New York Diary: City Divided

WRITING - John Bloom


And then there were two cities.

There's the New York below Canal Street--still grieving, still somber, still choking on the dust cloud that just won't go away. And there's the New York above Canal Street, where there's an almost hysterical need to get the party started again. The two cities don't like each other.

In Lower Manhattan there are still people who wake up sobbing and stare out at the rusty ash over Church Street.

In Upper Manhattan there are people who studiously avoid the news channels and dress up for Friday-night dates at dance clubs.

In Lower Manhattan there's an increasing resentment of tourists--the camera-toting gawkers who show up every day like visitors to a Roman ruin. Their numbers seem to be growing, and they even bring children. Like the movie "The Big Circus," in which Kirk Douglas plays a cynical reporter who milks a mine explosion for all it's worth, they're increasingly regarded as carnival ghouls.

In Upper Manhattan people call for healing. They speak of their "moving" memorial services at the Unitarian Church or their personal dilemmas: is it too early to ask that girl for a date if we met on September 11th?

Lower Manhattan people still want to go to funerals. There were more than 50 last weekend alone, and Mayor Giuliani encouraged the public to attend as many as possible. Lower Manhattan people want to sit in churches, not discos.

In Upper Manhattan there are wacky street performers and political zanies with card tables set up on the sidewalk. ("TERRORIST ATTACK WAS ATTEMPT TO STOP LYNDON LAROUCHE LAND- BRIDGE!") There are sax players on the subway and flea markets on the weekend.

In Lower Manhattan the only signs on the street are the shrines full of "missing" posters.

It's enough to split families down the middle. A beautiful woman who lives in Tribeca is taken out for a birthday dinner in Little Italy. Everyone tells her to "cheer up, think positive." On the way home she stops at Ladder Company 1 and gives her spray of 30 fresh roses to the captain on duty. He sobs and hugs her and says "Thank you." She says, "No, thank you."

You can live in one city and work in another. In the morning you stare at the wasteland that was once World Trade, and by noon you're listening to a co-worker prattling on about an episode of "The West Wing."

"Those people aren't buried yet," says a travel-agency employee to an Upper West Side resident. "We need to bury them first."

"Oh you poor thing," replies the co-worker.

Or you can live on the Upper East Side, where everyone is in a frenzy about "hate crimes" and "profiling." But when you arrive at work on Wall Street, neither you nor the olive-skinned messenger in your office feel like discussing the nuances of man's inhumanity to man. Everyone in the Financial District breathes the air, sees the trucks laden with twisted scrap--and philosophy fails.

There aren't enough bodies. That's the problem. The bodies are missing and, some fear, already cremated. The clean-up effort is painfully slow, and already marred by a scandal in which some of the scrap metal showed up in three Mafia-owned junkyards instead of the Fresh Kill landfill on Staten Island where it's all supposed to be held as part of a crime scene. The work is becoming tedious. The television images are becoming familiar. And the people of Lower Manhattan refuse to let that happen. They refuse to become a cliché.