Report From Ground Zero:

The New Landscape

All photos and text © 2001
by Michael Cook


Today Sandy talked to some sheriff’s department people about getting a police vehicle to escort us in closer to our building in order to get more things. She has a way of enforcing her will, and it has paid off today. I meet her at Pier 94, where a consortium of relief agencies have been set up, and after some delays, they actually arranged for a police cruiser to take us downtown. She hasn’t yet been inside the loft since the morning we evacuated from there in a panic mode. I had been resisting the idea of her retuning there, not only because it was dangerous and unhealthy, but it just didn’t seem like she was up to it psychologically. I was glad that she proved me wrong about that. After an uneventful ride down the West Side Highway, we turned left at Chambers Street and right onto Broadway, and couldn’t even see much of the wreckage that was once the World Trade Center. She was preoccupied with getting things together for the trip inside, and didn’t really seem to want to look too closely.

The view down Broadway on the afternoon of 9/11, as WTC 7 burned. Shortly after this was taken, that building collapsed as well.The grand old Woolworth building, however (center), only a few blocks away from this inferno, was unfazed.
Once inside the loft, she quickly proceeded to gather up things, throwing whatever she could find and identify as valuable into plastic garbage bags. She unleashed clouds of the nascent dust in no time, working methodically, not taking the time to stop and assess the scene at all, or even witness it. She was on automatic now. She had already seen my photographs of the interior of our loft, so she was somewhat prepared for the damage. Other than that, she didn’t want to look. It was a utilitarian approach, and it worked for her.

In no time, we managed to stuff about nine large garbage bags full of her most valuable silk garments from the armoire, and I topped it by grabbing a folder of important papers, a few important items from David-Michael’s room (the least affected place in the loft), an armful of small paintings I had done just weeks before that still stood a chance of resurrection, and a small framed pastel I had given Sandy as a present that had still been hanging on the bedroom wall. Then we hurriedly left. On the way out, we once again encountered some of the people carrying boards up the stairway into the loft below ours, to seal up the windows there. They were working their way up through the building. Tomorrow they would get to ours, and we won’t again see the devastation across the street, or the light of day in our loft, until the windows get replaced. There’s no telling when that might occur. Maybe it will be better that way, although it abstracts the damage inside from the rubble of the attack across the street and the surreal world remaining outside. It will also be depresssing to be enclosed in the dark void of it on any future visits.

We once again were lucky enough to get a cart to transport the bags, back up Cedar Street to where the police cruiser waited a block away. They would take Sandy and all these rescued items back up to Pier 94, and even unloaded it into her rented minivan. These cops were helpful, sympathetic people. There was no room for me in the car, which was now stuffed, both trunk and back seat, with heavy plastic garbage bags of irreplacable jewelry and couture, all covered in dust. The irony didn’t escape me. I took my armful of papers and small paintings, dusted off my clothes, and headed for the subway back uptown to our new temporary apartment on the Upper West Side. On the way, I stopped to shake out the dust from the paintings I’d salvaged (unframed watercolors and a couple of canvases), and wiped off the frame and glass from the painting I’d given her. I turned the bag inside out and shook the dust from it. I haven’t looked at any of them since; they still sit, mute and dusty, in a closet here.


Maybe I’m being masochistic, but I went back in again today, for the third time in three days. Sandy really hoped to get a few portfolios of her pastel paintings to exhibit at the show she was now committed to doing in Massachusetts. She had convinced me those portfolios would help.

On this day, the luck of the draw dealt me an officious young cop whom I immediately could tell was not sympathetic to my mission. It went downhill from there. Despite my attempts at engaging him in conversation on the way in to the loft, he remained sullen and oddly uninvolved. It was also the first time I had been escorted in with only one officer. Maybe they are all becoming jaded.

The door was open to our loft, and I could see immediately that the windows had all been boarded up. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I was suddenly appalled to realize that the kids who had been hired to board the windows had also completely trashed the place! Everything that had been left standing in place after the initial shock wave of the towers’ collapse, was now dumped over, rifled through, vandalized, smashed, and piled in large heaps everywhere. Cabinets were knocked over, drawers were strewn about, stacks of paintings were shoved over, and several air conditioners were thrown on top of other valuables, including paintings, all over the loft. Window frames were strewn everywhere, breaking anything they landed on. It was as if whatever Osama bin Laden’s people had missed, these maniacs were determined to destroy. I was livid.

When I related this situation to the cop, he said, “Oh yeah?” This was a crime scene inside a crime scene, and those responsible were now nowhere to be found. Things were missing. They had trashed, looted, and gotten out, moving on to another “demolition” job. All in a day’s work. Yet it was, like the terrorist attack itself, cowardly, and wanton destruction. I would first contact the building owners, then alert other tenants via the online group we’ve been using to communicate, the police? “Right,” I thought, eyeing the young recruit who was pacing outside in the hallway. Now that the windows were boarded up, the view to all the carnage outside was no longer available; it was now only the trashed interior of some poor sucker’s dwelling. Not very interesting by this time, so I guess the cops were less involved. At least this one certainly was.
I gathered up as many portfolios as I could physically carry. (Actually about 40% more than I could physically carry), but the anger and adrenalin gave me enough of a boost to think I could carry them all to the parking garage. I was wrong. At least, I soon discovered that I couldn’t carry them all at once. If I had to make other trips to get them there, he would just have to wait for me. Most of the cops have been very helpful. Not this guy. I never
Three weeks after the WTC attack, we had a lot more dust in our loft, but everything except the windows was intact. Not so after these guys finished their handiwork, boarding things up, and destroying our studios in the process.
really expected any of them to help, but most just pitched in. Not this guy. As he watched me struggling to get the four bulky portfolio boxes weighing about 170 pounds down the stairs, he just stared at me blankly and said, “ I’d love to help you but....” With no ‘but’ forthcoming, I grabbed them and stumbled down the stairs alone. I was really pissed off now, and still had to make two trips down the stairs to get all four of them. I suspect his ‘but’ would have been “I don’t really want to get my uniform dusty,” but he couldn’t bring himself to actually make such a lame remark under the circumstances. I would do it myself, although the street presented other challenges, and the largest of the portfolio boxes (30x40”) kept getting caught on obstacles in the street. He just walked casually on ahead, with a “C’mon, whatsamattuh wit yuh?” attitude. Finally I had to admit that they were just too heavy for me to carry all at once, and he agreed to wait half way with them, until I got one load to the parking garage, and came back to get the other. That worked fine. Two at once was easy, compared to trying to carry four of the bulky things at once. When I got back, he was still there, standing in the shade, chatting with another cop. All in a day’s work... He didn’t even escort me out, but just headed back to his post at Broadway and Fulton, in the opposite direction. The smell of rotten meat permeated the air around all the delicatessens, closed up since September 11.

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