This is my recollection of 9-11-01. I was working about four blocks away from the World Trade Center. At that moment in our country’s history, I toiled in the IT Department of a major Portuguese bank. My office was on the corner of Wall Street and Broadway. Names have been changed to save people from the embarrassment of associating with me. I try to be a considerate douchebag. God bless all the victims and heroes of that day.
The weather in New York City on September 11, 2001 would have made San Diego jealous. At that time in my life I didn’t appreciate much, but the glorious sunshine and pleasant temperatures would have even made the most scornful of New York malcontents stop and admire the beauty laid before them. It was weather that made me feel slightly better than indifferent about being alive and healthy in the prime of my life.
I don’t remember anything about the day before. It was a long time ago, but I wasn’t still in diapers when this happened. I was nine months from my thirtieth birthday. I probably hadn’t even pissed my pants from being drunk for a few years. Still, the only thing I know about the day before was what they told me in the newspapers.
I know I was twenty nine. It was my least favorite age. I should have been climbing the corporate ladder, not spilling out of cabs and becoming a ninety proof puddle on street corners. It was my old man’s birthday. The Giants had lost a football game. And it was a Monday.
I worked in Information Technology. A fancy term for fucking around with computers. My hours at the time were 11 am to 7 pm. Great schedule for a degenerate drunk who was cursed with random instincts of responsibility. The upgrades to the IBM AS/400 had turned my night ops job into a pretty easy gig. The end of day processing flew by and I was like a maestro conducting his digital symphony. It was 2001, so there was probably still some analog in there. The Brooklyn Hipsters will tell you analog is where it’s at. I had it all down to a science and could patch up any glitch that popped up. If I couldn’t fix it, I knew which problems I could leave hanging for my very cool boss to mop up in the morning without fucking up the bank’s end of day.
If those P & L reports didn’t run some manicured platinum suit with twelve Portuguese names and a diabolical sounding European accent would chop you up and serve you in a huge dish of paella at one of the Iberian Restaurants in the Ironbound section of Newark. When the SWIFT(Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) messages didn’t go out, the Chief Information Officer–a fat, cowardly bully of a man who had more than a passing resemblance to Wally Walrus–would leave us with tread marks on the the backs of our starched dress shirts from the fleet of buses he routinely tossed us under. I had more intimate knowledge of the undercarriage of those dented steel behemoths than most MTA mechanics.
Even if the problem was caused by some back office drone who had forgotten to authorize the messages and had nothing to do with the tech side, Wally Walrus would still offer us as sacrifice to the god of corporate cronyism. Even CIOs had families to support. It was nothing personal, he would grumble as he intertwined his fat sausage fingers in phony religious contemplation. His thick mustache, stained by coffee and tobacco, camouflaged his lies enough to help him sleep at night. Like most professional bullies, he told us that these lessons would build character. He was also the older brother of one of my best friends and he hired me with no experience, or college degree. I owe him everything in my current career, which happens to be a pretty good one. I’m my biggest problem.
Funny how that shit works.
Lack of talent aside, with my easy work schedule, I should have written three bestsellers by the time I was thirty. However, I decided to spend much of that time downing beers and chasing skirts in the universe of bars in Manhattan and in Long Beach out on Long Island. It was a fun time, if not productive in the creative arena. I still had those “good rejection letters” from literary agents and publishers that I could distract drunken barflies with as I tried to get them in the sack. These rejections said that I showed some promise in my writing, but that the agent or publisher was not stupid or desperate enough to take a chance on me. Even those letters were from ’94 or ’95 and in the rearview mirror, getting smaller and smaller like a last chance gas station on a remote Patagonian highway.
My trophies of failure.
That Tuesday morning my boss had to take his car to get inspected in the morning, or some fucking thing like that. Suburban, First World inconveniences. He would be in late and needed me to run the start of day procedures. This was good news to me. I would do a twelve hour shift, 7am to 7pm, and get to pick up the always welcome overtime. I was saving for a house and the extra money would really help.
I guess you know I am lying about that last part, right? Drinks are on me!!
The Long Beach Irish fest, always the first Saturday in October, was only three weeks away. The extra money would go towards the beer drinking and whatever drugs me an my buddies were fucking around with at the time. There was sure to be some rambunctious, Trust Fund coke sluts partying in the bars. They never dipped into daddy’s millions for the lines they snorted, so that was always up to us. The young women of Long Island were a demanding crowd, but many of them were the sexual equivalent of Johnny Walker Blue Label. It was all the cost of doing business. I always tried to write these expenses off come tax time, but my Puritanical accountant always shot the idea down as he tossed Holy Water in my face. Loose women and drugs are only benefits to be enjoyed by politicians on the taxpayer’s dime.
Waking up at the ass crack of dawn, I took the 5:35 from Long Beach that morning. It was the best time to get on the LIRR from where I lived. It was the first train of the day and filled mostly with construction workers. They usually spent the hour long commute, when there wasn’t any nonsensical track or switch problems, taking a power nap before they got on with breaking concrete or hammering nails into wood. Construction worker commuters would also quietly check up on the football and baseball scores in the local tabloids. The Yankees were on the way to their fourth World Series in a row, and the Giants and Jets seasons were just getting underway. The Jets season may have already been over at this point. I don’t recall. Any Jets fans out there know exactly what I am talking about. Bottom line, sharing a train with construction workers was peaceful.
In the early days of the cell phone, the big business types ruined the quiet train ride. They were always yapping into their flip phones like some Captain Kirk of the Starship Scumbag and making the commute for everyone that didn’t have a Walkman(is that a trademark) unbearable. The blue collar dudes respected other people’s space and commuting pleasure.
This was especially helpful when recovering from a weekend of power drinking.
The previous Saturday I had attended the very festive wedding of Wally Walrus’s brother. I had been eating like shit the last two days in hopes of soaking up the remaining alcohol that was poisoning my insides. My gut felt like it was filled with enough buckshot to stop a herd of stampeding rhinos. The animal, not the species of feckless and spineless politician. I was still inflicted with drinker’s sweat and my light blue dress shirt was already matted to my back. As I loosened my tie, I was happy in the thought that I didn’t care if I had swamp ass because there was never any women on the 5:35, unless there was a female train conductor checking tickets. Like cops, they saw the worst in people. Too bad they were only armed with a ticket puncher and not a gun. There was some bad apples that prowled the LIRR.
As the train yawned into Penn Station, I stood up slowly and casually adjusted my underwear as my sweaty ball bag was clinging to the hair on my inner thigh. I looked down on the tattered vinyl seat and saw that there was no puddle of sweat.
Maybe it would be a good day?
I loved coming out of the Subway from the 2 and 3 train on Wall Street. As you peered down the thin canyon of concrete buildings, mostly banks and brokerage houses that housed more thieves than Riker’s Island, you could see the beautiful Trinity Church. I always thought that it seemed out of place among the heavy hitters in three thousand dollar suits whose only thought of God was His mention on our currency. There was also a sleazily entertaining strip club a block or two away from that. I had been inside that a dozen times. Obviously, I will not mention the names of those who attended with me. I had lost many a dollar bill to the girls that danced on the bars there, but I had never once folded one up and placed it in the collection box at the Trinity Church.
I guess I tithed to a different God?
Did I feel different on this day? Was my exit from the subway on that Tuesday like the surreal dream Father Karras had of his dying mother in The Exorcist? That is the scene where we briefly see that frightening face of evil. The Financial District was still rather quiet before 7am. I could hear the chirping of city birds and the whirring of a massive street sweeper in front of the Stock Exchange, sucking up the last little remnants of debris from some poor schmuck’s shattered dreams. The sun was shining off the sides of some of the buildings and it made them look like a king’s golden treasure. I bought a buttered bagel from a guy in a food cart and walked into my job at 2 Wall Street. I mumbled good morning to one of the overly friendly building guys and walked through the door to my office. I can’t remember if the shadow I cast on the wall was twisted and mangled, like a body crumpled in a car accident?
I tossed a gym bag filled with workout clothes and a few paperback bestsellers on my desk and walked into the bathroom. I took a piss in the urinal, zipped up, checked the front of my pants for a wet stain, washed my hands and was out the door again. I had the precise, synchronized moves of a Swiss clock in the can. Too bad one could not make money off their efficiency taking a piss or dropping a duke. America, the Land of Opportunity always left some out in the cold.
I got into the tiny elevator we had at 2 Wall Street. Like most of the buildings in downtown Manhattan, our office was much older than the modern skyscrapers in midtown, with their spacious elevators jetting people to their pristine floors. The elevator at 2 Wall wasn’t much bigger than a phone booth. If you are too young to know what a phone booth is, let’s say it was as cramped as a coffin in there if you had more than two people riding in it.
I got out at 2M and went into the cafeteria. There was probably fifty or sixty people working in our office and we had a nice kitchen that offered a refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven and coffee machine. The coffee wasn’t great, but it was free. There was also about six round tables with chairs where you could eat and escape the nonsense and scuttlebutt of the cubicles. I poured a cup of Joe and probably started to think about a cute teller we had in one of the branches in Newark. I heard a voice from one of the tables.
“What are you doing, you shanty lrish leprechaun?”
It was Chuck Walker, retired Transit Cop and Head of Security for the bank. Walker looked like Bob Hope, had the comedian been a crooked Teamster boss. He was in the middle of his morning ritual of reading the paper, drinking a huge pot of coffee and eating half a loaf’s worth of rye toast slathered with sickly, yellow margarine. At this point of the day he was only wearing his slacks and wife beater undershirt, grey chest hairs peaking out like tendrils of smoke. His dress shirt, jacket and tie were draped over one of the empty chairs.
” I was hoping today would be the day you swallowed a bullet for breakfast,” I wearily shot back as I put too much sugar in my coffee.
“You sound like my wife,” Walker said heartily, slurping from his mug and breaking off a piece of toast like a shark chomping down on a surfboard. “You hungover? Get drunk watching the Giants on Monday Night Football? Chase some whores around the block and go home empty-handed?”
“No drinking last night for me,” I mentioned as I took my coffee and headed back to the elevator. ” I’ll see you later.”
“Take it easy,” Walker replied, chuckling like a hit man screwing on a silencer,” You little Irish bastid.”
I went back down to the first floor, strolled past our tiny Communications Room, punched a code on a keypad and walked into the larger Data Center. The Data Center housed the AS/400s, farm of Windows and email servers, patch panels, telephone pbx and circuits to the outside world. Across a narrow hallway by the side entrance where I had entered the office, was the cramped Comms Room. This housed the SWIFT servers and card readers. I still wonder if anyone has written a novel or made a film about some diabolical villain trying to take down the SWIFT network? I am not an economics guy, but it seems to me that it would be fairly catastrophic if countries could not transfer money back and forth via banks? Some enterprising thief with a knowledge of computers could stand to make billions of dollars at the expense of the world powers. To film it correctly, one would simply need a pair of good looking leads and some mustache twirler with a wicked British accent for the bad guy. Toss in some action, hopefully a boob shot and serviceable dialogue and you would have a hit on your hands.
If two people were working in the comms area at the same time, you felt like you were working in the engine room of a WWII submarine. I was always banging into a hanging keyboard or getting my awkward hands caught on a monitor cable. We had no flat screens in the office back then. The monitors were as cumbersome as that old Zenith television your grandparents had.
In the Data Center, we had a monstrous IBM Dot Matrix printer. It was almost as tall as a refrigerator and about as wide as that meat freezer that kept Leatherface’s victims from spoiling in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The front opened up like a giant safe. There was no money it in, but there was a mound of blue bar paper that the nightly reports were printed on. On a normal day, it was about two feet high. An End of Month run would add twelve inches to the pile. The End of Year processing would spin out a mound of reports that was as tall as the average five year old. Even though these reports were available digitally, I still had to split them and hand deliver them, along with pertinent copies of SWIFT messages.
Most users resisted progress back then.
After getting all the reports and messages ready like a paper boy, I went on my daily rounds. I exited the Data Center, hooked a left, went down a small hallway, out a frosted glass door and walked up a huge, ornate staircase to the main banking floor. It was the type of staircase that beautiful French Aristocrats should have been gliding down in gowns that were works of art. Instead, I was lumbering up them with dirty thoughts in my head and leaving fart particles in my wake.
Wondering what the naked breasts of some of the beautiful Portuguese women I worked with looked like, I made it up the staircase onto the main banking floor. The ceiling was at least thirty feet high. We were a commercial bank, so there were no tellers or anything at 2 Wall Street. We did operate retail banks in the US and Canada at the time, but the headquarters and main branch was in Newark, New Jersey. The spacious floor contained the usually rat maze of cubicles. The entire floor would be bustling in about an hour or so. However, it was as quiet as a mausoleum at this time.
The floor also had at least ten large, rectangular windows that overlooked both Wall Street and Broadway. The main banking floor seemed like wasted space to much of the staff, but the platinum suits loved it. They could flaunt its opulence as it overlooked some of the more historic real estate that New York City had to offer. I had witnessed three ticker tape parades for the Yankees during my time there. The executives would invite all their big name clients in and hold parties as we watched the baseball team slowly make its way up the Canyon of Heroes, covered in a blizzard of shredded paper and confetti. I guess these parades helped if you had any illegal dealings that the SEC was investigating? Sorry, we showered Jeter, Rivera and Paul O’Neill with those reports.
They would also serve fine Portuguese cuisine and wine. Lots of wine.
Those were fun days at the office. The only drawback was that you had to get in bright and early. Anything after 7:30 the security would be too tight and it would take you forever wading through people and stoic cops asking you for building ID. We were across the street from the New York Stock Exchange and if someone blasted ass gas too loudly, they shut the street down.
As I was dropping off reports and SWIFT messages on the various empty desks, I heard a shuffling of papers from a few cubes away. There was the sound of a chair sliding across the carpeted floor, the pop of a balky knee joint and the slight groan of someone standing up. Fuck, I thought to myself and tried to sneak away, my face contorted like I stumbled into a room of decaying sheep carcasses. I could hear footsteps stalking me as I quietly made a bee line for the staircase, so I could retreat to the safety of the Data Center.
“Shawn.” A worried voice from behind me.
I stopped dead in my tracks as if someone put a 22 caliber bullet in the small of my back.
I turned around and was facing Ricky DaSilva. He was the second in command of the Back Office. He was probably in his early forties and the ladies seemed to dig his shit. DaSilva was an extremely hard worker and a nice guy. However, he had the ability of being a royal pain in my hairy ass. He was a bundle of nerves if the slightest problem arose. I often wondered if he went to the emergency room every time he got a runny nose. I knew he put his time in and did actual work, so you tried to accommodate him whenever possible. However, five minutes was sometimes too long for him to wait. He also wasn’t against leaving you twisting in the wind with the blame for a problem, so you had to keep an eye on him.
“What’s up?” I asked, knowing it wasn’t the offensive line of the NY Giants that he was fretting over.
“I have a bank that said they didn’t get any messages from us last night,” he said, sounding as desperate as a gambler that owned a loan shark ten grand. ” If those 202s(SWIFT message for money transfers) don’t go out we are in big trouble.”
“All the messages went out,” I mentioned to him, slightly annoyed I am sure,” I always make sure of that. I’ve stayed here all night sometimes making sure they go out. If they don’t go out, we always let you guys know. Tell them to check with their IT.”
“Yeah, but he says they never have problems on their side.”
“Please, just tell them to check,” I explained, trying to sound humorously dismissive. ” I know it’s easier for you to come to us because we are in the same building, but we can’t solve a problem that isn’t ours. I will double check for the third time, to make you happy. Just please tell them to check with their IT. ”
“Yes,” he said, not convinced I wasn’t talking out of my ass,” Just make sure you check. This could be a big problem.”
We were about to learn what a big problem really was.
I was sitting at my supervisor’s desk, working on the AS/400 via a client emulator program and taking care of the start of day procedures. My direct boss was named Vinnie and he is a great guy. One of the best bosses I will ever have. He would have given me the last ten dollars he had in the world if I wanted it to buy a six pack. He always thought of others before himself. He was a nice contrast to Wally Walrus, who had his share of decent traits, but selflessness was not one of them.
Vinnie’s large desk was set up so that, when he was working on his computer, his back was facing a large, open room. On the right side was the enclosed office of Paying and Receiving. Off to the left was the trading desk that was retrofitted to house the RPG programmers and the Computer Operations people. That was where I sat. The networking staff was separated by a wall and the hallway where the men’s room and elevator was. They were housed right outside the Communications Room on four desks. They had the much better set-up. Those networking fucks always seemed to have it better than the Ops people. I would call them cunts, but they were all pretty cool guys.
As I was starting or stopping some bullshit subsystem on the green screen of the AS/400, I heard a door swing open and DaSilva burst in calling my name. I closed my eyes in hopes of finding some inner peace, so I didn’t get into a heated argument with him over the apparently lost SWIFT messages. I could tell by the tone of his voice, the force of the door opening and the agitated sound of his footsteps that something was still amiss. I thought I was about to get into a tennis match with the complaining bank, where we volleyed blame back and forth until someone smashed it down the other one’s network interface.
“Shawn,” DaSilva said simply,” someone ran a plane into one of the twin towers.”
To be honest, it didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks. For some reason, I took it pretty calmly. It was New York City, after all. We had seen it all. For the most part, New Yorkers are tough, hearty people. Despite what many think, we are also friendly and give a shit about our neighbors. So, like a hurricane, blizzard or massive power outage, I figured this would roll off our backs like a sack of nothing burgers. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time a plane crashed into a skyscraper in the Big Apple.
” What, like a Cessna or something?” I shot back, as I whirled the chair around to face him.
“I don’t know,” he responded like I had just accused him of fucking my dog. ” A plane!”
I rose from the desk, walked out the side entrance and jogged into the street. There was no chaos. People were going about their business. There were some looking towards the sky and muttering theories to each other, but that was about it. I noticed the predictable long lines for coffees, donuts and bagels at all the usual street vendors. A porter was sweeping up wrappers from outside the NYSE building, tourists looked confused as they tried to decipher maps, and citizens entered their places of business.
I marched up Wall Street to where it intersected with Broadway and looked up in the direction of the twin towers.
My office was about four blocks southeast of the towers, so I was unable to see the wound to the face of the north tower. I saw a plume of black smoke rising out of the skyscraper like blood leaking out of a fish that had been speared. Papers, some frayed and burning, floated serenely in the morning sky. After about a minute, I turned around and went back into the office, callously hoping that this wouldn’t fuck up my day. Even a small plane would have resulted in people losing their lives, but this was lost on me at the time. I wish I could say I never acted selfishly, but that would be a stupid lie to tell.
I sauntered over to the main entrance of the bank and saw Chuck Walker standing outside his tiny office that was adjacent to the double doors. It housed all the monitors for the security cameras, his computer and whatever other paraphernalia ex-cop security guards needed to do their jobs. I am sure the jovial, but dirty old bastard probably had some old porn magazines from the 1970’s in there somewhere, as well. We all needed our recreational reading.
Chuck was studying the glass doors of the entrance he guarded when he wasn’t nodding off. Besides the typical entrance you would see on most banks, we had these two monstrous, ornate doors that were sealed shut when the the office closed at 5pm. They were probably made out of polished granite and weighed hundreds of pounds each. These doors would have been perfect had NYC ever been afflicted with a plague of space vampires or some other such nuisance. One person was able to close them because the were perfectly engineered and balanced on their hinges. However, the first time you closed them, there would be some sweat on your brow and a few aching leg and back muscles later on.
“Messed up, huh?” I mentioned to him.
Chuck had his arms folded and just turned his head towards me. ” I told them they better think about closing over the big doors. ” He pointed to the entrance with one arm. “This could be terrorists.”
Them was the cabal of executives that ran the bank operations in North America.
Most of them were located in Newark now. In 2000, the bank opened retail branches under another name in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Canada. They focused on locations with large Portuguese populations with the intent on spreading out from there. We had one General Manager at 2 Wall Street at the time. His first name was Bruno. He had a Portuguese last name that is eluding me like a squirrel in a forest. He was a smart and decent man from what I remember. He was almost too nice for the job. I think it hurt him in the company.
I moved on and went back to Vinnie’s desk to get back to work. His phone rang and I instantly recognized the number on the digital display. It was IBM Business Recovery Services. The bank contracted space and equipment at their location in the event of a disaster, technical or otherwise. All we had to do was provide our data–and a few other select pieces of hardware that were portable–and we used IBM’s facilities and staff to help get us back up and running. IBM BRS was located on a beautiful campus in picturesque Sterling Forest, New York. It was about forty five minutes north of the city.
I picked up the phone and spit out the typical greeting.
IBM BRS. Do you want to declare an emergency?
Declaring a disaster was above my fucking pay grade. Vinnie was watching his car getting lubed and Wally Walrus had taken the week off, perhaps still celebrating his brother’s wedding. I was glad about this because we had gone back to his house after the reception and he caught one of my friend’s pissing on the side of his house. I was sure to pay for that in some way down the line. I didn’t want to sound like an idiot with IBM, so I winged it as best I could.
” I would say not right now. Things still seem pretty normal down here right now. Let me get a hold of my boss and he will be in touch. ”
We are expecting to be inundated with clients, so the sooner you declare the quicker we can assign resources to you.
“Thank you,” I said and hung up.
My buddy, Reza, from the networking crew burst through the frosted glass doors. He had dust all over the shoulders of his fashionable suit. He lived in New Jersey and took the Path train that let you out beneath the twin towers of the World Trade Center. He was a handsome devil. I called him the Iranian Dean Martin. Reza was a fun time. He loved drinking and raising hell after work to blow off some steam. He most likely did some things that were against his religion, but what good is religion if you don’t piss it off every once in a while?
“Fucking crazy over there!” Reza bellowed, wiping himself off and sending dust particles to the green carpet below.”Jesus fucking Christ!”
” What kind of plane do you think it was?” I asked, rather meekly.
” Must have been a big fucking plane,” he grumbled and walked away, brushing powdered debris out of his hair. I heard a few more profanities and references to the young carpenter who died on the cross as he went down the hallway and disappeared into the men’s room.
Vinnie called me a few minutes later and asked me how everything was going.
” Not bad,” I mentioned, beginning to feel unsure about that, “the people coming from Jersey say it is pretty bad over there. They all have dust and shit all over them.”
” You think I should try and make it in?'” he asked.
” Don’t bother,” I mentioned to him, ” You know how security gets around here. You’ll never get in here. Listen, IBM called and wants to know if we’re going to declare a disaster. We might want to jump on that.”
” I will call the fat bastard,” Vinnie replied, referencing Wally Walrus. ” Let’s see what he says.”
I felt the floor shake for a second or two.
” Holy shit,” Vinnie breathed on the other end of the line,” Holy fucking shit! Shawn, they just rammed another plane into the other tower. A big fucking jet! I jam watching it on the news.”
My head was light as a feather and my body weighed six tons.
” I’m going to call IBM. You take care of yourselves. Start doing backups and we will figure it out later. ”
Then he hung up.
I would like to tell you I didn’t go outside to stare at those towers burning because I was being a good soldier, following orders and doing my job. Truth is I was scared and I didn’t want to see it. I like my destruction on the big screen and make believe, not four blocks from me where innocent people were losing their lives. Sure, I look up gross pictures on the internet every once in a while. The computer screen offers some sort of buffer. I would much rather be a voyeur and not an unwilling participant in such senseless mayhem.
I kicked off some backups on the AS/400 and went to my desk and looked through my emails. I saw an email from a cure girl I wanted to ask out who worked at the main branch on Lafayette Street in Newark. She was asking if everyone was alright where I was. You’re damn right I was thinking of using it to my benefit. What’s done is done, and we all need angles and opportunities. I was carefully thinking of how to play this when I heard Bill, a middle aged programmer, speak up.
Bill was an old school black dude. A tall drink of water, he always wore three piece suits and a trench coat, even if it was August and the rest of us were sweating like a Newark hooker’s business box. When outside, Bill always wore a flat cap to cover his balding head. He had been in the shit during Vietnam and had been programming since the early seventies when he learned the trade with the phone company. We all liked Bill as he was the oldest in the crew and could offer us sage advice, dirty or not, when we needed it. My antics usually entertained him. He had seen a lot of bad shit go down in the war, so I wondered how this was hitting him?
” They just hit the Pentagon,” Bill said as he monitored one of the news websites,” We’re under attack.”
I ran my hands through my graying hair and wished I was on a beach with a bucketful of ice cold brews and a pair of gorgeous women next to me. They had just pummeled two landmarks that were strategic sites, one economic and the other military. We were across the street from the hub of all the financial trading in the United States, a symbol of capitalism that so many around the world despised. I don’t think I was necessarily scared at this point, but I was tense like a DMV clerk with high blood pressure. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, another one of my lovely personality traits. This could be a sneaker that King Kong could wear. If anything happened, I hoped it would be quick. Better to be vaporized than buried beneath a hundred tons of rubble, with steel cabling piercing my insides.
When the first tower fell, the screams from outside were louder than the building imploding.
I didn’t see the tower fall until I got home and had it emblazoned into my memory by the countless newscasts. We have all seen it too much now. However, I sure as fuck felt the building come down. Everyone there did. It felt like hundreds of subway cars were speeding under our building, side by side in drag racing formation, derailing and crashing up against 2 Wall Street’s cement foundation from below. There was a muted roar beneath our feet like a tsunami of corrosive liquid was flooding the underground tunnels and eating away at the foundations. We heard what sounded like massive pipes banging against each other to create a most vile symphony of industrial carnage.
On the other side of a frosted glass partition, we could make out that the main doors blew open and what sounded like pebbles and sand get flung against the walls and glass on the other side of the divider. From outside on the street, we heard dozens of people push through the entrance and congregate in the lobby of our building, squawking like penguins evading a killer whale on an iceberg. There was much screaming, crying and people trying to catch their breath.
Some came through the door on the partition and settled by our desks. All of them were covered with either white ash or black soot. We offered them water and pointed them to the restrooms so they could clean up. Many of them were, understandably, hysterical. You wanted to help these people, but they could have been a danger, as well. The office only held so many people and you never know what frightened people could do when fearing for their lives. After all, we are just animals with the instinct to survive. No matter the cost to others.
From a security perspective, Chuck had been right about closing the big doors.
Many of the people tried to make phone calls, or use our computers to try and get email. When they tried to search the internet, all they got was a frozen screen. We had lost all communication when the first tower crumbled to the ground, taking so many innocent lives with it. The phones had been overloaded for the past hour. Now, they were just paper weights that had a cord you could use to hang yourself if that was what you wanted to do. Our building never lost power during the ordeal, which was a tiny blessing.
” Hey man,” It was Reza who had walked up beside me.” You alright?”
” I got friends that work over there,'” I managed softly.
He shot me a look that said he did, as well.
Bruno, the General Manager, gently pushed his way through the crowd of people that had come for sanctuary in our building and grabbed Reza and myself by the arm.
” We need to get these people out of here,” he said quietly. There was no malice or fear in his voice. It was probably a business decision for him. Perhaps he was worried about liabilities? Theft or destruction of bank property? The business mind thinks differently than the grey matter in the skulls of the butcher, baker and candlestick maker.
“‘ I’m sorry,” I said,” I don’t feel comfortable doing that.”
‘ What if they don’t want to leave?” Reza reasoned, ” Then we have more problems.”
Bruno thought about this. ” All the equipment is in the data canter?”
” We won’t let anyone in there,” I promised.
” Are you backing up the data?”
” Yes,” Reza replied, ” everyone available is in the data center, backing everything up.”
” Very well, then,” Bruno finally said, ” I will have Chuck close the large doors. We won’t throw these people out, but we won’t let anyone else in.”
He disappeared back through the crowd.
” I’m going to head upstairs, ” I offered.
The two of us made our way up the large staircase onto the main banking floor. When we looked out those large windows all we saw was darkness. I had never seen such gloom outside, like the bank had been lowered into a sea of black ink. The soot and debris had choked out the sunlight with the skill of a serial killer snuffing out victims with a garrote. Everything seemed so strange, so alien. I felt like I was stranded light years from home, in another galaxy ruled by evil creatures comprised of anti-matter. It’s funny how your mind and senses fuck with you like a sadistic court jester, blindfolding and spinning you around until you get wobbly on your feet and sick to your stomach.
We were about to get spun again.
The familiar rumble and screaming started again outside as the north tower collapsed.
” There goes the other one,” I mentioned like I was ordering french fries.
I thought maybe I had sounded kind of hard when I said this, a New York street brawler who took stuff on the chin like a champion prizefighter. I think Reza saw something in my face that told him otherwise. He saw that I was just a scared twenty-nine year old who wasn’t sure if he was going to get out of downtown Manhattan alive. He grabbed my shoulder with his hand and shook me a bit for reassurance.
The roar and the screaming was getting louder. Debris started to pelt against the outside of the bank, scraping against the windows and stone like raccoon claws on the kitchen floor of some hovel packed into a tenement building. We rushed over to the window to get a peak at the shit going down on the Wall Street side. Through the black soot in the air, we could barley make out hundreds of forms fleeing from where the tower stood. They were running right below us towards Water Street and the South Street Seaport. And, further on, Brooklyn.
Then they were enveloped by another tidal wave of pulverized building concrete and street rubble.
” It’s like a monster movie,” Reza muttered.
” A really bad one.”
The two of us headed back down to the Data Center to check on the progress of the backups. We did notice a gorgeous French tourist who had come inside from the disaster outside. She looked like a supermodel. Luckily, she had cleaned up enough so that we could see her stunning features. Unfortunately, she was there with her boyfriend or husband. He was a slight dude, but handsome. He was dressed like polished Eurotrash. Don’t mind me, I was just jealous.
At around 1pm, the cops kicked us out of the building. By noon, the black soot in the air had dissolved to a grayish white and it kind of looked like it was snowing. Years later, the horror movie Silent Hill had that same kind of ash choking out the characters on screen. It had the gray pallor of a dead person. When we headed outside, most of the heavy ash had dissipated. The sun started to burst through the remnants of soot and detritus in the atmosphere.
All of us IT guys, about seven in total, counted and handed over backup tapes and went through plans of regrouping later on. Some would go to IBM and others to Newark. Bill and I joined the exodus of thousands of people who were instructed to walk over the Manhattan Bridge.
This is when I was most scared. I have a fear of heights and I get nervous driving over some bridges. Walking over one was not on my to do list. After what I had just witnessed, there was this fear that the entire structure was rigged to blow up and that my broken body would tumble to the concrete surface of the water below. This was always a very real nightmare for me. Along with thousands of other people, I looked back to see the smoke still rising into the sky. It was a funeral pyre for thousands of people who deserved to go home to their families.
It took forever to walk over that goddamn bridge.
We were refugees from an alien planet destroyed by dark overlords. I could hear the sonic booms of the fighter jets patrolling the air space above the city. The sky was clear, but you couldn’t see a trace of them. There was just the thunder cracks as they continuously smashed the sound barrier, rattling my nerves like an angry chimp having a fit in a cage. Bill was explaining to me that he was stuck on a few lines of code for some program that they wanted to run at the bank’s end of day. He said he almost had it figured out. I mentioned that I was thrilled for him, but would rather not talk about anything until we got to the other side of the fucking river.
The worst times bring out the best in people.
As we made our way to the Brooklyn side, we were greeted by hundreds of people handing us bottled water. They gave us the drinks and words of encouragement that lifted our spirits. I had to wipe tears that were welling up in my eyes. I am a grump by nature, but people helping other people always tugs at my corroded heart strings. There are many more good people than bad in this world. It just seems that the scumbags and villains make the most noise sometimes, but acts of kindness silence their devilish symphonies.
There wasn’t much more to my story that day. Nothing worth writing about. I want to end it with the good people of Brooklyn’s kindness. Let us never forget the people that we lost on that day. Empathy can be painful, but we need it to be human. Enjoy life as much as possible. It can all be taken from us in an instant. It is the greatest gift we will ever receive.