Powder on My Mind

Fear Seeps Into the Cracks of a Block in Queens

There are people in this city who jerk reporters around with supernatural stories or phony leads that test the gullibility of newsmen hungry for a good story. So when former gospel disc jockey Stanley Jones [his name has been changed] told me the Yemeni men running the deli on his street were really Al Qaeda terrorists, and they'd been planting anthrax spores around his neighborhood—it was on his couch—and one of their lieutenants was hitting on his new wife, Carrie [not her real name], and warned her not to go to her World Trade Center job on September 11, and that she received letters filled with mysterious powder (postmarked Trenton!) and then, thenshe prophetically met Kathy Nguyen in a thrift shop, days before her death, naturally, I thought the man was full of shit.

"Buddy, there's powder everywhere," he said—on the doorframe, atop the deadbolt plate, on his neighbor Frank's doormat. He thought it was dust from the ceiling. Plasterboard maybe, but there were no holes, no marks or punctures. The powder was giving him headaches, he said, screwing with his memory, and Carrie had developed lesions on her back, breasts, and stomach.

"I'm scared shitless," he said. "I'm sitting here, on my couch. I got it covered in plastic and the door's propped shut with a chair." He affixed his home video camera to his peephole, plugged it into a time lapse VCR, and has been monitoring his hallway for suspects.

"Paranoid? No way," he says. "These guys are trying to fucking kill us. . . . I mean, I'm hugging my two machetes waiting to hack their damn heads off!"

In these new times of terror, funny things can happen to the mind: Fear and imagination take hold. One lady I know has stopped buying her peppers from a Turkish man, who, as of late, has been acting unusuallycurt. Why? Panic. Paranoia. Whatever. I confess: Sometimes when I look toward the sky, I see planes slice into the sides of buildings. The Joneses, I thought, were two more victims suffering the same delusions.

So where exactlywas the mysterious powder coming from?

"Sunshine News," he said, referring to the grocery on the corner, the name of which has been changed in this story. Stanley and Carrie said they've known the guys who run the place for years. Hakim, Petey, and Abdul, the owner. But early this August, before anyone could imagine a day like September 11, and all that followed, according to Stanley and Carrie, life at the deli began to change, and so did theirs.

There were more Arab faces, suspicious-looking people doing suspicious things, you know, like the time one of Sunshine's delivery men showed up at Stanley's 42nd birthday party wearing a gas mask, and the box of Heinekens he brought had white powder in it. Still, that was nothing. "Talk to Carrie," Stanley said.

Her voice was soft, smart, British. "It started back on my first day of work," she said. After taking a job at one the world's leading insurance firms, located high up in 2 World Trade Center, she went into the store for a pack of Salems.

"Why you all dressed up?" she remembers Abdul asking. She told him about the WTC job and he replied, "That's not a good place to work."

A few days later, she claims to have received two packages at work. One was addressed to the firm's president, the other to her vacationing boss. Both packages were caked in white powder and delivered by a man in a makeshift uniform, wearing gloves. Inside, there was a note, haphazardly typed. It said the recipient had been a supporter of Israel and would "expire." The letter was signed "Abdul."

Around that time, she also received a note at home, postmarked Trenton. When she unfolded the message, there were only three words printed—"You are dead,"—and powder spilled on the couch.

Soon after, one of the new men from the deli started waiting in the WTC lobby for Carrie to take her cigarette breaks. He asked her out to dinner, saying he would be leaving town for good. "He was handsome," she said, "dressed in a dark suit, maybe from Saudi Arabia or Morocco." Usually, she ignored him, but she does remember, on September 10, he insisted that she not go to work the next day. He said the towers were going to explode; the right hand of God was on his side; and Carrie, only 34, "was too beautiful to die young."

The next day, as it happened, she was late to work.

This couldn't be true, could it? They sounded normal. Why would both Stanley and Carrie lie? They were working people. Why would they feed this fairy tale to The Village Voice?

"If anything happens," Stanley explained, "I want someone to know. I went to the cops and they left us out to dry; they were laughing in the background when I talked to them. I went to the FBI, and they didn't do nothing. So if you're not Daschle or Brokaw the government doesn't give a damn? And I still got this anthrax on my chaise lounge. . . . So I said to myself, 'I got to go to the press.' "

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