Friday, February 26, 2016

Time by the Slice

Twenty-three years ago, as it has this year, the 26th of February fell on a Friday.  In February, 1993, I was in the second semester of my second year at Seton Hall University School of Law.  Margaret and I were engaged but not yet married.  Our wedding day was one week less than four months away. 

I know not presently how Seton Hall Law's full-time day session student body is comprised but more than twenty years ago, the overwhelming majority of my fellow day students were men and women at least a couple of years younger than I was.  They were men and women for whom law school had followed college in an uninterrupted fashion.  For a sizable number of them, law school was an extension of - or a continuation perhaps - their college experience. 

Few people have enjoyed life as a college undergraduate as much as I enjoyed my four years at the University of Colorado in Boulder.  Unlike most of my law school classmates, I had not moved directly to graduate school upon completion of my undergraduate degree.  I graduated from CU in May, 1989 with my B.A. in Political Science and did what a lot of young college graduates with student loans to pay and a degree in an utterly useless major do:  I worked in a profession where my degree was of no moment whatsoever.  I was lucky that in the late 1980's, my older brother Kelly had just formed his own commercial construction company and, luckier still that his liability insurer did not require that I demonstrate a modicum of competency in any construction-related endeavor as a prerequisite to allowing him to hire me.  My job title was "laborer" but my actual job description was "Stand over there and try not to fuck anything up".  It is a testament to his innate ability to build anything that projects on which I worked more than a quarter century ago are still standing and shall continue to do so.

I did not begin law school at Seton Hall until the Fall of 1991.  I recall realizing immediately how little I had missed being a student - after two-plus years away from school - and also thinking how incredibly young so many of my classmates appeared to be.  To their credit, most of them did a far better job than I did of embracing the whole "experience" of law school.  To my way of thinking, graduate school bore no resemblance to college.  Nor was it supposed to bear any resemblance.  It was a place where I was because the rules said that I had to earn a J.D. from an accredited law school in order to be able to attain a license to practice law.  To me, law school was a means to an end.  Nothing more.  

During my first year ("1 L") at Seton Hall Law I became friends with a fellow "outsider" from New York City (by way of Pennsylvania) named Kelly Symons.  She was a Fordham University graduate who had also taken at least a couple of years off after college before entering law school.  She tended to share my state of perpetual bewilderment regarding the exceptionally social nature of our classmates.   A fellow observer if you will.  In our first year of school, but for one class (Legal Research and Writing) our section of approximately one hundred students had every class together, which classes were all taught in the same antiseptic lecture hall - in which we were required to sit in our assigned seats.  

Kelly and I remained friends even after our first year ended and we were treated like actual adults (permitted to attend courses in different rooms).  I cannot recall whether we had any classes together as second years although we might well have been in Tax and Business Associations together (the former of which was taught to me by Patrick Hobbs - a/k/a "the Athletic Director at Rutgers University").  I worked the entire time I attended law school.  During my first two years, I worked twenty hours a week (Monday through Thursday nights from 5 PM to 9 PM and Friday afternoons from 1 PM to 5 PM) at the collection agency in Edison where I had been working, prior to law school, which is where Margaret and I had met.   Thus as if my abject lack of interest in the social aspect of the law school experience was not enough to keep me from participating in it, my work commitment bridged any gap that might have remained.  

I cannot pretend to recall what class (or classes) I had on Fridays in February, 1993.  Nor can I pretend to remember the name of the little pizza joint that used to inhabit a space on the first floor of Penn Station in Newark.  What I do remember is that on Fridays, with our respective academic days completed, Kelly and I used to walk the block and a half from school to Penn Station and, more often than not, bullshit for a quick minute while eating a slice of pizza prior to heading off to our respective weekends.  I would board a NJT Northeast Corridor train to Edison and my job.  Kelly lived in Manhattan (I know not where) and would take the PATH to World Trade Center and, from there, take whatever subway line it was she took to reach her home.  

For whatever reason, when we reached Penn Station on Friday, February 26, 1993, we departed from our usual routine.  We did not stop to grab a slice of pizza.  Instead we simply said our goodbyes and headed to our respective tracks to catch our trains.  It was right around 12:00 PM - probably a few minutes before noon.  

In 1993 I did not own a cell phone.  I had no internet access.  The first time that day that I learned of a bomb being blown up in a vehicle that had been driven into a garage underneath the World Trade Center was when I walked into the office in Edison where I worked.  Details were sketchy.  I immediately thought of my friend, dug out her phone number, and called it.  The phone simply rang and rang.  Periodically over the course of that afternoon, I again attempted to contact her.  Finally, shortly before five o'clock, she answered.  Sounding understandably shaken, Kelly told me that she had learned of the bombing when she exited the subway near her apartment.  The train that took her Uptown was one that she had boarded at the World Trade Center, which had departed from the World Trade Center less than ten minutes before the terrorists detonated their bomb

Had we followed our normal custom and practice on that particular Friday afternoon, she would not have been on the PATH train that enabled her to get in and out of the World Trade Center station five to ten minutes earlier than she otherwise would have been able to do.  Instead, at the moment in time when the shit intersected with the fan, she would have been there.  

On this day, twenty-three years ago, six innocents (John DiGiovanni, Robert Kirkpatrick, Stephen Knapp, William Macko, Wilfredo Mercado, and Monica Rodriguez Smith) were murdered in what was one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism ever perpetrated on American soil.  Their names are engraved on the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan.   Mr. DiGiovanni was a visitor to the World Trade Center that day.  Ms. Smith was working her final day prior to beginning maternity leave.  She was seven months pregnant with her first child.  

Panel at National September 11 Memorial Honoring
Memory of the victims of February 26, 1993 Bombing
(Photo borrowed from John Quinn ("Q"))

It has been said that in a single moment everything can change.  Never doubt the veracity of those words nor their significance.  

Never forget. 


1 comment:

The Omnipotent Q said...

Thank you for using the photo I used, Adam.

I remember February 26, 1993 so well. I was working for Tower Records distribution arm, TRIP Sales, at the Tower Greenwich Village store. I was returning from getting lunch on Broadway when I heard sirens from ambulances and fire engines going off, and saw smoke in the sky from the south. It was just beginning to snow, I heard on the radio that there was an explosion at the World Trade Center. And the saddest irony of the day was that I was working at the store for my friend Joyce, who was my boss and sales rep (and not there that day, as she was at another store). She would become a victim in the second WTC attack, and her name is just two panels away from the 1993 victims on the North Tower pool.

Thanks for the beautiful column, Adam. Never forget all the WTC victims, both in 1993 and 2001.