Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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1138 words
SHJ Issue 10
Fall 2014


by Lisa del Rosso

I love Scotch whisky. I love it on the rocks in a heavy crystal glass. I love it when my friend Isobel comes to visit from Edinburgh and smuggles a fine bottle of the stuff in her suitcase—Royal Lochnagar, The Glenlivet. (And when I go to Edinburgh, the role of smuggler changes.) In fifteen years, I have never been out of Scotch. She is welcome in my home anytime.

A Scotch is what you will need after visiting the 9/11 Museum (or pick your own poison). That is exactly what I needed and how I wound up at Bill’s Bar & Burger afterwards, with a Glenmorangie in my hand, talking with Steven the bartender.

Sidebar: I chose June 9th, my birthday, to visit the 9/11 Museum. If nothing else, this fact encouraged Steven to provide me with free shots.

I don’t particularly like that there is a 9/11 museum, but I do accept the fact that it has to exist; this after a freshman student said that watching footage of the planes flying into the Twin Towers was “like the movies.” This museum, sunken below the footprints of the World Trade Center, may actually change that line of thinking.

Never in my life have I been more grateful for film, for tape, for video, for all manner of recording devices, than I was when I visited the museum. There were thousands of MISSING posters that people displayed like placards on their chests for days after the towers fell. The signs are replicated (originals are in rooms downstairs) via projections on walls, along with two enormous color photographs, side by side: one of the Twin Towers in the glorious city skyline around dusk, and the other from the same vantage point, but with gray smoke in place of the towers. They are there, and then gone.

Phantom firemen and policemen were a ghostly presence inside. I sensed a proprietary anxiousness as I looked at the mangled red corpse of Ladder Company 3. They lost eleven firefighters including their Captain, Patrick “Paddy” Brown. His black fire helmet is presented as it was on the day of his funeral, which would have been his 49th birthday.

On a tall iron beam, wrapped in flowers, were notes and scrawls of graffiti in bright colors. One note said, “The ironworkers were the first to descend upon the site after the WTC collapse.” They were responsible for the cleanup. A large touchpad tells the whole story of this beam, 13 pages of what the ironworkers did with all the debris, metal, and concrete. I try to imagine what they saw. I can’t. Or I can, but I can’t.

“You can’t help but look at your life differently.” —Larry Keating, Ironworker

In a film room called “Reflecting on 9/11,” talking heads on screen answer a series of questions:

“Why do you think it is important to remember 9/11?”
“What have you learned from 9/11?”
“How significant do you consider the events of 9/11 within the context of history?”
“How do you think America has changed since 9/11?”

Of all the opinions offered as answers, the best came from Bill Clinton (not a surprise) and Colin Powell (a surprise, at least to me). People are invited to contribute to the conversation, so after listening to all of the questions and answers, which takes about forty-five minutes, I recorded my own and gave permission to use it for the archives. Mainly, I addressed why it is important the museum exists; why, for my incoming freshman students, 9/11 becomes something real rather than fictional. Particularly because they will be studying here, I tell them, for as long as you’re here, you are New Yorkers. This is your city. You need to know what happened. And you need to know about the aftermath.

If I had time, I could describe perhaps ten thousand items in the museum, all on the periphery. In the center are the rooms that come with a guard and a warning that “what you will see beyond this point may be upsetting...” It’s nice they don’t assume you will be upset. But these were the rooms where grown men were crying. One room, darkened enough that words could appear on a screen and where people could sit if they chose, played the recently released cell communications from people inside the towers on 9/11. I lasted under a minute, impossible grief, impossible.

Numerous items found in the wreckage are displayed—id tags, a restaurant receipt from brunch on the day, a teddy bear, high-heeled shoes, a handbag, iron crosses and other symbols. All heartbreaking. A black-and-white photograph of an iron column taken at Ground Zero revealed this message: “Paris, France is here to help.” Everyone seemed to be grasping for some sort of meaning, but there wasn’t any.

The most congested rooms were the ones that exhibited photos of those who died that day. In those rooms, it is possible to touch any name, which brings up a photo and a small biography. Another room has larger photos and bios, but it was so full I could not get in.

There is no happiness in this museum, but it is easily one of the quietest and most respectful places I’ve ever visited. Its only rival might be the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC.

A Circle Line tour takes sightseers around the island of Manhattan by boat. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour, and though it is something I have only done when friends or family have come to town, I enjoyed it, the nice weather, especially. They have had the same tour guide, a facetious, funny man, for years.

My cousin came to stay with me about six months after 9/11. We took the Circle Line tour. When we got down to Ground Zero, the tour guide said, “And that is the site of the former World Trade Center, where almost three thousand people were murdered on September 11, 2001.” A shock of recognition ran through me. The tour guide’s tone mimicked my own feelings: Outrage. Hurt. Anger. Sadness.

I wonder what he will think when he visits the museum. The new #1 World Trade Center is up and running; if you stand in the middle of 6th Ave at dusk, the sun reflects fuchsia-silver off the building, which seems to twist upwards into the sky. It glitters—a New York City building. But replacements are only ever that: replacements. Not the real thing, what was real to me, to my New York.

As I ascended the long escalator of the 9/11 Museum, I could hear the faint strains of “Amazing Grace,” played on a penny whistle, the simplest, most common instrument associated with Celtic and folk music. Unadorned. A pure sound as I came up into the light.


SHJ Issue 10
Fall 2014

Lisa del Rosso

originally trained as a classical singer and completed a post-graduate program at LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), living and performing in London before moving to New York City. Her plays, “Clare’s Room” and “Samaritan,” have been performed off-Broadway and had public readings; while “St. John,” her third play, was a semi-finalist for the 2011 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference.

Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Literary Traveler, Serving House Journal (November 2014), Young Minds Magazine (London/UK), Time Out New York, The Huffington Post, The Neue Rundschau (Germany), Jetlag Café (Germany), Writers On The Job, and One Magazine (London/UK), for whom she writes theater reviews. She is working on a collection of essays and teaches writing at NYU.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury