Halfway through my email, my wife, Amy, called to tell me that two planes had hit the World Trade Center. Since small planes had accidentally nicked the towers in the past with no damage, I quipped to my wife, "I'm sure Bush will respond to this by trying to lower the capital gains tax."
"Turn on the TV," Amy said, not laughing.
Once I did, my funny bone went numb. It was a warm, sunny day, and from the windows of my Upper West Side apartment, all I saw was clear blue sky. On the TV set, however, I watched the second World Trade Center tower collapse as it happened.
I was in shock. What should I do? What could I do? For the rest of the morning, I commuted between my TV and home office, where I made phone calls and sent emails to assure everyone I knew that Amy and I were okay. I feared this might be seen as narcissistic, but to those whose sense of Manhattan geography wasn't strong, my notes proved useful, and I received warm thanks from friends not only in the U.S., but also in England, Thailand, and Kosovo.
Around noon, I ventured outside, walking the 11 flights of stairs. My building's elevator worked fine, but I told myself I needed the exercise. Before I left, I downloaded the master file of all of my plays onto a zip disk. I took it with me, just in case.
I was scared.
The scene in my neighborhood looked normal at first, people walking and shopping and chatting with neighbors. But then I noticed that there were more people on Broadway than I had ever seen in the middle of the day, and almost everyone was walking north. With the subways turned off and every cab occupied, walking was the most effective means of transportation.
One very wide man, whose shirt was stained with sweat, told me he had already walked several miles. I asked how much further he had to go. He replied, "By the time I get home, I'll be as thin as you are."
My local supermarket was packed with people stocking up, just in case. The Gap, Blockbuster Video, and Starbucks were closed for the day, but most locally owned businesses remained open. Yusaf, a Macedonian immigrant who sells vegetables from a cart on Broadway, told me that business was very good.
I picked up some scripts I had left at the local photocopying place run by Nanu, a Bengali who had opened the shop with money he had saved, hoping "to make it in America." I had been one of his earliest customers and had gotten to know him and his staff. Since they all lived in Queens, and the bridges were closed, I offered our second bedroom. Nanu was grateful but was hopeful the bridges would reopen later.
I returned home and tried to keep occupied. I wanted to help, but didn't know how, and the faces on television were encouraging people to stay home.