Posts tagged ‘adrian brijbassi’

July 4, 2009

A Visit to the World Trade Center Reconstruction Site

[Not a personal essay, but it kind of goes with the other two on this site that are 9/11 related. This one was published in the travel section of the Toronto Star on July 4, 2009.]

NEW YORK – The last time I visited Ground Zero was Sept. 22, 2001. I lived in Long Island, N.Y., then and the Sept. 11 attacks consumed life for weeks.

world-trade-center-reconstruction-siteSeeing the World Trade Center in fiery rubble was Dickensian bleak and painful. The ruins smouldered, firefighters teemed, anxiety swept over every face.

Returning nearly eight years later, I expected to find Lower Manhattan solemn as it recovers from that horror and the economic crisis. Instead, I discovered New Yorkers are not only getting over 9/11, they’re turning the Financial District into a neighbourhood with more life than before the Twin Towers collapsed.

The World Trade Center stop is the last one on the southbound E subway train. Once on the surface, I noticed construction workers had replaced the army of firefighters as the massive rebuilding job unfolds.

A half-dozen cranes rise from the cavity that many will always view as a tomb to the 2,750 (including 24 Canadians) who lost their lives on that sad Tuesday. It was hard to find a smile among the visitors who watched the frame of the new skyscrapers being hammered and clanged into place. Emotions swelled there and across the street at St. Paul’s Chapel.

People walked slowly around the chapel’s grounds, occupied by centuries-old gravestones, to its doorstep. St. Paul’s, the city’s longest continuously run public building, stands on Church St. Remarkably, the 243-year-old chapel didn’t suffer any structural damage when the towers collapsed. During the recovery efforts immediately after Sept. 11, the chapel was a place of refuge for the firefighters and emergency services personnel. Inside, displays honour the heroes and the fallen.

While St. Paul’s brings back grim memories, the good news is there’s much happening in the vicinity that makes it clear this area is likely to rebound to a state better than it was in 2001. That reason makes Ground Zero a point of interest, not a morbid itinerary stop.

You can get a fantastic panoramic view of the World Trade Center reconstruction and the district’s skyline at the World Financial Center, an upscale but unheralded mall and office tower that pedestrians can access by crossing a bridge over the West Side Highway. Sixteen palm trees and an ornate staircase greet you inside the centre. On the western side of the mall, you will access one of New York’s highlights that doesn’t get nearly enough mention.

The Esplanade is secluded from the WTC construction and everything else in Manhattan. It’s a route for pedestrians and cyclists, ambling alongside the Hudson River. You can grab a coffee at Devon & Bleakley inside the World Financial Center before heading out on the 20-minute walk. If you want to bike it, there are rental shops in the area.

You’ll notice new residential towers and a number of established retailers opening stores. Most of the area was void of activity after about 8 p.m. most nights.

The population in the region has nearly tripled from 2001. Lower rents and a push for gentrification have turned it into a place to live, not just work.

Perhaps no spot exemplifies this spirit more than the restaurant-rich blocks on Stone and Pearl Sts. My favourite is Ulysses’ Folk House (95 Pearl St./58 Stone St.). The food is overpriced and mediocre, but the beer menu has few rivals in New York and the picnic tables that line Stone St. make it feel like a summer barbecue.

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June 24, 2009

Sub-Sahara

Smoke evaporates from Camels choked
by the fingers of my two friends who lean
over a railing, elbows pressed to granite
Eyes lost in a blue-black canopy,
Night,
made to shroud a desert and the death
we three knew crept
Into homes and tents, under the blankets
of hospital beds, through children’s pores,
out of needles potent with devilment,
the stumps of hacked-away limbs, and
exit wounds ripped by bullet heads

June 19, 2009

Protection From Friends

“My daughter-in-law believes it’s wrong. She says it would be taking blood money.”

“You don’t have to take it, Mrs. Levesque—”

“Call me Aline, s’il vous plait, please.”

adrian-brijbassi-short-stories-world-trade-center“Thank you. You can donate it, Aline. You can give it to whatever charity you want. Whatever charity your son would want it to go to—”

“The VSO?”

“Of course. He would love to support volunteers. He would also love for you to keep a little—”

“If Richard wasn’t a soldier, he would have been a peace worker. I know this.”

“What I’m saying Mrs., Aline, ma’am, is money isn’t the point. It’s not why you returned my call.”

“Excusez, pardon me, the phone.” Aline presses her palm on the sofa cushion and stands. As she shuffles away, her visibly exasperated guest closes his eyes and rubs his forehead.

The phone hangs on a wall in the kitchen. The kitchen is through a doorway and the wall is red brick and jaggedy. More than once, Aline has scraped her knuckles against it when rushing to answer the ring. She did no harm to her hand this time, because she didn’t rush. In fact, she hasn’t rushed for a very long time; months, if she will let herself count. Call it experience or just knowing better. Aline takes her time and no longer carries a watch, a fact that lately results in phone calls like this one, from her sister, who tells her she is late.

“Il est maintenant ici,” Aline says and tells her sister she will be even later for dinner, and no, she hasn’t decided if she will sign the papers, and no, Richard’s father hasn’t called. He’s on the other side of the country, what does he care?

She replaces the phone and spots a tray of cookies and biscuits. The silver plate is dented in the middle, causing the snacks to slide to one side or the other when she places it in front of her guest. He is a lawyer — an American named Charbonneau, a surname Aline finds both curious and displeasing for the same reason: he doesn’t speak a word of French. He says thank you and, to make room for the tray, bunches his documents together on the table, a utilitarian box with drawers and a wooden top with so many scratches and imperfections Aline is certain a bright man like Charbonneau will suspect it was bought used. She again asks if he would like coffee, tea, any beverage, and with a wave of his hand, he again refuses, and Aline retakes her seat.

He presents her with a form to sign and an outstretched pen held between his thumb and index finger to accomplish the task. Aline accepts neither. Rather, she chews a soft cookie while once more listening to his banter, his assertions that it’s the absolute right thing to do, for the simple reason no one else should ever have to endure what her son did, no parent should again have to suffer in the position she finds herself.

The form creeps toward Aline, pushed by digits that are long and smooth, without the calluses that marked her son’s hands. With a feeling of surrender, of acquiescing to stubbornness, Aline presses her palm on top of the document and pulls, easily freeing it from Charbonneau’s tenuous grip. She rebuffs his pen, which is closer to her chin than she would like. A ballpoint is next to the cookies and biscuits. With no other goal than to relieve herself of this episode, she uses it to scribble her name beside the red “X” that sits on the legal paper like a target. The page ruffles as she thrusts it back across the table to Charbonneau without looking up. Her eyes rest off to the side, to a spot on the floor where sunlight radiates through her fern and philodendron and other flowerless plants, and their leaves cast shadows on the floor, bare hardwood.

Sue them, she says to herself. Take their damn money.

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June 11, 2009

New York Sunset

I stare across the Hudson
to small, rectangular buildings
with the character of concrete
and feel sorry for the sun
My usual spot extends near the railing,
West Side pier off Christopher Street,
roller-bladers and bike riders pause for breaks,
a trove of gay people congregate
under the shale sky
Couples hold hands and whisper endearments
or embrace to kiss as tour boats drift,
gulls squawk like gossips
A passing Circle Line ferry ambles below the horizon
I cannon imaginary pennies into the river,
flicking fingers against thumb,
listening to water clap the underside of planks
Parsippany and Hoboken and Newark
all claim pieces of the dying sun

May 4, 2009

Modern Hustler

Smack hard the gavel
only after contemplation
of opportunity, its alacrity, too

Have you ever peddled a product on eBay
for twice what you paid?
Have you bought a stock on a tip,
some kind of inside communicado,
then sold it on the same?

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April 30, 2009

Canada Geese Mate for Life

[Published in “Confrontation”, 2003]

Men hit on me all the time. On the train, when I’m grocery shopping, out for a jog. The first time Paul hit on me was two years ago, on his first day at Mansfield, the ad agency I’ve worked at for three years without receiving a raise, promotion or any attention that doesn’t involve men watching me walk away. When we were introduced, Paul smiled too wide and shook my hand too long, rubbing his thumb over my fingers as if he had just met the office pet. I was told he was joining our team of graphic designers and was being stationed in the cubicle directly across from me. Upon that news, my stomach knotted as if it had been wrung.

cover_confrontation1Paul, on the other hand, seemed very satisfied with all aspects of his new job, with the exceptions of the tall, beige divider separating us and the picture of Matt on my desk. Unfortunately, neither was a deterrent for his nerve. As the morning continued, he kept needing help with his computer, asking me repeatedly if I could come over and take a look at his screen to make sure he had the correct page template or his color settings were calibrated with the printer or he was using the proper style sheet. The first few times were understandable; after that, I was simply being called upon for his enjoyment. He began to touch, putting a hand that resembled a kind of butcher’s cut on my elbow when he said thanks and squeezing my shoulder when I had to sit in his chair to fix whatever problem he couldn’t diagnose.

At lunch, he wanted to know if there was a good place to eat in the area. “There’s probably some spot hidden away you all go to, right?” He sounded as if he’d found himself stuck in a village of mosques on Ramadan, when we were in fact in the middle of SoHo.

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March 31, 2009

Trapping Your Characters Can Snare Readers

Focus is necessary – for you and your short stories and novels.

One way to maintain the focus of a plotline is to keep your characters enclosed, either by physical constraints or with a time deadline. Determining how long it will take for the arc of action to peak then resolve is one of the first details you should decide on when outlining your story.

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November 19, 2008

The Prince

[Published in the East Hampton Star, May, 2002]

Even through tears and the deliriums of half-consciousness, Larry saw the smoke from the gun, heard the deafening sound from it, and the mad screams that rose upon each shot. The shooter continued to walk up the aisle and Larry watched the man’s wide back while sinking to the floor of the subway car. This lowering of self was not done out of will. Larry’s legs had gone numb and when he slid down, his pants rolled up, exposing shins and the gray hairs on his bony legs. He slumped against a pole and remembered he was an old man. His hand stuck to one palm-sized portion of his chest as blood gushed through fingers in thick waves, rolling over knuckles and falling onto his sweater, a cable-knit recently bought by his wife. He perspired and wanted badly to reach into his breast pocket for his handkerchief, but he wouldn’t dare take his hand away. Besides, sitting in place seemed to ease the hurt. The pain was either dissipating or he was getting accustomed to it like the fit of new clothes.

east_hampton_star2He closed his eyes and took several long breaths and exhaled each slowly. Words came to his mind, despite the cacophony of his surroundings. Panicking passengers shouted and slapped at the subway doors and windows, trying to force them open. Several ran over him without consideration. They were the most bothersome to Larry, because he was ruminating while some of these people kicked his feet as they leapt, costing him his train of thought.

The gun fell with a loud thud and Larry turned toward the sound. He winced when he shifted his head and shoulders, and also when he saw the gunman being smothered by a group of purposeful men, who battered him with blows that looked painful to the extreme. Despite this man’s capture, people still screamed and scurried about. A large woman heading to the far end of the car stumbled after she nearly tripped over Larry’s size 10 Clark’s. His toes pointed right back up, like pieces of hard rubber, and he found it curious, not feeling pain when kicked. The woman was the last to pass him and the voices quelled in a matter of seconds, a change of volume Larry was grateful for.

With one wet hand still on his chest, he raised himself up a little, making it easier to breathe and concentrate. He coughed and began.

“Death,” he said. It was a murmur and wouldn’t do. He propped himself up some more, pressing his loose hand to the coarse floor and pushing his spine against the metal pole. He winced, coughed, and did his best to clear his throat.

“Death -.” The weary drone in his voice stunned him. It was a typical, sick, old man sound, but it would have to do. “Death,” he said again, “the undiscovered country, from whose bourn” -he paused to cough – “No traveller returns, puzzles the will, And makes us rather . . . rather . . .” -he coughed, without needing to this time, raising a clenched fist a few inches from his mouth – “rather bear those ills we have, Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all.”

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