Here We Go Again

I don’t know whether this has been on the national news or not. A pipe bomb exploded on the steps of one of the entrances to the Times Square subway hub on Monday. This is a huge station, perhaps the busiest in New York. The bomb was in a paper bag left on the steps. A policeman was injured. That’s all the details we can be sure of at the moment.

At first the report was that this was a bag of fireworks. The people on the street and in nearby buildings were certain they’d heard a bomb. It was a bomb. The suspect is the policeman who discovered the bomb. The bag was on fire, and he says he tried to remove it. He’s a suspect because he is about to retire from the police force for psychiatric reasons. He suffers from PTSD because of his service on 9/11.

Plenty of New Yorkers still suffer from PTSD because of 9/11. Whether they were downtown, worked at or near the site, were part of the rescue crew, were among those who took part in cleaning up the debris afterwards, or simply live in the city. I have friends, otherwise reasonably sane people, who still haven’t gone downtown at all, ever, since 9/11. They just can’t make themselves do it. I live within walking distance of the WTC site. I stood out front with a neighbor and watched the towers fall. Our apartment complex was evacuated. I live on the West Side Highway, and everything removed from the site went by my place. I saw things I’ll never try to describe. For months afterward this neighborhood smelled like — roast pork. No other way to put it. We were breathing in vaporized people, among other horrors. We had no public transportation and had to show identification at check points. I realized that I had to go down to the site as soon as possible or I’d never be able to go down there again. About 1 1/2 weeks after the attack, in a gray drizzle, I walked down there, sneaking around check points, getting as close as possible.

What struck me as I walked down there was how huge the disaster really was — and at that point I didn’t really see all of it. It wasn’t just the WTC site that was damaged. I won’t go into details, but buildings were damaged for blocks around the site. There is one huge building, draped in black netting, that still has to be torn down. Debris was scattered all across the island, and as far as Brooklyn. I was stepping over cables laid above ground to bring electricity to the area. The infrastructure, sewers, water mains, power, the subway system, were incredibly damaged. The phone company was not only hit by debris that damaged the building but the switching system was flooded out. And of course TV and cell phones were knocked out because the top of the WTC had been the communications hub for the entire area. I managed to sneak close enough to “the pile” to take a good look. You’ve seen enough photos so I don’t have to describe it. This was no joke, not just something you see on TV. Take my word for it, this was Real Life. A friend of mine gave a course in crisis intervention for health professionals. I took it because I was spending most of my time doing crisis intervention. The weeping postman putting mail in the box of the neighbor he knew had been killed, the weeping supermarket manager, the weeping clerks, the weeping neighbors — somehow my walk down there calmed me and I was the neighborhood comforter. I’d had the guts to face it.

The crisis intervention course I took turned out to be both accurate — and inaccurate. Nobody seems to have realized that a disaster on this scale leaves scars that don’t go away for years afterwards. Yes, that poor policeman who found — or maybe left — that bomb at the Times Square station on Monday, probably does still suffer from PTSD. However, I know enough about PTSD to know that it inspires nightmares and timidity, not the building of bombs. I hope they manage to clear the poor guy.

If there’s anything this city does not need now it’s pipe bombs in the subway system. Remember the anthrax scare? Boil your mail? The fear campaign the Bush administration is conducting is going to bring out the crazies, of course. All these vague “terrorist” threats right before the election. Well, we know how cynically manipulative they can be for the sake of political advantage. These are the same people who insisted the air was safe at the WTC site. Had to keep us suckers working down there, living here, make everything look normal, no matter how many people were going to suffer physical damage for the rest of their lives. Couldn’t risk huge clean-up expenses, or shutting down the stock market, could they?