Won’t you come and take me home
I’ve been too long at the fair
And, Lord, I just can’t stand it anymore
— Bonnie Raitt
Monthly Archives: July 2014
Won’t you come and take me home
Our Raccoon Lodge buzz made for a lovely walk down West Broadway towards the Ground Zero area. I wasn’t exactly sure where it was located, but it was a Saturday afternoon and I figured we’d eventually see a lot of other tourists heading to that vicinity.
I couldn’t help but feel an eerie sense of awe at the buildings we were passing by. These were the places that I remember seeing on TV on 9/11. These were the buildings that were swallowed up by cement clouds of horror. These were the buildings that dust and blood covered people were running past. Faces of shock. Running to everywhere… to anywhere.
There was no sign of the terror here now.
Like an oasis in a desert of concrete and glass, we came upon St. Paul’s Chapel. Through all the clamor of the city I could almost hear a choir of sweet angels singing hallelujah as we rounded the corner seeing tall oak trees of cool, quiet shade cradling the aged brown-stoned building and the historic cemetery of tiny worn, etched monuments at her feet. Her steeple reached high into the blue sky this day. She was sanctuary. A haven during that day in September. That day too had a clear blue sky. A sky that insanely accentuated and mocked the nightmare unfolding in 2001. She was our brief haven this afternoon.
The smell of hot dogs suddenly brushed into my face. Daryl and I scuttled through ghost-like wisps of sidewalk steam to an aluminum clad street cart for a couple of dogs and some ice cold sodas. Lunch was served and we continued our trek to the shade of St. Paul’s. Observing the chaotic motion of confused tourists of every ethnicity mingling with pot bellied construction workers, and orchestrating traffic cops, I shoved the last bite of hotdog into my mouth sucking spicy mustard from the corner of my lip. Daryl and I leisurely strolled the recently refreshed grounds of the cemetery while enjoying the cool respite from the summer heat. The grass beneath us was new. The tender soft green contradicting the slate stones dating to the 18th century. The churchyard reportedly was 2 inches deep with debris from the twin towers which were a short block away. The chapel came away mostly unscathed, apparently protected by the large trees surrounding it.
I asked Daryl if he wanted to visit the chapel itself. He shook his head no as he too threw the last of his lunch to the back of his throat with a gulp of Coke. I pulled out my phone to check a map of where we were and which direction we should head. As I looked up I saw construction of a huge building with enormous white spikes coming out of its top. Almost in an arch. It reminded me of the crown of the Statue of Liberty that perhaps had been freakishly enlarged and then thrust into the street below. It was surrounded by wooden fences that blocked the actual construction view and was plastered with graphic signs stating that it was going to be the new World Trade Center (WTC) Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) Transportation Hub. It’s ultra modern sleek architecture in sharp contrast to the church at our back.
And that IS the beauty and the irony that is New York.
We headed toward Greenwich Street to the area that would take us to the 9/11 Memorial. As we closed in on our afternoon destination, I noticed the crowd getting larger with each step as we began to get swept up in the urban humanity. I could smell colognes mixed with sweat. I heard unfamiliar dialects. I could have been somewhere overseas for all I knew until I noticed the tourist shops along the way.
It reminded me of the Boardwalk in Wildwood. Signs and flags everywhere. Hawkers calling out to anyone who would listen. Music mixed with yelling. Families stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to touch green Statue Of Liberty souvenirs of every conceivable size. An old Asian man selling what I’m guessing was a coffee table book open to a page of the original towers at moments of impact. It was like a circus… A carnival.
We were continuously swept up in a sea of bodies, which in our still slightly-buzzed state was almost hypnotic. Looking up at the buildings as they stood sentry in guarded fashion, trying to protect us, knowing they could not. Faces looking ahead, glancing at each other, strangers faces… all heading toward a destination where most of us knew the story… where none of us lived the story.
We were finally dumped by the crowd into a large courtyard with benches and newly planted trees that was anchored by the tallest building in the city. Soaring above the skyline at 1,776 feet, One World Trade Center is America’s tallest building – and now, an indelible New York landmark. Designed by David M. Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the 3-million-square-foot building includes office space, an observation deck and restaurants.
The memorial at its base has at its center two of the largest fountains, or rather cascades, I have ever seen. Each occupies the exact footprint of the Twin Towers destroyed in the attacks. Each cascade is a cuboid Niagara, an inverted eruption, falling 30 feet to a flat basin, and then another 30 feet through a smaller square hole in the center.
Around the rim of each is a long bronze strip perforated with the names of victims: of the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, of the hijack of Flight 93, which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, and of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The names are grouped by the location of each victim at the time of the attacks, modified by “adjacency requests” whereby relatives could ask for individual names to be by others to whom they were close.
The fountains stand in an eight-acre paved plaza, filled with 415 trees: they are all the same size. The intention of the whole ensemble, according to architects Michael Arad and Peter Walker, is to make a place of both death and life – where victims can be properly remembered, but where office workers can come to eat their sandwiches. Underneath the plaza is a large museum of the events, and all around are rising office towers that will replace the 10m square feet of floor space that used to be on the site.
A sigh, a tear, and a breath of fresh air.
As Daryl and I stepped forward to get a clearer view of the fountain memorial, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disturbed by folks taking family photos and selfies with the memorial in the background. It didn’t seem appropriate to me. This was an area to be felt… to be respected… not a tourist destination like the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, or Central Park. At least that’s how I felt.
As we finally maneuvered our way through the throng to the side of the fountain where we touched some of the names of the victims that were etched into the border, the smell of chlorinated water, and the rush of the waterfall captivated me. I have never seen anything so powerfully displayed. With all the people surrounding its border, and all the hot commotion of the city this place was peaceful. It was soulful and quiet. The rushing water drowning the hot city, I could feel the death and destruction… the true horror of that day. But I also felt peace as my eyes followed a path across the fountain and into the clear blue summer sky. I welled up and a few tears escaped my eyes as the world around me dissolved into soft silence. I touched a few of the names on the wall to feel the innocence and the innocents lost. It was a truly mesmerizing, reverent, and spiritual experience.
We stayed for a few more minutes and breathed deeply before turning around and finding another path through the life that is New York and back to our hotel to clean up and rest before our Saturday night on the town.
I’m just tired of “the gay thing,” I blurted bluntly to Daryl on the drive home from Philadelphia’s Gay Pride Event earlier in June… “I just want to hang out with regular people for awhile… straight people. I just wanna watch a Phillies game, Wheel of Fortune, and The Bachelorette. I just want a Miller-Lite in a bottle. I’m worn out with Dykes on Bikes, drag queens, twinks, and tattoos. I feel like Rainbow Brite shit all over the city. I’m too old for this stuff.” He looked at me like one of those Sarah Mclachlan dogs on the commercial and whined, “but I’ve never been to New York City’s Pride Parade and I’d really enjoy going.” I’d seen the parade myself several years ago, and must admit it truly IS quite the event.
Daryl and I grew up in a time and environment where it just wasn’t cool to be gay. We weren’t bullied per say, but sometimes joked about, made fun of, or full out ostracized it certain social situations when we were younger, we could have never imagined a world, or at least a major city, that shuts down as thousands upon thousands of people from all age groups, walks of life, and ethnicities come together to celebrate personal Pride. Being PROUD of who, what, and where we are in life and seeing as how Daryl and I had come out much later in our own lives, we DID have a little catching up and celebrating to do.
NYC or bust. (Does anyone even say “or bust” anymore?)
I had booked a small Hilton Garden Inn on the border of SoHo and Tribeca just below Canal Street in Manhattan for a couple of nights so we could make a city-style romantic weekend getaway in addition to getting Daryl his gay Pride fix. I love hanging out in the city, any city, always have… there are energies that exist like no other. The vast diversity of the people, the visual, aural, and emotional “turmoil” is a huge turn on for me.
I am Julie, your cruise director.
I’m not exactly sure how I got the job, but I tend to do the planning for (some call it over planning) vacations, weekend getaways, day trips, and evening local jaunts. Maybe it’s because it’s instinctive to me, or perhaps I have this need to… what’s it called… control things. I honestly don’t know where this accusation originated, but apparently I make lists, research hotels, neighborhoods, diners, restaurants, entertainment venues, what will be worn when, and clean bathroom facilities whenever we decide to go somewhere. Go figure.
I HAVE mellowed with age, although I still insist that we arrive ANYwhere six to seven hours in advance. Airports scare me. I’m continuously afraid I’ll be late so I arrive for my flight the day before. Job interviews? Hours ahead of time. I end up drinking extra cups of coffee then have to pee so bad during the interview, that I blow it. The only reason Daryl and I even got together over nine years ago was because I was a half a day early for our first date and we had more time to see if we clicked.
Anyway, we arrived in New York way before our room was ready (you can tell when the desk check and the baggage handler roll their eyes at each other when they THINK you’re not looking) and decided to venture into the Tribeca neighborhood on a gloriously sunny New York day.
It didn’t take long.
It was still before noon. We were hungry. We skipped any sort of breakfast (woofing a large banana down on the New Jersey Turnpike does not qualify. Oh… you thought I meant the fruit?) because I couldn’t wait to get on the road (or as I spin it, “We have to avoid traffic.”) I thought for sure we could locate some cute little bistro with red and white checked tablecloths overlooking one of the rivers. You know… one of those places you see in the movies. I researched it earlier via Yelp. Maybe a place to grab an organic salad, soup, some warm pita bread, and a sparking mimosa would be perfect. We rounded the corner of Warren street off of West Broadway and heard “Get Up (I feel like a sex machine)” by James Brown pulsing out of an open door under a large weather worn sign with neon-formed letters that read “Raccoon Lodge.” We looked at each other and immediately knew we wanted a piece of this place. I poked my head inside to see a petite young lady in a tight ponytail cleaning up the bar while bobbing her head. “Are you open?” I inquired, to which she immediately welcomed us in.
The place was dark. It took a minute or two for my eyes to adjust, but the dank, stale beer smell indicated to me that we had stumbled onto a local watering hole that I’m sure had been stumbled OUT of on many occasions. “Hey guys! I’m Cindi with an ‘i,’ what can I get you?” Daryl and I grabbed a pair of metal-based torn-plastic-seated bar stools and dragged them across the hardwood floor echoing the emptiness of the place. We awkwardly swiveled into position to a well worn bar that hadn’t seen a lick of paint or varnish in decades. The out-of-place digital jukebox machine continuing on with a song by Kansas, Daryl and I ordered a pair of Heinekens. Cindi with an I plopped the sweating bottles in front of us with one hand, while slicing limes with the other. She was young and perky… sort of. Of course EVERYone is young and perky to me now. I usually gauge my age using police officers. I remember when I was younger they were figures of authority. I mean, they still are, but they’re so young now. They all look like they’re twelve and wouldn’t be able to save my life unless they checked with their Mom first.
I digress, again.
As Cindi with an i continued slicing citrus for future cocktails, I gulped some iced cold beer and surveyed the interior of the Raccoon Lodge (not a raccoon in sight.). Memorabilia everywhere, with photos, banners, NYFD and NYPD patches haphazardly taped, stabbed, and stapled into the wall behind the bar. Not a blank space to be found as I studied photos of smiling men, arms around each other, cigars in mouths, cars and boats and frosty mugs of beer as backgrounds. There was an unusually large Moose Head hanging on a wall toward the restrooms in the back directly over an old elevator door that had long been painted over and was obviously no longer in service. A lonely pool table sat in the middle of the hall with cues resting atop it’s well-worn fading green felt, cigarette burns dotting it’s side from a time when cigarette smoke was a decadent part of the tavern culture. As a Christopher Cross song snuck its place into the jukebox lineup I asked Cindi if she chose the music herself. She shrugged while hand drying glasses and stated that it was a satellite station that is chosen at random. “I don’t really hear it!” she yelled from other side of the bar.
As soon as she worked her way closer to us I asked her about the memory-made conglomeration on the wall. “It’s many of the locals. We’re a few blocks from Ground Zero. This bar was one of the first in the area that remained open after that day in September. The responders and construction workers always came here after working at the site. Some would bring photos of friends lost, we’d put them up, and then they’d drink shots to those in remembrance.” I studied the faces in the photos a little more intently as Cindi asked if we needed another beer.
I could tell Daryl was enjoying the music as he continued to suck on his cold brew, and I asked him if he was getting hungry. I nodded to the perky ponytailed blond with tattoos and piercings everywhere to bring us a couple more beers and asked her if she had any suggestions for lunch. She pulled out her iPhone and suggested a pizza joint a few blocks away. “I’m from Brooklyn, so I don’t really know what is good around here,” she giggled as if making fun of us while we pretended not to look like the gay tourists we were. “Are you guys a couple?” she inquired. Daryl rolled his eyes as I blurted, “Yeah, a couple of nuts… or actually four nuts if you’re counting.” Cindi politely grinned while most likely just hoping that we’d tip well. I asked her if she was part of a couple. She replied with attitude that she was on again off again on again now off again.
Cinnamon for breakfast.
I asked Daryl once more if he was ready to go explore the area and find a place to eat as I noticed him eyeing a dusty Ms. Pacman machine in a forgotten corner of the Lodge. “Lets do a shot!,” as his eyes lit up, “Fireballs please!” he motioned to our bartender. We asked Cindi if she wanted to be a part of this self-inspired brunch of shots before noon, but she gracefully declined stating that she has spent too many late nights sleeping on a worn couch in the grungy basement of the Lodge because she liked to have too much fun. Daryl and I toasted Cindi with an i, New York City, Gay Pride, Marriage, 9/11, the jukebox, and each other as we swallowed what I consider cinnamon breath freshener.
We slammed our shot glasses down on the bar a little too hard, apologizing for slamming them as we left, tipping well, and singing along with a Cher song from the juke as we burst out onto Warren Street hearing our own laughter being swallowed up in the noise, the confusion and the amazing sunshine of New York City.
I guess I’m at that age. I’ve been to way too many funerals in the past year. This is the part of life that older folks used to tell me about… but I never really heard it. I’m older now. We all get here. Then there. It’s no surprise really.
Special friends and family that have been pulled from my world.. a little too harshly for me. We get together to celebrate their lives… to share memories… to laugh… and to cry. Sometimes I feel selfish for making their lives… and their deaths… about me. About MY loss. I guess that’s the only perspective that I have though. I don’t apologize for that.
I try to see the positive that comes from these types of things. And they’re there when I look through the tears. I’ve become a little closer with the friends and family that I haven’t seen in awhile. I learn to value the expression of feeling more. I learn that we all really are so similar. The differences don’t matter. Sunrises, sunsets, beaches, a bottle of ice-cold root beer, running through a sprinkler, and playing frisbee in the middle of the street… matters. Breathing deep matters. I get this from those that left me.
So with half the year done, and another half to go, don’t let the differences matter. Don’t let the money matter. Or the career. Relationships are what are important. Work them. Put effort into them. FEEL them.
And for the record, I’m done with funerals for now.