In the 10 years since 9/11 I haven’t felt compelled to tell this story too often. It’s sort of a jumble of surreal horrors and comedy, underscored with constant bad decision making on my part. But, I figure today’s as good a time as there ever will be to put it down on paper just so I don’t forget that it happened and it was very real:
I moved to New York City on September 1st, 2001. Fall semester at New York University was beginning, and I felt really lucky to get housing in the school’s posh financial district high rise dorms. First week of school is generally a time to be a complete moron, and I was no exception; eating pizza for every meal, smoking weed with complete strangers, playing dumb drinking games until all hours of the morning, and awkwardly fumbling to hit on girls for the first time as an “adult.” All while getting to explore the greatest city on earth. It was pretty awesome.
After 10 days of living there I was already getting used to the paces of Lower Manhattan, so when at about 8:45am a loud crash lightly shook my bed and startled me awake I gave a knowing laugh… “It’s nothing. It’s just the fish deliver trucks hitting a speed bump on their way to the nearby fish market. You’re not gonna fool me into getting up early again.”
But then I started hearing sirens and my curiosity got the better of me, so I opened my window to see the World Trade Center, a short 10 blocks away from my dorm has a small hole in it and is smoking. The news doesn’t really know what to make of the crash, it’s probably just a drunk pilot lost control of his prop plane. As I watch from my window I can see white office papers fluttering through the bright blue sky, and I’m struck by what a weird beautiful image it is.
“I’m gonna go over there and take cool photos of it!” I think to my douchey, faux-artsy college self. I grab my camera, throw on some flip flops and run out the door. “Maybe I’ll study photo journalism,” I wonder. But, about halfway there I stop because my balls are cold. I didn’t put on underwear and I’m just wearing a thin pair of yellow flannel pajama pants. This is my ‘cool’ ‘casual’ ‘laid back’ college look. My Israeli dad would always hate me for wearing those pants out of the house. “They make you look like an Arab,” he’d yell. But fuck you Dad! Yellow pajama pants are how I’m asserting my independence!
Nevertheless, cold balls win, so instead of walking head first into one of the most violent disasters of our lifetimes I turn back home to put on some underwear. I don’t believe in God. But I do believe in Hanes.
When I get back up to my room I can see my neighbor, Jenna, is awake and watching what’s going on. I offer to let her come watch from my window, since it’s the best view. Jenna was a sweet and beautiful dancer with short brown hair, who I was immediately in love with when I got to school. I’m not too proud to admit that inviting her into my room was at least 50% motivated by the thought that this would be a good opportunity to try to hook up with her. In my defense, we still thought this was just some fluke private plane accident, and Jenna was in tiny boy shorts, no bra, and I’d been silently shouting the word “COLLLLEEGGGEEEE!!!!” in my head for the last 10 days. Did I say 50%? It was 90%. At least.
We stand on my windowsill watching the now black smoke plume out, and our arms touch. It’s the first time we’ve ever touched, and I’m electric with giddy teenage hormones. I say something about the dark beauty of the smoke, and think I’m deep, or at least hope she’ll think I’m deep. We make all sorts of eye contact, which I read as her signal to go in for a magical, first college kiss… and then BAM!
A second plane comes hurtling through the sky and into the second tower. Jenna SCREAMS!
“Oh my god! Did you see that?” she yells.
Technically, no. I did not see the second plane hit the World Trade Center because I was staring at Jenna, imagining what a great couple we’d make and what her nipples look like. But, obviously, I lie. “Yeah, what the hell was that?”
I flip on the TV and they’re already replaying it. We watch it over and over again. My other neighbor, Mike, comes over to watch from my window, and it starts to dawn on us that this is far more serious than a private plane accident. I take some photos from my window…
At first one of us comments that the debris falling from the windows look strange, and then the slow realization comes. It’s not debris. It’s people. Each one I strain my eyes to make out the form, hoping I’m wrong. Hoping my eyes are playing games with a falling piece of metal. But they’re not. Maybe 5, maybe 6, maybe more.
I think that this is going to be one of the worst things I’ll ever see in my life… And then it gets much worse.
The first tower collapses. It just starts disappearing. Floor by floor into a mushroom cloud of ash and smoke. And I don’t think I scream or shout at the sight of it. I truly don’t comprehend what I’m watching as it happens. It’s a scene from a movie, and scenes from movies aren’t real I think.
But then something changes… The people on the street a couple blocks from my building all turn in terror and begin running in a panic. Moments later I see from what… a monstrous 20 story tidal wave of soot and ash, swallowing people whole every second. It’s coming directly at my building. At me. I slam my windows closed and tell Mike and Jenna we’ve got to seal the windows shut and stay put, we won’t be able to breath if that stuff gets in here.
Thankfully they both disagree with me. They say we need to run. And they’re right. If they’d listened to me, we actually would have suffocated from the debris filled air.
We book it down the 27 stories. None of the emergency lights are even on. There’s no evacuation drill taking place. Everyone is entirely caught by surprise. The normally well lit lobby is dark as night when we get downstairs. We rush to the front door and walk out into the blind mayhem.
The cloud has already over taken our street, and we can’t see more than 2 feet in front of our faces. Jenna, Mike and I all hold hands as we try to desperately stumble through the street. We can barely breathe. There are screams coming from all around. The ghostly faces of other people appear then disappear just as quickly into the fog. We come across a police officer with a pile of protective face masks, but within moments he’s mobbed from all angles by people grabbing them from him. The cop begins to cry when he’s run out. He screams “I don’t know what to do!”
I say to Mike and Jenna “The only way to get out of this now is to run to the Seaport and jump in the water! The smoke can’t travel in the water!” I had just watched “True Lies” a couple nights earlier on TBS, and Arnold Schwarzenegger escaping the fireball by jumping in the water was still fresh in my head. I was so wildly wrong. Again. Thankfully Mike and Jenna again disagreed with me. Maybe they were starting to sense a pattern. They say we need to run uptown for clean air.
So we begin to run. Still holding hands. Still only going as fast as you can when you can’t see in front of you. Still almost unable to breath.
With my shirt over my face, I take short breaths until I feel a tightening pressure from the polluted air in my throat and have to stop. We’ve been walking for blocks, and still no change in the air. Is the whole city like this? I’m not religious, but I actually wonder if this is the Apocalypse. For the first and only time in my life, I fear I might die.
But we just keep moving ahead, heads down, hands held, and the pollution begins to slightly dissipate. And then some more. And then some more. And eventually we can see and breathe again. We keep making our way north, right along side people caked in white soot. Businessmen, still holding their briefcases. You can see the path of tears down their cheeks through the soot on their faces. I’m holding my cellphone, and one of them asks to use it. But there’s no reception. The nearest cell tower was on top of the World Trade Center.
As we’re running, processing a million thoughts of confusion and fear and horror, I stop and do a double take when we pass a poster for the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, “Collateral Damage” that’s about to come out.
Before 9/11 the headline in the middle of the poster read “TERRORISTS STILL AT LARGE” and there was images of explosion. (Check out the trailer if you want to enjoy pre-9/11 terrorism porn at it’s best.) I don’t know what this is supposed to mean, but it’s strange how much of a part Arnie played in my 9/11. Maybe it’s a symbol that we’re entering into the pre-dystopian future of Skynet and Terminators. Or maybe it just means I’m a bigger Schwarzenegger fan than I realized.
Eventually we need to stop and catch our breath. We find a small park to sit down in, and watch the second tower burning. A bodega across the street has been abandoned, and people covered in the soot are coming out with 40’s and six packs, and cracking open a drink just as soon as they can. Jenna looks really shaken up. I put my arm around her, and tell her it’s going to be ok. I think, maybe today isn’t the best day to try to make a move on her, but… this is the sort of story that bonds people for life… the kind of story someone might want to tell their children… the children she and I will have together… after we’ve had sex an appropriate distance in the future. Right?
Like I said, this story is nothing to be proud of…
Just then, the second tower collapses. It’s somehow much less surprising this time. Even though it was only just moments ago that the first tower fell, I feel older and more experienced already.
We know we need to get a move on. The police are telling people to evacuate Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge. But there’s all sorts of chaotic rumors flying around that there are more planes headed towards NY, and fuck if I’m about to go stand on one of the most iconic landmarks in NYC with 5000 other pedestrians with more planes on the way. So I insist we keep heading uptown. Mike & Jenna finally agree with me.
At this point, it’s just a blur of running and chafed raw inner thighs. Eventually, we get up to Union Square, where most of NYU is lined up to donate blood. Mike, Jenna and I finally feel safe enough to stop. We plop down against the wall of the building and don’t say a word for a while.
For the life of me I can’t remember how we eventually got out of Manhattan that day, but somehow the three of us got to Queens, where my parents picked us up and brought us back to Long Island. Mike stayed with another friend, and Jenna came back to my parents’ place that night. We both showered and changed, she put on my sister’s clothes, I finally put on underwear. We quietly gobbled up dinner. We sat outside the suburban house in the still warm summer air. It was jarring for me to feel so clean, safe and comfortable again.
The next couple months would be their own strange journey of being displaced and living all over the city, eventually (arguably too soon for medical safety) moving back in to the warzone of Lower Manhattan, and seeing the character of the city and the country change in reaction.
But right now all I could see was that Jenna was still lost in emotions from the day, so I took her hand, and tried to come up with ways to make her laugh, or at least smile.
Was I still thinking I might hook up tonight? No. That’s disgusting.
But she was staying with me for the week, so maybe by Friday? No rush, right?
P.S. photo at the top courtesy of the wildly talented photographer, Katy Day Weisberger, who also happens to be my amazing cousin. She took this surreal shot on her way into NYC as she was about to start NYU herself.
HOT MESS at UCB this Wednesday!
Get your tickets now for our show of ALL NEW sketches!
April 13th. 8pm. Ressies here: http://losangeles.ucbtheatre.com/reservations/create/19524
This Wednesday at UCB.
It took me uncomfortabley long to realize this wasn’t a picture of myself
When I travel abroad I carry this with me to let people know how to address me.
maybe LA won’t be so bad after all
pastrami grilled cheese from the grilled cheese truck in LA
back from panama. equatorial bliss really made me sweat my balls off.
food blogging resumeth HENCE!!!
i’m taking a little vacation to panama.
no posts for a week or so.
will take pictures of cool panamanian food and my pale shirtless belly.
I send my child to culinary pre-school.
Apple Sandwiches with Granola and Peanut Butter
It’s the first awful night of the year. Freezing, pouring rain, biting winds, can’t get a cab trying to make my way uptown to a Daisy Mays’ 46th & 11th ave location that couldn’t be farther from the subway. My umbrella breaks. I step in a puddle. I’m under-dressed.
It’s times like these that I want to tell New York to go fuck itself.
I’ve spent a lot of this blog romanticizing this town, and for good reason- I love it. But for every triumph, honor and majesty it bestows upon you, it will also piss in your mouth every chance it gets. It’s a real cunt like that.
Like how I somehow inexplicably have 1 dollar and 37 cents on my metrocard right now. How THE FUCK DO YOU GET 1 dollar and 37 cents on your metrocard?
That’s a cunt move NYC.
Or like when I was lost in Crown Heights for 2 hours because Orthodox Jews couldn’t speak English to me, so I tried desperately to use the little Hebrew I knew to ask for directions to the subway. But instead ended up shouting to every person I met “WHERE’S THE TRAIN IN MY ASS?”
That was a cunty move NYC.
Or because I had to pay a brokers fee for my apartment, even though I got the apartment from my friend and I never actually met the broker.
Cunt move NYC.
Because a week doesn’t go by where I don’t step in turd or vomit or gum.
You’re a total prick NYC.
Or like when I moved into my first apartment, a shitbox loft bed off Craigslist, nestled between the highway and the projects just so I could be on the same subway line as my girlfriend at the time, only to get dumped within the month of moving in and then being stuck there.
Of course you would do that, dick.
And the irony is not lost on me NYC how I’ve owned 4 bicycles, and the first 3 got stolen within a month of getting them… but when I decided to buy the most impenetrable lock and chain on the market for my 4th bike, I lost the keys to the lock in a cab and now the bike sits safely outside my window everyday, never to be used again.
Wipe that smile off your face, shithead.
Because you make me paranoid every time I have an itch that I’m infested with bed bugs.
Come on ya cunt.
OH! And why did you move all the good girls out to Brooklyn?!
Tonight is one of those nights where the city seems to be conspiring against me. But I’ve got reservations at Daisy Mays barbecue joint for their award winning whole pork butt, pulled & smoked, (FYI- It feeds 6 easy, with a bunch of sides included for $150, but you gotta order it in advance) so I’m determined to not let the city get me down. I’ve got some serious eating to do.
I finally get to the spot and I’ll be honest, the place is pretty disappointing to walk in to. The front is just a takeout counter, and the back is a sparse, unattended length of mess hall style tables. There’s pretty much no service to speak of, and even though we made reservations they still had us wait around for 20 minute for no reason in particular before we could sit down.
The apps come, and I’m really trying to get into this meal, but they’re sort of disappointing too. The mac and cheese tastes like it’s straight out of the Velveeta box.
The cole slaw is a soggy mess, like it was prepared days ago. The BBQ sauce is freezing, it’s literally come straight from the fridge.
The Texas toast is a sponge of butter. The mashed potatoes are a finely pureed sponge of butter. (These are delicious sponges obviously, but more butter than is necessary anywhere).
The group of twelve aholes at the table next to us order the whole roasted pig.
Poor little guy. He probably only moved here cause he heard of some cool opportunity waiting for him in New York. A job working in advertising or a theater program accepted him or something. But when he got here it fell through, and then he was stuck having to pay the high costs of living and no one else looking to hire. So he did what so many desperate pigs end up doing- Slathering themselves in BBQ sauce and spreading their legs for Wall street douchebags.
But that’s New York. It’ll build you up, then tear your asshole open and feed it to bankers.
When the waiter won’t give me tap water, and says they only serve bottled water I’m ready to just go jump off the George Washington (the Brooklyn Bridge by the way is not nearly as scenic for suiciding this time of year).
But then the main course comes out.
It’s tender and moist. A rich smoky flavor throughout. It’s punctuated by pockets of crispy skin that pack an extra kick of smoke. It’s the kinda food you love on its own, and love with other things.
We start mixing it with everything on the table, and all of a sudden the cole slaw comes alive! The texas toast turns into a genius open face sandwich! The mashed potatoes are like engine oil in a pork-fueled Ferrari! We order some of their more interesting sounding sides, like their bourbon cooked peaches….
Well shit. They’re fucking delicious. And the rich, sweet fruity flavor pairs unbelievably well with the smoky, salty pork butt. Pretty soon I’m making crazy sandwich contraptions out of everything on the table and loving every minute.
So this meal proved me wrong. It seemed like it was going to be a real cunt of a meal. Difficult and surly. Overhyped and overpriced.
But once I accepted its faults, it was obvious what all the fuss was about, and I loved it.
Just like New York, that spectacular cunt.
I HEART U DAVID CHANG
I can’t fucking believe it. My friend (and an amazing professional chef in his own right) Matt Jaffe, somehow scored reservations to Momofuku Ko! He’s taking me, the big galoot.
I want my Frankenstein food to have more monster and less gay
the magic of molecular science: apple rosemary caviar!
One of the few enjoyable things about the Writer’s Guild strike two years ago was that I had the time and general lack of daily purpose to get stoned a lot more. It was nice. After a morning of awful picketing in the January freeze we’d go back to the closest apartment, smoke up and play video games or get something awesome to eat. One day after picketing by Fox, Donald Glover (by the way his movie Mystery Team is in theaters now. GO SEE IT!) got all crack heady and told us we had to go the nearby Bon Chon restaurant for the best fried chicken he’d ever had.
The strike was one of the weirdest times of my life. I’d literally been in the guild for a month when they decided to go on strike putting my still very precarious writing career on indefinite hold. I’d quit my day job, gotten a more expensive apartment, sunk a good amount of money into travel to and from L.A. and then BAM I was out of work as quickly as I started. And no one knew when or if it would end.
To make matters worse my dad, for a reason I still can’t exactly figure out, HATES unions. His Reaganite hatred of unions is surpassed probably only by his hatred restaurants that don’t serve free bread and Arab people. So pretty much every conversation I had with him at the time ended with him telling me I was an idiot for being on strike and I should just stop it already… as if being on strike was the equivalent of smoking cigarettes. If only I had the will power to quit this goddamned strike we could all live healthy happy lives again.
So I was tense.
Which is where the marijuana comes in.
I’ve never been an avid smoker. Don’t get me wrong, I love weed. I smoke weed semi-often. I’m seriously considering getting a prescription when I move to LA. I have a drug dealer on my iPhone favorites here in NY. But I’ve got boundaries. If I have shit to do that night or the next day, I don’t smoke. If I’m going to be around anyone but close friends who would find my stoned hop-scotching between laughing convulsions and silent paranoia uncomfortable, I don’t smoke. If I’m planning to do anything physically active in the next day, I don’t smoke. Simple rules like that cut out the vast majority of my smoking opportunities.
But the strike created a perfect storm of reasons TO smoke; Nothing to do- CHECK; No one to see all day other than my out of work writer friends-CHECK; Crippling depression- CHECK.
And with that I began to set my schedule around one of my favorite NYC past times… the daytime stoned adventure. Now weed, for better or worse, is generally used as a night time recreational substitute for (or addition to) alcohol. But the drug’s properties are so perfectly suited for bumbling around the city in the middle of the day! The bright colors of daytime, the fast service and lunch specials of off hours restaurants, and the wonderful simplicity of uncrowded public spaces. NYC is to daytime-NYC as The Muppets are to Muppet Babies.
To make it even better, the city is basically designed for people with questionable mental abilities! If I’m lost anywhere, there’s a map on the every subway. If I’m being unsafe, the god-like voice of Regis Philbin will tell me to buckle-up. My credit card works everywhere, regardless of how much money I actually own!
So today our dumbed down adventure was to a land of magical fried chicken called Koreatown. But much to the dissapointment of our munchying eyes when we got there the place was closed and told us come back at 6pm.
“6pm? That’s 3 hours from now!?”
“Let’s just go to your place and play with your dog.”
“You got a dog?”
“Remember Lincoln logs?”
“I need to take dump.”
The rest of the strike went by similarly. Picket, smoke, bumble around, picket, smoke, play with Pally’s dog, picket, smoke, try in vain to grow a strike beard…
I kept forgetting to go back to Bon Chon because, you know, I was stoned.
And then word of the strike ending came. Our strike was actually considered relatively successful, getting a host of concessions from the studios & networks that the guild had been hoping for. It was an enormous relief. My brief mid-20’s stoner phase was coming to a close. I knew what I had to do:
Smoke a ton of weed, write on my hand “BON CHON FRIED CHICKEN 314 Fifth Avenue DON’T GET LOST!” and get in a cab.
What followed was the greatest orgy or crispy, moist flavor i’d ever experienced.
The Korean fried chicken is totally different than American style fried chicken- and I’d argue better. Without a trace of chewy fat leftover, every part of the perfectly fried outside has the sweet crackle of candy. The inside is cooked perfectly through, steaming hot from the center out. The meat is thicker, juicier and leagues better than the paltry, bulk processed wings of standard joints. The soy garlic sauce that lightly coats the skin manages to be perfectly salty and sweet at the same time, making it near impossible to ever feel tired of the flavor as you’re eating it. And all this with a significant amount less grease than it’s American counterparts.
Even the side dishes at this place were amazing. My roommate Merisa ordered a cooked salmon & egg sandwich that blew our minds.
And the soju! Fresh squeezed lychee soju, like a sweet fine nectar that also gets you messed up!
And the Asian waitresses! Each one cuter than the last! Each shirt tighter and more low cut than the previous!
It was the most perfect night in a long time.
Weed had got me through a difficult time, and I was coming out the other side ok.
I’ve gone back a couple times since, this last week was the first time with Merisa though. Everything was delicious as always, but we weren’t stoned, cause you know, we’re grownups and stuff now.
We tried to order again the delicious salmon & egg dish that we had the time before, but the waiter had no clue what we were talking about. He said nothing like that has ever been on the menu. We insisted we had it, and it was amazing. He said maybe we were thinking of another resturaunt. We were pretty sure we hadn’t mistaken this place for another Korean dance club restaurant hidden in an office building. But he looked at everything on the menu, and nothing seemed to match. And POOF the Keyser Soze of sandwiches was gone. Did it ever exist at all?
It’s a lot like my brief hiatus as a total stoner. I know it happened. I’m glad I did it. But maybe it’s better it just stay a memory.
I’ve got shit to do.
MAKE THESE FOR ME GRANDMA!
(i wish my grandpa would start following my fucking tumblr already.)
Levivot potato pancakes.
my dog had a bath tonight, but she still smelled like the bull penis rawhide she’s been eating.
i wish waffles made better pets.
cinnamon waffles w/ caramelized apples