Sunday, September 11, 2011

Some Memories of September 11, 2001

I had flown to New York on the 10th to perform stand-up at Carolines on Broadway on the 12th. These are a couple fragmented memories of that week.

That morning I stepped out of my hotel and headed to the nearest hospital to try to donate blood for the survivors. They weren't yet ready to accept the mass donations, and said to return later. When I did, they already had all they could handle. The improvised triage city hospitals had set up were sadly empty as too few emerged from the wreckage.

Walking south on Broadway towards a friend's house at around midday, all us pedestrians heard a plane overhead, and our thoughts in macabre unison, looked up to find qualified relief that it was a fighter patrolling the skies of New York. In line at a grocery store, the 2 women in front of me asked what I would study in grad school to get a student deferment from the draft they assumed would be coming, but didn't materialize.

That night, the South part of Manhattan was declared "closed" and heading back North on foot toward the subway, a city bus was heading South, its passengers all in military camouflage heading to Ground Zero. That subway ride was the safest I've probably ever had. Every passenger thinking the same thoughts; this had happened to all of us, together. No one would mug anyone.

Later in the week at Chelsea Pier, I was in line to volunteer with the Red Cross. I remember the woman who stepped out of a response truck and spoke with me because she needed a break. She had been compiling lists of the missing, and knew each passing moment the list was morphing towards becoming one of casualties. Friends, husbands, wives, children, neighbors. Her bravery made her one of the more beautiful people I've ever seen.

They had us wear a small piece of masking tape designating what we were assigned to. Mine said VolOps for volunteer operations. With thousands still missing, we made bucket lines consolidating supplies that had arrived to a handful of ad hoc places in the city from across the country. Clothes for the missing, that would not end up worn by them. We'd help direct rescuers to the things they needed. In one lull between van and truck loads and in middle of the night, me and two other actors did a few moments of improv to both pass the time and entertain the other volunteers. A man came seeking a breathing mask. His eyes told you where he'd just come from and was going back to, as did the dust on his clothes. I'll never lose the simple clarity of determination, patience, sadness, and horror in his eyes. They confirmed this human loss, what the small piece of masking tape on his helmet said with grim brevity: GZ. We gave him a couple options for masks and he returned to the pile. I was glad my plane had been canceled so I could be there to help in some small way.

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