Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sept. 11--Joe Calendrillo's Story

I received the following from Joe Calendrillo, Linda's cousin and the son of Michael Calendrillo who I've written about before at my Lightning and Ashes blog.

Joe read my post on "Sept. 11--The Short View" and wanted to tell me what that day meant to him.

Here's what he wrote: 

That was a day that is ingrained in my memory. Only a handful of us made it into the office that day, and when you work in Television, a "skeleton" staff on a day when the whole Nation is tuning into News coverage is not a good thing. 

We were on the air 96 hours straight with 9/11 attacks coverage, and those of us who made it into the Operations office that morning went non-stop until about 10pm that evening, when some of our overnight staff came in early to relieve us. A few of us went over to the Empire Hotel, where our Comapny had secured a few rooms for us, as the City was on lock down. Some of my co-workers just went right to their rooms and fell into bed. 

I was amazed at how eerie the City that never sleeps was that night, on Broadway no less.  It was a ghost town at 10pm. No one in the steets, no one on the roads, just emptiness. We walked the 4 blocks in silence, exhausted from the constant answering of phones in the office from co -workers, producers, directors, etc....

When we arrived at the Hotel, I had to have a drink at the bar. I walked into their big bar area, attached to a Steak house in the Hotel. There were people just sitting at the bar, staring at the big screens, who of course had the News coverage on. At least it was ABC so I felt vindicated, as if our hard work paid off!! No one uttered a word, except " Barkeep, I'll have another..." All you heard was the sound of ice clinking in a glass, or beer bottles being opened. It was surreal. I had a drink, a double actually, and a short while later, fell into bed in my room. Awoke very early the next morning, showered, and went right back to work again. 

This morning, 11 years later, I was on the express bus on the way in to work, and I thought back to that horrible day, and the weather today was EXACTLY like it was on 9/11/01. A beautiful, dry, clear day, bright blue sky. My bus drives right past the site of the old WTC and the new Freedom Tower that is almost completed, in that very same spot. 

This morning, I thought back to all the different phases I've seen that area go through the past 11 years. I said a quick prayer for all those lost on that day, at that site, as well as the others, and it made me realize how fortunate I am. Everyone knew someone who perished that day, either in the buildings, or Fire fighters who were killed trying to save them, but this City never once folded under the stress of the attacks. Maybe it's that New York "attitude" but, the City is still standing strong, somehow!! 

That next night after work, Sept 12th, I remember my sister Lisa and I taking the subway into Brooklyn, it was the only way out of Manhattan, the buses were not running, nor was the ferry, so we had to take the subway to Bay Ridge and catch a local bus to Staten Island. My Dad was at my house, with my wife and my two sons, waiting for us to arrive so he could drive Lisa home. When we walked in, there were lots of hugs, a few tears of relief, or exhaustion maybe. 

Then Dad said something I won't forget, he simply said..." People always wanted to know what War was like, well, now they know...." 

That morning of 9/11, for what it's worth, I had just gotten past the WTC buildings right before the planes hit, and was on my way uptown, not knowing anything until I got close to the office and heard people in the streets speaking about what had transpired. Sorry for the long e-mail John, it's still so fresh in my memory 11 years later.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11, 2001--The Short View

I got a letter on Sept. 12, 2001, from my friend Bill Anderson who tended to take a cynical view of people and government and the human animal in general. The following was the response I wrote to him that day:

I wish I could take the long view the way you do, Bill: look at the attack, and see it the way it probably is: Bush seeing this as his way of putting a lock on his second term, Americans showing their true nature by making money on increased gas prices, Hollywood being angry because this will put the next Bruce Willis film on hold for 2 weeks. The long view: we're all self-serving crooks.

I'm not good at the long view. I'm more of a short view guy: One of my wife Linda's cousins saw the first tower go down from her office. Her name is Lisa. She was a wonderfully fat baby. One time her mom, Linda's Aunt Anne, dressed her in a tutu, and Linda's dad Tony laughed and laughed, and still 25 years later the family talks about the tutu and how much we all loved her in her tutu and laughed with joy at her beauty.

Lisa got out okay. She was evacuated, and finally found herself across the river at a phone booth in Hoboken, New Jersey. She called home to Aunt Anne and Uncle Buddy. He’s also a short view guy: He was with Patton's soldiers when they freed the first concentration camps. He still shakes and cries when he remembers the piles of corpses.

My niece is an emergency room nurse at NYU hospital (I think I saw her in the background on an NBC spot about the hospital--but I wasn't sure. She looked old and tired and gray with pain). Her dad, Linda's brother Bruce, was calling her and calling her to make sure she was okay. Finally she got through to him late in the afternoon on Tuesday. He begged her to leave the hospital, said he would drive down from Connecticut and get her. Cried and begged her. He said he was her father and she had to listen to him. (Bruce isn't much of a crier. He's a jokey, tough Brooklyn guy.) But she was his baby and he wanted her away from all of it. And she said she couldn't leave. He cried some more and pleaded, and she hung up on him. She had to get back to work.

And all those people looking for their relatives and friends, holding pictures up to the TV cameras and telling us about how some guy was a great friend, and he was a waiter in a restaurant at the top of the building. And I see this picture of this poor foreign looking schmuck with a big nose and a dopey NY baseball cap that's way too big, who probably came here with a paper suitcase and thought that working up at that restaurant was the greatest thing possible in the world. And the friend hoping to find this guy thinks this guy is alive someplace, maybe in a coma in some hospital.

And I know there's not a chance in hell this guy or any other guy or gal in any of these pictures is alive. They're dead, all dead, but I wouldn't tell this guy holding the picture.

Boy, these are stories that touch me so hard I can't think about the other stuff, the long view.