One of my pleasures each morning is watching my neighbors from the terrace of my little Greenwich Village apartment as they give their dogs their morning stroll. I stand near the ledge, sip coffee and sometimes talk to a friend on my cordless phone. I live on Charles Street just two blocks up from the Hudson River and about two miles north of the financial district. If Paris is the City of Lights certainly New York is the City of Dogs. Perhaps a million of them live here. Across the street are two Welch Terriers owned by a very successful painter, and next door to her is a woman with two majestic white Standard Poodles. Next door to my building is a young Boxer, as frisky as a teenager. Dogs are everywhere up and down the block, around the corner and on every street you see. But in an instant last Tuesday morning the dogs and their owners disappeared along with the World Trade Towers. Everyone seemed to go home and they took their dogs with them. The street poles and fire hydrants went unserviced.
The police refer to it as The Frozen Zone, the press calls it Ground Zero, and a Cardinal called it Ground Hero today. But to the hundreds and hundreds of rescue workers up to their helmets in hell it’s called “The Hole.” Somehow, television and photojournalism do not have the capacity to convey the extent of the devastation. It takes up many blocks of black, smoky, twisted metal and glass daggers. Many of the wonderful office buildings surrounding the Trade Towers have also gone down or have been irreparably damaged and will eventually be torn down. It reminds me of the newsreels of war torn Berlin I saw as a child. Only occasional walls stood like old movie sets with a façade in front and nothing in back. I can only tell you that all the blocks and all the buildings have been burned, smashed, and squashed. It is a sickening sight, not because last week it was a glorious representation of human achievement and now it is gone, but because there may be as many as 5000 people in there, but not in there.
When the second tower collapsed, I was on my terrace talking to a friend on the phone. I could feel slight vibrations in the balls of my feet and I looked up at the Today Show on my TV screen. It was a sight that didn’t seem real or probable or even possible. But there it was, a huge, frightening cloud of black and white smoke enveloping the streets of the financial district like a tidal wave. I have thought a lot about that scary smoke and my dear friend, who was evacuated in the nick of time from the World Financial Center across the street from the towers. She put it succinctly: It was a huge billow of human energy, life, and agony, mixed into pulverized concrete and steel. In a matter of seconds all of it had vaporized into white dust. I couldn’t help but notice that millions of scraps of paper remained intact. As an author of many books I mused that the printed page will probably outlast everything.
I have had many inquiries this week asking about my safety and well-being. To those who sent me emails and phone messages, I want to you thank you for caring. I am well. At least I am well physically. Like everyone else in the country, I was quite shaken up and have run the gamut of emotions from profound sadness to anger to depression and finally, to exhaustion. There is a large gap, like missing teeth, where those two magnificent buildings stood. I can’t tell you how much I loved looking at them and how they gave me a thrill each time I would come back to the city by car and look at our skyline across the river from New Jersey. I loved looking at them as I sipped coffee from Rafaella’s sidewalk café as I peered down Seventh Avenue between pages of a book. Now they are gone, for a while.
The streets of Manhattan were quite eerie this week because there was very little car traffic from 42nd Street all the way downtown. On the morning of the violence there were thousands upon thousands of people on the streets walking north, walking home like refugees. The subways were shut down. Only a few buses were running but couldn’t go further south than Eleventh Street, one block past St. Vincent’s Hospital where a huge throng of people were milling around, waiting for word about loved ones who might have been rescued. There was also a very long line of people volunteering to donate blood. These horrors seem to bring out the very best in our people and it makes me so proud to live here and also to be part of this country. But damn it, hundreds of firefighters died along with far too many police officers, all still listed as missing. And thousands upon thousands of our fellows are gone and when I am not weeping I am grinding my teeth.
People along the sidewalks of Greenwich Village cheer and applaud whenever trucks go by carrying exhausted rescue workers. It gives me a chill to witness it. Two young women I know volunteered to deliver hot meals for the rescue workers prepared and donated by a consortium of New York’s four-star and gourmet restaurants. The young women were exhausted and told me that they had to go through nine separate checkpoints manned by police and national guardsmen. On their last run they were told it was okay to go into Ground Zero if they can take it but the only place to deposit the meals was where the morgue was set up . (The location changes every day.) Sweet, brave souls, they did it.
Anyway, traffic is now flowing south in Manhattan again, at least as far as Canal Street, and the Village came alive this Sunday afternoon. People were in the restaurants and sidewalk cafes. The best sign of renewal was the sight of people walking their dogs again. But you know what? Those dogs are getting a lot more attention than usual. I see many people hugging them and talking to them and looking very proud. There are several hundred rescue dogs working deep inside “The Hole” and everyone know this, especially the dog owners. Nobody is working harder than the rescue dogs. Everyone is proud of them.
As for everyone else here in Manhattan, we are still standing and holding our place and I feel very close to Americans everywhere tonight. We are connected. We really are one people, one family.
Mordecai Siegal is President Emeritus of the Dog Writers Association of America and the author of 30 published books about dogs and cats. His latest book is “SOLUTIONS…For Your Dog And You”, published by Simon & Schuster. His web site address is www.mordecai.com.