Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Enterprise - 43 - The B-Thing

I arrived at Melissa’s to find my sister, red-eyed, sitting on the crimson Persian rug, gazing at the TV. A vodka martini sat before her in its iconic glass.

“What’s yer poison?” asked Melissa.

These were her first words to me after I crossed the threshold. There were funny things about that question. Among them was this: there was only one poison on offer.

“I’ll have a martini,” I replied. She popped the cork of her beloved Belvedere to pour me the first of many.

With each iteration the narrative onscreen further coalesced around a set of themes: Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden. The planes, one, two, three, four; the Pentagon, the Pennsylvania field. If the whole story could be told at the top of the hour, just once, perfectly—with all the names right, and the times—maybe everything would be OK.

I remembered a night I’d been here, two weeks before, maybe three, and spotted a story in the Times on the kitchen counter. It was about four members of a Viennese art collective who had stayed up all night in their studio on the 91st floor of the World Trade Center. At dawn, they put on climbers’ harnesses, affixed suction cups to the inside of a window, unscrewed it from its mounting, and pulled it into the room. They installed a cantilevered balcony and each, in turn, stepped outside. Accomplices circled in a helicopter taking pictures; a grainy enlargement appeared in the paper. It depicted a human form, sheathed from the waist down by the makeshift structure and framed by one of the tower’s unmistakable columnar striations.

One of the artists was quoted as follows: The amazing thing that happens when you take out a window is that the whole city comes into the building.

No one could confirm that it had happened. No verifiable evidence was found. The Austrians turned mum and the event quickly lapsed into myth. Only its name remained: The B-Thing.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Enterprise - 42

I picked up my overnight bag at home and headed out to Melissa’s, jumping on a crowded bus that crept down Fifth. I stood in front, near the driver. Everyone was talking about it. Nervously, I suppose. But their chatter had a tone of eerie glee. They seemed eager to outdo each other in hyperbole, like kids at recess. Was it vanity—unbridled, like our other basest urges, by the trauma? Or was it a tactic? If they made it worse in their heads, and made it worse out loud, mere reality might not be so hard to bear.

“I heard forty thousand people died," a woman said.

"Oh no. Way more than that," said a man. "Two hundred thousand."

Then the driver told his story.

"I was down there," he began. "I looked out the window and I saw what you call it. Graffiti. I saw graffiti comin’ outta the sky." We all knew what he meant. "But then I realized it ain't no graffiti. It's pieces of paper.” He shook his head. “Eight and a half by eleven."

I got off around the Metropolitan Museum and crossed Central Park with the crowd. Everyone’s pace had slowed by half a step, as though in a dream. With nothing left to escape, our bodies moved with processional solemnity. In a way, it was just a beautiful day in the park. There were lots of children—acting like children, skipping, swinging their parents' arms. But they knew. I heard a little boy say:

"Daddy, did the airplane really hit the building?"


"What happened to the people inside?"

A roaring fighter jet pierced the empty sky above us.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Enterprise - 41

It occurred to me that I ought to do some work. I was at the office, after all. Everything around me—computer, desk, chair—had been set in place to facilitate my productivity. Besides, it might be useful to lose oneself in labor at a time like this. Therapeutic. But after I opened the document of code I’d been working on the day before, I got the eerie feeling the earth was trembling and sliding under me.

There was nothing left to do but go. A few of us set out onto Fifth Avenue, must have been one o’clock or so. Every building downtown—those still standing as well as those that weren’t—had disgorged its contents onto the streets, and now a great tide of corporate humanity, of minions and executives, some blasted with ash, some weeping, many women in their stocking feet, was rising like bile up the gullet of the city.

Julie muttered that she’d heard from her Israeli fiancĂ©’s cousin that Yasser Arafat had taken credit for the attacks.

“The Sears Tower is next,” she said. “Mark my words. Lev told me so. He knows. Arafat won’t stop until he’s made us bleed out every drop of blood.”

After a few tries I managed to reach Mike in Chinatown.

“You heading uptown?” he asked.

“Yeah. What are you doing?”

“I’ve been on my roof. I took some Super 8 of the towers before they fell.”


“You know what this means, don’t you?” he asked.

“No. What?”

“From now on there’s a before and an after.”


“From now on there will always be before. And then there will be after. And there will always be this.”

“This here right now,” I said. Then we got disconnected.

A pickup truck drove slowly up the street, its bed crowded with men. Still one more ran after it and clambered up the bumper, the others grabbing his arms and pulling him aboard as to a life raft.

I contemplated the Empire State Building, radiantly naked in the sun.

I heard something behind me and turned to find that it was a woman, crying inconsolably. I expected her to look up, to offer me the opportunity to express my sympathy. But she did not.

On the Upper East Side I happened to pass a posh restaurant. It was open. I peered through a pane of its French window. Inside, the space seemed cool and dark and quiet. Two couples in late middle age, the men broad-shouldered, wearing jackets, the women delicate and thin, sat knifing and forking as a waiter hovered at the ready. A bottle of wine rested in a dewy bucket in the middle of the table, ringed by four glinting glasses, each a quarter filled.