Although she is utterly unaware of the fact, you could argue that Madonna saved my life. I was staying at the Plaza Hotel on 5th Avenue; had been there for three weeks as my office was in New York. I had been commuting from Los Angeles at least once a month for nearly five years. This was an unusually long stay as I was in the process of securing venture capital for my newest design project. Meetings had gone well and I was feeling giddy at the prospect of imminent success.
Typically, you couldn't drag me out of New York. I was usually the last to board the plane barely making the flight, having dashed from a Broadway Show, gala, or gallery opening. I had grown to love New York and all its dualities of misery, whimsy, chaos, and cool. The summers stunk of garbage and the winter winds doubled you over, but so what! These were exciting times for me; my big IBM project had just been published in over a dozen domestic and international design magazines. Genius of the minute, I was enjoying the fact that I was failing upwards fabulously. The only thing pulling me back to Los Angeles from this particular NY stay was my fabulously expensive ticket to Madonna's newly added concert performance in Los Angeles on Tuesday night.
It was the morning of Sunday 9/9 and I was having breakfast with an acquaintance of mine, fireman David Weiss. David was a brick house of muscle and brawn with a bald head and tattoos everywhere. He was an integral part of the elite, highly specialized Rescue 1 team. They were usually the first ones in on any high rise fires and other such difficult challenges. We blabbed over eggs then went back to the firehouse. I met all the guys and played on the fire trucks. I loved every Rescue 1 guy I met, because they excelled and were the best at what they did. In less than 48 hours they would all be dead.
After enjoying the company of the Rescue 1 gang, I wandered over to see "Broadway on Broadway", an annual free concert in the heart of Times Square, which kicks off the Broadway season. The featured shows stage one song from their production for about 200,000 sardined New Yorkers all jockeying for a birds eye view of the stage.
Having hobnobbed with Rescue 1, it would seem that Firemen were the theme of the day. I remember being helped up onto the bumper of Engine Company 54's truck #4 by a fireman who realized I couldn't see the stage at all. The truck had "Never Missed A Performance" painted across the top of the windshield. I remember thinking how apropos it was for me not to be missing this performance because I had the good fortune to be standing on the bumper of this behemoth vehicle; the sentinel firetruck of Broadway.
Later, I would see #4 being lifted out of the carnage by a huge crane on the channel 4 news. You could hardly tell it was a firetruck, so badly burned and crushed was the mangled mass. Barely legible and distorted words above the windshield read "Never Missed A Performance." As I am writing this, I realize surreal abstractions feel quite obvious to me now: 4 planes on 4 paths of destruction.
After having whet my appetite in Times Square, I felt entitled to treat myself to attend a delightful matinee performance of The Producers. For dinner, I strolled back to the Plaza, which capped off a mighty fine day. The only distressing news was the weather forecast which foretold of some very, very bad storms potentially blowing in to the city on Monday night. This concerned me because my flight home was early; 8:30ish Tuesday morning out of Newark. Any lightning could have the metro area airports slow or stop air traffic all together. My attendance at Madonna's "Drowned World Tour" performance had just been jeopardized by an excitable, shiny-haired brunette meteorologist (odd the details one remembers). Did I want to risk missing the concert if I couldn't get out on Tuesday morning? It was an impromptu concert date in my home town, I was able to procure an impossibly great seat... seemed like kismet. I thought I'd wait and see what Monday looked like.
I laid my weary head down on God knows what thread count and quickly fell asleep. To my knowledge, I did not dream. At 3:30 am Monday morning I woke up in a hot sweat. The sheets were drenched and my body was shaking. Roiling in my head was the mantra "I've got to get out of here, I've got to get out of here." Over and over again that voice was screaming for me to get out of bed, get out of the hotel, and get out of New York. It was nothing I had ever experienced before. Like a crazed animal, I grabbed the phone and called the front desk. I was in my usual room, 2020, which overlooked the park. The staff knew me by my first, middle and all nicknames; my likes, dislikes and general temperament. It must have seemed odd to them to be talking to this heretofore unknown crazy woman requesting a car, change of air reservations, and the myriad of other frantic demands I barked at them that very early morning.
I threw my designer clothes into my designer luggage, grabbed my expensive Rolex Pearlmaster; noted the time; noticed I was naked, in a rabid panic, and I simply didn't care. It didn't occur to me that my behavior was completely unrecognizable. The car came at 5:00 am, the familiar staff bade me a warm goodbye knowing they would see me next month. I never saw any of those nice people again, nor have I ever been back to the Plaza Hotel.
All the flights were booked out of Newark so I flew out of Kennedy. I sat where I always sit, on the right side of the plane, so I could see the New York skyline. I took particular note of that view and the Twin Towers. As the plane course-corrected west I remember thinking how sunny it was; how wrong the forecast had been and how polished and sparkly the buildings looked. I never dreamed that skyline would be forever seared in my mind and how dramatically it would be altered thereafter. If someone had told me it would be seven years before I'd set food in New York again, I'd never have believed them.
I landed at LAX and took a taxi to my beach house in Marina Del Rey. My usual routine would have been to have put on a wet suit and go surfing, but not on this fair Monday. Instead, I walked down to the waters edge in my travel clothes and fell to my knees. Uncontrollable sobs erupted from deep within. I couldn't stop and the few folks out at the beach on a school day gave me a wide berth. My grief was so overwhelming. It came in waves, in tandem with those breaking before me. I thanked God and Country, girlfriends and sisters; a generalized "people of earth" for letting me kneel on the sands of my home land and kiss the grains beneath me. This poured out of me for twenty minutes or more until I had not another tear to drop nor a sob to spend.
Exhausted, I called my lover. I asserted that I had lost my mind and that perhaps all the international travel of late had caused a chemical imbalance which in turn had caused a mental imbalance which was evidenced by my insane behavior of the previous 12 hours. Behaviour that terrified me. My lover told me to come home; that it would be okay. I went home and it was. Okay.
Until the phone rang Tuesday morning at 6:00AM.
Madonna cancelled her concert that night but I was home safe . . . and not, by the grace of the not so silent universe, a smudge on the side of one of those now extinct buildings.
I retired that Tuesday, not only from my executive job, but from my previous way of being. The venture capital dried up overnight and I lost interest in my self importance and big fat brainstorms.
A kind of veil lifted, exposing me to myself and I did and didn't like what I saw. As is my true and honest nature, I got busy and got interested in the change. A second chance at it all.
Although they aren't as desperate or as loud as they were in my room on September 10, 2001, I welcome the voices that occasionally speak to me. Now, I listen; instead of simply marveling at them like an ignorant and entitled spectator, I try to piece together the random coincidences and synchronicities that dance in and out of my purview. That awakening --- the events of 9/11 --- having inexplicably changed me, has, if nothing else from here on out, insured that I will have "never missed a performance". The intricate conspiracy of the cosmos hurling, what I used to see as bits and pieces of flotsam and jetsam is slowly taking on a deeper, more singular meaning. Hindsight, as they say, is 2020.
This is for David Weiss and the boys at Rescue 1 and Engine Company 54.
You lifted me up on trucks and fire poles; we briefly kept company and laughed.
When all our lives should have been lost on Tuesday,
I remained behind.
A spectator ... having witnessed your performance ...
just before the storm