NEWS – Living At Ground Zero In The Age Of Trump

LET THEmushaboom

It’s ungenerous, I know, but I have to admit it – when I see some rancher or suburbanite from Sheboygan on television saying that we need to restrict arabs from emigrating here because of the risk of terrorism, I want to laugh out loud. Do they think some muftied villain is hiding in the Tora Bora Mountains scheming to blow up the mall? Then I get angry.  The risk they’re identifying to rationalize their prejudice? That’s my risk, not theirs. I live in downtown Manhattan. How dare they appropriate me as hostage to their hatefulness? Let them worry about their fellow gentiles with semi-automatic weapons who are much more likely to pull the trigger on them.

I don’t literally live at ground zero. I live on West 9th Street, less than two miles from the 9/11 Memorial and I was certainly affected in 2001 although, tanx god, I didn’t know anyone who died. In the last 15 years, though, I’ve met family, spouses and children of victims.

There’s not much I can add to the canon on that day except my personal story. I was at my office, preparing to close a refinance with Paul Wood at Bleakley Platt located at 30 Wall Street which is about four blocks from the towers. When I heard about the first plane hitting, I called Paul and said I might be late depending on the subways. Everyone in the office was watching a three inch black and white television when the second plane hit. Paul called and said burning ash was coming in through the windows.

I bungeed two briefcases of current files and my laptop to a wagon and walked against the current from Park and 54th to 24th and the East River, the United Nations International School, picked up ten year old Samara and walked to 9th Street where we more or less stayed for the next three days.

There are no great observations I can make that haven’t been made by others except, perhaps, to note the vast difference between reactions above and below 14th Street and Union Square. Downtown was quiet. No cars were around. Flyers with photos of the missing were posted on the wall of the good magazine store on 10th Street (now a superfluous Verizon outlet) and at the park. Downtown was solemn. We grieved. Uptown was angry, vengeful. The streets were chaotic. All the talk was of what to do next. Downtown was a funeral; uptown was a wake.

world-trade-center.jpgThere aren’t too many visual reminders of the event remaining except for all of the unnecessary and inconvenient security desks in the lobby of every office building (a bit of Sheboyganism there). WTC One is a skyline building and there is the Memorial. There are still construction cranes working at the site but there are construction cranes every third block in Manhattan these days. One might be tempted to say New York City has healed from 9/11.

Except it hasn’t. We’ve all known all along that it hasn’t gone away. Rather we’ve made a choice, all us city kids and the ambitious people and the queers and the artists and the financial wizards and the writers and all the square pegs who gather from all over the world to live in the only place we imagine we can have the freedom to be ourselves and to find like-minded souls. We’re saying, “yeah, I know, but there’s nothing else we can do. There’s nothing else we want to do.”

So we’ve chosen to accommodate ourselves to the danger. Think of it as a prosthesis. There’s no point in talking about it. No one points it out to you but we all know its there. Is there a choice? There is not and so we do. We do what we do. We live our lives with all the presence and awareness that we can – necessary for protection, necessary for delight. I try not to over-romanticize but it’s another vector of intensity endemic to New York City life.

That equilibrium, though, has been put under stress by the DJT presidency.

large_Marquee_JacksonHeights_colorFor one thing, we don’t fear arabs in New York. An essential part of that equilibrium is the knowledge that we’re all in this together, that next time it could be you or you or me. We’re all potential victims but we don’t view our fellow New Yorkers as potential terrorists. We welcome newcomers. The city has a gravity that assimilates, that pulls every one of us into synchronous orbits and we depend on that. By the second or third generation, whatever nationality they arrive as, they will be New Yorkers.

But DJT and the federal government promote a viewpoint that opposes that. Certain people, Muslims, are not part of your community, they say. They are not part of the melting pot. They are to be treated by a different set of rules and, to the extent it’s accepted by the citizenry, they are to be viewed as potential assassins, every one, which endangers our unity. It endangers the assimilation that we know is part of what keeps us safe and is provocative in exactly the way we look to avoid. It’s not just the violence that’s been visited on brown-skinned people, though that’s outrageous enough. It’s denying them the chance to be home.

Another DJT problem is the recklessness of his foreign policy, the muscle flexing without any sense or appreciation of where that places us in the community of the world. Where is the strategy, where is the purpose that can be expressed to our allies so that they will rally behind us? He is poking nation after nation with a stick. Friends and foes alike, and it does nothing but antagonize to no discernible advantage. It invites retaliation and retaliation makes New York the target.

3A27FFCA00000578-3923346-Members_of_the_New_York_Police_Department_s_Counterterrorism_Bur-a-4_1478798610475Finally, DJT and his family constitute law enforcement sponges. How many resources are devoted to protecting, not just his wife and young child in Trump Tower or the residences of his older children, though it is all that? Every building burnished with the Trump name, usually in gilt, is a target, a target surrounded by innocent people.

The equilibrium under stress that I mentioned earlier? That’s me. I’m under stress. For the first time since 2001, I’m afraid. I have ground zero anxiety. I’m afraid of increasingly motivated terrorists. I’m afraid of bombs dropped by national actors. There are an infinite number of wasp nests out there and President Obama and the open arms of the city (and one hundred other factors, I know) have been able to create a landscape with a measure of security if not serenity. Our current president seems intent on disturbing that order for the sake of some false conception of manliness, to differentiate himself from his predecessor and to please his meager remaining constituency, the vast majority of which are out of harm’s way.

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