Five Days Earlier
New York City, September 7th 2001
I had been in New York City for just under six months. That Friday afternoon, I left the office a little bit early and headed downtown to meet my friend Paul at the World Trade Center. Downtown was usually a ghost town by 6pm, so in a program designed to keep downtown workers hanging around after work and therefore hopefully visiting the neighborhood restaurants and shops, there was an arts program of nightly free shows held in the massive outdoor plaza in front of the Twin Towers.
Appearing that night was the famous all-male drag ballet troupe, Les Ballet Trocadero de Monte Carlo. I'm not a dance aficionado, but I'd seen the troupe on television and had thought they were amazing and hilarious. This particular week, all the shows in the World Trade Center plaza had been various dance companies, so I'm sure the attendance had been heavily gay, but on this evening the plaza was wall to wall homos.
Just before the show was to start, Paul rode up on his bicycle. By then, all the seating in the plaza had been taken, so Paul laid his bike on its side to claim some empty concrete while I shoplifted a couple of chairs from the outdoor seating area of a restaurant on the far side of the plaza. The chairs were heavy wrought-iron and I had a bit of a hard time carrying them. After a few steps I stuck my hands through the backs of each chair and walked across the plaza in a pose not unlike a bodybuilder giving his audience a front double biceps pose.
Just as I reached where Paul was waiting, a couple of nearby queens teased me for the way I was carrying the chairs, "Oh, you GO Hercules!", which really cracked up everybody nearby. I made a face, but I really kinda loved it.
Paul and I sat back in our chairs at looked up at the Towers, office lights in some windows just becoming visible against the darkening sky. And we had a bit of an odd conversation for a few minutes, considering what he and I usually talked about. It started when Paul mentioned that his boyfriend had a problem with vertigo, and that merely sitting there staring straight up at the Twin Towers would probably have nauseated him.
Then we talked about the World Trade Center as potent symbols of American capitalism and supremacy. We discussed them as visual icons that represented New York City around the world. And we agreed that we thought the Towers were very ugly and that an opportunity to create something truly stunning and beautiful, on that scale, had been wasted.
The dance show was fantastic. The troupe did a variety of numbers, including their famous dying swan bit from Swan Lake, which I've still never seen performed by actual female ballerinas. When the show ended, Paul hopped back on his bike and headed north towards his place in the West Village.
I went into the huge shopping mall that lay beneath the Towers and wandered around a bit. That subterranean mall felt very familiar and suburban to me, with all those familiar mall chain stores and I'd already visited it a few times in my short time in the city. New York City still felt alien and surreal and while I knew that the mall lay beneath two of the tallest buildings in the world, at the far end of a small island in the middle of two rivers, I would walk around and imagine that I was in Fort Lauderdale and that my car was outside in the parking lot. And that would relax me, somehow.
Around 9pm, I caught the 1 train back to Chelsea, from the station under Tower 2.
Five days later, I would be downtown again.