The report—heard in the streets from open vans, from the punk swilling Ballantine XXX downtown on Hudson Street—was that 7 World Trade Center, that large building in front of us, was ready to go.
“Gray,” she said, “I want to see it.”
The downtown workers had herded up Broadway earlier, in suits and skirts, searching for salvation. Some crowded the churches looking for God; the rest of us hit the bar.
At 11 a.m., the BAGGOT INN (82 West 3rd Street, 477-0622) was already transformed into the neighborhood’s outpost for information. No $5 cover today, only displaced persons huddled around the television like a campfire. Mugs of beer were already lined up on the wood-top bar, and chatter amongst the Born-Again Patriots was confused, delirious, and dangerously united. Nobody knew what was true, except that the weather was perfect and their lives would be changed forever. A pint of McSorley’s seemed a modest, local, proletarian choice. But I don’t remember it tasting like anything. I only had one sip.
Back on the street, New Yorkers scrambled to contact that one person. Phone lines were tangled; they had to isolate and choose. (Who did you call first? Who contacted you?)
She’d called from Thomas Street, and we started to walk aimlessly, foolishly downtown, following the trail . . . the morgues, St. Vincents, triage . . . and then, on Hudson Street, we saw 7 WTC. She wanted to watch it fall. I was ready for another drink.
Watching the fuzzy television in BUBBY’S BAR AND RESTAURANT (120 Hudson Street, 219-0666) was like watching the world series of Western civilization. Good vs. Evil. God vs. God? I ordered a Dewar’s and soda and for her, a whiskey with Coke. The man next to me had placed a hand on his girl’s thigh. Mine was in a similar place, and my combat companion reported that other men were giving her primal looks and she was giving them back and her friends had felt the same thing too.
The booze was like novocaine, and nothing hurt anymore. In the corner, another journalist was calling in a story and her sandaled feet were covered with ash; a fireman came in, weary, to take a piss.
Then, on TV, the building fell. We stepped outside to peek, and were picked up in a mob. We had to run for it, and we thought it was fun, and when we finally stopped, we kissed.
“You’re a fucking idiot,” said my neighborhood barfly, when I bragged to him about my battle tale over a nightcap of Bailey’s at WELCOME TO THE JOHNSON’S (123 Rivington Street, 420-9911). I asked him what he thought propelled us to see the terror, and in the most perverse, curious way, take part. “You don’t know about real loss,” the old-timer said, pulling smoke. “You don’t know about real love, either. To really know, to really feel what it’s like to love, you have to feel the loss too. That’s why you went down there. That’s why you wanted to see real blood and the body parts, and that’s why, given the chance, you’ll do it again.” Again, I only had one sip.