Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Club Animals and Nate Hill


In a city like New York, there are few things that turn heads. But one man, artist Nate Hill, has become an expert of doing just that. 

Hill’s latest project has him donning a dolphin mascot head and white tuxedo as he delivers $1 bags of "candy crack” — or packs of crushed up sugar cubes colored and flavored with snow-cone syrup — to anyone who calls in an order in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. 

“It’s just the theater of the drug dealer,” Hill said. 

Hill’s project is part of a performance art group called Club Animals, a secret society of mascots formed in early 2009. The group has performed several other acts, including the popular “Free Bouncy Rides,” where Hill, dressed in his dolphin costume, sits on a bench in the subway and offers strangers knee-bouncing rides.

The idea for Club Animals, Hill said, came after he and a friend were visiting an art gallery in Chelsea.

“It was so stuffy and pretentious, and we were joking that wouldn’t it be funny if we were in mascot costumes right now?” he said. “It started from wanting to be absurd in public.” 

Hill, who acts as creative director of Club Animals, classifies his latest work as “regression art.” After he turned 30, he said, he felt the need to “rebel against aging.” 

“I just wanted to start acting extremely young. I wanted to act like a child … but also keep the fun stuff about being an adult,” Hill said, “like being able to do drugs and have sex. That’s why the bouncy rides are somewhat sexual, and candy crack is about drugs.”

Hill said his work has become relatively well-known, thanks in part to the Nonsense NYC list, an e-mail newsletter that alerts subscribers to “weird events, strange happenings, unique parties, and senseless culture in New York City,” its Web site says. 

“I realized there was a thing we could do without even going anywhere,” said one candy junkie, who preferred not to be named. “I thought it was fun to have strange people come to our house.” 

But not everyone is amused. In August, Hill came under fire after the New York Daily News published an article about how his candy crack delivery service angered community activists. 

“I hate anybody who jokes about drugs," Ismael Torres, 75, president of the tenant association at the Borinquen Plaza in Williamsburg, told the Daily News. "I've seen too many cemeteries, too many hospitals, too many funeral parlors. The cops should stop this guy." 

But Hill said he wasn’t fazed by the criticism. 

“Either you get it or you don’t,” he said. “Either it’s funny or it’s not.” 

Hill’s entry into the art world began with “urban taxidermy,” he said, where he would sew together different animal parts to create large-scale pieces of art. Then he founded Club Animals. But what’s next, Hill said, is yet to be determined. 

“I want to be a real artist. ... I want to be transformative. I want to keep changing and reinvent myself … so I can prove to people I’m not just a spectacle,” Hill said. “I think that’s the mark of a real artist — if you have something new to say every year.”

Saturday, October 24, 2009

'Suicide House' slideshow

This is another slideshow produced after our trip to Navajo Nation. Arlene Jasper-Begay and her family have been through a lot. After dealing with several deaths, suicides and suicide attempts, Jasper-Begay and her two daughters feel hopeless. Their home no longer feels like home, and all they want is to get a fresh start.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Slideshow with music

First audio slideshow

This is my most recent, updated and hopefully final version of the audio slideshow I procuded as a result of my recent trip to Navajo Nation. I had only 15 minutes with this woman, Rolanda Tahani, and I had no idea it would wind up being the feature of my slideshow. But I felt her story was so compelling, it deserved a platform. Take a look, and feel free to let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Aventures through Navajo Nation

Friday, 8:39 p.m. EST (7:39 p.m. somewhere over the Midwest)

We’re more than halfway through our first day of travel. We met at the J-school at noon to gather our equipment and meet our Super Shuttle that would take us to Newark Airport.

We arrived at EWR well before we needed to, and passed through security problem-free. Feeling well prepared and ready to get on with our travels, we arrived at the gate to find our flight had been delayed by almost an hour. And with little more than an hour layover in Chicago, we began to worry.

Darragh called the airline to try to make a fallback plan, only to be told that our flight to Albuquerque was the last of the night. After much panic and nail biting, we spoke to a customer service rep who assured us our plane was going to arrive in time to get us on our second flight of the day.

And it did.

(Good bye, New York.  Hello, Navajo Nation!)

We got off our plane at O’Hare and made our way to the gate. We got there with just enough time to grab a quick bite and board the plane. Now we’re flying somewhere over the Midwest en route to our great Navajo adventure.

And if so far our only real dilemma has been the fear of missing a layover flight, then I say we’re in pretty good shape for this exciting journey.

We’re all eager, anxious and impatient. We can’t wait to get there and hit the ground running. I think for most of us, we’re researched out. We’ve all been reading for weeks now about the issues affecting Navajo Nation. We’ve made phone call after phone call, planned out our days as best as we could and tried to prepare for what lies ahead. It will be so refreshing to put faces to these names and to actually see what we’ve been hearing about.

These issues are real, and these people are hurting. Housing, uranium, coal mining. So many factors affect the Navajo, but so few people are even aware. It appears their government looks the other way or claims these issues don’t exist. The federal government has gone decades and decades without reaching out to help the Navajo. And they’re at their wit’s end.

And that’s where we come in. We want to spend a few days with the Navajo people and hear them out. We want to look closely at these critical concerns and get to the bottom of it. Even if the Navajo Nation government doesn’t want us there (which is what we’ve heard), we’re coming and there’s nothing — at this point — that will stop us.

Next stop: Navajo Nation. Stay tuned.

Saturday, 2:00 a.m. MST (Navajoland Inn, St. Michaels, Ariz.)

We've just arrived at our hotel. Our two-hour drive turned into a four-hour drive, and for sleep-deprived grad students who have to wake up in three hours, this is not OK.

Saturday, 11:59 p.m. MST (Quality Inn, Tuba City, Ariz.)

We've had a long, but remarkable first day. Katy and I trekked through the state of Arizona, and we're now at our hotel in Tuba City. I promise to update you on the incredible details as soon as I can.

Sunday, 10:54 p.m. MST (Navajoland Inn, St. Michaels, Ariz.)

We've finished our last day reporting in Navajo Nation. My partner Katy and I traveled with a man named Earl Tulley.

(Earl "The Pearl" Tulley, our wonderful guide.)

We drove more than 450 miles around the state of Arizona and saw some truly remarkable things. I have taken thorough notes about the littlest details that I think speak the most volume. I also have taken more than 900 photos of our travels.

But right now, we've all been instructed to begin working on our individual pieces. For me, I will be producing two audio/photo slideshows: The first is about a woman named Rolanda who has been drinking — and still is drinking — water contaminated with uranium. The second is about a woman who has lost three family members in the last several years, two from suicide. Depression is a serious issue facing Navajo people, and the issues with housing only deepen their pain.

I'm just so awestruck by the beauty of both this place and these people. There is something majestic about the miles and miles ... and miles ... of rocks and canyons and mountains and dirt.

And there's something so profound and humbling about these people.

(Mr. and Mrs. Tso during a gathering of the Forgotten People in Box Spring, Ariz.)

I can't wait to share with you what I've seen on this incredible journey. Although, I must admit, editing 900+ photos isn't exactly the ideal way to spend the next several days.

At any rate, stay posted. And maybe I'll even post a few samples photos for you on Flickr ...

(Good bye, Navajo Nation. Hello, NYC, home sweet home!)


I have arrived home safe and sound. Our plane landed at LGA around 9 p.m. EST Monday. The jet lag was severe, and I felt more drained than I have in a long time. Darren, Katy and I split a cab to the West side, and although we were all exhausted, it was a nice way to end the trip. We reminisced about our favorite moments as if they happened weeks ago, which is really how it felt. We talked about the people we met and the struggles they face; the bond our small group now shared; and how grateful we are to have been chosen to partake in such a journey. It was truly life-changing. 

Day-by-day details: 


Katy and I met our guide, Earl, at 7 a.m. to hit the road. I didn't have any clue where we were going, and I don't think Katy did either. I knew we were going to meet people affected by uranium. That's about the jist of my knowledge.

We drove for a long time. A long, long time. And for the entire time we drove, only a few minutes were spent driving on paved roads. The other, oh, 85% of the time, we were driving on dirt "roads," if you can even call them that. It was bumpy, rocky, jerky — exhilarating. I know Katy had a hard time stomaching the shaky ride, but I kind of felt it was fitting. It summed up our journey from beginning to end.

During the drive, when I was not dozing off after only three hours of sleeping the night before, I was captivated by the surrounding beauty. You can see the images — on TV, movies, in magazines — over and over and over. You can think it will look just like what you've seen before and expect not to be impressed. That was the case with me. But as we wound through the desert, I was completely stunned by what I saw. The colors: the bright blue sky, the warm orange dirt and the brownish-green shrubs. Unbelievable.

So, naturally, I take my camera out to shoot some photos of the scenery during our lengthy drive. I know I probably won't use these shots for much of my work, but when you have 24 gigs of memory, why not?

It was then I realized I underestimated the rocky ride. As I held the camera to my face and viewed the beauty through my viewfinder, I repeatedly was smashed in the face by my own equipment. And if I was not smacked in the face by my camera, I smashed my camera into the the window, or my head into the window. But I did not falter: I continued to take a beating all in the name of art.

I'm glad I did.

What was really great that first day, though, was getting to know our guide, Earl. I had no idea what to expect of him. But quickly he proved to be one of the friendliest, warmest, most knowledgable men I've ever met. He shared with us stories of Navajo culture, facts about the language and even some traditional Indian food: Hopi bread. Hopi bread is blue corn charred over fire. It's this crispy, thin corn rolled into the shape of a burrito. Later in the trip he also had us try dried salted plums. Interesting.

He also knew his way around that land like I couldn't imagine. There were no signs, that I saw. And there weren't really even roads half the time. But he navigated the desert as I'm sure he has hundreds of time before.

Our first stop was in Black Falls, Ariz. near Box Spring, a uranium-contaminated well. There was a gathering at a home there of the Forgotten People, a group of Navajo people who feels no one cares about the issues they face. They were there to speak to Katy and me.

However, many of the them weren't there because they were at a funeral of a man who died from cancer, reportedly caused by uranium. But the ones who were present were unbelievably open to speaking with us and extremely gracious. I couldn't believe how many thanked us for being there. I was just appreciative of their welcoming us into their lives.

I quickly picked up bits of the Navajo culture, such as the way they greet one another. When they approach someone to say hello, they grasp hands, sort of like a handshake, for a few seconds. They say, "Ya'at'ééh," which means "welcome." (FUN FACT: Literally translated, it means "The sun / there is it is" or "The sun / it's still there." The language is very poetic.)

Katy and I sat inside the house for nearly four hours talking to the people about the uranium situation.

The most in attendance at one time was about 25 people packed into the small room, not including the two of us. The majority of the people spoke Navajo, so everything they said had to be translated. And if they spoke for about 10 minutes, the translation was only four or so because of the structure of the language. It was fascinating, but hard to stay focused at times.

At the end of our stay at the house, a woman named Rolanda Tahani came in.

Rolanda is the owner of the house but was just returning from the funeral. As she spoke briefly to us, I knew she was someone I wanted to talk to for my audio slideshow. I had gathered a number of other sound bites, but her story and the way she spoke were elements that made her stand out.

They took us back to Box Spring to see the well and collect a few gallons of water. Rolanda knows the well is poisionous but drinks the water any way because she has no other method of getting clean water. If she wanted clean water, she'd have to drive miles and miles to a big city to buy some, but she doesn't have a working vehicle that can get her there. So she collected her drinking water as I snapped as many photos as I could in just five minutes.

It was a shame that I had very limited time with her before we had to leave. We stayed at the house for longer than planned, and we had other things on our agenda. So my time with Rolanda was short, which made it difficult for me after the fact because I decided to devote one whole piece on just her story. The visuals of her house and her gathering water were great, but I needed more to beef up the incredible audio she provided.

From there, we traveled far and wide, and ended up in Gray Mountain. We looked at a number of houses affected by the Bennett Freeze, a law enacted in 1966 that prohibited people in certain areas from building new components or even making repairs. That meant that if a window got broken, a resident could not legally fix it. And if he did and officials found out, they could issue a fine or even come in with bulldozers and destroy any changes made. Only in May of this year was the ban lifted.

Stay tuned for more details.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Testing CoverItLive

Sunday, October 4, 2009

First video report

This is the first video report produced by me and my classmate Sarah Tung after we attended a protest outside the U.N. during the general assembly Sept. 24.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Article No. 3: Park(ing) Day in the UWS

     Meg McDonnell, teacher at the Lower School, and her
     students from The Calhoun School in the Upper West
     Side attach wishes to a biodegradable balloon and release
     them into the sky.
     "How can your wish help Mother Earth?" McDonnell asked
     her students. Hugo, 5, replied, "I want to world to be clean!"

     For more photos, visit: Flickr

Students snag parking spot to “reclaim the city”


     MANHATTAN — There was an unusual sight at the corner of West 80th Street and Broadway today. In the place of a typical roadside parking space were colorful activities including a bicycle-powered blender, biodegradable balloons, and a loom made from rags and PVC pipe.
     Passersby stopped, scratched their chins and craned their necks to get a better view. But they still weren’t sure what was going on.
     Fortunately, the hosts of the street-side celebration, sixth-grade students from The Calhoun School, were happy to fill in the blanks.
     “It’s Park(ing) Day,” said Clark Vaccaro, 11, the lead student organizer of the event.
     Park(ing) Day, according to the official Park(ing) Day NYC Web site, “is an international event that reclaims parking spots and transforms them into engaging, people-friendly public spaces for one day a year.” This year it fell on Sept. 18.
     Clark was inspired by the international effort, but says he has a different idea of what it means to him and his peers.
     “Some people say we’re reclaiming the city, but I don’t think of it that way,” Clark said. “I say this city is made for people, not cars.  That’s why we’re here.”
     Clark and his father, Steve Vaccaro, are members of Transportation Alternatives, a non-profit organization that describes itself as “an advocate for cycling, walking, and mass transit as the most sensible alternatives to automobile dependency.” T.A. is a partner in the Park(ing) Day phenomenon, which is how Clark found out about this unique idea.
     “The idea’s been around for a while,” Clark said. “I’m just working with the school to bring it here.”
     Throughout the day, teachers from The Calhoun School brought students of all ages to take part in the celebration. And pedestrians on the street even stopped in to listen and learn.
     Beth Krieger, director of communications at The Calhoun School, said she was impressed with Clark’s initiative to make this celebration come together.
     “When students come up with ideas, we try to encourage them and really promote (their ideas),” Krieger said.
     The Calhoun School, according to its Web site, is “a progressive, coeducational, college preparatory school for students in early childhood through twelfth grade.” The Lower School, for children ages three through first grade, is at 160 W. 74th St. The main location is at 433 West End Ave.
     “At Calhoun, we promote social activism, which is very much a part of the school’s mission,” Krieger said. “We want to teach kids to be citizens now rather than later.”
     The activities at the celebration were designed to be both fun and environmentally focused. There was a bicycle-powered blender that made smoothies from ice, fruit and yogurt; a loom in which students used rags to weave a colorful tapestry; and biodegradable balloons attached with environmental wishes attendees released.
     And the students had a blast soaking up the fun and the meaning behind it.
     Fourth-grader Lindsay Jackman, 9, donned a colorful “Go Green” T-shirt for the special day.
     “It’s really great to have an environmentally happy day,” Lindsay chirped. “I like the smoothie the best because you get a hard workout and then you get to enjoy what you made.”
     Lucas Rogers, 11, is Clark’s classmate who helped him organize the event. Even though he hopes everyone had fun, he says the message behind it all is even more important.
     “We have to care about the earth,” Lucas said.  “Most of all, I hope (attendees) realize the importance of going green and environmental protection.”
     Steve Nelson is the head of school at Calhoun and said the Park(ing) Day event is the kind of thing they encourage their students to do, in and out of the classroom.
     “We ought to think abut how we affect the world,” Nelson said. “They have to think about what it means to be citizens.”
     Lisa Freedman, Clark’s mother, described the day as more than just a family and school-wide project. She said it was also an effort in community outreach.
     “It’s a great teaching tool for the younger kids, but it’s a chance for the older kids to share ideas with the adults around them, too,” Freedman said. “It’s hard, though. Especially because strangers don’t even talk to each other in New York.”
     But Clark and his peers didn’t seem to have any trouble in that department. They handed out pamphlets and smoothies, and chatted up everyone who walked by.
     “This is something people of all ages can enjoy,” Clark said. “I just hope it gives everyone a great sense of enjoyment and togetherness.”
     For more information, visit www.parkingdaynyc.org.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

... and this is just the first week

         Residents of the Upper East Side gather in Ruppert Park to protest on    
         Sept. 12, 2009. On the right side of the photo you can see me in action,
         in the midst of absorbing my surroundings and scribbling down
         nearly illegible notes for my story (below). Photo courtesy of Geoffrey
         Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates.

Talk about jumping right in. It's hard to believe it was just a week ago today that my journey as a graduate journalism student began.

As I left the classroom after our 6-hour-long class (I wasn't aware classes this long existed, though, I must note, it was a pretty good first meeting), I had so many ideas and considerations darting around in my mind. I was primarily focused on the first two assignments I had been given. The first was relatively focused: Attend the Sept. 11 memorial ceremony in Lower Manhattan, and come back with a story. OK, so maybe the directions were a bit less than specific, but at least I had a framework in which to work. The second was as broad as I could imagine: Some time in the following week, find some event taking place by way of the AP Daybook (an online database where short press releases of happenings in and around New York City are posted) and cover it.

Hm. OK, I thought.

The first assignment I got around to was the 9/11 memorial. The experience was simultaneously exactly and nothing at all like I expected. What I mean is that this particular Sept. 11 happened to fall on one of the worst weather days in New York that I had yet experienced. Of course my first day reporting wouldn't be like the rest of the sunny, mild days I had experienced weeks prior. Instead, it was pouring down rain, windy and about 15 to 20 degrees colder. It was the kind of thing journalists must always be prepared for — the completely unexpected. This is something I've learned over the years, but somehow it's just not the same in New York.

I arrived at Zuccotti Park, adjacent to Ground Zero, where the annual ceremony was taking place. It was complete chaos. All around me were people shoving through the dense crowd, trying to get to work. Meanwhile, there were dozens of people lining the streets, congesting sidewalk traffic. No one knew whether there was a press check-in or how to control the crowd. I have never before seen such a mix of raw emotions: There were people mourning while others were screaming at cops for not taking care of such a disorganized mess. There were others in awe of the madness, as some passersby didn't even register what was going on around them.

Eventually, the chaos died down, and that's when I was able to speak to those lining the sidewalk, craning their necks in hopes of seeing or hearing some of the ceremony as buses and taxis zipped by, blocking the view and drowning out the noise of the speakers. But what was incredible to me was that no one seemed to mind the inconvenience of the weather or the location.

I spoke to about 10 people outside that day — a man who had witnessed the events of Sept. 11, 2001; a man in the Army who heard about it overseas; a woman who flew from Australia to New York just to pay her respects; a man who worked on a History Channel documentary about 9/11; a woman who was working at a call center whose customer first alerted her of the attacks. So many different people with such varying perspectives.

Standing out there that day, I truly had no idea how I would take all of what I saw and heard and shape it into a story with some common focus. I came home and transcribed my notes and just let what I witnessed sink in. I reflected on each person's emotion as well as their words, and eventually I felt there was a cohesive theme I could pull from my reporting. It took me a short while to actually write the article, but it was the reflection and the contemplation that consumed the better part of the day.

What a way to start — reporting New York in its most vulnerable state.

The next day is when I embarked on my second assignment. For this, I chose to write about a protest being held at an Upper East Side park. Apparently, a private company owns the land and wants to demolish the open space and build a 40-story building in its place. Residents, some of whom have lived there since the early '70s, are furious about this. The way I saw it, you really can't go wrong with a protest. People will want to speak to me; photo ops will be aplenty; and activism — and New York City parks — is something that evokes a lot of passion, especially in New Yorkers.

I showed up and was immediately a little surprised. I'm not sure what I had in mind, but what stood before me wasn't exactly it. What I walked into was a rally, where elected officials, group organizers and residents of all ages — and I mean all — were banned together to express their deep concerns.

State assemblymen stood atop benches, speaking out against development, while 10-year-old children marched around, waving their handmade protest signs. They had face-painting tables next to petition tables across from send-your-mayor-a-tennis-ball-and-message tables. It was like nothing I'd ever imagined, and certainly something you couldn't make up.

I made it a point to speak to as many diverse people as possible. I spoke to a 10-year-old and a 79-year-old. And again it took me aback to hear the stories these people told. So many of them had been there when this place became a park; they assisted in the clean-up efforts that transformed it into one of the area's only open outdoor spaces.

And, what was even more peculiar, I thought, was that in the entire city, this particular neighborhood had the least amount of parks and open areas. In the entire city. And this developer wanted to knock it all down and build a high-rise, despite the obvious and outspoken objection of what appeared to be the entire neighborhood. No wonder these people were upset.

But the whole time I was there, I witnessed very little anger or animosity. These residents might have been mad, but they chose not to express it that way. Instead, they gathered to exercise their First Amendment rights, and reach out to executives and officials in creative and productive ways. It was a phenomenal sight, especially considering all of the children present — what a positive and inspiring example they set.

I could go on about these two experiences, but I know I have to move on and look forward. Because if I was able to report on these two incredible events in just the first week, I can only imagine what else is in store for me.

Oh, New York ...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Article No. 2: Protest in the UES

Alex Kaplan, 10, of Yorkville, holds his homemade sign in front of Ruppert Park on
Sept. 12, 2009. Alex says it would be a shame if he couldn't come to play at the only
park close to his home.

For more photos, visit: Flickr

UES residents band together to save their park


     MANHATTAN — Dozens of Upper East Side residents want their voices heard. And for at least a few hours Saturday afternoon, they were — loud and clear.
     “Save our park! Stop Related!” they shouted in unison.
     Residents of Yorkville, a neighborhood in the Upper East Side, gathered at Ruppert Playground on East 92nd Street between Second and Third avenues on Sept. 12. Their purpose?
     “We’re here to preserve our park and stop it from being developed,” said Oscar Fernandez, 34, lead organizer of the Save Ruppert Playground and resident of Ruppert Housing, a 42-story apartment building adjacent to the park.
     The signs, banners and chants were an effort to get the attention of city officials.
     “We would like the city to negotiate a deal to get the land back. They sold it to a private company, and that was a very bad deal for taxpayers,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates and long-time UES resident.
     The Department of Housing Preservation and Development sold the approximately 1-acre property to developer Related Cos. in 1983. The agreement required Related to maintain the park for at least 25 years, but the deal expired in June 2008.
     Earlier this year, residents began to worry about the fate of their beloved park when they heard rumors Related planned to turn the area into a 40-story building. And, according to residents, that’s the last thing their neighborhood needs.
     Andrew Zador, 79, has lived in Yorkville for 30 years, and he said building another high-rise would be “terrible” and would “turn the city into a jungle.”
     And Croft, of NYC Park Advocates, agrees.
     “This community has the least amount of parks and open space in the entire city,” Croft said. “(Ruppert Playground) is an important part of our community. It has tremendous meaning to us all.”
     But since April, Croft said they have made some headway. Certain elected officials have heard their calls for help. In fact, a few were present at Saturday’s protest. Among them were City Councilman Daniel Gardonick, and State Assemblymen Jonathan Bing and Micah Kellner.
     During the rally that kicked off the event, each official had a chance to address the residents.
     Councilman Gardonick was first.
     “We need to make sure this neighborhood, which is starved for playgrounds, doesn’t lose this critical gem,” he shouted, his fist raised in the air.
     State Assemblyman Jonathan Bing chimed in, too.
     “The mayor (Michael Bloomberg) wants his legacy to be preservation. Well, this is where his mark will be made,” Bing said. “You need to ask (elected officials) what they are doing to preserve Ruppert Playground. If their answer is not good enough, don’t vote for them!”
     Fernandez, lead organizer of Save Ruppert Playground, said the next step is to continue reaching out to city officials in hopes that negotiations will be made. One of their creative approaches allows concerned citizens to send tennis balls with attached notes to Mayor Bloomberg and executives at Related.
     So far, volunteers said, they have sent about 200 tennis balls and messages, asking officials to take action.
     In the last 30 years, Ruppert Park has seen the likes of many different games: tennis, basketball, handball, hopscotch. It’s been a place for residents of all ages to enjoy.
     But now, in the midst of plans that would demolish the park and perhaps the community, some fear, it comes down to one final game.
     “Now it’s just a waiting game,” Croft said. “We’ll have to wait to see their next move.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

Article No. 1: Sept. 11 ceremony in NYC

     An NYPD officer patrols the street in front of Zuccotti Park for the
     Sept. 11 memorial service in Lower Manhattan.

    For more photos, visit: Flickr
Ceremony onlookers vow ‘never to forget’


     MANHATTAN — Emmett Newton was driving his car in Lower Manhattan when he noticed smoke billowing into the sky. When he glanced over, he saw the two 110-story towers of the World Trade Center engulfed by flames.
     He sat and stared in disbelief until the first tower began to tumble down. 
     “I saw a flash and heard a rumble,” he said, looking over to where the buildings used to stand. “I was horrified.”
     Eight years later, Newton, 49, of Newark, N.J., was one of hundreds lining the street across from Zuccotti Park to witness the 9/11 memorial ceremony.
     The space within the park was reserved for family members of the deceased and volunteers.  Anyone without special credentials had to brave the wind and rain while standing along a crowded street a block away from the park.
     But most didn’t seem to mind.
     “Yeah, the weather’s kind of messy, but we’re still here,” Newton said.
     Douglas Bruce, 59, is new to New York, but he said coming together with the rest of the city was something he couldn’t pass up.
     “The fact that New Yorkers would come out today in the freezing rain and wind is remarkable,” Bruce said. “I think it really says something about the strength of community.”
     Bruce was teaching a class at University of Texas when he first heard the news eight years ago. And even from across the country, Bruce said he felt that same sense of community.
     “I remember having an overriding feeling, just wishing there was something I could physically do to help. I mean, we could send money and prayers, but the hardest part was not being able to do something,” he said.
     Bruce said his urge to give back persisted for years after the tragic event, so much that he was compelled to work on a documentary for the History Channel, “Countdown to Ground Zero.”
     “Working on that film gave me a real and deep connection to this day, to these people,” he said.
     Andrea Hall, 41, of Newark, N.J., recalls most vividly the connection she felt to her neighbors.
     “It was the one day everybody in the world was unified. Strangers were embracing each other. There was prayer in schools,” she said. “It was incredible, but it’s a shame it took tragedy to bring us all together.”
     And even though unity is one thing some remember most, it’s the tragedy of it all that most others still can’t shake.
     “It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I can still see it,” Newton said. “I remember watching people jump out of the windows because they didn’t want to burn alive. I saw the firefighters watering down the streets then running into buildings — they all died.”
     Tanya Guymer, 47, of Australia, flew to New York just for Sept. 11 to “see and feel what all Americans are feeling.” The anguish is still fresh in her memory, she said.
     “The day it happened, people even in Australia were devastated. Everyone stopped going to work and just watched the TV,” Guymer said, shaking her head. “My birthday was only a few days away … but I don’t celebrate it anymore. It’s too sad.”
     But despite the sadness, there are some things we have to keep in mind, Guymer said.
     “It’s tragedy like this that makes everyone stronger. We all pull together,” she said. “It goes to show, we’re all on this earth together; it doesn’t matter what country you come from.”
     “Yes, we live in a world where people do cruel, unspeakable things,” Bruce said. “But there were a lot of lessons learned, lessons that should not be forgotten so quickly — not five, eight, ten, twenty years later.”
     And for most, that won’t be a problem.
     “(Today) is a day to remember. Remember the people. Remember our strength,” Newton said. “Remember never to forget.”

   — Rachel Wise, Pavement Pieces