Report From Ground Zero:

The New Landscape

All photos and text © 2001
by Michael Cook

I got to the garage and got the van out without incident. I went through the Battery Tunnel to FDR Drive, and headed up the East Side. There was still no traffic south of Chambers Street on FDR, but it just got thicker and slower as I progressed north. Finally, I arrived back at our new temporary sublet on West 84th Street, and up here, it was as if nothing had ever happened, as if they weren’t even aware of the hellhole downtown. But I knew differently; it just hadn’t struck their neighborhood or homes.

I loaded some other things for the show that Sandy had in the apartment, and tried to make sense of the jumble inside the van. It had also been discreetly broken into while in the parking garage, but seemed like it had just been vandalized and torn apart. Nothing seemed to be missing, but it was hard to tell, being such a mess. In any case, there weren’t any high-ticket items thieves would be interested in taking from there. I found out later when Sandy unpacked at the show that I had made prescient (or lucky) choices of which portfolios to bring, out of the eight available. She said it was the best work, the ones she wanted the most, and was very grateful.

I took a shower to wash the dust out, then worked on getting the warning out to other tenants regarding the window-boarding company, in case they were still wreaking their havoc in the building. I tried unsuccessfully to reach the building management company. Despite managing many large and expensive buildings throughout New York City, I’ve always visualized the company as only an anwering machine in a small cubicle, somewhere in Queens. I have never reached a person directly there via telephone. Today is no exception. However, now my calls were never returned. They rarely are, even in happy times on sunny days.

Sandy had driven off in the truck, headed for the show in Massachusetts, too impatient to listen to my warning about having someone replace the air filter I’d bought. At this time, I didn’t even have a simple wrench available to replace it.

I spend the next day fighting off a major catharsis and depression. There is still just too much rawness and unresolved angst to really function normally, even three weeks later. On Sunday, I tried to clean off some slide sheets I’d retrieved from the loft, with limited success. I noticed that the dust, that Fine Particulate Matter as it’s known, has a slight gooey pastiness to it when damp. Someone in our building had sent a sample of it to a lab for analysis. After cleaning the slide sheets, I was horrified when I smelled on my fingers and the damp paper towels, that same scent of rotted flesh that emanated from delicatessens downtown. Good lord!! In this random sample from Ground Zero--in this case, just a micro-thin layer of dust on plastic in a protected folder, in among all the elements there--the concrete, gypsum, asbestos, fiberglass, silicates, the pulverized glass and steel, the PCBs and CFCs, the dioxins and other assorted toxins--are potent organic materials. Molecules of people....!? How could it be otherwise, given the situation.

I may never be able to live there again.

That's the end of this installment. Tune in again in a little while to read the story of Fellini, the cat with 8 1/2 lives left, having survived 33 days inside this chaotic environment without food or water....
( We'd left both for him, but the wreckage inside made it inaccessible.) In future episodes,
I'll also present more photographs of the area and our loft, and an update on the situation there, and in New York generally.

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