Smoke over Hoboken
September 20, 2001
For the first time, you can smell the smoke in Hoboken as the wind shift from East to West, gray
plumes already more than a week old, floating over the choppy Hudson River as if the river
itself was on fire rather than the roots of the former World Trade Center.
The gray creeps into River Street doorways like the FBI, probing each consciousness, testing
each person's endurance. The formerly clear tops of the financial center -- that series of
pyramids I had always thought of when envisioning New York -- now suffer the same fate at the
Woolworth and other building had along the East River side of the disaster when the wind blue
East -- The heads of buildings buried in those dismal clouds like mountain tops. Newspaper
helicopters buzz around them like curious mosquitoes, intent upon capturing new angles of
personal misery not yet displayed on the front pages of tabloids or the evening news.
If there are office workers in any of the surviving buildings, the change of wind can hardly give
them solace, each soul having already enduring the terror of the assault on the giant towers, each
soul condemned to suffer through the labor of recovery, too close to the pit into which the World
Trade Centers fell.
Along the river side from Battery Park City to 14th Street, police cars and fire trucks flash their
lights, a line of defense against attack, not from the sky, but from New Jersey, as if we on this
side planned some new invasion, each of our commandos arising out of the water with video
cams and flash cameras -- we, who slow for every roadside disaster, mesmerized by the greatest
civilian disasters in American history. Ferry riders gawk, but so do the tourists, each wishing for
a glimpse of blood denied them by the television cameras.
The American hunger for blood disturbs me, and the flag waiving IO so welcomed a week ago
now seems utterly perverse, full of righteousness and rage, not so much aimed at the villains that
performed this horrible attack, but at anyone different from us. Those bearing the biggest flags
seem full of the same unbearable passion for violence as those who attacked, not vengeful over
those who had died here, but using this disaster as an excuse to commit violence -- as if they had
held their breath for years waiting for such an opportunity.
A strange dichotomy has come over our nation with former cold Wall Streeters suddenly
seeming more human, while the harsh macho-inlanders -- least touched personally by the disaster
-- wear the stars and stripes like a uniform, determined to annihilate everything they were
previously to wary to hunt as targets, mistaking Indians, Turks and Servians for their enemy.
Perhaps even they use this disaster as an excuse to hurt what they've always secretly hated, now
waving a flat as an excuse, beating people in the name of patriotism.