowers, poems and thank you notes. I usually
light Shabbos candles on Friday and enjoy the peace of them. The feelings
from everyone in the city encompassed a closeness with oneness never experienced
before. The peacefulness and love from around the world and you could
feel pouring in; it was like thick mist of peacefulness and love. This
love obliterated what fear there was. I saw very little fear. In weeks
to follow I experienced a web site of photographs, tributes from around
the globe, mass memorials with a few people and thousands of people. The
people that came to help from around the country and world, some places
and people that always looked down on NYC came and had a total change
of heart about NYC. The love from that week will always be with me. It
is that closeness, peacefulness and love that many will remember and always
be with them. It would be nice to build on that.
I made about a year after 9/11. They express some of my feelings and experiences
about the event.
of any sales of these sets of masks will go to a charity of our choosing.