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My 9/11 Neighborhood of Broken People

Updated on May 12, 2015

Capture a Picture of Time

History freezes and helps us look into the present moment.
History freezes and helps us look into the present moment. | Source

On the Road to September 11th, 2001

Within the weave through which we’re all rippling and turning, those happy dropout days in the Sixties are nearly as fresh as smells rising up from the ocean and leaking into our apartment this morning.

The sleepless eye tracking everything calculates along the margins. Time accumulates on a razor sharp plane.

Cataloging the ramblings, dreams, repetitive meals, loves, losses and acres of words as distant memory is a convenience, the accepted method for keeping files in order, easy to access for future discussions and trials, comparing this thing to that without getting stuck in time, unconscious, but shuffling and reshuffling the deck in the search for meanings inside the web.

This goes on all the time.

All of the past is the same kind of raw material, make of it what you will.

On a Morning Before the Whole World Changed

Ten years ago, for example, just yesterday really, I climbed up subway steps grimy with the soot of a million shoes before mine.

On John Street, sunbeams came through every break in the construction.

There was never much traffic on the awkward, narrow grid downtown. I jaywalked to the other side and started downhill toward Water Street.

My desk then, clunky Wintel clone and all, sat on cheap carpet in an energetic office on the tenth floor about half-way down the slope.

On this block, Dave DeBusschere collapsed, as if God suddenly thought, “Oops, forgot to get that once beautiful boy,” and went back for a quick correction.

DeBusschere, died on a public sidewalk from what they park on the scale of horrors as a “massive” heart attack.

One other time, on a late winter morning, I returned from an appointment uptown to find a suicide jumper not completely covered with a blanket in the middle of the street. His freshly polished shoes and fashionable socks stuck out the bottom.

Upstairs, my boss made jokes about going back down to steal the still beautiful shoes.

Grisly, but mostly, I was happy working in that neighborhood.

If you read the history, you learn that interesting developments unwound on the blocks around John Street, not so long ago when it was near the center of an emerging metropolis nobody predicted to become this New York, rich in commercial acumen, eagerly inventing money magic, ingenious profit from nothing.

Closer to the East River where it blends with the harbor, the streets invest their trust on artificial turf, built up out of fill that enriched the owners of the newly created land, gathering wealth from a foundation of trash, much like the entertainment industry does today.

Towering glass structures rely on masterful engineering to be planted securely in what used to be shallow, salty water.

Some Broken People

Nobody hides anymore.
Nobody hides anymore. | Source

Dave - Broken People #2

Just like any other day, I walked by Starbucks and the florist shop where I surprised my wife, fifty miles away, by sending her flowers on our first Valentine’s Day back in New York.

On a block in transition from street level, grab bag retail to a fitness center, Dave was panhandling in his usual spot where the morning sun cut geometric patterns, beams dodging the Brooklyn Bridge.

Dave secured a warm slice of sidewalk for himself.

I always gave him a dollar, every day, even when it visibly disgusted my friend, Elliot, as we made our early run to Starbucks, and if there was time, Dave and I talked for a few minutes about current events.

Once, he disappeared for a couple of weeks and, when he came back, told me he’d been housed at a shelter out in Rockland County. Giuliani shipped him and some colleagues out because he couldn’t scare up enough beds in town.

Once in the boondocks, he had no way to return until the city lost rights to the space and had to bus him and his roommates back to the streets.

I never found out how Dave came to be homeless. We didn't dig that far into the past.

Dave’s poverty was just a fact of life, though, like a banker’s clean underwear, but his mental state was as wobbly as an old bicycle with no seat and some spokes missing. He eyes darted around constantly as if he expected an invasion, ghosts maybe.

Even at McDonalds, they‘d never let him fill a bag with fries for all those hungry customers with poor judgement. Landlords never answered his knock on the door.

So, I always gave Dave some cash and wondered why a community as rich as ours didn’t just put together the resources to embrace the broken among us and give them as much security and comfort as we had to give.

Even for the squeamish and too pure to be exposed to filth or failure, it’s a more provident way of killing your time than all the handwringing and moralizing.

Why do we have so much trouble with facts?

After all, the only time it seems like there are too many broken men, women and children is when we discard them on the street where nobody can miss seeing them.

Life Lessons for Free

On a day like any other, my boss told me that he’d watched me give money to Dave, just a half-block from our building. He followed my example.

This was during the holidays, and his religion taught him to do good deeds. Giving Dave a dollar was his for the day.

It wasn’t much, for either of us, but for my boss, it was a remarkable act because of its wholesome good intentions. He wasn’t really politically with the poor, discarded and homeless, but he had a big enough heart to say “the hell with it” and do something that defied his culture.

My boss was about as politically incorrect as you could get away with in the hobbled new century, hopelessly but also good-naturedly.

I remember he barely keep his skates on the ice when I answered, “None,” to the forbidden religion question.

We’d just got out of the elevator in the lobby and were headed for the subway and sales appointments.

It was our usual morning routine. Most of our appointments were up in Midtown. Sometimes, it seemed like I spent more hours on the Seventh Avenue line than anywhere else, which was good, I suppose, because I read books there.

That morning, my boss leaned over and spoke quietly, almost like a conspirator.

“So, what’s your religion?” he asked, violating a law I didn’t give a damn about.

“None,” I shrugged.

Most people hated that response. It didn’t leave enough room for orienting counterpoints. I’m sure he hoped I was at least a smidge, a careless wad of fate, Jewish.

“You must’ve gone to some church when you were growing up,” he insisted.

It calmed him down a little to learn that I’d been dragged off to Methodist churches as a kid. I even had the passion for a little while when I was lonely and belonging to an embracing congregation brought me a peace nothing else offered.

Churches would almost always have you. I remember how hard it was, letting that go, giving Jesus the axe, but it was necessary, something that must be done as surely wearing off cartilage or clipping your nails.

Yes, There Is a God

There is a God. Everyone knows that, like it or not.

Saying it out loud isn’t any more special than acknowledging the sun. Turning that insight into a vitality eclipsing passion is where we screw things up. Religions have a field day with that stuff.

Anyway, it’s seemed to me for a while that mathematics is, so far, the closet we have to a language of divinity, and evolution is a toolkit, as far as we’ve evolved tools, but I don’t like religions at all.

Religions take the soulful pull we all feel toward nature and whip it up as some kind of exceptional spirituality. You’ve either got it or you’re out.

That’s how the elite set up the toll road.

How would you like to nutshell that to your boss on the trail from elevator to subway?

I should have just told him I was a Unitarian. That way, you can get away without having to actually believe in God, as far as I can tell. They probably even have some atheists in there.

It's a Stream

We percolate through each other.
We percolate through each other. | Source

Memory

Do memories lie?

See results

Then, the Killing Started

When jihadists obliterated the World Trade Center, we were shut out of our business neighborhood for weeks. Desks and chairs, vacation souvenirs, pictures of the grandkids, unkempt meeting rooms, men and women, all wiped out and piled in a smoldering heap.

By the time they decided it was safe to let us come back to our dusty offices, Dave was gone.

It took a few more days to have the computers humming again, but what we returned to, although it looked the same, never would be.

What my boss called “the smell of death” filled your nostrils from the minute you got off the subway.

Walking down Broadway, a high construction fence blocking your view of hell, it was as thick as fog. The acrid odor of the burning of the World Trade Center, everything and everyone in it, just hung in the air, fed from ruins smoldering for weeks in the pit called Ground Zero.

Rain rinsed the dust that fell like burnt snow into every corner along the streets, but smoke kept curling up out of the wreckage.

Huge, bent scraps of metal, like a grotesque garden of Richard Serras, bracing piles of softer debris, couldn’t be completely hidden behind the fences.

After work one day in November, I walked by a pharmacy being cleaned up for reopening on Fulton Street. The past creeping out through the opened door smelled like dragon’s breath.

A year later, my company got out of the hazard zone, moving up to Times Square, leaving behind whatever was left of Dave, the scars and daily reminders of carnage so inconceivable it had to be reduced to news stories.

No one gets the full picture of a living hell.

Dante, the author of Revelations, Bosch — they thought they had it, but it wasn’t like this.

Their hells were ancient, more impassioned than this grinding horror.

All we got in modern times were statistics detailing technologically advanced savagery in service of primitive inspirations.

We moved out.

Gone were insignificant routines and ugly days working next to an unresolved cemetery. But the stuff of memory never dies.

David Stone

You can find all my books on my Amazon Author page.

© 2014 David Stone

What do you think?

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    • David Stone1 profile image
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      David Stone 2 years ago from New York City

      It was all of that, Sherry. You're welcome.

    • profile image

      Ibidii 2 years ago

      Thank you for letting me and Hub readers know more details of that day. What a shock for you and your boss as well as the world.

    • David Stone1 profile image
      Author

      David Stone 2 years ago from New York City

      Yes, Sherry, we were there. The shutter that ran through the neighborhood when the first plane hit was something I will never forget. Right after, sheets of singed paper began floating past our windows, blown out of the North Tower. My buddy and I walked up to Broadway to have a look. Nobody knew what was going on yet, but it was something, watching the intense fire 90 floors above us. I'd been in the building many times, as high as the 100th floor. Then, the second plane smashed into the South Tower. I was never in a crowd that ran away so fast in my life. By then, we all guessed it was terrorism and none of us knew where the next explosion would be. World changing, as was the JFK assassination.

    • profile image

      Ibidii 2 years ago

      Were you and your boss and co-workers at your office that morning of 9/11/01? I can imagine what that was like to walk past ground zero for those times before you office moved. Sounds like a lot of stress for all who were in and around the area from that day on. It is sad, too for those whom we all lost that day and the days after for those who volunteered. I wrote my take on the day JFK was assassinated this week for the 51st anniversary. For my kids who were not there for JFK, 9/11 scared them badly. My son had a horrible panic attack when we saw on the news about the Columbine School tragedy. He was 11 years old. I had to take him to the ER. I can imagine how those who live in NYC and experienced 9/11 first hand, I am sure all have PTSD from it. Awesome Hub Dave. I appreciate your stories.

    • David Stone1 profile image
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      David Stone 3 years ago from New York City

      Thank you, Erin. It's a frustration and puzzle a lot of people would like to better understand.

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 3 years ago from Europe

      America still baffles me, the constant claim of Christianity yet the monstrously unchristian treatment of the poor and sick, the claim of exceptionalism, yet the horrible treatment of poor, huddled masses in one of the richest nations ever seen. I love America and the hope it represented, but fear its regressing away from its ideals. Beautiful piece David, it really made me think.

    • David Stone1 profile image
      Author

      David Stone 3 years ago from New York City

      Thank you, Paula. Between the JFK assassination, I figure I was witness to two world-changing events in one lifetime, both brutal. Maybe three, on a more positive note, with the digital revolution that has people like you and me, who might never have met or exchanged ideas otherwise, in casual contact whenever the mood strikes. What's next?

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      David....This egregious attack upon us will remain in our memories for all time. The countless thousands of life destroyed and those changed forever.

      Another ones of those startling moments in History that will bring us back to the very dread of that day...where we were, what we were doing and the stunning shock and disbelief.

      All that has followed changed the lives of each and every one of us in some tragic or significant way.

      This is a powerful read, David. May we one day heal as we grow, learn and carry on......Awesome....UP++pinned & tweeted

    • David Stone1 profile image
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      David Stone 3 years ago from New York City

      It was a strange area to work in after the disaster, that's for sure, raw all the time and terribly depressing.

      I can't imagine the courage it must have required to be there working in all that horror, every day.

      Thank you, flourish anyway, for your comment.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      For the most part we have walled off the raw emotionality of that time. I will never forget the feelings of that desperate time. I cannot imagine living or working in the area. An aunt volunteered for months at Ground Zero and years later died from respiratory ailments she picked up from breathing in the remains of terrorism.

    • David Stone1 profile image
      Author

      David Stone 3 years ago from New York City

      Thanks, Susie.

      I appreciate it.

    • David Stone1 profile image
      Author

      David Stone 3 years ago from New York City

      You're welcome, Nancy.

      I'm happy it stirred some things in you. Thanks.

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 3 years ago from Minnesota

      You have a heart of compassion, Dave Stone. An awesome article to read.

      When I think on the events of 9/11 and the aftermath, I still weep.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      This Hub sent me back to memories of my own about the past few years, the homeless, the helpless, 9/11 and religion. I've given money to those on the street, and like you, one memorable person in particular. I have no idea what happened to him or the little cat he loved so much. One day, they were simply gone. The WTC tragedy and terror lives on in my mind forever, as I remember the morning vividly when my son woke me up yelling at me to turn on the TV, that we were being attacked. As for religion, I was raised in a General Baptist atmosphere, and I could never understand how a "loving" God could condemn you to eternal hell for breaking curfew, or not doing your chores. I haven't believed in organized religion for so many years that I can't even count them. I have a theory that I won't expound on here, but it suits me just fine. Thanks for sharing this story.