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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

World Trade Center: 2001

On this date in 2001 Mus, the Algerian owner of what was then Denizen, a restaurant in lower Manhattan’s Soho on Thompson St. was furiously cooking food in the locale’s tiny kitchen to bring down to the site of the by then destroyed World Trade Center. Earlier that day watching the destruction above the Arch of Washington Square from Fifth Avenue one could only imagine what was happening further south closer to the tragedy. It induced a state of shock. Those who knew Mus and others in the area tried to get across Houston St. but the authorities would not permit passage to those who didn’t live there. What was really happening in Mus' world was that a Muslim businessman threw caution to the wind and wanted to take care of those who needed it. He wanted to be there. The atmosphere South of Houston with white particles filling the air had poor visibility. For days thereafter a strange odor permeated much of downtown.

Witnessing the devastation and being traumatized thereof doesn't compare to losing someone because of it. Chris Meloni was living South of Houston at the time, but had the good fortune to be out of town. His unique grief was watching it on television as his best friend went down with the Towers.

One crazy bus driver on the way to Manhattan from New Jersey that morning refused to turn back at the police barrier and drove through stranding a young woman who felt lost and frightened. She found that safe haven with the gay denizens of the West Village. It kept her sane. She had to sleep in her office at work.

The one zone that seemed to provide a haven was the West Village. Perhaps because it was just south of Saint Vincent's where many were brought following the tragedy. The Village had only pedestrian traffic except for EMT vehicles, cop cars, fire trucks and vans. The Monster, The Duplex and even The Cowgirl Hall of Fame were all operating at full service. With no traffic and with the huge lamps lighting the path to Saint Vincent’s Hospital made Seventh Avenue South seem like a movie set. Many wandered around aimlessly but there was a notable absence of hysteria and rancor away from the site and in downtown neighbourhoods.

The home of Engine 18 is on W. 10th where one could see the men on a daily basis at work and experience a sense of safety. Engine 18 lost seven of its members. There was no escaping the sadness for months following their loss as one continued to pass it. A shrine grew there with flowers photos and remembrances.Those days following the attack saw the spontaneous erection of shrines that also served as a way to acknowledge and help look for the missing.

Denizen would soon be the venue for a firefighters’ benefit as would another restaurant further up in Greenwich Village on West 13th La Nonna owned by Massimo Felici, Luca Latini and Tom Fontana. Many people, the famous, the nearly famous and the not so famous banded together. Those who dined at Denizen that month of September donated the cost of their meals to the benefit of the area's firefighters' families. Chris Meloni, one of the first to step up, Lee Tergesen, friends and family were there. There was private grief and public resolve.

We banded together, both literally and figuratively, in order to have the sense of doing something in response to what was one of the greatest tragedies witnessed in our lifetimes. New York was and is profoundly effected; it has gone on all the same. It was one of those unique moments when one could see what others were made of. Besides Mus, Tom Fontana, Chris Meloni, Kirk Acevedo, Lee Tergesen, Christina Barbieri, Brian Rodgers, Davide Novelli, Maria Teresa Ienni, George Aguilar, among many others rose to the occasion, emblematic of New York City. New York lives and thrives as do those individuals. Denizen and La Nonna did not survive as businesses in post-September 11th downtown Manhattan but most everyone involved with those locales have moved forward.

The Monster and The Duplex are still the beacons of Sheridan Square. New York City is still the Capitol of diversity something that religious fanaticism will never be able to destroy.

It is time to move on, while still remembering.

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