Saturday... January 26, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 137
The Brothers & Sisters Of
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO--New York City
is beautiful. It is not a beast.
returned from a long visit to Montana--The Big Sky Country. While
there, I could see the sunrise and sunset, the stars at night, the Sleeping
Giant Mountains far into the distance. Some might call it
beautiful, and New York City a beast of a place. Anywhere I stood
in Montana I
could turn in a circle and see the mountains, the sky--all without arching
my neck, or fighting the shadows of giant buildings blocking the heavens.
Sleeping Giant at
night in Helena, Montana
People smiled and said
hello. No horns beeped. There were no taxis
in sight; there was no throbbing of city buses or people's feet dancing as
they listened to their walkmans to use time effectively.
When I ordered food, a huge portion
was delivered for a very reasonable price. Everyone
spoke English, Montana English. It contained a very slight twang, reminiscent of
the movie Fargo. Everything was "white," with very
little ethnic mix. Guns were visible in the back of pickup trucks.
No one hustled me on
the street with an empty cup asking for a quarter. People
sauntered about like contented sheep, gazing on windows filled with
less-than-exciting fashions. Walking down Last Chance Gulch,
there was lots of room on either side for the Yankees and Mets
baseball teams to work out.
When I sniffed the air, I
found no distinct
odor of humanity assaulting my nostrils. Instead, there was just clean, fresh air
rarefied at an altitude of over 4,000 feet..
No sirens pierced the calm. I only heard two horns beep in
nine days, and both of them warning my 87-year-old father-in-law to stop
weaving between lanes.
People didn't yell in the
streets. They smiled and nodded, making every attempt to not
avoid eye contact and eager to help you find your way. The
fashion statement of the day was a heavy jacket, gloves and a warm hat,
for the wind shot through you and chilled you to the bone.
Pictures on the walls of
restaurants reflected the art of cowboy painter Charlie Russell.
"In Without Knocking"
They were relaxing, home-spun outdoorsy pictures of life on the range where
the buffalo roam.
It was pristine, to say the
least--a respite from the madding crowds of New York, from the hustle and
bustle of people rushing here and there, faces set and eyes periscoping
paths between the masses of humanity as they headed uptown or downtown or
Parking spots leaped out everywhere,
treasured spaces wide enough to pull a semi-truck and trailer in. No
one rushed to
jockey themselves into them before another grabbed the vehicular commodity.
There was no sales tax. You paid
what the price stated. Clerks smiled and chatted as though you
were an old friend, in no rush to serve you or worried that the others
behind you might bolt out of line and rush to the store next to them,
because there was no other store right next to them in which to rush.
I saw only two police cars in nine days,
and not one single fire engine.
To some, the respite of a quiet, relaxed,
inexpensive haven in the world might be the key to serenity.
But, forgive me, I was bored, restless, uneasy.
I missed the thriving madness of New York City.
Buffalo Jump near
Great Falls, Montana
I lusted the sounds of horns and wails of sirens,
and crowded streets and the spark of electricity that hums from the heart
of the Big Apple's eight million bodies.
As I now settle back in the womb of the city of New
York, I feel relaxed
again, serene; it was as though part of humanity with all its diversity, all its energy,
all its challenges had been starved by the solitude of Montana,
anesthetized by the stillness of nature and lack of human crush..
Even the 59 steps up to my apartment seemed a
welcome friend. Each step challenged the gravity of my body, reminding me that life
is about working to enjoy it, that there are no free lunches, that one
earns the right to sleep at night after a harrowing day of dodging people,
rushing here, hauling packages by hand, climbing on the subways or buses,
smelling the scent of humanity in thousands wrapped in thousands of forms
from punk-rockers on St. Marks Place to the glamorous "pretty people" on
5th Avenue and 57th Street.
In New York City I can't see the full
blossoming of a sunrise or the magic of an unencumbered sunset. I can't
turn in a circle and see nature's arms surrounding me. Instead, I
witness bricks and windows and water towers and slashes of light swording
through cracks and crevices of buildings that shovel the light my way,
When I take a deep breath I don't feel the pure, untouched air of the
Rocky Mountains filling my lungs, but instead, sense the thickness of a
city whose streets are alive night and day with both tires and feet,
constantly being stirred and sending the soot of civilization to mingle
with the steam and exhaust of vehicles snaking their way up or down or
Despite all the foibles and defects of
character a big city has versus a small, ethnically pure small western
town offers, I still love being back in New York City.
The city is alive. It makes me feel
alive. To survive in the city one needs constant Vigilance and no
complacency. It is a place one finds himself or herself
expecting the unexpected, a place where you are "ready for anything,
counting on nothing."
New York rocks.
It is a rock.
It creates in its citizenship a rock of vigilance
able to withstand the most horrendous imaginable attack. It demands
courage in the face of fear, conviction when threatened with intimidation,
and action to ward off complacency. It provides strength to
the weak, pride to the downtrodden, and purpose for lost, wandering souls.
Nine Eleven was a good example of its true chemistry, its great bond with
On the small island of Manhattan, people
from all walks of live are forced to co-exist in one melting pot.
No race, color, creed, or religious viewpoint dominates another. The
richest person in the world competes with even richer people so there is
no "top dog." Conversely, the poorest people in the world can't
claim crown to the Prince or Princess of Paupers, for the city attracts
someone who is just a little poorer, a little more unfortunate.
The same with glamour. The most beautiful person is just another face
in the crowd, for there is always someone just a little more beautiful.
Ugliness knows no bottom as beauty knows no top. It too has
the ugliest of ugly. Anyone who thinks of themselves as being
too fat, too old, too scarred, too blemished, too skinny--need only walk
down the street and find another far worse than they. New York
City neutralizes both self-pity and self-aggrandizement. It
humbles the highest and lowest, reminding all that hubris, the root of
humility, comes from the word "humus," which means, "of the earth...part
of...not separate from." New York City fertilizes all who live
within her buildings, streets and allies with a sense of oneness, a
belonging to the herd, a member of the mass with no distinction great
enough to cleave them from the other.
All that was proven on Nine
Eleven. The beauty and ugly bonded, the rich and poor became
brothers and sisters, the homophobe and homosexual dropped their swords
and shields and clutched one another in respect of the dead, the victims
of horror. The "holier-than-thou" took the outstretched
hand of the atheist. The white hand grasped the black and
yellow and brown hands. The mink coat was draped over the
trembling shoulders of a homeless woman who shook and trembled in fear.
Montana is a lovely state. It
has great people and great fishing. It has a sense of rugged
individualism, a broad scope of magic all unto itself. But so does
When I returned, I could hear its heartbeat.
I felt its pulse.
New York City is life, ripe with all its good, its bad, its
ugly and its beauty. It is a rose, protected by thorns.
And, it is not only the birthplace of
a nation, where the first President was inaugurated, but it is now also
the birthplace of the Sentinels of Vigilance.
Despite Montana's great history of Lewis
and Clark traveling through its mountains and valleys, of Jeanette Rankin
being elected as the first woman Congressperson in 1917, and the fame of
Charles Russell capturing the spirit of the old west, New York's history
paled that of Montana in so many ways--especially now, in 2002.
As the Delta Airliner my wife and I flew on
from Montana circled the Big Apple in preparation for landing, I could
hear the Sentinels of Vigilance singing to me from the great hole where
the Twin Towers had once so proudly stood.
Their memory and their reality have become my brothers and sisters,
my mothers and fathers, my New York City.
I was returning to the City of Vigilance, a
city always "ready for anything, counting on nothing." A city poised
to "expect the unexpected.
The legacy of Nine Eleven for me was the monument
of the memories of those who sacrificed their lives on September 11--and
not just the police or firemen or emergency workers who glean the lion's
share of the credit for being the heroes of that day--but all who died
under the rubble and debris of the Terrorist Attack. All who
perished that day were heroes, men and women from 80 different lands,
bound by an act of horror and ugliness the world will not quickly
forget--gave their lives so that we might not forget to remember to be
Semper Vigilantes--Always Vigilant.
has its beauty on the outside, New York has it beauty on the
inside. Its heart is made of iron. Its
passion is the blood of all those who died on September 11.
I was glad to be
back among those with whom I have united, in death and life--the
Brothers and Sisters of Nine Eleven.
To Daily Diary, Jan. 25--THE SECRET WORLD OF "FIC"
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