Sep 8, 200602:31 PMThe Life
The Day The Planes Stopped Flying
Sep 8, 2006 - 02:31 PM"Some folks like to get away
Take a holiday from the neighborhood
Hop a flight to Miami Beach
Or to Hollywood..."
--Billy Joel, "New York State Of Mind"
Surely you remember that crazy Frenchman. What was his name? Phillipe something? He started bringing up his equipment a couple of days beforehand, slipping everything past the Twin Tower guards in a rucksack. By the eve of his big performance, he'd stashed a sizable pile under the open-air tourist platform. He hid there until after everyone had gone home that night; then his crossbow landed a grappling hook on the other building's edge. Was the attached nylon rope secure enough? Would it hold his weight, while he dangled upside-down in the midnight winds blowing up from Battery Park? He risked everything in the darkness for a half-hour in the next day's limelight. Shimmying across the quarter-mile distance at a height of 110 stories, he made several trips during the next few hours, trying to secure a heavy cable. By dawn, everything was ready.
But he was exhausted. Not the best condition for a tightrope artist.
And yet he managed to wire-walk his way into history, from one building to the other.
How about that mountain climber who scaled the outside of one tower during a nail-biting afternoon? By rush hour, every news crew in the city had a camera focused on him.
Then came the parachutists... or maybe there was only one. I can't quite remember.
However, I do recall my much-less-dramatic visit to the top. On that perfect September day, Lady Liberty seemed like a child's toy: so close, you could almost pick her up with casually-outstretched fingers. In the other hand, you might grab onto the huge bridge spanning Verrazano's narrows.
I remembered starting my first marathon over there, on Staten Island, ten years earlier. It was an easy sprint into Brooklyn, but by the time we jogged through Queens, I was hurtin' for certain. Later, the Bronx became a cruel hallucination of pain, and my legs seized up in Manhattan. There's a half-repressed memory of lying flat on the pavement, beating my fists in frustration against a cramped thigh, while some Harlem kids laughed at the foolish white boy in their gutter. Somehow that white boy got up a few minutes later, finding a way to float just above his suffering body while it half-ran, half-limped across the finish line in Central Park.
And that's why the September day was so perfect, one decade later--I took enormous pleasure in surveying the five boroughs, from horizon to horizon, at the top of those magnificent buildings. They allowed me to daydream about the vast domain I had conquered, when I was young and foolish.
Damn, that was a great view.
[first publication: 9/12/2001]