Flashback. My first day at a new job on Wall Street across from the WTC was September 11, 2001. I’ve written about it other places (here’s a notice from my performance a few years ago):
The basics should be pretty easy to explain in a nutshell. Showed up, saw the whole catastrophe unfold from the office windows, evacuated the building because all the dust got sucked into our AC. Then a short walk outside became a dash when the second building fell down, yada yada. Great play.
Anyway, it’s one of two plays I’ve written about that day. The Story of Falling Don is mostly autobiographical. And the other play, Twenty Blocks North of the Rock Pile is semi biographical about a friend whose life was chewed up by events that day.
I didn’t find anybody who wanted to produce either one on the anniversary. I have lots of different projects that I’ve worked on, and I would love to share either one of these with an audience. But TWENTY BLOCKS NORTH OF THE ROCK PILE stirred up real controversy in Orlando, and I don’t want to kick that beehive at the moment. As for Falling Don, interest in it was… subdued. I’ve been thinking about putting a reading of it on my Youtube Site. Anyway, the story of 9/11 is not over. Not for me or a lot of other people.
Anyway, I’m minding my own business the other night and I get an e-mail from someone I worked with a long time ago. We’ll call him Steve, because that’s not his name. I hadn’t heard from him in several years. I remember him, though–he and I were among the many temp workers who happened to be in a building across the street from the towers on 9/11 when the planes hit. We had our share of dashing outside to safety and trying to not get inundated with a pile of asbestos and concrete dust. Details are complicated, but I went to Brooklyn and he went uptown (because he was in Westchester and after that day, people who’d been through the events we all saw wanted to heat home). So the following Monday, we all went back to work on Wall Street in the same offices we’d been in when we looked from our windows to watch the South Tower collapse. And I was there for another seven years, until the Lehman crash wiped out so much of the company’s business. Most of Wall Street was in dire straits on that ugly week in 2008. My gym lost 280 members in ONE DAY. This was an upscale place, so figure it was seven figures loss.
Anyway, fast forward to the present. I lost my day job after my 50th birthday and as anyone who’s done job hunting knows, age discrimination is an issue. I also lost a lot of my mental focus after 9/11. I lost both my parents to the common diseases one gets from a lifetime of tobacco use, and I lost my mother in law as well. I tried different career fields but had no luck. And (here’s the important part), I had no medical insurance for much of the last decade. Which means I haven’t had a full annual physical since the Obama years.
Anyway, jump forward to the other night. Suddenly I have a message from Steve, the old friend whose name I forgot. It was an uncomfortable few moments. And it wasn’t good news. He was diagnosed with one of the many diseases common to those who schlepped through the concrete and asbestos dust that fateful day. Candidates include leukemia and lymphoma and a whole host of cancers you get when you ingest particulate from the disaster that day. And we worked day after day in that building even though it should’ve been clear exposure to the toxins downtown would be fatal. The villain in this is Christie Todd Whitman(may she rot in Hell), who assured the world it was safe to work downtown despite all the toxins. I had family members who did volunteer work on the Rockpile (what the insiders call Ground Zero) who’ve passed from cancers that had obscure origins. And now the diseases found Steve, who found himself running for his life next to me on that terrible day.
Hence my dilemma. I’m suspicious of every minute I have an odd body function. I’m waiting til I’m in the Medicare club, but my worry is that all that waiting will feed whatever malignancies I would’ve gotten that day that are silently adding up the cells they’re contributing to my metabolic rate. And to me, the lies Whitman inflicted on the people of Downtown are an eerie prequel to the Trumpist and corporatist response to the COVID19 pandemic–don’t shut things down while you work to shut down the virus because that’ll have a negative effect on GDP. And God Forbid we should use the events of the world to finally join the rest of the G20 and institute a single payer system. Seven years after 9/11 we had the worst economic meltdown since 1931. I wonder how many other people who were in the hundred thousand plus people living and working in the Downtown who were not only exposed to the cancerous agents but also lost their employee healthcare. My horror stories about people whose insurance didn’t respond appropriately after they were diagnosed with incurable diseases could take up a whole post. Private health insurance too often plays a waiting game when disease is found, denying coverage for expensive cures until it’s too late.
I applaud the efforts of comedian Jon Stewart to get the Zadroga bill for first responders passed and funded, but first responders weren’t the only people injured on that awful day. And it’s not clear that everyone will live long enough to get a Medicare benefit to offset the cancerous substances they ingested on 9/11. It’s clear that private insurers aren’t up to the task of providing for all those injured. Why don’t we take action to safeguard ALL the Americans injured on 9/11?