As the bombs began to fall on Wednesday night, Denise Graeff, a television producer, was having a beer with a friend at “some crap bar on MacDougal Street.” The TV was on, and suddenly “everyone started jeering,” she says. “I kept thinking about the people I knew and loved who died in the Twin Towers. Would they want this?”
For many New Yorkers, life during wartime has only increased the sense of isolation from the rest of the country. Sure, there’s some rallying round the flag (or CNN), but city residents don’t seem comfortable getting fully onboard. For one thing, we were never as gung ho as other Americans: One recent poll had 75 percent of New Yorkers opposing a United States attack against Iraq without U.N. support. And we felt like we should have more say than anyone else: After all, 9/11 happened here.
Now that the war is on, New Yorkers are also more scared than anyone else. With random checkpoints being set up on 96th Street and soldiers in the subway, there’s a sense that the period of false alerts, of which there have been so many since 9/11, is over. “I’ve become resigned to being a target,” says Pete Wells, a magazine editor whose offices are across the street from the Empire State Building.
“I think we all feel very strongly that we went through this for two years, and now we’re going to be the target again,” says Barbara, a West Village liberal who recently came back from visiting Indianapolis. There, the TV was reporting that the city was home to the “second largest collection of monuments in the country,” making it a possible terror attractor. She couldn’t help but think, “If they can even find Indy, they’re not going to care about your monuments.”
For some, the heightened fear and lingering anger over going to war fuel one another. “There are like ten National Guardsmen at the Borough Hall subway station,” says Brooklyn-based designer Chris Fahey. “The only reason they’re here is to defend us against the terrorism our war will cause.”
Like everyone in America, we’re glued to the TV. But we also worry we’ll be on TV. “Like most people I know in New York, I’m always on ‘high alert,’ ” says Internet consultant Alf Gracombe. “Whether I see something happen on TV or witness it firsthand, I won’t be the least surprised.”
“As long as it hadn’t happened yet, there was always a fantasy that maybe it wouldn’t,” says Marisa Bowe, who works for a community organization in Williamsburg. She was having dinner with friends when the war started. They all talked about moving out of town—to Paris, maybe? In the meantime, she takes some comfort in living on the right bank of the East River. “I wish none of my friends lived in Manhattan.”