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September 11th: One Year Later
Tuesday, September 10, 2002

NYC returns to its weird, wonderful ways


Jerry Caruso of Palmyra views ground zero from a visitors platform. He commutes to New York for his job as a computer specialist and participated in recovery efforts as a volunteer firefighter. ALAN GUENTHER/Courier-Post
ALAN GUENTHER/Courier-Post
Jerry Caruso of Palmyra views ground zero from a visitors platform. He commutes to New York for his job as a computer specialist and participated in recovery efforts as a volunteer firefighter.


By ALAN GUENTHER
Courier-Post Staff

So what you wanna know? You come to the World Trade Center, and you want to know how the city has changed. What are you, stupid?

Of course it's different, says Franklin Quinlan, 49, who talks fast as he pulls his long black hair into a sweaty ponytail. Everything is different. But business is good.

Quinlan's card table stands in the hot sun, across the street from where the terrorists struck.

So, what you want? he asks.

Ten bucks gets you a 48-page book about the tragedy in full color. Five bucks buys a glass ball, filled with water and a picture of the old New York skyline. Shake it, and tiny metal stars rain on the Trade Center towers.

"Look!" he says, turning it upside down. "Made in China!"

On good days, he can pocket $500 from tourists who want to take a piece of the tragedy home with them.

For some people like Quinlan, the one-year anniversary of the tragedy is just a chance to make a quick buck.

But for others, like South Jersey businessman Jerry Caruso, it's more complicated. Caruso loves working in the city, and he's an observer of its outrageousness every day. But he still can't push aside painful memories of what he saw first-hand after the terrorists' attack.

A year ago, Caruso saw pieces of burned bodies being stored temporarily in a refrigerator trailer. Today, the trailer is gone. Now there's a viewing platform for tourists, who gape at the ragged empty hole where thousands of people died.

"You struggle for words," says Caruso. "There's a great emptiness now."

Only tourists talk about how the tragedy has transformed the city, says Caruso, who commutes to New York from Palmyra. The people who lived through it, he says, rarely speak about it anymore.

Somehow, he says, New York is drifting back toward its weird and wonderful self. To give up and dwell on the past, he says, would allow the terrorists to win.

Two blocks from ground zero, in an area covered by dust and ashes only 10 months ago, vendors hawk every imaginable product, from computer books to cell phones to a fragrance called "Rude Boy."

Down the steps at the Fulton Street subway station, a young woman in a lavender T-shirt and blue sneakers is crying, surrounded by police. A thief just snatched her purse.

As he rides the subways and tries to make sense of the everyday noise and mayhem, Caruso shrugs. All the outrageous hustling, the random kindness from strangers, the meanness - it's still there.

"Cab drivers still try to run you over when you cross the street," he says.

Healing wounds

And yet, he still comes to the brink of tears as he recalls the tragedy.

A volunteer firefighter, Caruso helped search through the rubble of the World Trade Center in the days after Sept. 11. He was one of hundreds, an army of searchers.

"I was just an ant," he says.

Once, as he dug through the dust and smoking debris, someone gave him a signal. The person rubbed his hands up and down along the front of his chest. The signal meant a body had been discovered. The person was telling Caruso to get a body bag.

He watched as pieces of arms and legs were extracted from the foul, stinking wreckage.

But Caruso also remembers the raw kindness and emotion of the people in the city.

"I was dressed in my firefighters' gear on the subway, and people were just coming up and hugging me," he says.

He lost his wallet.

A few days later, back home in Palmyra, he got a call from a construction worker in Queens who apologized for not contacting him sooner.

The worker had been wandering for three days, searching unsuccessfully for his sister. When Caruso met the worker to retrieve his wallet, they didn't say much.

"We just sort of looked at each other," he says.

And that, for people like Caruso who commute to the city daily, is a bit of what it's like today.

People who work in the city don't discuss the tragedy on a regular basis, he says.

It's only people who weren't there who still "get all starry-eyed about it," Caruso says.

What's changed for him?

Everything.

Caruso, a computer information systems specialist, found a new job. His former ad agency in Manhattan laid off 25 percent of its work force after the tragedy.

But he put his life back together.

Caruso has a mortgage to pay, a wife and three children to support.

"Things have pretty much scabbed over," he says. The war on terror is not an active war, like World War II after Pearl Harbor.

"It's more of a state of mind," he says. He figures he's more likely to win the lottery or be struck by lightning than be hit by a bomb from a terrorist.

Being afraid, being worried - that's playing the terrorists' game, he says.

Moving on

A few blocks away, Bill Mancinelli sits listening to soft jazz music in a Starbucks cafe.

Through the picture window, he can see construction workers jackhammering Wall Street, repairing a water main. The work was scheduled years before the tragedy. The maintenance is routine.

Mancinelli explains, as anyone who works in New York or visits Lower Manhattan would know, that Wall Street is only a small side street in the heart of the financial district. The famous New York Stock Exchange actually faces Broad Street.

Since the tragedy, the front of the stock exchange building has been draped with a huge American flag.

Mancinelli, 46, of Shamong, is a computer software consultant who captured a bit of celebrity in the wake of the attack.

Mancinelli was dressed only in his gym shorts and a tank top when he looked outside his hotel window on the day of the attack. He was staying at the Marriott at 3 World Trade Center.

He looked outside his window and saw huge chunks of falling debris.

He ran to the lobby, barefoot, thinking an earthquake was hitting the city, and he didn't want to be stuck on the ninth floor of his hotel. But he didn't immediately rush outside. He stayed in the lobby for about five minutes, figuring the earthquake would end and he'd be able to go back to his room.

Soon he was running outside, with thousands of others, fleeing the collapsing building. Along the way, someone handed him a pair of sneakers almost three sizes too big. He keeps them as a souvenir.

His story was reported in the days and weeks after the attacks, but he feels he has a responsibility to continue sharing it.

Still, it is, increasingly, a burden. None of his friends in New York talks about it anymore. It's only people he meets in his hometown in South Jersey, who ask the same questions. What was it like? What did you see?

Another tourist site

Today, Mancinelli returns to the scene of the tragedy to see - what?

"It's a construction site," he says.

Indeed, the area of the attack is now an enormous hole, its sides supported by ragged concrete walls. The dirt floor of the hole is worn smooth by dozens of yellow cars. Men tramp around wearing hard hats and holding architect's drawings. Tall towers of stadium lights stand around the edge, illuminating the site for workers and hundreds of tourists who line up, posing for pictures.

Mancinelli has visited the site several times, but his company, JP Morgan Chase, formerly located in Lower Manhattan, moved to Jersey City.

Mancinelli does not know if he'll come back to the trade center site.

"How many times can you come back to see it?" he asks.

He does have one strong opinion, though: "They should rebuild it."

To allow the site to languish as an enormous hole in the ground grants the terrorists a victory, he says.

On a recent summer afternoon, police officers move the crowd along and prevent people from getting too close to the gaping hole.

Japanese tourists take pictures of each other. A couple from New Zealand declines to be interviewed.

Nearby, in the chain-link fence surrounding the site, someone has placed a small wreath with red roses and a tiny American flag. In an earlier thunderstorm, the flag's red stripes ran into the white. The silk roses faded in the harsh weather and hot sun.

Above the roses, a group from Landover, Md., hung a white T-shirt with dozens of hand-scrawled messages.

Right next to a message that reads, "Mike and Sheila were here," there is a more personal note.

"Peace on this space," it says.

People wait patiently to have their pictures taken with the shirt.

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