As I mentioned previously I jumped into screenwriting full steam ahead. But that was mid-2001 when I met my friend and producer John Nemec (more on John in forthcoming articles). As we all know what happened later in the year, the world changed with the terrorist attacks of the World Trade Centers. That was the day the world lost its innocence and for better or worse my job as a columnist at that point was to speak my truth, not the false truths being splashed across the television screen for the following weeks, but my own personal and painful truth. The article that follows is exactly as it ran in the issue of MX East that ran soon after the WTC attacks happened. Where I live is a little over a mile from the banks of the Hudson River and from the Yonkers Pier I could see the buildings burning, all the while knowing people, thousands of people were inside them. I have often been accused of writing straight from the heart and this piece was no exception; I can re-read it now and the tears and emotions well up as if 9-11 was yesterday. All writers have their own style and the trick –and my advice- is to stay your course, don’t imitate someone else’s style; speak and write your truth… the world will eventually come around to it.
By the time you will read this I am sure you will be aware of the tragedy that has struck America for the second time in it short history. A gutsy but ill-advised enemy has snuck inside the gate and did irreparable harm to our land, our people, and our psyche. Fifty six years ago, Japancame waltzing into Pearl Harbor and sucked us into World War Two. Now an insane Islamic coward has tried to initiate the start of World War Three.
It is now 4 A.M. New York time on September 12th, and I have just gotten off the couch in the basement to come up to bed. Needless to say I didn’t get to sleep after a day of watching my fellow New Yorkers live through the hellish nightmare of a terrorist attack.
At 8:50 A.M. yesterday morning, I got a call from my girlfriend, Susan, who works at Rockefeller Center, which is not far away from the World Trade Center. Susan was in a panic as she looked out her window many floors above the Manhattan streets and told me an airplane just crashed into the Twin Towers. I ran to the third floor of the building where I report to work at the telephone company and turned on the TV in the lounge. What I saw boggled my mind and little did I know this was only the beginning of a grim fairy tale. I told a few of the workers who were not busy what had happened and immediately the urgency of the situation unfolded as people who overheard ran from their desks and broke down crying when they saw the images on the screen. They had husbands and sisters that worked high above the streets in one of those buildings.
My heart sank when I saw the look of desperation on their faces. As more people filed into the lounge, we all were still thinking that some pilot lost his way or had a heart attack and couldn’t steer the plane. The initial reports were that of a Cessna or other small plane and we wanted to believe that. But the amount of smoke and fire billowing from the building didn’t correlate to a small plane. It is amazing what the human mind can force itself to believe when faced with the unbelievable. As the Channel 7 (ABC) news copter hovered and sent us the drama, we could see a large plane bank left and veer around tower number one which was in the foreground of the shot and go behind it. Four seconds later and orange explosion erupted in tower two, which sat in the background. It looked like a bomb had been set off and we realized that this was a terrorist attack. Little did we know at the time that this was the jumbo jet we had seen fly past that was crashing through the middle floors of the 110-story structure.
We were floored as we stood there watching and the two women who had relatives that worked in the Trade Center went into panic mode. Their piercing screams ripped at the heart of even the toughest men standing there. We all felt their pain as they tried to make frantic calls to their loved ones but most of us were too mesmerized by the images on the screen to even move from where we stood. Verizon had many major trunk lines that passed through the W.T.C. and the telephone switches were on overload as word filtered out and calls from loved ones tried to funnel through the log-jammed switches as a result of the calls being re-routed around W.T.C. Susan, in the meantime, was giving me a blow by blow of the first couple of minutes of the invasion. Within seconds, I could hear people in Susan's background yelling and screaming and Susan running with the pack. Her heavy breathing made me realize that she was too close to ground zero for my comfort. I was scared senseless and fought to not let her hear it in my voice.
She said they were evacuating Rockefeller Center and that she would call me when she next could. For the next hour, I proceeded to bite off the ends of my fingernails and call as many people as I could to see if they were okay. I didn’t know it at the time, but my best friend, Terry was a mere two blocks away when the first plane hit. He would later recount to me that the blast of the first plane hitting the building knocked him and others on the entire block off their feet. He would tell of the panic that struck people and the horror of looking behind them and seeing their once-invincible symbol of American might, American manhood burning like some prop on a blockbuster disaster movie.
All of the images for the next several hours were surreal… like we were all in a collective nightmare that none of us could wake up from. In the movie 'Independence Day' there is a scene where the aliens blasted Manhattan to bits that was all too realistic and my mind kept trying to wake up from this real-life movie shoot. I didn’t want to see any more of it. Someone, please…turn the TV off, turn the lights on, wake me up from this unwanted nightmare. But there was no letup. My cell phone rang again and it was Susan. She was now outside and telling me that people were panicking and running all over the place, trampling anyone and anything in their path. She spoke of a woman who was running with her baby in her arms and of how this baby was knocked to the ground and repeatedly stepped on by the panicking crowd running for their own lives. I was in tears now and knew that anything at all was possible in this lifetime.
Susan, along with thousands of other workers, was trying to flee the heart of the attack. Pandemonium was the order of the day even though the rescue workers were on hand in a matter of minutes. When the word filtered down that the orange explosion, we saw was the 767 jumbo jet I too fell into panic and begged Susan to run like hell and get to a safe place. The cell lines as well as the land lines were now dangerously slow, locked up, or non-existent. My heart sank further when we were cut off. I turned to the television set again to see what was happening, hoping for information that could prove useful to Susan when she called again. By now almost every employee had left their desks and gathered in the cafeteria to look in horror at the destruction that was unfolding. I can’t express the multitude of feelings that flowed from all of us. There was fear, shock, anger and outrage at the inhuman horrors we were watching, relief that it wasn’t happening to us, and guilt that we were happy it wasn’t happening to us.
For another hour, I was heartsick not knowing what happened to Susan as there was a near communications blackout. I prayed and left the outcome to God. For moments I had lost faith in Him. How could God let this kind of thing happen? How can anything borne of human flesh have so callous a heart as to orchestrate something this horrendous? The scenes were like a hatchet through the skull; the pain and the reality of it all was mind numbing and emotions left my body and came back in waves… waves too big for me to swim above. I hated humanity for our ability to create weapons and think of treachery capable of planning such an evil, heinous, unprovoked attack.
By this time, I had gotten a cell call from my ex-wife, Dawn, who was in tears asking me to pick our son Brian up from school. She would get our daughter Jessica and take them to her job at the sugar factory. There was no work for her to do as her industry lives and dies by the commodities trading which was shut down at this point due to the lack of communications. Brian seemed in a daze when we met at the main office of his high school. Fourteen-year-old children were not meant to see the kind of destruction we were enduring. They aren’t supposed to feel the fear that I saw in his eyes as he wondered out loud of the possibilities of more attacks where we were.
Manhattan is less than six miles away from the city of Yonkers as the crow flies. I did my best to explain to him what was happening and who is likely behind it: a multi-millionaire madman who has convinced the peasants of the world that America is bad because we all are richer than them and are intent on keeping them and their faith down. All the while "Osama Big Loudmouth” is hiding the fact that his own personal fortune could easily help pull his own countrymen out of their impoverished life if that was his intent in the first place.
By 5 P.M., it was time to leave work – I got absolutely nothing done today-- and the whole city of Yonkers seemed like a ghost town. Not that there weren’t any people around, there were plenty, but there was a silence that is indescribable. No one spoke at all... no one looked up to your face, and no one smiled. The sky was eerily tranquil. It was such a beautiful day to live, not a beautiful day to die. The waves of pain inside was crushing as the magnitude of what had taken place weighed heavily on our shoulders. The skies were deafeningly quiet as the whole country shut down all air traffic save for the occasional F-16 fighter jets that strafed the Hudson River. Not even the birds were flying much. The fighter jets were so fast that if you were lucky enough to see one, it would streak by silently and five seconds later, you would hear the thunderous roar of the engines on full afterburner. I felt hope seeing the jet jockeys up there knowing they would not be taking prisoners should anything else come up.
I was uncomfortably numb by the time I drove through the pockets of people huddled on various street corners. Even the bad guys/drug dealers in the seedy neighborhoods were stunned and looking scared as they huddled in front of the stoops where they lived. They looked so scared, so innocent, so vulnerable, and so… human. I stopped to talk to every telephone service technician I drove past for there was nothing to do but talk about it and vent a little as this was too much for any person to digest on their own. It just defied logic that what we saw really happened. We saw structures that were hundreds of feet wide and nearly a quarter of a mile high fall to the ground like a crumbling deck of cards... all the while knowing that there were still thousands, possibly tens of thousands of people still inside. The only saving grace is that their deaths were swift; they didn't suffer long and drawn out deaths.
As I stood there talking to Marcus, a co-worker, an Arabic woman and her two children walked past us and I must tell you that the rage that built up inside me was quite ugly. I had to fight the urge to do harm to her and her kids. I had to remember that they too are Americans and have nothing to do with the antics of a madman, an Anti-Christ with a heart as cold as Jesus’ was full of love. I had to pull my faith back and remember that I am not alone, I am not dead, and as a journalist, have an obligation to help rebuild this mighty nation’s pride. I have an obligation as an American to hold my head high and not let the savage jaws of terrorism steal my sunshine, steal my joy at living and steal the dignity away from those who perished yesterday for simply doing what all good Americans do: go to work. If these religious zealots could see the work, time and effort that it takes to make America the great country she is, they would have less time for jealousy and put more effort into building up their own countries. I am not rich like Osama "Big Loudmouth," and likely you aren’t either, but we are vilified by people an ocean away for the fact that we live in the richest country in the world. For a moment I wish these zealots would see that America's wealth is not it's true strength, it is the strength of her people that makes her wealthy.
I wish to ask that anyone reading this say a prayer for the victims, their family and friends, and for all people of this great land. I pray that we recover and rebuild, rebuild the two monuments that were destroyed to honor those who lost their lives. We must never forget them and the world community must now act in a swift and decisive way to ensure that the germ, the stench that is terrorism be eradicated from this planet for good. The world is changed forever and history will record this day, September 11th, 2001, as the day the entire world lost its innocence. By the way, Susan and Terry both made it home safely.