Disaster Spawns Many Tales

On the afternoon of Sept. 14, 29-year-old actress Tanya Gingerich stood inside the entrance of a Tribeca newsstand on Hudson Street. A block away, the Tribeca Film Center stood empty, and the usually bustling Bubby’s had become a desolate way station for hundreds of cases of Dole Fruit Cups, Little Debbie Cakes and Baby Wipes that had been donated to the relief effort.

Ms. Gingerich had just checked on the apartment she shares with her boyfriend at Leonard and Hudson streets, about eight blocks from ground zero. The couple had been staying at her boyfriend’s parents’ home on East 73rd Street, and for the second consecutive day, Ms. Gingerich had ventured past the barriers and through the dust to find that her apartment building was completely empty.

“It feels like a different city down here. It’s a war zone: There are military checkpoints and you have to carry ID. There’s no food. There’s no mail. On television they’re telling us to go on, that life is normal,” Ms. Gingerich said. “But there’s no way.”

Her retreat to the Upper East Side, far from the destruction, did not hold much solace. “I feel anxious uptown,” she said. “Down here it’s like, ‘It’s done and we need to recover and move on.’ Up there, it’s like this pre-innocent state of ‘Nothing’s happened yet, so something’s about to happen.'” Ms. Gingerich shook her head, seeking to quell her rising emotions.

“They’re definitely not experiencing it uptown,” she continued. “The tanks of armed guards barreling down your street, the crushed cars and ambulances” that have been pulled from the World Trade Center site and dumped on some Tribeca streets.

In the days following the events of Sept. 11, New York seemed to have become two cities: one of people mired in grief and ash, anger and fear, and another of people determined to move forward with their routines and their lives.

It was not so much a geographical distinction as a psychological one. Certainly, there were those, such as Ms. Gingerich, who were shuttling on a daily basis between the incomprehensible devastation below Canal Street and the business-as-usual hustle farther uptown, but more–those not searching for loved ones in the rubble or at the armory–were making that commute in their heads, ping-ponging between emotional debilitation and a hearty urban fortitude that bordered on denial.

Bouncing between these two extremes produced no small amount of social guilt. You could hear it in David Letterman’s Sept. 17 on-air fretting over whether it was too soon to return to television, and in the heated discourse over whether it was disrespectful of the dead and the grieving to partake of a drink or a meal at a restaurant. But, as Mr. Letterman pointed out, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was urging the city’s residents to return to the routines and the enjoyments of their urban lives.

Back to Life

On the cold, wet Friday of Sept. 14, when most of New York went back to work, there was an eerie calm hanging over midtown. Where Sixth Avenue should have been a mass of honking cars and shouting drivers, the cars were rare–and silent–and the taxis stopped in the avenues to let jaywalkers cross. On Park Avenue, anyone who entered the lobby of the Seagram Building had first to pass through a metal detector. Flags flew at half-mast. At the bases of buildings all over town, smokers still jittery from the 90 bomb threats that peppered the city the previous day sucked on cigarettes and scrutinized passers-by.

Yet perhaps because of the tourists walking up and down the blocks with unfolded maps, or because of the lunchtime lines in front of the street vendors’ carts, it looked as if life had begun to creep into the city again. “It’s almost an odd divide,” said a lawyer who identified himself only as “John” as he carried his Dean & DeLuca lunch back to his office in the McGraw-Hill building. “There’s downtown, where things are unbelievable, and midtown, where people are trying to get things back to normal.”

The First Functional Day

“These are the socks that I walked from the World Trade Center in!” shouted Ethan Port, a bespectacled, sandy-haired 37-year-old San Franciscan who was being celebrated at a small Sept. 14 gathering of friends at an apartment on Avenue C in the East Village.

“Put them on eBay!” someone yelled back.

“But I already washed them,” Mr. Port responded joyously. He was dressed in a Clash “Give ’em Enough Rope” tour T-shirt, which depicted the Statue of Liberty bound by twine.

The clothes that he wore were not his own. When the first plane hit the World Trade Center tower on Sept. 11, Mr. Port, who is a technical trainer and software engineer for Tibco (“We built Wall Street,” he explained offhandedly) had fled his room at the Marriott Hotel there with a single pair of pants. He left behind his wallet, his shoes, his eyeglasses and identification. Someone on the street had given him a pair of socks.

Four nights later, Mr. Port was drinking cocktails and eating pork stewed with prunes in a friend’s tapestry-lined apartment, while the Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket” played on the stereo. He had no idea that he would be the centerpiece of this party. Strangers and acquaintances had clothed him. An optician had given him a two-day supply of free disposable contact lenses.

He was alive.

“This is the first day I’ve been functional,” Mr. Port said before he returned to singing along with Clash. “It seems the rest of the city is the same. I guess I’m synchronous with New York.”

But as far back as Tuesday night, New Yorkers were seeking comfort in the company of others rather than letting the grim news and images being replayed on the television continue to wash over them.

On Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, metal curtains and gates had been pulled down over the vast majority of the street’s restaurants and bars. But at 9:30 p.m., disco music, yellow light and clanking dinnerware spilled out of the open front of Cafe Luluc. Every table was full and a wait formed out on the ash-covered sidewalk.

“It was a strange day, but everybody needs to eat,” said Jean-Luc Lopez, one of the restaurant’s partners. “The people, they want to be out, not alone at home, scared.”

A woman sitting at a table toward the front of the bistro had escaped from a low floor in one of the World Trade Center towers. She was there with her husband and her mother-in-law, sharing some crème brûlée with Mr. Lopez. “I think if I were in that situation, I would do the same,” Mr. Lopez said in a French accent. “Go out with my family, enjoy life. Because sometimes we don’t enjoy life and it stops, and we say, ‘Why didn’t I enjoy it before?'”

The following afternoon at La Goulue restaurant, on Madison Avenue between 64th and 65th streets, the crowd spilled onto the sidewalk, wine glasses in hand, as people inquired about each other’s losses and shared information from their international networks. Plates of steak frites were hustled by, fries falling onto Belgian loafers. Broadway producer Terry Allen Kramer, the 60-ish female powerhouse in social, financial and theatrical circles, told her lunch companion that she had just heard that she’d lost 500 to 700 employees at one of her firms, which had offices in the World Trade Center. At the front corner table, Revlon chief Ron Perelman could be heard claiming that the market would slump for a month before recovering.

A large table that had been set for Giorgio Armani and 10 friends remained empty amidst the swirl. After an hour, waiters pushed the three tables back together, and they were immediately filled.

On Sept. 14, Alessandro Bandini, who has managed Da Silvano at Sixth Avenue between Houston and Bleecker streets since 1996, sat wearily at a large wooden table in the restaurant’s warm yellow ante-room, explaining over the scream of passing sirens what life had been like as one of the only restaurants open below 14th Street. Da Silvano closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, but reopened for lunch on Wednesday. “New York lives in its restaurants,” Mr. Bandini said. “People must feed themselves. And by coming to eat, they can help themselves for maybe 20 minutes.” Silvano Marchetto, Da Silvano’s owner, paced between the table and the kitchen door. He stopped only once to say: “It is better to just keep going.”

Mr. Bandini predicted that social hierarchies would come to an end in post-attack New York. “The bullshit is over,” Mr. Bandini said. “The superficial is avoided; there are no more levels.”

Jon Lovitz, the comic actor, was looking glum on the night of Sept. 14 at Zarela, the Mexican restaurant on Second Avenue between 50th and 51st streets. He was sitting at a table with five others, including Marlon Brando’s son, Miko. “I haven’t been able to get it off my mind,” said Mr. Lovitz, who lives in Los Angeles and spent the summer on Broadway in Neal Simon’s The Dinner Party. “I tried to go to the movies tonight, and then, I don’t know, I just couldn’t go, because I couldn’t enjoy it. To me, it’s been amazing walking around by Columbus Circle–a lot of people with candles.” Mr. Lovitz said that this was not a time to try to lighten anyone’s burden with comedy. “There’s nothing to joke about,” he said. “It’s time to have compassion and empathy and try to help.”

Cookbooks Sold Well

At the Lenox Hill Bookstore on Lexington Avenue and 73rd Street, proprietor Jeannette Watson spoke about what’s been selling. “There are the people who want to escape, and they’re going to another century, like Jane Austen or Tom Jones ,” she said. “Or they buy Happy All the Time , by Laurie Colwin, or the new Susan Isaacs. Just total escapism–we were ordering happy books; we’re having the little happy section. And then there are the people who want fighting-terrorism books and germ-warfare books. It’s not broken down by gender at all; you can’t figure out who is going to buy what. One customer ordered 30 copies of a germ-warfare book [ Germs: America’s Secret War Against Biological Weapons ] by Judith Miller. We sold a lot of cookbooks over the weekend– The Naked Chef and the Jacques Pépin. With a cookbook, you can concentrate on it, block out everything else; you like to think of all those ingredients. We’ve been selling quite a few copies of The Iliad and The Odyssey , and of course a lot of children’s books.

Howard Schwartz, the supervising pharmacist at Clyde Chemists on Madison Avenue and 74th Street, caters to customers who have Valium and Celexa home-delivered along with $42 French deodorant and Rigaud candles. After Sept. 11, he said that he’s been processing a lot of new prescriptions for two drugs, Cipro and Doxycyline.

“The two would be used to prevent anthrax, which would kill us in no time,” said Mr. Schwartz. “It’s called panic.” (Most doctors do not believe these medicines are effective against anthrax.)

One client had stockpiled two months’ worth of his medicines. His insurance company wouldn’t pay for them, so the customer did. “It was just short of $3,000,” said Mr. Schwartz.

And though there was much talk about leaving the city, there was also resolve to stay. One client working with a brokerage firm signed a $5 million contract on Sept. 13, just two days after the Twin Towers burned to the ground, for a condo at the “tallest residential building in the world,” the Trump World Tower at 645 First Avenue. “I said to the guy ‘You still want to go ahead?'” said the broker on the deal, “and he said, ‘Yeah, you only live once, and you can’t let this affect what you do.’ He said, ‘Who knows if you are safer in Iowa–and I’m not moving to Des Moines.'”

Other deals that immediately went through were the sale of a $2 million apartment at the Essex House and a $10 million deposit on an apartment at the new AOL Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, where residences will begin on the 52nd floor and go up to the 80th floor.

“I was in an apartment, pricing it, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center,” said one of the city’s top real-estate brokers. “It had big picture windows with southern views, so I saw the whole thing. But I went on pricing the apartment. It was sad and weird and I felt guilty, but I was like, ‘What am I supposed to do? Tell this woman that I can’t price her apartment?’ My heart goes out to everyone, but … we want to show them that we don’t want them messing with our lives.”

Everybody’s Affected

The city’s therapists were in a particular bind: For perhaps the first time, they and their clients were undergoing the very same trauma at the very same time.

“Since this happened to all of us, you have to say, ‘Yes, everybody’s affected,'” said Dr. Leon Hoffman, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst with a private practice on East 67th Street. “You try to understand what it means to the patient that you have expressed something. I run a parent-child center. We had our weekly meeting, and I was very choked up. Something has to come up.”

Though this event has affected everyone in the city, “every person’s reaction is really very individualized,” Dr. Hoffman said. “There are some common themes. The whole issue of survival guilt is going to affect all of us: ‘My own problems seem trivial to X, Y and Z.’ Once you start talking, you see how different people interpret the event based on their own life events. I don’t know of one patient who hasn’t talked about this. Some people have intensified interest, some people block it off, people with kids want to know how to discuss it with them.”

So is this the end of the culture of narcissism? “Yes, well, that would be nice, wouldn’t it?” said Dr. Gail Saltz, an psychoanalyst with a practice on the Upper East Side. “What I do see in New York is a lot of national pride … and an investment in, and a concern about, others. It can’t have been buried so far below the surface–it emerged so quickly.”

In Tribeca, the handmade signs posted in the neighborhood became increasingly specific. On Sept. 18, one freshly posted sign advertised a “Coffee Drive” for local firefighters, but read: “They only want Chock Full o’ Nuts Ground Coffee.”

Flowers From Amy

A lot of new relationships have formed since Sept. 11, and some have stayed together. On Sept. 10, Jeanine Herman, a 37-year-old French translator and editor at Zone Books, had a long talk with her boyfriend of two years. Their first date had taken place at the World Trade Center. “We were discussing breaking up, but I couldn’t go through with it. And then on Tuesday morning there was disaster.” They’re still together.

A 27-year-old physical therapist named Amy recounted bringing flowers to a Engine Co. 23 in memory of the members it had lost at the Trade Center. “I saw this fireman who made eye contact with me, and he was like six-four and easily like 280 pounds, and pure muscle–he was huge,” Amy said. “Firemen are very sexy, and they’re unbelievable people–it makes them more sexy. They’re the heroes. So I made eye contact with this monster of a man, and he comes up to me, sees me, put the flowers down, and he just gives me the biggest hug that I’ve ever experienced in my life. I lost my breath; I thought he cracked a rib. Then I gave him a hug and he starts sobbing. And we were standing there, hugging–I have no idea for how long. Finally he let me go, he wiped a tear off my eye, and he didn’t say anything to me. He went his way, I went my way, and I was crying the rest of the day.”

That same night, Perry Farrell, the former leader of Jane’s Addiction who’s currently performing under the rubric of D.J. Peretz, headlined the Mercury Lounge.

Early on, the audience was small and ambivalent. “I feel like killing myself tonight,” said Arthur, who would not give his last name. “I worked in the World Trade Center for 12 years. I should have been there with the brothers.”

When Mr. Farrell went onstage around 11:30, the crowd had grown to a mere 40 people. It didn’t seem to bother him. He put on a record, raised his fist and started dancing around. This inspired a few people to do the same. But Maria Tancredi, a photographer, shouted over the beat: “I feel like I need to cry. But I just can’t.”

Mr. Farrell started puffing on a joint. “Perry!” a girl shouted. “Thank you, Perry!”

Mr. Farrell took his shirt off soon afterwards, revealing a muscle T. This inspired two girls to pull up their own shirts, momentarily revealing naked breasts. Mr. Farrell stayed silent until his show ended at 3 a.m. Then he hugged nearly everyone left in the audience. “I needed you guys,” he said.

Friday night, several hundred people streamed into Washington Square Park, gathering near the south side of the arch and clutching dripping candles. It was a new, irony-free Gotham, where downtown cynics donned American flags and sat in solemn silence for an hour.

“I’m in Washington Square Park holding a candle,” a young man in an expensive suit said into his cell-phone as people began to gather. There was a pause, and then: “Yes, I’m serious!”

The throngs were heaviest to the south of the arch and then spread out around the park’s central fountain. In one of the coveted seats ringing the fountain sat a black man in a bandanna, smoking pot from a bong that he’d fashioned out of a crushed Coke can. A pop radio station blared fuzzily from the eight-inch blue-and-white boom-box the man held. About 15 minutes into the vigil, two New York City Police officers arrived, asked him to pack up and escorted him from the park.

A few moments after the man’s exit, the actress Glenn Close, her daughter and two adult friends sat down around the fountain. Ms. Close and her daughter each held an aromatic candle, and the actress began to sing quietly with the crowd, remembering all the words to “America the Beautiful.” Ms. Close tried quietly to start a chorus of “We Shall Overcome.”

Then a man stepped into the middle of the fountain, near the central platform where nearly 20 candles burned. “I am from Ecuador,” the man testified loudly, in heavily accented English. A messenger bag swung from his side. “And I love this country. I love America. It is a beautiful country!”

This was met with hearty applause from the surrounding crowd.

But the applause died down as the Ecuadorian man continued to yell, to kiss the flame of his candle and to weave precariously in and out of the crowd. His speech became increasingly slurred, and at one point people instinctively jumped up, as if to hold him back from tipping drunkenly into the lit candles at the center of the fountain.

Eventually, the awkwardness was broken by a giggle. And another. Ms. Close began to shake with laughter and her daughter, looking momentarily unsure, began to smile too.

The message was clear: Don’t let candlelight and quiet fool you. This is still New York City.

Ian Blecher, Beth Broome, Frank DiGiacomo, Elisabeth Franck, Ralph Gardner Jr., George Gurley, Alexandra Jacobs, Tom McGeveran, Christine Muhlke, Deborah Netburn, Gabriel Snyder, David Strauss, Dini von Mueffling and Rebecca Traister contributed to this piece. Disaster Spawns Many Tales