Via UBS' Art Cashin,
A Few Personal Comments – A few years back the "New Yorker" magazine ran a whimsical cover showing how “egotistical” New Yorkers might conceive a map of the United States. Satirically it depicted the nation, with three-quarters of its focus on the island of Manhattan. Ironically, after the atrocity on September 11th, the nation’s heart, its concern, its generosity is disproportionately focused on New York in almost the same manner.
Similarly, in each of our lives, the picture we view of the world around us would surely have had us as the dominant feature of the canvas. Yet after the tragedy of that Tuesday, with its image of victims and heroes, of smoke and tears; none of us shall see ourselves so large again. There will be room in that picture for others – many others.
Valuing language and the words that give it shape, meaning and impact, I have always been fascinated by that special group who once wrote for the aforementioned "New Yorker" – James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woolcott and E.B. White and others. In simpler times (how foolish! Almost any time was simpler, safer, more secure)...let me start again.....my love for the writers that Harold Ross brought to the Golden Age of the New Yorker (and thus to the legendary "Algonquin Table") was to the comedic/satiric group. The events of 9-11 led me back to E.B. White.
He was terrific, but given my satiric leaning I only loved or, at least remember three things about White – his marvelous book on writing style, his caption for a legendary New Yorker cartoon in which an obstinate kid, responding to his mom's explanation that what's on his plate is "broccoli, dear" says – "I say it's spinach and I say – the hell with it!", and – of course – his short story called "The Hour of Letdown" in which a computer built to play chess against a human, stops after the event to have a drink. (I'm not sure why I love that story.)
Nonetheless, the atrocity on September 11th recalled another E.B. White essay. It was (I recall) written over 50 years ago, back when the UN was moving into Manhattan from its early life in "Lake Success" on Long Island.
Much of White's essay, written over a half century ago is filled with meaning and moment this day. It has recently been republished as "Here is New York", if you care to see more. Here are some of the things that bridge generations:
"The subtlest change in New York is something people don't much speak about that is in everyone's mind. The city, for the first time in its long history is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now; in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition."
"All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm."
"....New York is not a capital city – it is not a national capital or a state capital. But it is by way of becoming the capital of the world...."
"....Once again the city will absorb, almost without showing any sign of it, a congress of visitors. It has already shown itself capable of stashing away the United Nations – a great many of the delegates have been around town during the past couple of years..."
"This race – the race between the destroying planes and the struggling Parliament of Man – it sticks in all our heads." "The city at last perfectly illustrates both the universal dilemma and the general solution, this riddle in steel and stone that is at once the perfect target and the perfect demonstration of nonviolence, of racial brotherhood, this lofty target, scraping the skies and meeting the destroying planes halfway, home of all people and all nations. Capital of everything, housing those deliberations by which the planes were to be stayed and their errand forestalled."
Thank you, Mr. White! (Mr. White earlier in the essay noted that New York and New Yorkers – and all Americans – do good, do what they do, and have traditionally defied logic and their enemies by not only surviving but actually thriving. And all that was true even a half century ago.)
A More Personal Thought – Many of us got out that Tuesday walking through streets onto which ash, smoke and business envelopes fell snow-like, blocking both your view and your breathing. Yet when a stranger was met, they were invited to join the convoy and offered a spare wet cloth (carried in pockets) through which to breath as they walked. When we reached the East River (Brooklyn side of Manhattan), there was a volunteer group of tugboats, fishing boats and mini-ferries that looked like the evacuation of Dunkirk. No charge. No money. Just – "May I help you!" No one got anyone's name. No thank you cards will be sent. But Americans – even New York Americans – who freely give to strangers but argue with neighbors were suddenly one group.
In the days since, as we wander via new strange ways back to Wall Street, we all internalize the survivor’s quandary. We are lucky to be alive – but why us.
As I noted on TV – none of us headed back to re-open the markets with relish or avarice. The President, the Governor, the Mayor and all officials asked that the markets re-open to provide a means for the economy to work – to unclog an artery.
Day after day, traders, clerks and the thousands of folks who support them walked to work. No spring in their step. Resolute to do their job, they are civil but somber. As they pass checkpoints, they say "thank you" to the policemen, firemen, and National Guardsmen who may have lost brothers saving us and some of our friends.
Ironically, the only smiles you see in Wall Street are on the photocopied photos of the missing that family and friends have taped to walls, mailboxes and lampposts. It may take a long time for smiles to naturally return to Wall Street. It may take a long while to find those criminals who took our smiles and our friends. But, we will have patience.
As our President said – "We will not tire. We will not falter. We will not fail!"