For us, it's not over

By Antonio Graceffo


   Last weekend, I flew home to Tennessee, my first time being out of New York since the bombing. I tried to put the disaster out of my mind, but reminders were all around. It started with the taxi ride to the airport.
   Heading to LaGuardia, I glanced out my window, and couldn't see the Twin Towers. The Towers had always been for me, and I imagine most New Yorkers, the light in the window. When you had been away from home, on your return flight, as soon as the pilot began to make his descent over the smelly city of Newark, N.J., you could look out the window and see the light from Twin Towers welcoming you home. I was saddened to know that I would never see that site again.
   Every aspect of LaGuardia airport spoke of permanent changes to the way we live our everyday lives. Security was so tight as to be oppressive. The skycaps were no longer allowed to accept luggage at the curb. ... Inside the airport, employees outnumbered passengers. "Our normal volume is over 10,000," said the young lady at the ticket counter. "Today, we are only expecting about 2,500."
   The couple standing in line in front of me at the security checkpoint appeared to be Arab nationals. They were immediately taken out of line by security officials, their passports were demanded and they were thoroughly searched. I stepped up to the counter, where airport personnel checked every inch of my luggage, while U.S. Marshals looked on. Aside from being an inconvenience, this type of search makes you feel very guilty. I watched one of the employees remove my running shoes from the bag and stick his hand inside and under the sole of the shoe, presumably looking for a bomb smaller than size 9-1/2, but large enough to blow up a plane ...
   "We have to take this," a woman said, holding up my nail-clipper.
   "What?!" I exclaimed.
   "Sorry, it's the rules."
   So now they thought I could take over a plane with a nail clipper. Who am I? McGuyver? ...
   "That's fine," I said. They handed me my bag and I headed to the gates.
Back home in Tennessee

   I spent three days in Tennessee and was grateful to see signs of support everywhere. ... It was ironic to see so many Southerners supporting the Yankees, but I guess at times like these we are all just Americans. We can go back to our internal squabbles when this thing is over.
   I went to hear a live band playing at a restaurant on Boone Lake. The lead singer took the microphone and pointed at the tip jar. "Normally, we take this money and divide it among the guys in the band, but tonight, we are asking that you give what you can, because we are going to donate all the proceeds to the families of New York."
   I don't know why, but of all the things I saw in Tennessee, that one choked me up the most.
   As soon as I ordered food in a restaurant or opened my mouth in public, people would hear my accent and ask me the same question, "Were you there?" And then they would want details. ... It was then that I realized the difference between New York and the rest of the U.S., which brings me to the point of this story.

All around, constant reminders

   For all the support and outpouring of love and prayer that we have had ... I have had the opinion that the rest of the world thinks the disaster is over. If you live some place other than New York, you can simply turn off your TV and you don't have to think about it. But for New Yorkers, it's impossible to forget. Our everyday lives are affected and will be permanently changed. For us, the hardest part is just beginning.
   The small things are the changes we noticed first. There have been repeated bomb threats around the city, causing buildings to be evacuated. There are permanent police barricades on some streets now, and traffic will never be allowed to pass there again.
   Grand Central Station is considered to be the next target. Consequently, trains are constantly being shut down or rerouted, making transportation around the city difficult. On some highway approaches, no single occupancy vehicles are allowed to cross into Manhattan. Many of the approaches into and out of the city have been closed. This puts greater strain on the other entry points. One day this week, there was a wait of over four hours to cross the Holland Tunnel.
   In Midtown Manhattan, there are still photos of the missing hanging everywhere. One positive note is that the sexually perverse graffiti normally found in public restrooms has been replaced with patriotic epitaphs and calls for unity. "We shall overcome" has replaced "For a good time call" as the most popular graffiti ...
   Economically we have seen harbingers of bad times ahead. After two weeks of indifferent sales, many smaller shops in Midtown were forced to close. Four Broadway shows closed and many others are offering tickets at less than half price. The mayor is begging the public to spend money.
   Attendance at public events has dropped dramatically. People are afraid to congregate for fear of becoming a tempting target. Shops and even movie theaters search your bags when you enter now. Everyone is on edge.
   During the hyperinflation in New York in the '80s, I talked about the "Brazilification of America," as the difference between rich and poor increased. Today, I think of the Israelification of New York, as we become an occupied city. ...
   Yesterday, my sister Joy came into Manhattan to meet me for brunch. "What are your plans for the rest of the day?" I asked.
   "We are going to Eddy's brother's wake," she answered. Eddy was a friend of ours who came from a family of firefighters. Apparently his brother, an uncle, and two cousins were all killed in the disaster.
   "Is it a combined wake for all four?" I asked.
   "No, they can't do that because they only have one body. The other three haven't been found yet."
   What must the wives and families be going through? I wondered. ... Officially, Eddy's relatives weren't dead. They were still missing. The mayor came on TV this week, stating that the city would now begin issuing death certificates. These certificates are important, because the widows couldn't even collect life insurance benefits without them. As a tribute to Giulliani's sensibility, he actually said, "We will begin issuing certificates for those families who are ready."
   That statement said a lot. He is acknowledging that some families may not be ready to give up hope.

The scene from Ground Zero

   This morning, I took my camera and headed down to "Ground Zero." I hate that name. I still think of it as "The Site." I got out of the subway at City Hall and followed Broadway all the way down to Battery Park, a distance of about 20 blocks. The first thing I noticed when I came out of the subway was there were police barricades preventing you from going farther west than Broadway. Farther down, the west side of Broadway was also barricaded. This means that all of the small stores located west of Broadway have been closed for three weeks and many will have to declare bankruptcy. It also means that all of the employees are unemployed.
   City Hall itself looked like a bunker. City Hall Park was closed. The gates were all locked tight. Tank traps -- also called dragon's teeth -- had been installed by every gate, and there were guardhouses that I don't remember from before the attack. ...
   Next to City Hall, ATT had set up temporary telephone trailers where the public could make phone calls, as many of the phone lines and computer cables are still out. The post office which services lower Manhattan was also closed and companies were unable to get mail.
   Following Broadway down to Wall Street, there seemed to be no end of police officers and construction workers. It was like a Village People reunion. Amid the pictures of the missing, which covered most of the lampposts, were also signs like one, which read, "Water, food, and quiet sleep area provided for rescue workers at St. Paul's Parish." People had set up makeshift support centers for the thousands of rescue workers still hard at work on our streets. There were also rows upon rows of Porta-Potties, as all the businesses were closed and there was nowhere for the workers to go.
   I was glad to see that Trinity Church was still standing, although it had been converted into a makeshift command post for the rescue workers. It was somewhere around Trinity that I saw the first camouflage uniforms. There were soldiers and HUMVYs on the streets of my city, and I wasn't sure how I felt about that.
   In addition to all of the small businesses that were closed, there were a number of high-profile stores that were gone now, too. Century 21 department store was gone. Sims looked like it was still there, but wasn't open. The NASDAQ building was closed, as was the HSBC headquarters.
   I walked past my old office at 120 Broadway, now abandoned, and then stopped in to see some friends at Citibank. As soon as I walked into the building, the guards asked to search my bag.
   "Things are terrible, Antonio," my friend Judy said, as I walked into the bank. "All the little businesses are in trouble. People like us, who work for a big firm, we were getting paid while we were out, but people at little companies didn't. The owners just couldn't afford it." ...
   I stopped in the newsstand in the building to quell my sugar-lust with a Kit-Kat bar. Normally, by 10 a.m. all the papers were gone. Here it was 3:30 p.m. and they were stacked to the ceiling.
   "How's business been?" I asked
   "Very, very bad!" said the proprietor, sadly. "My business is down 60 percent." ...
   Back out on the street, I headed down to Battery Park. The whole park was closed, and had apparently become a military camp. There were squad-sized tents, like in M*A*S*H; there were more HUMVYs, and lots of soldiers. The subway station was closed, so I walked back the way I had come.

Economic impact

   The ripples from this explosion are quickly traveling through our whole economy. Waiters and waitresses are telling me that people aren't eating in the restaurants. My friend Nick, who is in business services, called me and said, "My client base was the 80th Floor of the World Trade Center. They're all dead."
   My friend Peter who works in financial services told me, "I was supposed to have signed a big contract with one of the executives at the World Trade Center. I guess the deal is off."
   The list just goes on and on.
   This is the story I want the rest of the world to know about. We have people out of work. We have businesses closing. We have over 6,000 families that will never be complete again. With 6,000 people accounted for, this should mean that we now have over 20,000 who don't have an office to go back to. And that's just in the towers. I don't know if people understand that the buildings around the towers are also closed, and those people are out of work, too.
   ... New York is normally one of the top tourist destinations in the world (with) 80 million visitors a year. Now, we are at the bottom of the list.
   On the streets of New York, the crying has all but stopped. The people are still angry, but now it's like a permanent, quiet anger. People still seem to want blood, but they also seem content to wait until our leaders have more time to plan. The pizzeria in my neighborhood -- the center of neighborhood affairs -- has a poster of bin Laden with a knife stuck between his eyes. I think this speaks for all of us.
   The most vocal comments I am hearing on the street seem to be for unity. "United we stand" is written almost everywhere. "They can destroy our buildings, but they can't break our spirit" is another slogan which is very common. ... At Union Square, there was a poster with a picture of the Statue of Liberty, which read, "The Towers are gone, but Liberty still stands."
   And so, I end this story. We stand united. We stand together and free, and we are waiting, patiently, for the day when we will triumph.

Editor's Note:

   Scott Antonio Graceffo, 34, has made great strides since the days he attended Sullivan Central High School. Formerly of Elizabethton, Graceffo attended East Tennessee State University before transferring to Middle Tennessee State, where he received a bachelor's degree in English, with minors in German and Spanish.
   Graceffo taught English and speed reading at Happy Valley High School in the Upward Bound program before leaving the area to join the Merchant Marines.
   After his tour in Europe, he said, "I wound up in Elizabethton and just sort of adopted it as my hometown because I felt like I really didn't have one."
   He has spent the last five years working on Wall Street as the head of the investment division for the Israeli Bank in New York. A published author, Graceffo had taken off from work the week before the attack on the World Trade Center to write another book. Since the attack, he said, he has decided not to return to the financial district.
"There's nothing to go back to now," he said. Instead, he will be leaving for Taiwan on Oct. 22 for a teaching job which will allow him to continue writing in his spare time.
   -- Kathy Helms-Hughes