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Subject: [talkling] School Starts and Life gets back to normal
Oddly, we have not heard from our son Sean. He graduated from NYU, moved to France
and obtained his dual citizenship, moved back to NY, brought over a young Portuguese fiancée,
went back to France and married her, moved back to NYC, then to France, then to... - and then sort
of drifted out of daily, weekly, monthly communications with us. He has an apartment in Jersey
City, just outside NYC, and has been studying to prepare for the law boards. He lives on about
fifteen hundred a month, which places his living standard slightly above a migrant farm worker in
Jersey City, but would provide a comfortable life in Portugal or Paris. If he is in Jersey City, it is
odd he has not called us. If he is in Portugal or France, it might be understandable. If he is in
Europe, I would not know who or where to call. If I call his grandmother in Paris even hinting I am
concerned I would instantly turn her into a Whirling Dervish. My brothers and I have sent express
mail packages to the Jersey City address containing postage paid self-addressed return envelopes,
but have not received any response. He turned 25 on Sept 2 and did not contact us for his birthday.
I turned 39+ yesterday, and he did not contact me. Given the distractions provided by his new wife,
I can imagine we are on his back burner.
Monday morning, six days after the day, my wife and 16 year old left for work and school
at 7AM. I took Tracy, 11, to the A train subway uptown to 59th where we transferred to the uptown
2. Normally the 2 is an express and bypasses 59th, but Monday it was an uptown local. Tracy was
quite upset about taking the express 2 when she always normally takes the local 1 train. Before she
asked, I told her I would come to the school to pick her up.
After dropping her off, I returned the 72nd subway stop only to find the station jam packed
with people highly trained in alternate side parking extending their skills to master alternate side (of
the platform) boarding as they shuffle back and forth from the local and the express sides of the
platform, all in vain attempts to get into overloaded downtown trains. I gave up and started walking
down Broadway, wondering a bit about whether I was contributing to inflation or deflation by
paying for a subway ride I did not take. I think that is inflationary, but I may be wrong. If I had
borrowed the money for the token, that would certainly have been inflationary. Many stores and
businesses had small memorials strewn with flowers and pictures of the missing. Every so often,
there was a street blocked off, I do not know why. Some blocked streets seemed to have a firehouse
memorial full of pictures of the fallen city workers. Many local people had brought flowers, cards,
letters, and posters. Classrooms of children have made posters and murals to express thanks and
regret.
Some firehouses lost all their firemen. One on the upper East Side, I believe, lost six. Given
that hundreds of police(wo)men, fire(wo)men, and volunteers were lost, every community has lost
some local friends. My children visited the local fire station in happier days several times with their
schools as little kids. I remember our son sliding down the pole fifteen years ago. At school, Tracy
told me after I got her back, that her class made signs and cards for the local firemen and policemen
lost and then walked to the stations to deliver them. That was the main focus of her day.
I decided to walk all the way home (72 blocks) to see what path Tracy would take if she
ever did walk home. Avenues go North/South and streets go East/West except for Broadway, which
follows an original Indian trail at least that is what they told us in the jury duty handout. Tracy
would not be able to follow Broadway across 6th or 5th avenues. She would end up walking down
6th Avenue. Nice to know for future reference. I studied the things that she would notice if she
were on 6th avenue and had lost her (Broad)way.
About 60th Street, while I was wandering around looking like a tourist in my new city, a
blind woman was trying to get her bearings. The sidewalks and crossings had a lot of things on
them that are not usually there, such as police cars garbage trucks, police barricades, flower
memorials, huddles of people looking at missing persons pictures, puddles of water from hydrants
that had been tested, and so on. There also seemed to be more people than normal on the street,
perhaps because, like me, they gave up on the subway. She was tapping a large empty cardboard
box with her white cane. I asked her if I could help. She wanted to get to the uptown bus stop to get
to 71st Street. Deciding to reverse my direction and wander North, I told her that I was on my way
to visit the school at 70th street, and perhaps to the pastry shop at 72nd - which makes my older
daughter's favorite apple turnovers. Too oily, sour, and mushy for my taste, but they do use fresh
apples. I prefer the apple turnover from the bakery at 2nd avenue and 8th street, a tad sweet for
most perhaps, but full of slightly crisp cinnamony apples, probably mutsus, and distinctly
wholesome.
She gave me tips about the local blintzes and layer cakes she knows of. I am much more
into fruit tarts than she is, although being from North Carolina, I think she must like sweet potato
pie and the like. We discussed the Gorilla exhibit at the Bronx zoo and the touching aquarium at the
aquarium where kids can hold a horseshoe crab - two places our family had recently visited. I
talked about reading machines, a main focus of my attention for the past two years. I have cheap,
cheap, cheap gizmo's to help me. I scan in everything (pdf, 600dpi) and enlarge it on my computer
screens. Apparently a device (ccd camera) and a converter/modulator to project the image on a TV
screen costs 300 dollars for the sight impaired I would like to work with people to design and build
a simple camera device to connect to a TV to project images. We touched on the WTC disaster, but
had no time to talk about it since we arrived at the church where she was attending a funeral.
Turning South, I walked down Bway to Sixth, and then down to 14th Street, where I
crossed over to Union Square Park. A large memorial to the missing. Letter size posters bear
pictures of people singly and in family type situations. 'Missing father, 45 years old, tattoo of lion
on back, pierced ears and jade earrings, gold wedding band says: Forever True.' Some, more in tune
with recent radio requests for DNA samples and dental records, give similar descriptions, but add:
'missing two lower right molars' or 'broke right forearm in two places as a child.' Almost all
descriptions are in English, although from the names, pictures, and overall look, one might guess
that they were bilingual or their native language did not have Anglo Saxon roots. It is difficult to
describe your loved one to the missing person's people if all that might be recognizable is a forearm
or a lower jaw. I have never thought of myself as 'has chipped bone in knuckle joint of left middle
finger' or 'broke second toe on left foot at age 50.' I never envied people with stainless steel hip
joints, but in some situations, they have a leg up on others. I suppose I should start of think of my
family, myself, and anyone, in terms of their bite and deformations of their skeletal structure.
At home, I unpacked the closet that I had hurriedly filled before learning NYC. My usual
way of cleaning up the living room is to throw everything into the closet in a sort of hash file.
Although my years of scientific and engineering training taught me to respect scientific
instruments, I had abused my telescope badly. I disassembled the telescope and repacked it
immediately after the second WTC tower collapsed. I do not know why I did that. Probably
because I did not want my children to look through it if they came home. I do not even remember
putting it away, but in my cleaning up and repacking the telescope, I had pushed it into the carrying
case so hard that I broke off the sighting scope. The telescope was not repacked, it was jammed into
the box with such force that it crushed and crumbled all of the white styrofoam. I do not even
remember carrying out the trash, but I threw away the terrestrial and celestial mountings, all my
moon filters, a handful of my eyepieces, and one leg of the tripod. I do not even know why I carried
out the garbage in the middle of the afternoon. I have no memory of any of it. I no longer have a
useable telescope. Mine was destroyed by the WTC collapse.
Emailers have asked why I have a powerful telescope that only sees things upside down.
Several reasons. Decades ago, my brother, who works at Lockheed-Martin on guidance systems,
gyroscopes, and celestial navigation systems that orient satellites, once came to my apartment and
informed me that those lights in the sky that I thought were helicopters hovering over Brooklyn and
Staten Island were in fact the gods Mercury, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn on their chariot rides across
the night sky. I much prefer classical explanations of the starry vault to modern lifeless descriptions
of orbiting planets. Originally the scope had a prism that made things right side up. But observing
birds in NJ with children fighting over whose turn it was to look, this device was gobbled up by the
Jersey swamps. The main thing I have used it for in the past years is observing the Peregrin falcons
that live on the ledges of high buildings and eat the pigeons. Yes, after a while you get used to
seeing everything upside down. Yes, it does see in people's windows, but in New York City, people
do on the roof and in the parks along the Hudson River anything they do in their apartments, so
there is no reason to look in windows. Also, Alfred Hitchcock provides strong arguments against
looking into windows. No, it was not expensive. I found it in the garbage room years ago.
After working at home on my NYU course readings, I started back on the subway at 2:40 to
get to the 72nd St school by 3 or so. Tracy likes to hang out a bit a talk to chums and to eat the
candy we deny her at home. The subway had a delay. The normally downtown track, that was
exceptionally an uptown track because of bridge repairs, was temporarily handling an overload and
taking normal downtown trains that that should have been exceptionally on the uptown track. As
clear as mud, as my mother often said. I asked the conductor riding on the train. He did not know
the details because he was usually on another line. I got on the correct uptown S (the S means
special or shuttle, depending who you ask, and the time of the day). I waited a long time in the
subway, I think while downtown express trains went downtown on the uptown local track, and so
on. At 4:15 got to the locked school, entered through the rear cafeteria entrance, climbed the stairs
and picked up Tracy. She was not worried and knew I would get there, but she was getting hungry.
I had brought her sliced cucumbers.
We walked to 59th Street, past a large hospital whose 35 foot long 6 foot high front wall
was covered with missing person's pictures, flowers, and religious looking things. The biggest
displays I have seen are at the Lexington Armory, which I understand is a morgue, and Union
Square Park. The radio reported that people run up to the morgue delivery trucks with pictures and
ask the drivers and workers if they have seen this person.
The A train express zipped us to West Fourth in minutes.
Odd thoughts cross my mind. Wave, a Sioux Indian who grew up on the South Dakota
reservation, designs beautiful jewelry that sends my sixteen year old daughter and her friends into a
swoon. We visited his show at a gallery on Third Avenue just off 2nd street about two weeks ago.
He is making me silver inlaid cufflinks, as a present for having invited him to Christmas dinner.
After some thought, I realized that I have not owned a shirt that has cufflinks in fifteen years. So
we decided that he will make me a crucifix from tubular silver, sort of a Sioux interpretation of the
Salvador Dali crucifix that I like. I asked him how much such a work would cost if he made it in
platinum. He did not know, and it made no difference, because he said platinum melts at a very
high temperature, and it impossible to work with without special furnaces and torches. I settled for
silver, but now I am thinking of a ring in platinum with my name and social security number in it. I
would wear a fraction of my 401k plan on my finger as a hedge against inflation or deflation, I
forget which, and just in case. Apparently such a ring would have rolled out of the WTC fire
unscathed.
A friend who has a Labrador Retriever said that there is great concern over dogs and cats
that have lost their owners. Many of the victims were unmarried single people who lived alone.
They left in the morning intending to come home and feed their pet by suppertime. These animals
may last a couple of weeks without food, but they cannot last without water after they have drunk
the little bit in the bottom of the toilet. Christine, my son's wife, has two cats I think.
Someone mentioned that there cannot possibly be any records of the tourists who were
visiting the observation tower and restaurant at the top of the WTC. Many tourists flying or out of
the airports often go there on their first or last day in the city. Tess' high school friend said that a
German couple visiting her family went to the WTC that morning to buy souvenirs and they were
two blocks from the WTC when it collapsed. They ran and escaped the dust cloud. They had
intended to go at least an hour earlier, but had overslept.
If you want to capture the spirit of NYC, take the whole family to the next funeral in your
town, perhaps of a young person killed in an auto accident, and bring a picnic lunch. Hang back,
since you are not part of the funeral, and just watch the grief. After the ceremony, go off and spread
out your blanket and have your wine and cheese. Take off your shoes and dig your toes into the
grass and think of how nice it is to be alive. While the kids examine gravestones to find the ages of
the people under them, mom and dad can taking turns reading Spoon River Anthology. Try to guess
what occupation matches each poem: janitor, bond trader, elevator dispatcher, fire(wo)man,
window washer... When your kids ask, why did we do this? You figure out a response, but be sure
too mention that the family will go on such picnics again, and again, as the workers gradually
unearth the thousands of victims over the next month or so, and more people post placards detailing
the bone structures of relatives and friends as hope turns to desperation.
Tracy made me a birthday card: "Dear Daddy, You mean so much to me, you mean the
galaxy to me. I also love to be with you. Now you are a big 61 years old and the best father in the
world. I love you so much and have a great year. Happy birthday. Love, Tracy" Her homemade
card looks like many of the posters, except Tracy has drawn my picture (emphasizing my rather
thick magnifying eyeglasses), while all posters have a genuine photograph and more physical
descriptions.
Makeshift memorials have sprouted on the windows of pizza pie shops, delicatessens,
Starbucks, and supermarkets everywhere. Six Avenue had three memorials covering the windows
of three supermarket size stores on one block. Some are handmade posters with prints glued on.
Some are clearly made by children, and signed with a child's scrawl, and these are often illustrated
with flowers, stars, and stick figures. Others are color Xerox pages with pictures printed. Typical:
Missing Person. Manuel Rodriguez, delicatessen delivery man delivering to 98th floor of WTC2.
Age 23. Tattoo of bird on left arm, large hoop gold earring on right ear. Few are dated, but one can
estimate the date. I judge this to be an early announcement when hopes existed since it only
mentions properties of the flesh and not the bones. Tooth and bone descriptions are more typical of
the latter announcements, as the true dimension of the tragedy sinks in to those who compose these
Missing Person announcements, who now presumably, are assembling bags of hair samples, dirty
underwear, and dental records of their husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and
children to bring to the morgues.

Email Date:September 22, 2001

Email To:NYU Linguistics Departmental Forum

Email From:Ray Dougherty

Email Cc:

Email Subject:[talkling] School Starts and Life gets back to normal


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