I spent last week preparing to evacuate for Hurricane Irma. It was hard. I knew the actual evacuation would be harder, but I was almost happy because there’s nothing pretty, fun or happy about a hurricane evacuation. There’s nothing pretty, fun or happy about today, 9/11.
The storm turned, and I didn’t have to evacuate.
Manhattan was my home for the better part of 35 years. It will always be the place that I know best.
This summer, I began watching Law & Order, the original, from the very first episode in 1990, because it brings me back to a time when New York was dirty, crime ridden, the subways didn’t work, homeless lived in the vestibule, and lobby, of my apartment building (rent stabilized but in one of the priciest areas of town), and I would count the Old English Ale bottles on the street on my way to the subway.
My unknown landlord had evicted most tenants. (I paid my rent to a managing agent). As I had a lease and had done nothing to break it they couldn’t evict me. It wasn’t as if they didn’t try. My lawyer had to intercede, and still they wanted me out so people could pay market rent. Hence the homeless living in the lobby that was also called “the first floor.” My apartment was on it.
I never really understood the urgency because New York had been hard hit by the 1987 recession and the housing market was in the pits. But European companies were opening like crazy; European workers, or Eurotrash as we called them, had money to burn.
I worked in The Bronx for Social Security then. As an SSI Claims Rep I heard every story. Because I have a gentle voice and was considered to be “the best dressed white woman,” claimants wanted me to be their rep. They thought they could pull something over on me. Then they wanted me because they knew if they deserved benefits I would get it for them more quickly than most.
I will never know people as well as I know New Yorkers. Never understood language, spoke and body, as well as I understood New Yorkese.
In 1997 I bought a coop on Riverside Drive–one with a good view but not of the river and/or park. It was a tiny apartment without amenities. For the money I paid I thought I deserved a washer/dryer.
New York bled money. Broadway is officially called a mall and we took to calling it the Broadway mall as neighborhood stores left and chain stores moved in.
Still I lived two blocks from The Beacon, home of incredible concerts.
I could walk down to Riverside Park and walk all the way to the Battery–five miles.
My mother was elderly. I couldn’t leave though I wanted to. But I didn’t want to. My feelings were mixed. Somehow I knew that I would never understand another place as well as I understood New York–the city and Long Island.
This is where I say I can only read 9/11 stories from people who were in the New York area that day. When I first began blogging and then later on Facebook so many people told me that they were more scared than New Yorkers were.
I get the fear. But then I begin remembering how GWB was dismissive of the city. How Rudy–well that’s a book. And Hillary didn’t come on her white horse and save the city. I say this as a person who supported her bid for the presidency.
New York felt devoid of leadership then. We leaned on each other. The firehouses in my hood lost eleven, fourteen and seventeen. That first Friday night there was almost a mass procession to the firehouses to thank the firemen. I’ve never seen sadder people.
The next night my friends and I went to Union Square to look at the posters of the missing and the homemade memorials. I only saw the fire from the sky but my friends went. We needed to feel the pain. To understand that this had really happened.
When I would go downtown after the attacks I would get lost though I had worked downtown for years. Without the towers there was no guidepost.
My mother fell and died 33 days later. It took me years to come to term with her death but I finally did. Seven years later–the time it takes to shed all your skin and grow new cells–I left.
It’s another New York now. An even more crowded city that I will always desperately love but probably could never live in again.