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Tag Archives: new york

fifteen

Lunch break in the financial district, New York, NY 2 May 2013

Lunch break in the financial district, New York, NY 2 May 2013

 

I bought my first digital camera in October of 2001. And the photographs I have of New York before then are pretty scarce–film cost money, after all. So most of the day-to-day life that I remember of the city live only in my memory. With every trip back, I keep trying to find remnants of that past and photograph them, in perhaps an act of preservation, or even resurrection.

All I usually end up with, however, is evidence of how much the city has changed, and while this evidence of the ever-changing urban landscape would otherwise mean that I could never want for things to photograph, I leave the city feeling even more distant from the New York I remember.

The essence of life in the city has not changed, however, and even though the backdrop may change, with the landmarks I remember long disappeared and new exteriors in their place, I think I’ve managed to find examples of it and capture it.

I used to work summers in the financial district. A few of my classmates did, too, and every so often we’d get together during lunch breaks and find somewhere outside to sit, eat, and chat. We were surrounded by the thousands of other workers doing the same thing. Any place that can be sat on, will be sat on, turned into an ad hoc meal table. It’s something I think is quintessentially New York, made unique by the sheer density of humanity that’s found on a summer day anywhere in Manhattan. Sometimes, we sat in the plaza of the World Trade Center for our lunches. A perfectly common activity, unworthy of saving it on film.

It’s okay that I don’t have photographs specifically of those moments. The memories, the feelings they evoke, are the key. But I’ll continue trying to save proxies for those memories, for their potential to trigger those memories. I guess you could say that’s just my motivation in general, why I photograph what I do.

Fifteen years ago, I was studying in New York to be an engineer. Were I any other place, were the Towers not to come down, maybe today I’d be doing just that. But because I was so close to tragedy and could do nothing to help, could not help with communications despite having become a licensed amateur radio operator for just that reason, last night, on my last night float shift for the month, I was directing resuscitation for a young patient in shock and close to dying.

I do miss engineering. But this… this is a privilege. The sum total of my four years in New York helped steer me here, shaped who I am, and for that I don’t need a photograph to remind me.

the unwritten personal statement

It was nearing the end of our shift in the mobile medical van. “It’s doubtful anyone will show up towards nine,” Geoffrey said, “but you never know what’ll happen.”

On a sunny Tuesday morning in September, I sat in my studio apartment in Queens and, on a thirteen-inch television screen, watched the two tallest buildings in New York fall, while friends only a few miles away watched in real life. Definitely didn’t know that would happen.

I nodded. “Gotta be prepared.”

I became a licensed amateur radio operator when I was younger to be able to help with communications in emergencies. There was a call for hams to help with the rescue effort at Ground Zero. Only my radio was at home in Chicago. Not ready to help at all.

The bridges and tunnels were shut down. I went to a blood center on Long Island and found a line many blocks long. A man asked to borrow my cell phone so he could call his family. At least I could do that.

Sadly, it turns out, even those in a position to assist were powerless. Doctors, nurses, everyone at area hospitals readied themselves for the worst, waiting for victims that were already beyond saving.

But looking at what they could have done, if they had the chance–I want to be there, too.

two years late

Tragedy, I think, tends to whitewash the canvas of our memories, leaving only itself in its wake. The fun times I had in New York are hard to remember through the filter of September 11. My memories of a dear friend of mine from those days are discolored by the time I spent in earnest with him during his final days in the hospital. I promised myself I would write a remembrance of him, as so many did when he passed, but I was never sure what to write. Two years later, motivated by an excellent memorial penned by another good friend of his, despite the piles of studying awaiting me once I finish this post, I figured I should just sit down and recover what was lost before another year goes by.

(Continued)

ten

Some things you don’t forget.

“Did you have classes on September 11?”

“Yup.”

“When were you supposed to be in at school?”

“I wanted to be there at 12:00.”

“What day was September 11?”

“Tuesday.”

“Did they cancel classes?”

“Eventually.”

 

Some things you can’t remember.

I can’t remember if I tried to call any of my friends to see if they were okay.

I can’t remember if I tried to call anyone, for that matter.

I can’t remember who called me or tried to call me.

I can’t remember whether anyone who tried to call would have been able to reach me, anyway.

I can’t remember when I finally turned off the TV.

I can’t remember when they let us back below 14th Street.

I can’t remember when I finally let myself go below Houston Street.

 

Some things you wish were not even a dream.

nine

Dammit, don’t wonder why we called.

We love, and then we were afraid we lost.

Scott Swanson, 11 September 2002.

(Continued)

everybody has to be someplace

(9/365)

On an expedition through the old neighborhood after Mass with Mom and Dad, I tried to resist going into Unabridged Bookstore, thinking of the books on my shelves that have sat, neglected; but I failed, driven perhaps by nostalgia for days past in New York spent browsing the many miles of books at The Strand.

Inside, the simple cover of No One Belongs Here More Than You beckoned me closer, testified to by a staff member’s positive, handwritten review posted on the shelf. The title, too, held a promise all its own, hinting that within its pages might be found a resolution to, or at least some brief sanctuary from, my own unshakable feeling of I Belong Somewhere Else: when I lived in New York; I belonged in Chicago; in Pittsburgh, I belonged in New York; and now, in Wisconsin, I belong… anywhere else.

Six years is a long time to be someplace you don’t belong. But–and I’m reminded of a performance of one-acts I did in college–everybody has to be someplace.

it wasn’t always love.

[As I troll through my digital archives, piecing together memories of Scott for a brain that often fails to remember the more mundane details of life (it’s those details that I think not only help provide context to what actually does matter, but also trigger memories that might be otherwise buried unreachable in my subconscious), I find things that I think are worth remembering. I hope no one minds me sharing them.]

If you asked me nowadays, I would tell you that, despite the tragedy of a certain day, I wouldn’t trade my college years in New York for anything. If nothing else, they clarified my love of the city (a term which, by the way, can only refer to one place) and left me with many fond memories–of people, places, and things, and a siren-like call to return.

(Continued)