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on Mabou Mines/Suite 
with an epilogue on Ruth Maleczech

samuel french

nopassport press

the brooklyn rail - in dialogue

A monthly series of essays which serve as a platform for a playwright to write about the work of another playwright, with the goal of presenting new text in a contextualized way. Featuring essays on Christopher Chen, Carla Ching, Kristoffer Diaz, Young Jean Lee, Taylor Mac, Ruth Maleczech, Dominique Morisseau, Tommy Smith, Saviana Stanescu, Lloyd Suh, Martin Zimmerman.

For all articles, click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

September 11

 

 

My bed was situated such that my feet faced the window across the room, which from three floors up overlooked Maiden Lane, in the Financial District of New York City.  In another bed directly under said window was my roommate of approximately nine days, his name was Onegin; he was from Korea. I remember having trouble sleeping, as there was lots of commotion sounding in from outside. While there is always noise in this area, this was especially loud and I would toss and turnover again, trying to sleep, as I didn’t have to be up for my second day of graduate school for another hour or so.  At one point I heard an enormous banging sound, I remember thinking it sounded as if a subway train had crashed.  I was still naïve enough in this new city to think that maybe sometimes happened. 

Finally, as sounds of sirens and honking became ridiculous, I sat up in bed and looked to Onegin; both of us almost smiling at the ridiculous amount of noise.  He looked out the window, but didn’t anything especially noteworthy. Then just as we’d resigned to thinking this was just sometimes how New York sounded, one of our suitmates, Mattius, from Brasil, came into our bedroom and said that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.  The immediate image that came into my imagination was that of a small, two-person plane accidentally sputtering into the side of one of the vast towers.

I immediately got my sandals on; threw a t-shirt and hospital pants on, then went downstairs to the building lobby where our security guy was holding all students inside; looking out from the glass doors we could see the top of one of the towers on fire.  I ran back upstairs to tell my roommates. Onegin was up already and was gathering his camera.  I did likewise, grabbing a disposable Kodak. We all went downstairs without listening to the doorman, Onegin and I went outside onto the street.

The corner of William Street and Maiden Lane was full of people in business suits looking up at the burning tower.  I looked up and snapped a picture.  My only one left in the camera.  There was a murmur amongst people, but you could tell that nobody really knew what was going on.  I remember hearing some guy tell a lady that there was a bomb at the pentagon.  And clearly, I remember thinking “we are under attack”. 

Onegin was eager to move closer, as was I, so we walked up William Street, making a left on John Street.  At the time, I am still thinking a small plane had accidentally landed itself into one of the towers; we had not been told anything different.  On John Street, there was an equal amount of people standing in the streets, it looked unique to me because there were no cars in the street, only people. We walked a couple blocks towards World Trade Center, side by side, with Onegin getting his expensive lenses ready.

However, therein began an enormous, thundering rumble, which I can only say reminded me of an earthquake. My immediate thought was that the tip of one of the Trade Towers was toppling over, that large chunks of debris would fall onto the courtyard surrounding them.  However, as I was thinking this, people in the street began to scream and run back, away from the Trade Center.  It was right out of a disaster or science fiction movie, where hordes of people are running terrified in the street away from some large impending creature.  My immediate reaction was “oh please, relax people, we’re blocks away, the debris isn’t going to fall this far…”.   However I stop all thinking when I glance up, above the people running towards me, and am horrified to see a gigantic, tidal wave of brown smoke barreling down John Street, as high as the buildings are. It is coming fast and without thinking, I turn and begin running as close to full speed as I can manage in sandals.  I am very aware that I am still holding my disposable camera in hand. My heartbeat is going hard, my insides are panicking, and I remember thinking “you stupid, stupid idiot!”, on how stupid I’d been to try to get closer.  It reminds me of growing up and getting into trouble that was somehow bigger than you.  Like doing damage to the car, or breaking something of real value; knowing you have gone too far and consequences are hardly imaginable.

As I make my way around the corner of John Street, back onto William Street, I glance to my right and am again horrified to see that another tidal wave of smoke is coming down Maiden Lane. I guess my instinctual thought had stupidly been that there was only one tidal wave, hardly using the logic that there were tidal waves of smoke barreling down every street in downtown.  However, these are all thoughts I formed later, when reliving the experience, at the time, my mind was only on running. As fast as my legs would go.

A couple seconds later I slammed face first into a business man in a blue suit. He was with brown hair, probably mid-forties, and apparently had been running from the Maiden Lane wave of smoke, thus our paths crossing. We both fell backwards, completely on our backs like a turtle you’ve turned over. I felt slow getting myself up again, and we exchanged a strange, silent look between each other. I felt as if we were both agreeing to just move on.  And so we both got back up and continued to sprint. 

I could see my building up ahead. However, heading straight towards it was that wave of smoke which had been racing down Maiden Lane. My mind began to calculate if I could make it to the lobby before the smoke did. My honest calculation told me that I couldn’t. So I began to look at the few buildings before mine, however they were business buildings and I couldn’t be positive if their doors would even be open, I somehow remembered them being mostly service entrances. And so as these millisecond thoughts ran through me, I charged on towards 84 William Street.

I got to the glass doors of my lobby, but the air I was breathing had already turned to a cloudy, brown dust. It smelled like a construction site and I remember tasting it on my tongue, dry and dirtlike, as I made my way inside. The lobby was now vacant of any people, even the security guard’s station was empty.  Without even considering use of the elevator, I ran to the rear of the lobby where there was a door leading to the stairwell.  Without looking back at the smoke which was now encasing the building, I opened the stairwell door. Inside was a frantic scene as the stairs were absolutely crammed with people instrinctively just trying to go up; any way they could. I remember seeing green and purple pastel colored clothing. And there were layers of students; meaning people were crawling on top of each other as they made their way up. Like ants. And I don’t know if seeing this affected my actions, but I did just the same, and as I grabbed hold of the hand rail, I remember placing my left foot on top of somebody’s shoulder and joining the crawl of people on top of people as I worked my way up. 

The mass of people from the stairwell were being emptied on the second floor, as school officials were ushering us towards a common room. I walked as they instructed into the large, dorm-style, living room, where people were gathered all staring at the television. Nobody spoke. Nobody even referenced what had just happened in the stairwell. People were crying. I glanced at the television showing Lower Manhattan being drowned in a thick smoke, I finally began to piece together what was happening. 

In the center of the common room was a skylight, people looked up and began to cry a bit more as we saw the daylight go to darkness.  As I watched the smoke spread on the T.V., alls I could think was that we were in the center of it, right inside the atrocity unfolding. I remember thinking seemingly banal thoughts like “This is not good” and “We shouldn’t be here”. Then I began to wond how long the smoke would last, and how long before it began to seep inside the buildings.  

Just then, the T.V. replayed the tape of an large airplane crashing into the World Trade Center. And despite our location, this was news to most of us; people began to make sounds; sounds of fear, of panic, of anger. And when they played the tape of the second plane, the room grew quiet; we just sat and stared at the footage in disbelief. Nobody knew what to do. That is, until we watched live as the second tower began to crumble, and more smoke began to rush through downtown. People began to talk. Things about how we need to get out of here, how this isn’t safe. Then, a school official said aloud that nobody can leave the building at this time.

So we sat in this room for a little while longer, watching the reports, finding out about the other planes and the Pentagon. And though all of this was nothing short of jarring, my thoughts really begin to hone in on how I have nowhere to go.  If and when they do allow us to leave the building, I haven’t any destination to head. I’ve only been in New York for a little over a week, I don’t know a single person. I begin to get scared and think how I would love to head to JFK and just pay whatever it costs to fly back to California, or perhaps the trains are still running. Whatever method of transportation, I don’t care about the cost, I just don’t want to deal with any of this.

Just as people are beginning to talk and move their attentions away from the T.V., the power in the building goes out.  Girls begin to scream and cry, meanwhile school officials tell us to remain calm. We begin exiting the room and everyone pulls their cell phones to make their way through the darkened hallways. I remember passing a classmate, David Salsa in the hall.  He is the talkative, always-joking sort. Charismatic. And though I’ve only met him once or twice, I notice that the humor is gone from his face, he asks if I am okay and pats my shoulder as I make my way to the stairs.  I find my way back up to my third floor room and am strangely surprised that it is not dark in there as the window shades are open. 

There is slight dust in the living room/kitchen, but upon entering my bedroom, there is a thin layer of dust on everything.  I quickly dust off my laptop and begin to clean up a bit.  I look at the window and there are several people with makeshift masks over their mouths, walking up William Street towards uptown.  My roommates are there, cleaning their own areas and my third suitemate, who’s name I cannot remember, asks if we are going to leave or stay. This question scares me, as I have no idea.

Perhaps oddly, but I have nothing to do. So I look at my cell phone, seeing that there is no service, I pick up my landline, which is a green phone mounted to the side of my desk, right next to my pillow.  I pick it up and a small beep, tells me that I have new voicemail. I dial my code and listen.

There is a very worried message from my aunt’s boyfriend, Efren. Though I cannot recall the verbatim of his message, he said basically the following; “Hey Matthew, this is Efren, your mother couldn’t get through to you, so she asked that I call and see if you are alright.  You gotta give us a call back here, everyone here is REAL worried about you.”  He then gave me instructions on how to call his work number. Apparently, he had some special landline that had better coverage than regular land lines? So, I followed the instructions and dialed though. He answered and asked if I was okay. He then patched me through to my mom, who listened while I told her a brief account of what happened, where I am, what I thought was going to happen. Efren stayed on the line and after we were done, he told me to call with any updates.

Now knowing that most phone service was unavailable, I opened my laptop and sent a message to my entire address book, just saying that I am okay. A little while later, Mattius came in and announced that he was leaving. Heading up to his sister’s who lived close to the Empire State Building. This scared me.  My other roommate, who’s name I cannot remember, reminded him that we were told not to leave the building. He said that he didn’t care, that he didn’t feel it was safe to be down here, but he urged that if any of us needed, we could come to his sister’s house as well (Ahh, relief, finally an option). He wrote the address, and left both his cell number, and his sister’s house number. He then wrapped a sweatshirt around his head, covering his mouth and exited with a backpack of belongings. We looked out the window and could see more people making their way North.

Then maybe a half our later, Onegin announced that he would be leaving too. I cannot remember where he said he was going, but he too wrapped his head/mouth and went on his way. 

Myself and the suitemate, who’s name I cannot remember agreed to stay. And we spent, if I can remember correctly, at least an hour, maybe two in our downtown apartment. I remember that the cell phone lines had cleared up because I got a  call from an ex-girlfriend, who was upstate attending Cornell, her name is Cherie.  

She had actually met me the week prior at JFK, when I arrived. We had spent the first night in a hostel-style room in midtown, on 44th Street, called the Aladdin, which later became a place for homeless people, and now doesn’t exist anymore.  She was the only person I knew upon arriving in New York and so had accompanied me when I moved into the William Street housing. We had actually gone to World Trade a couple days earlier and taken a picture with the vertical of the tower in the background of our faces. She was calling me because she knew how close I lived to the towers. She had always been a bit dopey, and while we were on the phone, she said she had heard the towers fell, but had not seen the footage, she got worried that they like…fell over, and if they had, I lived close enough for them to fall onto my building. I appreciated her call though. 

Later there was a knock at the door, somebody announcing that we were being evacuated, to get enough belongings for a few days and to head downstairs.  I remember being somewhat relieved, the idea of evacuation made me imagine a bus waiting downstairs, taking all of us someplace together.  Dropping us all off, together. 

So I packed a bag with clothes for a couple days, I wrapped my laptop in clothes and packed it in a drawer so it wouldn’t get dust. I did my best to set up the room such that dust would not get into any valuables. And myself and Yohei took ourselves and bags back into the darkened hallways of our university apartment.

We filed down the stairwell, which is now nicely emptied and nobody seems to care that not long ago it resembled the lawlessness of “Lord of the Flies.”  The main lobby is powdered over with dust, but we hardly have time to consider this as we exit the glass doors and are standing on another planet.

The ground is soft like I am standing on some sort of gentle dirt.  Not as coarse or comforting as a beach and when I look down to see the several inch layers of powder, I get chills.  I look up and down William Street, then down Maiden Lane.  It is all gray, as though a postcard.  It is not beautiful.  At all.  Rather it is eerie and reminds me of a movie I used to watch as a kid, Night of the Comet.  The streets of New York looked just as they did in that movie, empty and scary.  The fallen dust which covered everything made it look like the moon.  Or some other abandoned planet where life had ceased to exist. 

We began to walk north on William Street, school officials are telling us to walk fast and to cover our mouths.  There is a decent wind and most of downtown seems to have already vacated, as there are only a few scattered individuals walking besides students from my building. My eyes continue on my ghostlike surroundings and I find my eyes unmovable on each street we pass.  Yohei takes several pictures; which he would later accidentally erase. 

After several minutes, we were walking past the NYU Downtown Hospital.  There are several women in white doctors’ coats handing out disposable gas masks.  They speak quickly, as though they are eager to head back inside the hospital or have patients waiting.  We all take and put over our mouths, removing the article of clothing we had been using.  I begin to lose track of where we are, as I don’t know the area at all really. 

And soon after we are upcoming on the Brooklyn Bridge.  And from down below, I can see the bridge is crammed with people walking.  All of them one-way, back to Brooklyn.  I think enviously of how they all have homes and people worriedly waiting for their return.  And me, I am simply following along this crowd from my building, I have no idea what awaits.

As we are past the bridge, I can begin to see the beginnings of Chinatown.  And as I look around, I see that the group of people from the University housing has all-the-while been dispersing, everyone heading their separate ways.  And soon Yohei tells me that he will be heading to a friend’s.  I worry.  ut that first he has to use the restroom. 

So we walk into a laundry mat, where a Chinese man looks at us upon entering.  It seemed to me the sort of business that would not take kindly to non-customers using the restroom, but he is very humanely tells Yohei, “Yes, of course.”  Everyone is friendly right now, all of us on the same team is how it feels.

I wait outside, and begin to think of my course of action.  I call to take up Mattius’ offer of his sister’s apartment close to the Empire State.  And when Yohei returns, we take our separate ways.  He goes east towards his friend and I keep my way north, hoping to find a subway station that is functioning.  My figuring that the further away from downtown, the more normal things will be.

And sure enough, a few blocks further north, life seems to be almost operating.  So I head down into a subway station and decide to take any train that goes north. 

I find my way to the apartment, and like as though the changing scenes in a movie, before I know it, I am sitting with three strangers watching T.V.  Watching the repeated clips of the towers being hit, and then falling.  We are amazed at all the angles, and the information is still sinking in.  However what strikes me most is how everybody in the apartment  seem untouched.  Their house is in the utmost order, and they do mundane tasks while I sit there.   Talking about small things like nextweeks’ plans, like gossip.  And though there was a slight scare on the news bout the Empire State Building being evacuated as a possible next target, I find that Mattius is soon putting on a movie.  It hardly seems like the same morning from which I awoke, just several hours earlier.  And I fall to sleep on a stranger’s couch unsure what awaits.

In the morning, everyone gets ready for their day, as though we are roommates and nothing has happened.  Not wanting to intrude, I get ready as though I have someplace to go.  And before I know it, I am in the Village, wandering the streets, imagining what people must be thinking.  But it is a nice day, café’s are filled, bars are too.  I see a famous rock musician, Billy Corgan, walking with a floppy had, and I wonder if he’s unable to leave due to the airlines not-running.

I walk down Sixth Avenue, close to Houston, which is the furthest south people are allowed to walk, where a military barricade has been set up.  I am nervous and watchful, as is everybody else, when we hear a plane go by overhead.  I walk to the West Side Highway and stand amongst the crowds, as truck after truck hauls wreckage from the Trade Center.   And whenever a Fire Engine goes by, people cheer.  Me, I am just glad to see that there are others who know this is not a normal day.

As the day moves on, I call Mattius to see when people will be back at the apartment.  He tells me to meet them in Central Park.  And as the day winds down, I enter Sheep’s Meadow to find that he, his sister and some friends are sitting causally in the park, as though it was no more than a lazy Saturday.  And when I greet them, they are talking about the tennis they played that day, or the restaurant they ate in.  I am confused.

That night goes very similar to the night prior.  And however welcoming they have been, I begin to feel that I should find some other place of residence.  So the following morning I make a call to Cherie, upstate in Cornell.  And I ask if I can come stay for a few days.  She readily agrees. 

I am walking towards Times Square, towards the Port Authority Bus Terminal, when the scares begin to happen.  First on Eighth Avenue, as I am passing a building, people begin to run out from the main door, and I hear from several mouths something about a bomb threat.  I walk faster.  Several minutes later, I am walking past a hotel, just as it is being similarly evacuated.  I begin to jog a bit.

I feel a stretch of relief as I enter the Port Authority bus station and make my way into the Peter Pan Bus line.  There is a bus going to Ithaca in less than an hour.  However, just as I am about thirty people back in line, some commotion begins behind me.  People in the busy of the terminal begin to run and scream.  And before long, again from several mouths, the words “bomb!” are heard.  The line I am in disperses and I find myself experiencing deja-vu.  People are racing up the escalators towards the street-level, and much like the stairwell at 84 Williams Street, I find myself aggressively climbing past people.  Everyone runs at a mad pace out the exit doors, and several police and firemen herd us across the street, where we sit and watch.  Waiting for an explosion to come. 

And as I stand there, amongst even more strangers, I can only think of the bus that I am going to miss and how long it will be for the next one.  My stomach begins to tremble with my downright hunger to leave this city.

An hour goes by, and the police begin allowing people back into the building.  I walk rather fast towards the ticket office, hoping to be in front of the line and get my ticket.  This works, and I am soon standing about ten people back in line.  Eagerly waiting to pass over my money in exchange for an extreme change of scenery.  Soon I am about five people from the front.  I find myself almost dancing in my feet, like those excited moments in a concert when the lights finally dim and the main act is about to begin. So I am in fact more angry than scared, when again a collection of commotion begins behind me.  Again.  Screaming and running.  Like clockwork, the words  “BOMB!” are heard and there I am running with everyone else.  Fiercely up the escalator and then standing again on Eighth Avenue waiting again for an explosion. 

It’s interesting to me, that no matter the situation, it takes only time to make it seem banal.  Though I am standing in the center of New York, being held back by police officers from a potential bomb, two days after the worst attack this country has ever seen…I find myself unpatiently waiting.  Like a kid in the backseat while on a road trip with his family.  Looking at the people around me.  Annoyed that I cannot do what I want to do.  And then just like that, the police officers open the street back up to us.


I run to the ticket window.  Only three people beat me there.  When it is my turn, I buy a one-way ticket upstate.  She tells me the gate and I go with determination.  At the gate, people are not really talking.  They all seem of a lower class.  And streaming through all of us is complete fanatical need for nothing else to occur which would keep us from our upcoming departure.  Every time I hear a voice raised in the background, I cringe, fearing another evacuation.  Every minute that passes, I find myself itching for another one to pass.  And finally, they begin to board and I work my way up to the front of the line, eager to be on the bus, eager to pass over my luggage, eager to be to a point where it would make more sense to drive the bus out of the building rather than to evacuate a third time.  And my throat and nerves keep at this agonizing anxiety all while the bus is moving slowly out of the parking structure, through midtown towards the Lincoln Tunnel.  And my nervousness finally draws to a close as the bus leaves the island that is Manhattan. 

And like as though I had taken some pill for relaxation, I look out the window, at  New Jersey, a part of the country I have never seen.  My body reacting as though I am headed on some holiday.  All thoughts of the events from the last 48 hours quickly beginning to empty from my body like fuel being released from a circling plane.  I take a deep breath and sit back in my chair, calculating how long it will be till we hit Ithaca.  And I wonder how long I’ll be gone for.  Neither thought lasting very long.  Mostly I just sit.  Tired of thinking.  Tired of waiting.  Tired of not knowing what would happen next.  I wonder what everyone else on the bus is thinking.  What they are tired of.  And what their stories from the last 48 hours are like.  I’m sure they all have one.