I awoke relatively early on the morning of September 11th, 2001 – (being
that I was working as a nightclub security manager at the time to
supplement my inconsistent film production career, I normally finished work at 5:30 in the morning, and most times hung around for drinks and
bullshit to wind down with a contingent of remaining staff, friends of
staff, and the club owners, and more often than not, a celebrity or two who
I will allow to remain anonymous) – But, I was off the night before.
It was around 7:45AM and I didn’t turn on the television. Instead, I signed
on to my AOL account to check my e-mail. I was living with a friend at
the time at the Symphony Tower on 62nd Street between Broadway and
Columbus directly across from Lincoln Center. I was surfing the web for a
little less than an hour when my cell phone rang. It was my brother Mike
calling from Connecticut.
There was always a mixture of anxiety and pleasure
for me when Mike called. Pleasure to hear from my brother who
didn’t call that often, anxiety because our Dad was getting on into his
late Seventies and he was the best man I’ve ever known. This time, the
anxiety was startlingly apparent in my brother’s voice. He said without
greeting: “John…do you know what’s going on down there?” I said I
didn’t. I told him that I woke up early because I hadn’t worked the night
previous and was on the Internet checking mail and downloading music
from a rip-off site. That’s when he told what had occurred moments
before, and nobody in the media knew what the hell was happening and why yet.
I told him to stay on the phone with me while I went into the living
room and turned on the television. I switched it on and immediately was
struck with the insane sound and images that will forever haunt me and
millions of others for the remainder of our lives. As I watched, the
second plane slammed into the tower and exploded into orange and black
oblivion. I know I yelled at that moment. I think it was something
like “holy shit!…Oh my fucking God!!!”
Initially my brother and I didn’t speculate as to why the first plane had hit the tower; now the word “terrorists” was what one or both of us spoke without doubt.
I also can’t quite remember which of us decided to break off the call, but I know I told Mike I had to wake up my roommate, Wendy. I told him I’d call him back in awhile when I knew more about what was happening. It wasn’t lost on me that cell phone service in the Northeast may be severely disrupted due to the massive damage to the towers, not to mention television and radio transmissions as well. Regardless, I told him I’d call
It happened quickly and disturbingly quietly; the rise of adrenaline and horror simultaneously within me. I began hammering on Wendy’s bedroom door, which was right off of the living room. I was yelling because she slept like a mummy in a tomb. I was yelling: “Wendy!!” After a couple of minutes of that, she came flying out of her room ripped out of sleep and into a panic. I pointed to the television and said to her: “Terrorists just flew two commercial airliners into the World Trade Center”. Following a brief moment of disbelief and suspended animation, she began to shake and cry. We watched in silent despair for what seemed like forever.
I didn’t need to wait for Wolf Blitzer to tell me we were a country under attack. I didn’t need to hear it from the President, either. I knew we were at war, and nothing was ever going to be the same ever again. I knew like I knew that the sun had risen in the East that morning that in those few, horrible moments, the world as we know it had changed forever. I also knew I had to do something.
I could no sooner hold my hand against the surface of a searing frying pan
than stay in that apartment and watch all this on the fucking
television. God help all the brave and self-less civil servants, but I sensed
that the only way we were all going to get through this was if
ordinary people – the citizens – responded to fill the short-fall of
elements required to support this unprecedented and incomprehensible
As I began to dress for the long walk downtown, my cell phone
again began to ring. I saw from the caller I.D. that it was my best and
oldest friend, Stacy O’Dell on the line. I answered it. He began telling
me what I already knew, so I stopped him. I wanted to tell him what I
was preparing to do. That’s when he asked if I would do something for
him; his wife, and my friend as well, Allison O’Dell, worked for a major
International law firm near Grand Central Terminal. Stacy was far uptown
at his apartment on 116th street, and there was no way he could get to
Allison in a timely fashion as the subways and buses had already been
shut down. He wanted me to try and find out if everything was okay
around Grand Central, and maybe try to find Allison as I made my way downtown.
I told him I’d do what ever I could, but I didn’t think I’d be able to locate anyone in particular among the inevitable chaos that I was sure to find there. I told him I’d try and call him if it was still possible after I reached 42nd Street and Madison Avenue. The cell phone network was quickly becoming overloaded already. I rushed him off of the phone. I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to get out of the apartment and witness the day with my own eyes. I had to try and find a way to help; to do something; anything before I lost my mind.
Wendy was a mess.
She was still shaking and sobbing when I told her I was going down
there. She hugged me and told me to be careful. I told her I would try to
call later if it was still possible. I slipped my boots on – I knew I’d
need boots, not soft-soled sneakers – and went out the door and to the elevator.
Twenty-Two stories later I walked out into a city in a state of pandemonium and disbelief. People were running everywhere. Traffic in Columbus Circle was at a standstill. Here the true surrealism begins.
I managed to make my way quite quickly to the Grand Central area.
Maybe it seemed quick because of everything my mind was trying to
process at once. This place looked like the city I’d lived in for 14 years,
but it was a different version from another dimension. I canvassed the
locale around Allison’s office building. I asked a few questions: “Are
the Metro-North trains still running?” They were at that time. “Is there any new news?” There was nothing new but a lot of confusion. Thousands were streaming away on foot. Most heading North, either to their homes, or just naturally away from the now shockingly apparent broiling, smoking WTC towers, vividly visible looking South on Fifth Avenue. I tried to reach Stacy with my cell phone. I got an automated message informing me that I would not be able to make a call at this time. No surprise there. I can’t remember if I actually felt the ground shake, which it must certainly have, or was just blown over by the shock-wave of human communication as the word spread like a tsunami that the first tower had just collapsed. I didn’t see it happen. I looked down there. Great billowing clouds of choking gray dust, eerily reminiscent of the pyroclastic flow belched from erupting volcanoes, bloomed upward and outward, skirting the black plumes drifting high towards the Southeast. Shrouding what remained of the downtown skyline. People were screaming. People were crying. People were livid with anger. People were running.
I was in a kind of haze. I looked for awhile, then I didn’t look for awhile. I watched everything and nothing. For how long did I watch? I’m not sure. All of a sudden I realize I’m walking quickly down the center of Fifth Avenue toward what we now call Ground Zero. Except for one last wailing ambulance hurtling downtown, there were no cars, or any other vehicles moving on the thoroughfare. People were running north. I was reminded immediately of Hollywood blockbuster disaster films like “The Day After Tomorrow”, and thought how reality had just surpassed fantasy like a long-shot racehorse outpacing the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. No Hollywood scribe had imagined this one. I was not comforted by the thought. King Kong was up there looking down upon us. Pompeii was erupting.
After sometime, it couldn’t have been long, I found myself in front of the Fifth Avenue entrance to the Empire State Building – the majestic survivor of previous aircraft collisions. I stopped and stretched my neck to look upward. I unknowingly was already searching the skies for more jetliners; not just looking at the old and glorious premier skyscraper of civilized modernity. What I did find, with a sound that proved to be one of the most haunting of recurring flashes for long afterwards, were the F-15 fighters now circling the Island of Manhattan. A constant that was audible to me in my waking, and in my dreams, for months after they had gone.
I snapped out of my thoughts as the symphony of rumbles and
screams began again. This time I looked, and I saw. And, I felt the very
firmament of the invincible city tremble. The second tower fell within a vacuum of profound sadness that has yet to be refilled with hope and reason.
Much more happened after this for me. I volunteered down there that
day, and days to come for months beyond. I saw the horrors.
I saw the most beautiful strength of good people as well. I have a lot more to tell, but this will have to do for now. Maybe next year I’ll tell more.
If then, anybody still really cares to hear.
-John Michael Sudol
Los Angeles, California, USA
September 11th, 2006
It’s been nearly six years since that beautiful Tuesday of all Tuesday mornings. It really was a gorgeous deeply blue-skied morning; until of course, the events that are now forever burnt into the pulverized concrete of American and world history, commenced without warning from within our own assumed sanctuary of invulnerable power and protection. And, that failed assumption is exactly the point I arrive at now – none of the explanations make any practical sense – even for radically irrational terror-focused minds. Of the endless list of inconsistent physical “facts” and political motivations, I only needed to ask myself one question: If those who would do this thing had planned so carefully, and whose intention it was to kill as many innocent people as possible in New York that morning, then why didn’t they hijack the aircraft at 10:30 am or later and kill 100,000 people or more? I don’t have an answer to that particular question at this time. But everything I know tells me that the answers we have been given are light-years from the actual truth. If you start there at that question and keep asking more questions of yourself, you just may find yourself wanting to ask some serious questions of those who really had the most to gain from this most cowardly and diabolical of all modern mass-murders. Start thinking for yourselves and ask all the questions you want until you get the truth. You can never destroy the truth. You can only bury it. Whether it’s beneath tons of concrete and steel and the remains of your own families, or beneath the blind power of tons of money and lies, the truth still exists for us to uncover it if we really want to.
A First-Hand Account of the Events Occurring In New York City on 11 September, 2001, and a Timely Retrospective Message to All