NEW YORK — Clyde Frazier Sr. was looking for his son.
“You think maybe he’ll call or show up,” Frazier said Friday afternoon as he stared at the makeshift memorial in Union Square Park.
He had placed a photocopied picture there, a well-dressed man smiling in front of New York’s old skyline. Written on the side were vital statistics — age 41, 5 feet 9 inches, 190 pounds, Department of Taxation finance investigator, World Trade Center.
The ground he stood on was coated in dripped wax from a week-and-a-half of vigils.
“Unless I see his body, I’ll hope,” Frazier said. “I haven’t done anything concrete since. I’ve been home, listening to the phone.”
As Frazier’s world stood still Friday afternoon, the eight million residents of the shaken city around him continued, at their own paces, to return to lives resembling normal after the worst disaster the country has ever seen.
The subway rumbled below and cab drivers sped along through the light traffic. For many, it was another day of work, though often that meant presenting identification to police blocking off their streets.
A walk down often-empty avenues brought the company of hundreds of missing faces, staring out from photographs postered along buildings.
Rescue crews continued to dig through the rubble and search for the missing. Street vendors sold World Trade Center postcards and American flags, and residents continued to search for semblances of their former lives amid the remnants of a world lost.
And it was quiet.
In Union Square, where Frazier and scores of others still dwelling in the aftermath stood, the only noise was the rhythm of a drum, beaten slowly.
Clyde Frazier Jr.’s picture was one of the hundreds in the Union Square memorial, a sea of candles, cards, flowers and poems. Some were covered in umbrellas, placed there the day before to keep the vigils burning through a rainstorm. Visitors milled around in an almost overwhelming silence.
It had become one of the main sites of outpouring in a city still struggling with the days after.
The park’s statue of George Washington riding horseback had become a chalkboard of sorts, covered with pleas for peace.
“My friend we will be fine,” someone had written on the horse’s stomach.
But Frazier was worried.
“I don’t know how strong I can be to carry on,” he said. “I can’t let up hope. Everything he stood for, if I don’t keep his work going, the people flying the planes will have won as far as he is concerned.”
Frazier said he was afraid he could not be a strong father to the rest of his family. He said he was afraid to sleep.
He talked about his son, and then he knelt to put up another poster. Hands shaking, he taped his son’s face to a wall.
Blocks away, outside St. Vincent’s Hospital, Elizabeth Aminov was looking at other posters, other strangers like Clyde Frazier Jr. whom she had come to know.
Like many New Yorkers, Aminov had returned to a changed routine. For her, it was a daily trip to the St. Vincent’s “Wall of Hope and Remembrance.”
“There are more pictures everyday,” Aminov said. “Now you see the faces and it’s like you know all of them. It’s terrible. It could be your mother, your father, your children.”
Aminov stared at the wall as she spoke. There were smiling fathers with babies and young women in wedding gowns. One showed a man holding a baby, a “devoted husband and father of six-month-old twins.”
Another contained simply a name, phone number and the handwritten question, “Have you seen my daddy?”
Similar memorial walls have sprouted all over the city. Xeroxed wedding pictures hung from lampposts. Phone numbers and pleas for information covered up advertisements for tow trucks and psychic hot lines, artifacts of a world in which posters on the street could afford to be ignored.
Aminov had been looking at the pictures every day. But she did not expect to see any of the faces.
“Of course not,” she said. “I don’t think anybody in New York would think this would happen.”
Michael Frank, a volunteer rescue worker, was in the middle of another 16-hour day, his 11th in as many days, when he took a cigarette break on a stoop on Greenwich Avenue.
He wore brown overalls, a red sweatshirt and an American-flag bandanna on his head. He had a hat resting on each knee. One was a construction helmet with two American-flag stickers on it, the other a black cap with “Vietnam Veteran” embroidered in gold thread.
He was wearing his third pair of boots since he began working. The other two had been melted from standing on burning steel.
“There’s a lot of stress, a lot of stress,” he said, looking at the ground. “You have to put yourself in another mood. I’ll find an arm, a leg, a foot, and I put it in a bag and give it to someone else to put in a refrigerator.
“You have to think about things that put you in a happy mood,” he said. “I think about my children, the fun times.”
He had been home once to see his daughter since Sept. 11, he said. He did not know how much longer it would be before he went back.
“My insurance is paid up,” he said. “If I die, I’m going to heaven. I’m going to stay till it’s built back up again.”
As Frank sat alone quietly, some police officers and other rescue workers gathered at a nearby restaurant. The owner, Nino Vendome, had closed it to the public. Instead, he hosted rescue workers 24 hours a day, offering free food and a moment’s respite from the front lines.
Unlike the world outside, the mood in the restaurant seemed almost jovial.
Crowded around tables, officers talked about being thanked for their work, about the boosted morale of a department now given respect and even compassion from residents who once feared it.
Music played and it seemed almost possible to forget where they had just been.
But underneath the small talk, there was shock.
“When I first walked past [the World Trade Center], it was like a ghost town,” said one officer in the restaurant. He was sitting in a corner, underneath an American flag with “United We Stand” repeated in place of the red stripes. His hands fumbled with the black band officers have put on their badges.
“It was at night, and the streets were closed,” he said. “There was no form of light. I felt like I was in a Hollywood set, or a makeshift world, like filming a movie. This building was like a set.
“But the smell makes it real,” he said. “It brings you back to reality. The smell of burnt steel.”
The Other World
For every shrine, there are movie posters and advertisements from three weeks ago. For every group of silent mourners, there is a talkative crowd enjoying the sunshine.
To walk down Canal Street, as close to the rubble as civilians can go, is to walk through a world transformed. There are police barricades and construction trucks, but no view of the rubble several blocks away.
And it is quiet.
“You can hear people whisper across the street,” said Lillian Kass, a sophomore at New York University who watched the smoke of the crash from her window. “You can hear your own footsteps. That’s not supposed to happen in New York.
“Everything is going back to normal, only it isn’t really normal at all,” she said. “People all have this look.”
The Writing on the Wall
Along Canal Street, passersby wrote their thoughts on blank notecard-sized stickers posted along the same building that houses Vendome’s restaurant.
“God will have vengeance on those responsible,” read one scrawled in large pen across six stickers.
“Don’t let vengeance rule your world,” another read.
In all, there have been 15,000 posted there. Together, they depict a city torn between sorrow and anger, pleas for peace and promises of revenge.
Vendome, who had organized the messages, said he planned to save them for future generations to see.
A few blocks away, at a bus shelter across from St. Vincent’s, someone had placed another message amid more posters of the missing.
“Welcome to the new New York, where love rules,” it read.
Nuria Ribo looked at it through her camera.
A radio journalist from Spain who had once lived in New York, Ribo had taken the first flight over to see what she could not believe from television. She saw a new city, she said, but not one of love.
“I tell people in Spain there’s no skyline, no energy,” Ribo said, shaking her head. “It’s like everyone is frozen. This is not the real New York.
“It’s slower, calm, sad,” she said. “Mainly sad. They don’t have power. It’s like living on standby, waiting for nobody knows what.”
For some, the sadness had faded into acceptance.
“People are cremated in there. We dig up people and don’t know it,” said Frank, the rescue worker. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. That’s the way it goes.”
Nearby, in the West Village, someone had spray painted a message across several buildings.
“You are alive,” it read.
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