April 25, 2015
9/11 and the Damage Done
Posted on Sep 7, 2011
On the day the towers fell, furies flew out of the hole in the ground and like all restless spirits, they headed west. I did not realize it at the time, of course, but did have the sense a few days after the dust began to settle at Ground Zero that things had shifted, a feeling that we all had, as if the world itself had gone off its axis.
I happened to be in New York that day, and why I was there had much to do with what was going on in the country in the months before the attack. I was on assignment for Rolling Stone, asked many weeks before to write about the Robert Blake case. You remember that, right? It was the one in which Blake, the accomplished and famous actor, was on trial for allegedly killing his wife Bonny Bakley, a most peculiar character who scammed and conned her way out of a trailer park and into certain echelons of Hollywood. Along the way she got knocked up and ultimately had Blake’s baby.
In the months leading up to 9/11, America had been in the grips of what may be the most intense celebrity mania we have yet experienced. Day after day there was chatter and talk and screaming about the banal and talentless Britney Spears; the coverage had cleaned the slate—there was no mention of anything else, certainly not another kind of chatter that was being picked up by intelligence agencies everywhere—although there was an occasional time out for discussion of another kind of doom—shark attacks! The summer of 2001 apparently had the highest number of shark attacks ever, or at least the most reported attacks, and everybody was supposed to get out of the water now!
I should mention at this point that I generally steer clear of celebrity coverage. It’s just not what I write. But to me, the Blake story was different; it had certain elements that appealed to me, and I agreed to take on this assignment, thus adding to the avalanche of news and commentary about famous people that is continually being produced.
Which brings me to why I was in New York on 9/11. I had been waiting for weeks to meet with Margerry Bakley, Bonny’s sister; she lived in New Jersey and had agreed to talk with me about her sister’s life. But she had an exclusive deal with a tabloid and was not permitted to speak with representatives of any other publication until the agreement expired. That time frame was September. I had originally planned to meet with her later in the month, after a hiking trip to the Grand Canyon that I had planned months in advance. But I happened to have a premonition that was so powerful it led me to cancel my trip and head as soon as I could to New York. Something told me that I might never again see my mother or other family members, who lived there. My feeling didn’t indicate anything about New York City specifically, but I felt queasy and that something was out of kilter and I knew I had to get to Manhattan.
Square, Site wide
So on 9/10, I flew from Los Angeles, arriving early on the morning of 9/11, and headed uptown to stay with my friend Pamela Berkeley, a fine artist who had spent many years painting New York in its many aspects from rooftops and elsewhere, adding to her body of landscape work. My plan was to check in with my mother later that day. I had also made arrangements to meet with Margerry Bakley on 9/12, across the Hudson River at a diner in New Jersey, near her home.
My flight arrived on time, early on the morning of 9/11, around 3 or 4 a.m. I picked up my rental car and drove from JFK airport to Pamela’s apartment on 108th Street between Broadway and Columbus, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years and, over a bottle of wine, settled into a conversation about old times, catching up on which old friends in our circle were living where and doing what and how we ourselves were faring at the moment. Around sunrise, I wandered off to the guest room and fell asleep. A little while later, Pamela came in and tried to wake me out of my wine-infused, jet-lagged condition.
“Deanne, get up,” she said, “something really weird just happened.” I was wearing earplugs and barely roused and she continued. “A plane just flew into the World Trade Center. It’s all over the news.”
I mumbled something about why this was no big deal, reminding her that some time ago, a small plane had flown into the Empire State Building and that was an accident. She left and I went back to sleep, but 10 minutes later, she returned and insisted that I get up, shaking me to make sure I got the message.
“It’s really bad,” she said. “Come in and take a look.”
So I headed to the living room, and joined Pamela and her daughter Eleanor, watching what had just happened on television: Another plane had hit the second tower and a terrorist attack was apparently under way.
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