Friday, October 21, 2005

Less than Zero

My new office is directly across from the World Trade Center site. Every morning I walk across a covered metal footbridge along the south end of Ground Zero. The lobbies of the buildings in this complex are all on the second floor with big bold windows, so they offer a bird's eye view of what is now a construction pit. I don't know exactly what goes on there all day - there seems to be some movement, there are lights and vehicles and half-structures and ramps, but it doesn't have the feel or noise of a bustling worksite. But it draws tourists to our building in droves - large groups of tourists with matching t-shirts and accents, families with kids strapped to their backs, young couples holding hands, and everyone with cameras pointing at the pit.

I am getting used to being here, to looking out a window of someone's office and suddenly seeing the pit from another angle. These offices were vacant for over 2 years (3?) before the company moved back. I missed all of that, and now I am here in that in between stage before another large building (or two) rises up to block our sunlight.

When I say I am getting used to seeing it, I don't mean that I've become numb to it. It never escapes my mind what it is, why it is what it is. And I don't really want it to become just another noisy construction site to me - I want it always to have meaning.

For the longest time, I would not look at televised footage of the towers falling. It was unbearable. Someone said to me, "Oh, once you see it enough, it doesn't bother you any more." I decided that that wasn't acceptable - I wanted it to bother me. I wanted it to always horrify me. I never wanted to be able to watch it and not feel it. So I stopped watching, closed my eyes when the footage appeared. Because I'd already seen it, live, not clear and direct like the cameras caught, but close enough that I could smell it. When the first tower fell, I was running from one building to another in midtown, from a meeting to my own office. I'd seen the smoking towers from a 40th floor window in Rockefeller Center. I was surround by (was one of) people crying as they raced along the sidewalks. When I crossed Fifth Avenue, the tower was falling and smoke billowed up toward us (60+ blocks.) Just as a camera somewhere caught it slipping down into nothingness.

I've heard stories of tourists walking up to people who work here and asking, "Where is Ground Zero?" as they stand right in front of it (it's that ordinary looking.) But I don't mind the tourists, even though sometimes I wonder if pictures of a construction site through the windows of an office building are really all that interesting. But I understand the draw.


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