Monday, September 12, 2011


September 12. It doesn't have the ring of September 11, and yet the date remains in our memories as the day we crept outside into a new and unknown world.

all photos scanned from my film, Sept. 2001

The night before, we stood on our rooftops, where we had stood frozen most of the day, and watched the sunset turn the smoke cloud an apocalyptic orange. The buildings had just been there. We had watched them burn. We felt the rumbling impact of their impossible collapse. It seemed "unreal," as everyone would say, like a movie.

We went to bed worried. We had our canned goods, our bottled water, our cash, just in case. But we hardly slept.

The East Village night was silent, with traffic blocked off and all non-residents banned from entering. We lay awake, waiting for the percussion of another explosion.

In the morning we wandered out into the smoky world. Our neighbors covered their faces with breathing masks. The air shimmered with dust.

American flags, overnight, had sprung up everywhere. On the streets, men had carried televisions to the sidewalks where crowds gathered to watch the towers fall, again and again.

Signs went up for prayer services. People who never went to church went to church. Men pressed transistor radios to their ears and listened to the latest reports.

In Union Square, a sprawling memorial quickly blossomed and, in the coming days, overflowed.

Signs told us what to donate to the rescue workers, a long list of necessities. On our own transistor radio we heard that candy bars and chewing gum were good. We loaded two bags with Snickers and Doublemint and headed downtown. The blood centers didn't want anymore blood.

They wouldn't let us down past Houston, so we kept walking west.

On the empty West Side Highway, dump trucks carried debris northward, past the desolate Meatpacking District. We heard about body bags. We watched the smoke plume climb the cloudless sky. We heard about the Chelsea Piers being turned into a "makeshift morgue." There, they waited for bodies and took our donations.

Was it that same day or the next? Downtown, the tourist machine had already begun.

Like vultures pecking at the body before it was cold, hawkers sold American flags, posters, postcards, and pins of the Twin Towers. More would come. Already, orders were in for Trade Center snow globes, ashtrays, and baseball caps. Somewhere, someone was putting together gruesome photos for 9/11 Memorial Scrapbooks. Already, the tourists were adding Ground Zero to their vacation destination lists.

But on that day, and for many days, the smoke had not yet cleared.

On the souvenir stands, the vendors sold respirator masks. We bought them and put them on. Without them, we coughed and choked on the smoke as we stepped as close as we could to the disaster. It was still burning.

Up in Times Square, the tourists had all scurried away. The streets were dead. Newspapers floated across Broadway. It was so silent there, you could hear the sound of the traffic lights changing from green to yellow to red, though no cars came by.

All the big TVs were shut off. In the window of Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, the curator of wax had taken some celebrity from the window--Leonardo DiCaprio?--and replaced him with George W. Bush.


Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

There's nothing wrong with selling souvenirs, the jobbers stores on Broadway between 22nd and 18th Street were filled with them. That's old history, you covered them. When I was a kid they used to sell entire lots to any bidder who wanted to carry them off, flags, decorations, what not. Selling things was and is a NY frame of mind. It always was and always will be. Sold American ;)

Anonymous said...

Walk inside an Barnes and Noble and you will see tons of 9/11 merchandise.

It's OK for a mega-corporation to profit, but not the poor immigrant. Screw that. I see entrepreneurs that are trying to make a better life for themselves. Little different from the umbrella seller that pop up magically when it starts to rain.

I love NY.

Jennifer said...

I agree with you, Jeremiah. People who sell souvenirs where thousands of people died tragically are vultures.

My friend died at the World Trade Center and they never found her remains. The heat from the fire incinerated her body. Her mother lost her mind.

People should not be hawking twin tower snowglobes and other tourist crap to smiling tourists in front of a mass unmarked grave. It is disgraceful and disrespectful. It is un-American.

Caleo said...

The selling of souvenirs less than 24 hours after the event was disgusting.
The bitter chemical smell from the rubble continued to waft through the air as far away as Brooklyn for at least a week after the 11th.
I went down to the wreckage on Thanksgiving of that year, and the fires were still burning, and there were already tourists around the perimeter, laughing and cackling, snapping pix of themselves in front of the smoldering ruins like it was a movie set.
It was pathetic.

John said...

I remember that the souvenir sellers and the tourists bothered me at the time. I know I felt like this was my personal disaster: MY city; MY depression; MY walk home across the bridge, shepherding co-workers who had nowhere else to go; MY office building that had a tank parked in front of it, and that gawkers with cameras just didn't get it.

But it's not mine. We all lost something that Tuesday. German tourists. People from Texas. My sister-in-law from Detroit. All these people who knew that something awesome and horrible had occurred, and they knew that they didn't get it, and that even though there was nothing to see, they wanted to go see it anyway because it was a way to try to process this big... thing.

Ten years later, I have a lot more sympathy for those tourists. We were all trying to make up a narrative in our own way about how this could have happened, and what this meant, and what would come next. Personally, I couldn't bring myself to watch (what I imagined would be) the flag-waving ceremonies yesterday... but if this makes some people feel better, and if buying a flag pin is a surrogate for saying "we won't be cowed, and we'll find a way to have a future," I guess I'm now okay with that.

Marty Wombacher said...

It was a horrible day and as unsettling as all those images are, the last one is the most frightening.

Anonymous said...

Funny. The souvenir sellers and tourists buying them didn't bother me nearly as much as the terrorists who crashed planes into the buildings.

9/11 changed very little, even though everyone says it "changed everything." This city and country was in a sea of retarded consumerism before 2001 and it remains so today. The only thing it changed is our propensity to piously emote and dramatize tragedy. This country needs to get over it and cut back on the "remembrances" - excepting those who experienced immediate loss.

Jeremiah Moss said...

i understand tourists wanting to visit the spot. but in the months immediately following the attacks, it was like a carnival down there.

the souvenir hawking got much worse. it wasn't just American flags and WTC pins. for awhile, they were selling books full of photos of people running for their lives, bodies falling from the towers, body parts under sheets, etc.

a good time to read Sontag's "Regarding the Pain of Others."

Erika said...

"All the big TVs were shut off. In the window of Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, the curator of wax had taken some celebrity from the window--Leonardo DiCaprio?--and replaced him with George W. Bush."

For some reason this part disturbed me the most. The souvenir hawkers were doing what they do and trying to survive. Bush started a war, in which countless people were and ARE still being killed to this day.

Jeremiah Moss said...

certainly no one is saying that selling souvenir photos of dying people is on par with waging war and killing people. the souvenirs are part of the same culture, however.

William Carlos Williams talked often about seeing the universal in the particulars. the souvenir selling is a small piece that tells us about a larger whole.

Anonymous said...

the counsel man/ district leader & then police should have gotten rid of the souvenirs sellers. did they sell outside of the death camps when liberated? its a direct exploitation of suffering. anon 9:51am: what you said is offensive. NO one should profit from this. what mega corporations where down there selling things? (the next day). YOU tell ME then i buy the comparisn. enough already w/the "pity the poor immigrants" its this mentality which has made america weak. its not your business about their "better lives". id threaten who was selling, if i lost someone in that fire. i would take my chances for arrest. btw 2 of the terrorists drove for "boston cab company" & lived near me.

lrs said...

thankyou jeremiah (1:59pm). there are some traditional cultures where this kind of display of exploitation would be a spiritual travesty. about 8 weeks after the attacks, i volenteered to sell photos on prince street. it was in the space where "agnes B" stores were. they set up a gallery of 9/11 photos, & the proceeds of sales went for the victims& families. it was the owner of the building who had this idea. (since the spaces were empty). many NYC photographers were in the exibit. i worked there like 2 days. next door to the gallery they had a slide projector machine set up w/large projections on the walls. photos of people jumping, dead on the street, the whole drama. they had rock music & people were dancing. i quit, yes it was a holiday a party. im glad some of the survivors did not see the other room. you dont have to be a tourist to be weird.

Anonymous said...

I don´t think it has to be so anoying to see poor people selling merchandising. They were trying to get some money.
I were there as a tourist several years after and most sightseeing tour ended there (I wouldn´t have gone there by myself), so maybe tourists are attracted by it, but Ground Zero became a tourist attraction made by tour operators too.
I don´t see it as lack of respect. 4 years after, I saw people crying there.
RIP for those almost 3k lost there, and tons of respect for wounded, their families and friends.

Anonymous said...

I've never been to Ground Zero - even ten years later. On the days when business takes me down to that area, I make a point of staying away. I'm not exactly sure why - I didn't lose any relatives or close friends and I don't live in Manhattan so I wasn't displaced or inconvenienced. Although I'm somewhat offended by the obligatory procedures over the past week that have memorialized the tragic events, privately I have moments when contemplating this disaster than bring me near to tears. I can't explain it very well but the presence of all those missing souls is very unsettling to me.

Lisa said...

Thanks for this post, Jeremiah. September 12th and indeed the entire rest of the year were such a scary, weird time. I've blocked a lot of it out. Carrying my phone bill to get home to Rivington St. The memorials. The smell. The sadness. The missing posters. The aftermath was as awful as the day itself.

Anonymous said...

WOW !! pork shoulders..69 cents a pound.??

And they say New York is expensive