September 20–27, 2001
Being There, part 2
part 1 | part 2
As Montalvo talks about how this city will rise from the ashes, another older gentleman, this one a septuagenarian, has walked all the way over from Brooklyn and says this is his first time coming into Manhattan.
"It has taken me this long to come here," he says, offering his driver’s license to show me who he is.
"Francisco Bartolomeo" reads the name on the license.
"When I was 13, I lived near Monte Casino," says Bartolomeo. "Do you know what happened there?"
I do, and prove it. The allies blew the hell out of that place for months to get out the Nazis and make their way to Rome.
"They bombed it from the ninth of September to the 17th of May," says Bartolomeo, smiling that I know my history.
After growing up with nine months of shelling, Bartolomeo likens what he is about to see, in person, to the besieged abbey.
"I remember, back then, that [soldiers of the U.S. Army, Infantry] 85th Division would find body parts and just burn them with flame throwers," he says.
Uwe Pratt is not a happy man.
Pratt, dressed in a splattered-orange jump suit, heavy work boots, a construction helmet and dark shades, is on his way back home to Brooklyn, exhausted and disgusted.
"I just spent three days in the hole," says Pratt. "But I couldn’t get back in this morning because they changed the passes, and this one isn’t good anymore. They only want union people. I’ve been fucking volunteering and now they are fucking paying people. This isn’t a rescue effort anymore, it’s a job site."
What was it like in the hole?
"It was a small war zone," says Pratt. "It’s a big hole; you smell flesh."
The work is tedious and dangerous.
"You are on top of a mountain of twisted steel and cement, picking through the rubble," he says. "Everything stops when somebody finds a body part."
Pratt says he found a hand.
"I had to call over the fire department, and they took pictures of where it was found. Everything stops while they assess where things are found. This happened over and over."
Pratt adds that he doubts there are any more survivors.
"There are two-foot-thick steel beams all bent," he says. "There is no way people could have withstood that damage."
South Street is a vast staging area of military vehicles, fire apparatus and recovering rescue workers, who grab free food and drink from a relief area set up by Outback Steakhouse.
The usually bustling South Street Seaport is empty, save for a few National Guardsmen wolfing down plates of spaghetti. The only thing approaching normalcy down here is the smell of the Fulton Street fish market, that lovely, fresh-fishy odor that overpowers even the sooty stench of the attack.
As I wander south through what looks like the back lot of a disaster movie set, I watch as several teams of firefighters from Long Island get ready to return to the hell.
Bill Burke, a police sergeant, leans against an emergency vehicle, pausing to breathe some filtered air through a respirator.
Cops and firefighters, he says, were often interchangeable, going from one job to another.
Burke says he knows members of the Finest and the Bravest who perished in the attack.
"What can I say? This is just horrible."
As I continue wandering south, I pass dozens of police and military personnel, but nobody bothers to check if I have the mustard-yellow NYPD credential.
I walk up Wall Street, to the corner of Wall and Broad, home of the New York Stock Exchange, which is cordoned off by rows of metal fencing and heavily guarded.
Just about noon, traders and other financial types gather outside, puffing cigarettes and yakking on cell phones.
Kent Vogel, an executive with the American Stock Exchange, which has set up temporary operations at its Wall Street rival, switches between talking about rebuilding the nation and tracking the current swings of a very downwardly flowing market.
The market, he says in response to a question about the health of the economy, "is doing what it should be doing." Vogel says he is confident that no matter what the numbers say on this first day of trading since the planes hit, there will be no panic and no major long-term economic devastation.
Where was he when all hell broke loose?
"When the attack took place, all I saw was black. There was no visibility," says Vogel, who then returns his attention to his cell phone.
"Tell me about Enron," he says to the person on the other end of the line. "Tell me about Apple."
That conversation concluded, Vogel tells me that American Stock Exchange officials "first made sure everyone in our building was safe, then we went to the basement and assessed what to do next."
The responsibilities, says Vogel, were awesome.
"Of course, we are here to try and make money," he says. "But we had to figure out what to do for the good of the exchange, the good of the capital market and the good of the country."
All while mourning close friends and colleagues.
"There were six executives having breakfast at Windows on the World when the planes hit," says Vogel, matter-of-factly.
I ask him what the nation should do in response to this attack.
"Who should we bomb?" he asks, rhetorically, echoing a sentiment expressed by many people I talk to this day. "Kabul is already in the Stone Age. What can the U.S. do that the Russians didn’t do?"
Vogel, who says he would like to see a careful, well-planned and contained military retaliation against the perpetrators of this horror, adds he has total confidence in President Bush and his team of advisers, "the best ever assembled," says Vogel.
As journalists from all over the world grab interviews with nervous and weary traders, I sit down and call Michael Montalvo, the son of the man who liked to take pictures of the twin towers.
"I was there the first day," says Montalvo, who is getting ready to return to his job as a Jacoby Hospital EMT. "We worked to recover survivors, but all I saw were body parts, maybe 20 to 30."
Montalvo says he worked about 28 hours straight, then went home to try and get some sleep, but he couldn’t.
It wasn’t nightmares. "I haven’t had time for nightmares, not yet, but I am sure I will later," he says.
Like so many rescue personnel, Montalvo says he was motivated to perform superhuman feats just knowing that there was a friend somewhere in that rubble.
"Sean Talon, a firefighter who worked in the station across the street from Jacoby, was under Building 7 when it fell," says Montalvo.
Darrel Hunley and Jeremy Ramsey, two steely-eyed military policemen from Buffalo, N.Y., are patrolling Washington Street just blocks from Ground Zero. The smoke is heavy here and, just across Liberty Street, I can see rescuers frantically working the blasted epicenter.
Most of the businesses down here are shuttered, though a few owners are down here, cleaning up what they can.
Hunley and Ramsey have been here since last Tuesday, part of the initial National Guard mobilization.
Like every other rescue worker I have spoken with, they recall the horrors of digging through the wreckage, finding severed pieces of the men and women who worked in the towers, were there to visit or there to help save people after the first tower was hit.
Unlike most of the people I spoke with, Hunley and Ramsey do not hesitate to say we need to "level Afghanistan for harboring bin Laden."
"We will find out in 32 hours," says Ramsey when I ask him what response the nation should take. "Bush has given the Taliban 32 hours to turn over bin Laden. After that, we go in."
Both Hunley and Ramsey are gung-ho.
"We should make a parking lot out of Afghanistan," says Hunley. "We are going to go in there and level the place. Go out with rakes and flatten it.
"Look what they did to us," says Hunley, pointing to the burning ruins just two blocks away. "I believe in tit for tat. I can’t wait to go over there and kick some ass."
I walk down to West Street and gape at the American Express building’s exterior, which has pieces blasted off as a result of the attack.
The muck here is thick. Paper is scattered everywhere, and I reach down to pick up an "individual sessions heroin use versus treatment" questionnaire, wherein some addict listed "gives me power talking to the ladies" as one of the good things about heroin use and "when I don’t have it, it’s a shitty world" as one of the bad things.
I look at the paper and the destroyed buildings and wonder whatever happened to this addict, if he or his health care-workers are even still alive.
As I stare at the paper, Ron Stolfi, an adjustor with AIH Mutual Insurance, is also here, snapping pictures.
"We insured the Marriott Hotel," he tells me. He is here to assess the damage.
"This is the first time I have been down here," he says. "It’s almost too early. There’s not much I can tell from here."
Just before I head back to Wall Street, a van pulls up, with four firefighters from Upper Darby.
Dan Lanni, Capt. Jim Boyle, Marty Kelly and Dennis Gallagher have come to New York from their Philadelphia suburb to help.
"We’re going in," says Kelly, as the four men head northward, into hell, to do what they can. "Wish us luck."
part 1 | part 2