The skies above New York today were filled with smoke and paper.
When the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993, it didn't
look like much from a distance. The towers still stood, and
the city fathers made sure that the lights were on as soon
as possible, even if there was nobody home.
This time, the cowards did the job right. There is today a
conspicuous lack of tower over lower Manhattan -- not a
scar, not from a distance. An absence. A concerto played on
piano with a missing key, a painting with a missing color.
When I first heard that an airplane had hit the World Trade
Center, it was possible to believe that it may have been an
accident. A twin-engine bomber had hit the Empire State
Building in 1945. OK, it was night then, and foggy, but
I had just dropped my wife -- pregnant with twins and with
a broken ankle -- at her office in lower Manhattan, in the
court district a dozen blocks from the Trade Center. In
truth, if anyone wanted to make a statement against the
federal government, there are better targets that the Trade
Center, and all of them I'm sorry to say are much nearer my
When I heard the news, I ambled over to the Brooklyn
Heights Promenade, just a few paces from my apartment. Any
New Yorker can tell you that the best view of Manhattan is
from Brooklyn. The Promenade looks over the East River,
with the glories of the Financial District in the
foreground, the Statue of Liberty off to the left and the
gothic solidity of the Brooklyn Bridge to the right.
As I approached the promenade down my tree-lined street, I
saw paper in the air. I first thought they were leaflets.
It was an election day in New York -- Primary Day, the
first primary for municipal office after term limits kicked
in, and every voter in town has been buried under a
blizzard of campaign flyers from the more than 300
candidates running. If this were an ordinary day, leaflets
would have been a pretty good theory.
But the North Tower of the World Trade Center was burning,
flame and smoke pouring from a gash that looked to be about
60 stories up. The paper was blowing in from across the
river, a mile away and 600 feet above.
Then, the unimaginable. I saw a dark airplane, a passenger
jet, approach the undamaged tower from the south. I saw no
insignia, heard no engines, heard nothing until a BANG.
Then there was a fireball, debris shooting out of the north
side of the building, presumably to the ground about 70
floors below. More smoke, and soon more paper.
People on the Promenade starting yelling, myself among
them. I ran back home to call my wife, deposited just
minutes earlier in a war zone, and to turn on CNN. Not long
after, the south tower exploded and collapsed. I ran back
outside, unable to believe what I'd heard on television,
and saw hundreds of people who had gathered on the
Promenade weeping, some staggering away, numbed by knowing
that they had just witnessed the deaths of thousands of
"What happened?" I asked one of my neighbors as she walked
past me. "It's gone," she said. "What do you mean, gone?"
"Gone. Not there anymore. The tower's gone."
The towers, and most of lower Manhattan, were utterly
obscured by smoke. One young man, in a striped shirt with a
white collar and tie, began yelling "Pearl Harbor, 60 years
later! Where do I sign up?" Had there been an enlistment
officer handy, he'd have hit his year's quota in about 15
A little later, the other tower came down.
My wife made it home not long after; one of her co-workers
commandeered a wheelchair from I don't want to know where
and pushed her across the Manhattan Bridge, the pedestrian
walkway of which was still open. Strangers don't believe
it, but that's what we do in New York.
It will be some time until the city -- and the nation --
gets back to its routine. We'll never get back to normal. I
just pray for the dead, and the injured, and the people who
help them. And I pray that my kids will be born healthy and
happy, and I wish them a world where their dad can protect
them against insane people who think they can redress
grievances with falling airplanes and innocent lives.