The following is from a series of musings on trauma, memory, community, and place. The introduction to the series and beginning essay [link] explains the purpose of this month of entries.
I remember my work at a food magazine in New York City.
Our rule of thumb was “authenticity”.
Which we were often forced to, well, replicate rather artificially.
Nonetheless, we used to take pride in our local attention to neighborhood restaurants and the like.
Attempting to anchor by sheer force of will certain aspects of a New York slated for destruction.
In December of 2001, however, a staff Christmas party was held in a restaurant about a block or two away from “the Hole”.
It was our effort to “support downtown businesses”.
Because, you might remember, business “suffered” at that time.
No one seemed to mind that “Radio Row”–an entire business district–was obliterated and thousands displaced to allow those Towers to rise.
But that’s a whole other discussion.
A note from our company’s owner reminded us that the then president-select wanted us to “think about the economy” and return to work as soon as possible.
It wasn’t his idea we should have a company party, that’s for sure.
It was all I could do to go down there.
Klieg lights marked “the Void”.
I kept my back to them.
Inside the restaurant, we tried to make small talk.
It was an exercise in absurdity.
I recall a colleague stating she no longer felt “safe”.
This despite her Soho loft with 24/7 doorman, concierge, driver, maid, nanny, etc.
She also said that she could not imagine living without her satin sheets.
Her exact words.
I just stared at her in disbelief.
This list of individual takes on “9/11” is endless.
The media refer to these as “human interest” stories.
They work best when there is an obvious “hero” overcoming “adversity”.
Such adversity often takes the form of peoples from a different stratum of society.
The translation of which might read: “Triumph of the (Unpopular) Will”.
Such narratives ignore history, economics, and politics.
And those not of a certain arrived class.
This is a tactic, of course.
I ran into this same colleague in the coffee shop down the street from work a few days later.
She had her son with her.
As little boys are wont to do, he was a bit all over the place.
This is perfectly valid in a world where children are allowed to be children.
This is quite forbidden in a world where children are treated as tiny adults.
My colleague was hard-pressed how to handle the situation.
Her stress, palpable, was obviously the source of the child’s acting out.
At one point she cornered her son against the counter.
She leaned into his face and held his arms fast.
She was saying something in a very low voice.
I strained to hear what she might be saying.
All the while feeling slightly embarrassed for her.
Because her intervention was worse than his rambunctiousness.
The boy stood stock still for a bit.
And then he screamed out loud: “I can’t take it any more!”
He summed up a certain malcontent spirit.
One that is, generally speaking, slated for extermination.
I give him credit for realizing it.
And for voicing it at such a young age.
Image: The Flatiron Building, near my former place of employ. | Date: 2002 | Place: Fifth Avenue and Madison Park | Camera: Spartus “Full-Vue” 120mm/1940s | Caption: Unlike other buildings destroyed in their remaking–such as Edward Durell Stone’s “lollipop building” at 2 Columbus Circle–the Flatiron was simply cleaned up and restored to its original glory.