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My City
by Jan Calle

 

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At this moment on September 15, 2001, I have turned off the TV and radio, and am writing about my memories of the greatest city on earth. Although I was born in Brooklyn, I learned to revere the cultural aspects of Manhattan from an early age. By the time I was eight and my siblings were six years old, mother transported us on the Culver Line subway, part above ground and part below ground, to Radio City Music Hall and the annual Christmas show. We waited on long lines in cold weather to see this spectacular event. Sometimes we visited Santa at Wanamaker's on eighth street in lower Manhattan. All excursions included lunch at the Automat.

By the ago of fourteen, I traveled alone on the Brighton Beach subway to visit either the Museums of Modern Art or the Metropolitan. Maureen, my friend who lived in a different section of Brooklyn than I did, would meet me at a pre-determined location in Manhattan. We would walk along Fifth Avenue pretending we were rich kids. Our talk assumed exaggerated tones, imitating ways in which we imagined rich, privately-educated kids might talk. We fantasized dinner parties we attended with our parents and used the word "darling" frequently. Sometimes, we talked in first year Spanish.

At age sixteen I began working for Sterling Drugs. The office, located at 170 Varick Street, was below Canal Street about a mile from the Twin Towers. Of course, in 1947 the Twins Towers didn't exist. That end of Manhattan saw heavy traffic because it served as a passageway to New Jersey either by ferry or by tunnel.

After I left Sterling Drugs, I began my thirty-three year career with AT&T and New York Telephone. AT&T had an office building on Broadway and Fulton Street; New York Telephone's main office was located on West and Vesey Streets. The Trade Center was built along Vesey, Church, and Liberty Streets.

After my first promotion into management, I relocated to the main office of New York Telephone. I saw Vesey Street transformed from an area of small radio and electronic shops to the construction site of the North Tower. Employees, who formerly spent lunch hours poking around gadget shops, found a new pass time watching pile drivers penetrate Manhattan's concrete mass. As I recall, when the pile drivers hit water, the drilling stopped for a time while architects and engineers determined how to base the 110 story buildings in water.

Once actual construction began again, the street gazing supervisors spent hours watching the steel beams put into place and the magical movement of cranes climbing from one level to the next. Most impressive were the Mohawk Indian high rise workers who walked fearlessly along the girders. They looked like ballet dancers in the sky.

As I walked to my office building on a daily basis, I saw the Twin Towers being built girder by girder. And after I moved to Southbridge towers on Pearl and Frankfort Streets, I saw the upper portion of the Towers from the windows of my 12th floor apartment.

In June of this year, my sisters and I visited South Street Seaport, former home of the Fulton Fish Market. Before eating lunch, we stopped in at St. Margaret's Retirement Home on Pearl and Fulton Streets. This is where mother spent the last ten years of her life. I wanted to see the quilted mural which honored New York City, and which many of the residents had worked on. After mother died, my siblings and I donated money to have the mural framed and hung in the lobby of the building. I felt a sense of pride and nostalgia looking at the little two inch squares mother contributed to the quilt. Mother's work on the Statue of Liberty square is especially noteworthy.

After lunch, Alice, Rita and I walked in and out of stores on Cortland, Liberty, and Fulton Streets. While my sisters visited St. Paul's Cathedral, I walked along Broadway looking for a Starbucks Coffee Shop. And forever in the background the Twin Towers expressed their presence.

People have asked me how I could have left Manhattan to live in Michigan. "The City" will always by my city. I am reminded of Natalie Goldberg's (Long Quiet Highway) feelings about "The City" when her French teacher suggested Natalie visit Paris.

"I was delighted, but I knew that was ridiculous. I had the great fortune to live near New York City. My aunt Rachel told me, 'After New York, there is no place else to go.' " I believe many New York City natives, who may have left their roots, still feel the pulse and pull of an extraordinary metropolis in the core of their being.

TV brings me images of the devastation of the Twin Towers and the surrounding area. Seeing people hurling themselves into the air from the upper floors of the buildings felt like personal suicide. Learning about the deaths of innocent souls in New York City, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon leaves me short of breath and incredibly grateful that my nephews Philip, Eugene, and Jim managed to escape an early death by fire, suffocation, or reduction into powder from a collapsed building.

As I see the rubble in lower Manhattan and feel the loss of human lives, brain power, and a huge gap in the skyline, I ask myself, "what's next"? I am not thinking about political and social justice, but more about the internal and external future of My City and the symbolism of lower Manhattan, which we purchased from the Indians for $24. We cannot replace lives, but is this a time to reinvent business, establish values which we once called American, and mobilize global unity? And how soon will we plant trees in the ashes so the phoenix will rise again?

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