That Day, North of the City

  • Share
  • Read Later
Mount Kisco is 54 minutes on the train from New York City, and something less than thoroughly in the city's grasp. It used to be, not so long ago, "the country." Now it's certainly a commuter suburb, but in its hilliness and leafiness and in its sense of self as the center of Northern Westchester, it keeps a psychic arm's length.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

But when something this big happens to the city, it reaches the town. A probably not atypical first sniff of the tragedy occurred at our house. Daddy was working upstairs at the computer when Caroline, age three, called from the family room that the sound had gone off on "Clifford." I went downstairs and found the remote, figuring Caroline had hit Mute. That didn't work, and I surfed a few stations. Four (NBC) showed a test pattern as did Three (ABC). Obviously a cable problem. By the time I passed 13 again, video as well as audio was gone. I found kids' programming on 21 out of New Jersey, and went up to finish my work, never suspecting that transmitters atop the Trade Center had been knocked out, along with human life, by the terrorists.

An hour or so later I had learned, through a phone call from my wife as Caroline and I were driving to the A&P, that something had happened at the Trade Center. My daughter and I walked from the parking lot and got a preliminary sense of the magnitude. One of the orthodox Jews from Chabad Lubavitch in nearby Bedford Hills was standing outside the supermarket, talking to anyone who walked near about "these people" who did "such insane things." It was an extraordinary encounter on a serene, placid day. In the check-out line, minutes later, every woman buying groceries was comparing notes and knowledge with the others, and all were shaking their heads slowly, as was the check-out girl.

The appointment at Dr. Cronenberg's children's dentistry office was at noon, and we were the only ones there. By now, knowledge of the attack was general in Mount Kisco and everyone was offering greetings that began with, "Awful," or "What a day" or "Simply inconceivable." Dr. Cronenberg had the radio on, as was usual, but it offered news, not Muzak. As Caroline sat patiently through her checkup, assistants kept giving the doctor updates on news from southern Manhattan. "Pace has been let out," one said finally. Pace University was mere blocks from ground zero, and Dr. Cronenberg's son, Jeff, was a student there. So the doctor was monitoring this carefully.

Driving down Main Street, I noted how weird it was, the reports from the local radio station full of premature closings. It was like a snow day in Mount Kisco, with the school busses rolling early, but it was 81 degrees and pleasant. Very strange. And then, in the large parking lot, as I held Caroline's hand and we made our way to Belizzi Pizza for her post-dentist reward, I noticed another odd thing. Kisco lies 15 miles north of Northern Westchester Airport, a stone's throw further from LaGuardia and another from Kennedy. There are few distractions here, but there's always an airplane or four overhead. There are always vapor streams patterning the sky. Today, a beautiful but eerie ceiling — bright blue, with a few puffy cumuli. No sound in Mount Kisco but the lawn care.

Caroline found a friend, Julia, a four-year-old, at Belizzi. This place used to be called Pizza Pizzaz, and retains that spirit, with its indoor play area for kids. Caroline went romping and jumping with Julia, and the kids' parents exchanged greetings: "Quite a day." Awful." I told Julia's mother that my wife was in New York — in midtown — and hoping that trains would roll soon from Grand Central.

It had already been a long day for Julia's mother.

"My husband's a New York firefighter," she said. I said nothing. "He had administrative duty this morning at Randall's Island, thank goodness." She paused. "He called me at 9 and said he was being assigned, but who knew where. So at least I know he couldn't have gotten down there by the time the buildings collapsed."

"Thank God," I offered.

"Yeah."

"Well, he'll be fine."

Julia's mom watched Caroline while I dashed out to feed the meter another quarter, then Julia's mom walked to the counter and came back with a beer — "I saw Caroline's daddy having one"— which certainly any wife of a New York City firefighter might have with lunch, this day.

As I drove home from Belizzi, the radio didn't much reflect a snow day. This list, not about cancellations but about new meetings, concerned prayer sessions to convene in the evening at various churches and synagogues throughout Northern Westchester.

Caroline and I picked my wife up at the train station — trains coming north on a once-an-hour schedule, nothing heading down into the city — at 4:45. We drove out of a parking lot where some cars would remain through the night, and into the week, their drivers not returning from the city. As for our family, it was now home and safe. Caroline got put to bed, then I strolled down to the mailbox. Nothing; the post office had shut down too. Coming back up the driveway, I looked up at the moonless sky and watched for a good long while for a plane. Nothing. The sound of the crickets was overwhelming and disturbing.

I learned from the news that a third Trade Center building, Number 7, had collapsed in the early evening. I didn't know the woman's name, only that she was Julia's mom, so there was no way to find out.