Sunday, September 23, 2018

You Say It's Your Birthday?

Just me, a few years ago.
Today is Bruce Springsteen's 69th birthday.

It's my birthday week too, yeah -- and the turn of another season (despite a friend's uncle, who always bemoans the end of summer at his family's July 4 barbecue).

I'm marking the occasion by listening to E Street Radio on Sirius, where Bruce once again stops singing "Thunder Road" to listen to the audience chant, "Show a little faith, there's magic in the night; you ain't a beauty but, hey, you're alright." He probably hasn't actually sung those words on stage in 20 years.

So happy birthday, Bruce, and thank you for reminding us that some things are forever young.

And thank you, Glenn Gould, the pianist who notably recorded Bach's "Goldberg Variations" early in his career in 1955 (yes, before even I was born). He then recorded the same music in a more soulful way as a mature artist in 1981.

Gould's honing of this performance over the years inspired Steve Jobs, and makes me wonder, too, if time really isn't as powerful a force as we fear.

Not everything corrupts. Some things -- like "Thunder Road" or the poetry of Yeats -- survive time in tact. Other things -- like Gould's "Goldberg Variations" or New York City -- evolve even grander over time.

I know, I know... as Bruce once sang, "Everything dies, baby, that's a fact."

But -- often on my birthday -- I grow in appreciation of a favorite line in the movie "American Beauty":

Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Wedding Without Typos

It was wonderful to hear from so many friends and family members these past few days, as Nancy and I celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary.

Thank you to all. It meant a lot to us.

Nancy taking a photo of me taking a photo of her.
We celebrated in typical style, going to a baseball game. It was a doubleheader due to a rainout, so we saw two of the Mets' three victories on lucky Sept. 13 (with the previous night's game having ended past midnight). Nancy took a photo of me taking a photo of her while we ate a Citi Field restaurant.

I've posted before about our wedding: this lovely column by our former boss, Anne Buckley, who was editor of Catholic New York, the newspaper where Nancy and I worked before our marriage.

I had thought this the only thing in writing about that day.

But then a little while ago I found this: a column Nancy wrote for Catholic New York five months after our wedding.

Part of a bridal advertising section, it details our wedding planning. I had fun reading the column because, honestly, I remember none of this. I only remember asking Nancy to tell me when and where to show up and what to wear.

I found the clip by accident, rifling through old files to find the meaning of the name "Varettoni" for my cousin's school genealogy project. That's still a mystery. I'm beginning to think Varettoni is a made-up name, like Verizon.

Speaking of which, I joined that company a year before our wedding — thinking I'd try the gig for a year or two because otherwise it would be awkward to work so closely beside my fiance during our engagement. More than 33 years later, I'm still at the company, where last week our PR team posted a record number of social media posts, and features and stories on Verizon's Newscenter.

Everything was urgent. Given the flurry of activity related to a technology trade show, hurricane preparations, an investor conference and other corporate announcements, the team did a great job in catching several typos that almost fell through the cracks.

There seemed to be typos everywhere last week. Watching TV to relax after work, I even spotted one among the broadcast listings.

So, Circle of Life, I had to laugh when I read the last few lines of Nancy's story, which I've reprinted below.

Let me know if you find any typos in all this. I'd like to make it perfect. Just like my wedding day.


Published in Catholic New York, Feb. 5, 1987, by Nancy C. Varettoni:

Some people may remember 1986 as this year when big weddings came back to style. After all, we had Maria and Arnold, Caroline and Ed, and Fergie and Prince Andrew. But my favorite wedding was a rather simple affair that occurred on Sept. 13. That’s when I married Bob Varettoni.

Though didn't have to contend with the pressures of a princess-to-be or the heirs of an American dynasty, planning our wedding presented its own challenges — namely, how much would this cost and how would we find the time to do it.

Since Bob and I had been self-supporting for several years, we agreed to pay for the wedding expenses ourselves. That meant figuring out a budget and sticking to it, or we'd wiped out our savings. We both have jobs that demand a lot of our time end, when we were engaged, we lived about a half hour away from each other. Scheduling wedding-related appointments on week nights would be next to impossible.

With these considerations, we decided that a small wedding – just family and a few close friends – would be best. Besides, neither of us would be comfortable at an elaborate affair.

Those bridal magazines and a book on wedding etiquette are very helpful. They contain guidelines on what to do when, which help you put your priorities in order. Invariably, these publications suggest that you talk to a clergyman before making any other plans.

Our favorite wedding day photo.
My pastor proved to be one of the best sources for wedding information, not only in terms of Church requirements, but the strategies of finding reception hall, florist, photographer, etc. (Consider how many weddings a priest attends each year!)

At our first meeting he asked a series of questions to make sure that Bob and I understood the seriousness of the marriage commitment. Then he explained what documents and other information were needed – baptismal certificates, dates of confirmation, marriage license – as well as the marriage preparation programs that were available to us. He asked about our jobs and where we plan to live, and was delighted to learn that Bob's uncle, Msgr. Julian Varettoni, whom we are asked to officiate at the ceremony, was a classmate of his whom he hadn't seen in a number of years.

He understood the difficulty of finding a reception hall that was available same day as the church. He explained that weddings could only be scheduled at certain times on the weekends and that most of the late time slots were booked to the end of the year because people prefer to get married later in the day. We would have greater flexibility, he said, if we chose an earlier time, and he told us some dates and times when the church would be available.

Up to this point, Bob and I had only talked in general terms about the date of the wedding and type of reception. We decided we would accomplish more if we divided responsibilities. We would do the leg work independently and consult each other before coming to the final decision.

He had no idea where to start with a reception, so he graciously deferred to my judgment in that department. I was just as happy to let him make arrangements for the honeymoon. We would plan the Mass together with his uncle's help. 

We determined how much money we could spend on the entire wedding – reception, flowers, photographer, honeymoon, etc. Next, we decided how much of that amount should go toward the honeymoon and how much for the wedding/reception expenses.

Some people warned us that arguments would begin once the wedding plans were under way, but Bill Griffin, the CNY circulation manager, offered the best advice. He said that the engagement would be like being married since it's the time when couples really start making decisions together. The way they react then will probably be similar to the way they behave once they're married.

Bob and I waited for the big blowup, but none occurred. Perhaps it's because we have similar tastes, or perhaps it's because we discovered early in our relationship that we have different ideas on how to spend money, as, I’m told, many couples do. Rather than argue over every cent, we promised to stick within our individual budgets and to trust the other's judgment. 

This was particularly true when I selected the spot for the reception. Traditional banquet halls seemed very expensive, and I have never been a fan of big, sit-down dinners. At first I thought I could rent a local women's club and have a caterer bring in the food, but most clubs were booked solid to the end of the year. One was available, but it would require a lot of work to get the place into the shape I envisioned. I tentatively reserved the club in case nothing else worked out, but I kept looking. On a whim, I called a hotel-restaurant that I had like since I had dinner there several years ago. It reminded me of an old English Tudor manor house, a perfect setting for reception, I thought.

As luck would have it, they did hold wedding receptions, and there was a date available in September. The specialty was a "stand-up" or cocktail reception. Lots of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres served butler style. Guests could make themselves comfortable in the main sitting room or on the front porch. To the side was the sun room, where the wedding cake and coffee would be served. I could make arrangements for a string ensemble or a piano player through the banquet manager.

It seemed perfect and within my budget, although more expensive than the women's club. And we might have been able to find a banquet hall that would provide a dinner for what this cost. I talked with Bob, and he agreed that since this would be more convenient in the long run, and it seem best suited to our tastes, the money would be well spent.

I called my pastor and booked the church for 11:30 on Saturday morning. The reception would begin at 1 p.m. 

Everything fell into place after this.

Our families offered to help with some expenses. His parents gave us spending money for the honeymoon, my mother paid for the limousine rental, and Bob's sister got a discount on the wedding invitations for a printer she worked with and paid for them as a wedding present.

We cut costs in other ways, too. An associate pastor gave my telephone number to the woman who was getting married immediately after me. We decided to split the cost for the flowers for the church, by doing so were able to afford a few more flowers than we could have if we paid for them alone. The only concession was that we had to stick with white flowers and aisle decorations since our bridal parties were wearing different colors.

I nearly had a heart attack when I discovered how much wedding dresses cost. I had seen one in a magazine that I particularly liked – a tea length gown with a handkerchief hem – but it was out of my price range. By chance, I was walking through a mall around Valentine's Day and noticed a dress shop featuring white, lacy dresses. On the rack – and just my size – was an ivory tea length dress with a handkerchief hemline for about one-fifth of the price of the dress in the magazine. It was essentially the same look: only the neckline and the lace for the bodice and sleeves were different.

I couldn't find a headpiece that I liked, so my mother suggested that I find out whether a hat shop would make one, and one did. I'm not sure whether I saved any money here, but I got lots of compliments on how pretty and unique the veil was.

After our engagement, our weekends became increasingly hectic. That's why we decided to attend an Engaged Encounter weekend. We could have attended sessions that meet once a week for three weeks or attend a daylong session, but we really wanted to get away from planning for the wedding and talk about our marriage.

Essentially, the weekend is a series of communication exercises that helps the couple to exchange their ideas about all aspects of marriage – children, sex, religion, etc. Two married couples and a priest give presentations, and then the engaged couples are asked to give written responses to a series of questions. After an allotted time, the couple exchanges notebooks, and each reads the other's answers and talks about them.

The writing part came pretty easily for Bob and me. What was most satisfying was that our answers – particularly on why we wanted to get married – were remarkably similar, though there were a few surprises.

Our pastor gave us a booklet on the nuptial Mass which contains suggested readings and forms of the vows. We spent a Saturday evening in Bob's uncle's rectory going over the passages and selecting those that were most appropriate.

The music that we chose was a combination of modern and traditional hymns that were favorites of ours, as well as our parents.

To tie it all together, we printed a program listing the order of the Mass, the readings and hymns, and the responses.

Perhaps it wasn't the most traditional of weddings in its planning or execution, but plenty of people have told me that they enjoyed themselves tremendously. Nonetheless, I looked for further proof that Bob and I had pulled off a wedding with no gaffes – major or minor. I discovered it a few months later when I was talking to a wedding guest at another party. In the church, she sat next to CNY's editor, Anne Buckley. Miss Buckley – the woman who once found a misspelled word in an inscription in stone on a monument in West Point – read the program from cover to cover.

"No typos," she pronounced.

No typos. I guess we did OK.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Revisiting My 9/11 Diary Pages

Last week I mentioned updating a Pinterest site about Verizon's response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The site also links to words I originally shared on the company's intranet site on the 2002 anniversary, when employees were encouraged to post memories and tributes.

I had a panoramic view of the 9/11 attacks in New York from Verizon offices on the 32nd Floor of 1095 Avenue of the Americas. My job then, as it is today, was as a media spokesperson. I worked straight through for the next two days, returning home the evening of my 15th wedding anniversary on 9/13.

This week I recalled that in 2001 I was keeping a "Baby Diary" -- so named because I started it when my first daughter was born, a decade earlier.

What follows are edited versions several Baby Diary entries at the time, interspersed with photos I took when assisting the New York Archdiocese with media relations during Pope Francis' visit to the 9/11 Museum in 2015:


10/6/01 - I am still at a loss about what to write. I tried to write that evening (9/11), when I found myself in a small room at the Roosevelt Hotel on Lexington and 45th. I couldn’t; not then.

[My wife] Nancy called to alert me to the disaster. I didn’t think much of it after I spoke to her, figuring that it must have been a tiny, misdirected plane from Teterboro that accidentally hit one of the towers. However, I noticed headlines pop up on the NewsEdge system on my desktop, and I went to the side of my floor that faces the Trade Center to look out the window.

I was taken aback by what I saw. This was no small plane, and I knew from looking at it that this would not be small damage. I thought “hundreds of lost lives; billions in cleanup and reconstruction and lawsuits — this is bad.” It didn’t occur to me at that point that the tower might collapse, or even that it was a terrorist attack.

I watched with a group of co-workers as smoke billowed from the Trade Center. We had a clear, unobstructed view of the scene from a wall of ceiling-high windows. The scene was far enough away that we felt safe, but close enough to be dramatic — as if we were watching a 3-D movie on a huge, clear screen.

The scene especially shook one woman in the group, Kathleen, who normally lives and works in Texas. She witnessed the first plane hit the tower. Her reaction was unnerving, but genuine, emphasizing the gravity of the situation.

Soon Peter, my boss, was hurrying back from a meeting on the 39th Floor executive offices. He pronounced that it was certainly a commercial airliner that had hit the tower. Peter, as always, was wonderful throughout that first day and the days that followed, although he sometimes played the role of a one-man Greek chorus. After the second plane hit, he predicted tens of thousands of deaths and later said we would smell the stench of dead bodies in New York in the days to follow. On those important points, he was wrong.

In those first moments, I tried to read the news accounts of the first plane, but I kept circling back to the scene at the southern window. I was debating to myself whether I should keep a breakfast meeting I had arranged with Greg, a former co-worker at "Catholic New York" who is now an on-air financial newscaster on CNNfn.

Greg had called me recently to set up a breakfast since he does not have to arrive at his studio at the Nasdaq center near my office until late morning. That morning, before work, I had driven Nancy crazy as I searched for a wallet-sized photo of the kids so I could show Greg. We only had 5x7s, the family photo that was my Father’s Day gift, and I had that photo stuffed in my jacket pocket throughout the next three days.

So I wasn’t really paying attention when I heard a collective scream from the group who had gathered at the window following the first attack. Something else had happened. When I focused, I saw a billow of fire coming from the other tower.

Several immediate thoughts leapt to mind. "This is a terrorist attack." Then, "Why wasn’t the second plane shot down before it hit the tower?" Detached and dispassionate, I saw my co-workers involved and shaken. Jane, who works in Employee Communications, came up with tears in her eyes and asked, "What do we do now?" I hesitated, because my first thought was to respond, "We say a prayer." But I self-censored my reply because I thought it would be pompous and over-dramatic, so I simply said, "I don’t know."

Then, I returned to my desk, where headlines confirmed that this was a terrorist attack -- and I left the building.

I wasn’t frightened, but I had promised to meet Greg at the Royalton, 44 W. 44th, at 9:15 -- and since I couldn’t contact him (our cell phones weren’t working) and couldn’t do anything productive at the office, I felt I should at least attempt to meet him there. I also felt relieved to have an excuse to leave the building for a few minutes. When I arrived at the restaurant, which is only a two-minute walk from my office, it surprised me to see a few diners having leisurely breakfasts. I felt uneasy waiting inside among these people, so I waited for Greg outside the front door. I soon saw him hurrying down the sidewalk.

"Did you hear what happened?" he said. "I just dropped off my kid at school and I was on the subway and someone said there was an explosion at the World Trade Center."

"Both towers," I said. "Two planes."

"Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center?" he repeated, in disbelief.

"You have to go to work," I said, and we shook hands and wished each other luck.

Soon back at the office, I kept wandering by the southern window on the 32nd Floor, where the crowd was still gathered. All the TVs on the floor were turned to the news stations. After a while, I heard another collective gasp and cry, but I saw only a cloud of smoke. It was 9:59 a.m. The South Tower had collapsed.

I was not frightened. I knew officials had grounded all planes, and I figured that by now the military would shoot down anything that approached New York. It surprised me to read one news story about a plane possibly hitting the Pentagon. Just hysterical overreaction, I thought. But when I read a headline about another plane crashing in Pennsylvania, I immediately believed the report about the Pentagon, and I immediately assumed that passengers had given up their own lives to crash the other plane in the middle of nowhere.

Around 10:28 a.m., when the North Tower collapsed, our phones were ringing incessantly. A young New York Times reporter wanted to know if Verizon’s calling volumes had increased. My colleague Eric took the call and stared in disbelief at the phone before calmly telling the reporter, whose deadline was not for another 10 hours, "We’ll get back to you."

Everyone in the office knew this story was much, much bigger than anything involving phone service.

Peter then informed us we had to evacuate the upper floors of our building, by order of the police. I felt safe where I was. I had access to phone lines and computer hookups, Internet info, email, printers, news feeds and TV monitors. I didn’t relish the thought of taking my laptop and non-working cell phone and trying to work from another location. I stayed at my post and wrote a quick statement for Peter and Eric, which served as our talk points that day and our news release statement.

Still, Peter insisted we vacate the floor. "Non-essential" staff was sent home. I can only imagine what a nightmare it must have been trying to get home that morning or early afternoon. The media staff reported to the fifth floor, where phones and a temporary "command center" had been set up.

Arriving at the fifth floor, we were told to report to the fourth floor -- and our command center turned out to be simply the cubicles of other people who had been sent home. In a nearby conference room, Operations people huddled around a speakerphone to sort out the impact on phone service. It took hours to get a temporary connection to our LAN to once again have access to email, news reports and a printer. Until early afternoon I had no more information to offer reporters than our initial statement.

That’s pretty much how the first day passed... Confused, sometimes conflicting, snippets of information from the open Operations conference call line. A lot of hurry, followed by a lot of waiting. It often seemed I was helping no one, and I worried about home. Still, my family knew I was safer where I was. By then all bridges and tunnels out of the city had been closed. Airports were closed and would remain so for several days. If you were in New York past 3 p.m. that day, you’d be in New York overnight.

10/7/01 - Also that first day, I recalled two curious incidents I had witnessed just days earlier involving police and firemen.

One morning I saw a Port Authority police officer pass by the fruit stand on the sidewalk near the corner of 8th and 40th. The officer reached down and grabbed a plum as he walked past, with no intention of paying for it. He bit into it and gave me a threatening look. I felt as if I was at fault because I had noticed him swipe the plum.

Then, the morning before the terrorist attacks, I saw a fire truck cause a commotion on 8th Ave., right outside the Port Authority. Traffic was backed up in front of the building, yet the truck flashed its lights and sirens, with one tire on the sidewalk, until it broke through the traffic and made a right on 42nd. The truck had come close to hitting a few pedestrians, eliciting shouts and curses from those on the street.

When the truck completed its turn, it immediately turned off its siren and joined the more free-flowing traffic on 42nd St. Walking, I even caught up with the same truck and watched it make a leisurely right onto Broadway and head downtown. It was full of boisterous white males, lounging and laughing. It was absurd. The only explanation was that they were responding to an alarm that had been lifted as they made their reckless turn.

Since they were heading south that day, on 9/11 I thought of them again. I wondered whether they, or the petty-theft police officer, had been killed, like so many other firefighters and policemen, when the World Trade Center collapsed.

There’s no rhyme or reason; there’s no justice. The heroes are very human -- and the hijackers, also very human, would not have committed suicide without what they thought was a good reason. I remember watching scenes from the Gulf War several years ago. I had commented to Nancy, "Someday someone will blow up the Empire State building, and we won’t know why."

As always, it’s difficult to discern the truth. You read spy novels, or the conspiracy theories that abound about the Kennedy assassination or after any other emotional incident, and you’d think the world is run by smart, powerful people. You’d think the great masses of us are well-protected or easily-manipulated, depending on the situation.

In reality, we proved ourselves to be an uncontrollable rabble of a society to let this happen. Airline security, the CIA, the armed forces, border guards, our political leadership... all were caught napping. The hijackers weren’t sophisticated, moneyed or clever. When President Bush threatened reprisals against "all who harbored or helped" the terrorists, I thought, "What? Bomb the flight academy in Florida where they taught the hijackers how to fly? Burn down Paterson, where several of the hijackers lived? Raid the travel agency in Totowa that sold one-way tickets to a hijacker?"

I’ve also read that on the other side of the globe many people have twisted their own "truths." They believe hijackers didn’t destroy the Trade Center. They insist it’s a CIA conspiracy to make it look like a terrorist attack to elicit public support for further U.S. military action. This proves that people can be foolish all over the world. This should be a commonality that brings people together, but perhaps people are too foolish to realize even this.

After Mass that first Sunday, our church organist played "God Bless America" after the closing hymn. Nancy and I sang along with the congregation. Earlier that week, all our neighbors’ homes displayed American flags, and we put up an American flag too. Meanwhile, a political commentator on a late-night talk show called "Politically Incorrect" made a crude point that it had been "cowardly" for the U.S. to launch cruise missiles on targets thousands of miles away during the Gulf War. The commentator later apologized for his remark, but the White House press secretary commented that Americans, in times like these, "have to watch what they say and watch what they do."

Watch what you say? What is America, if it has turned into a country where you have to watch what you say? What were we in church singing about, exactly?

10/9/01 - People are being nicer to each other in the days since 9/11. People are more polite. When someone asks how you are, both question and answer are no longer automatic.

Just days after the tragedy, while waiting on one of New Jersey Transit’s long lines to catch a late 165 bus home, a young woman wandered to the platform and shouted obscenities to someone on the other end of her cell phone. Others generally tolerate this kind of behavior because confronting the offender only makes the situation worse.

But this woman looked into the sad eyes of everyone else on line and stopped in mid-sentence. She shut off her cell phone and after a moment’s pause simply walked away from the platform.

10/10/01 - As I’ve mentioned, on the evening of 9/11, I stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel. By coincidence Verizon had scheduled a senior management meeting for the next day, and the company had reserved a block of hotel rooms for the now-canceled event. It would otherwise have been very difficult for me to stay anywhere but my office that night.

That first night, I couldn’t stop watching the news reports. At a business breakfast the other day, an anthropologist called this typical reaction "a voyeuristic indulgence of the disaster pornography being broadcast."

I went to bed late that night even though I had volunteered to be the first one in the next day at 4:30 a.m.

Walking to work at 4:15 that morning was one of the most memorable several minutes of my life. I walked from Lexington and 45th because there were no taxis; no cars on the street at all. The streets seemed oddly lit, and on every corner stood an armed police or military officer.

I held my Verizon badge aloft to these people as I walked past. In front of the main branch of the Library, 5th Ave. had been blocked off and barricaded. A military officer with a drawn machine gun guarded the barricade. Huddled behind him, in the middle of the avenue, three police officers warmed their hands around a makeshift fire. It was a scene out of Bosnia, but instead I was in Occupied America.

With sunrise, things turned less dramatic. It was another work day, with fewer people on the streets and filled with routine media calls. Reporters would ask if you were all right, and you’d ask the same in return. The Wall Street Journal’s offices had been destroyed, but the Journal managed to publish anyway. The reporters covering us worked from Dow Jones offices in Jersey City.

About mid-afternoon, the wind shifted to the north, and everyone in the office became aware of an acrid smell... a grim and now palpable reminder of the tragedy. Downtown, the site was still burning, and this was the smell of burning jet fuel. In my heart, I kept thinking about what Peter had said about decaying bodies, but in my head I knew that most bodies had been pulverized... simply turned to dust.

Read "9/11 Memories of an Invisible Man"
That night, I was glad to get back to my hotel room, where I turned on the air conditioning, watched the TV news coverage and showered for a long, long time.

The coverage, which had been valuable during the initial days, has now lapsed into feature stories covering every imaginable aspect of the incident. At one point a TV commentator said, "It’s a good thing the terrorists didn’t crash a plane into the Indian Point nuclear plant. That would have caused a much larger loss of life." I wondered why the commentator thought it useful to give people the idea if they haven’t thought of it already.

One of the most touching reports involved a man I knew. He had been a tough executive at a Verizon predecessor company, and his son had been a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the North Tower. His son was only 25, and Doug had called in to a live newscast on the subject. He started to cry when he described his son’s life.

After I returned home on 9/13, I moved back to my usual office on 9/14 and handled usual assignments. Peter asked me to help a business journalist for The Independent. He happened to be in town and was now working on a story about the long-term economic impact of the attack.

The reporter had gained a reputation as a futurist because of a book he wrote. “It was pretty much on target," he said, "except that I missed the whole Internet aspect." I took him to interview our vice president of corporate strategy, and I apologized because the elevator guard searched his bag. "Not to worry," he told me, “This kind of thing is the way of life back home in London.”

And now the elevator guards search my own bags every morning when I report to work. It’s as if I’ve been posing as a mild-mannered phone company employee for over 16 years just so I can now sneak a bomb into the building.

Meanwhile, my daughters seem to be handling this as well as expected. Cathy is saving all issues of our local paper, The Record. At first, she didn’t want to be alone in the house, but now she wouldn’t mind it. Younger Maddy’s initial reaction was to get angry because "everyone wants to keep talking and talking about this."

One day, after Cathy was online on AOL, she questioned Nancy about why she wasn’t telling her the things in the special "what to tell kids section" that AOL had posted. Cathy and I also both remember, with much guilt, how when we used to play Microsoft Flight Simulator together on the computer many months ago, we used to deliberately crash our simulated planes into the Trade Center towers.

10/11/01 - It’s now a month since Sept. 11, and I’ve written 10,000 words since – and still nothing makes sense.

Needless to say, our 15th wedding anniversary wasn’t very festive, but our small family was happy to be safe and in one place. Life at work has returned to normal "or whatever nomal is these days," as the latest cliche goes.

Nancy and I are buying new bedroom furniture for Cathy. She picked what she wanted from an Ikea catalog, but Nancy was reluctant to purchase so much furniture sight unseen. She kept promising to drive to the Ikea showroom in Elizabeth to check things out. Nancy finally did so early last week after Cathy kept placing pink "Take Us to Ikea" Post-It notes around the house.

Cathy and Maddy were playing a running game of "Barbie Village" in Maddy’s room about two weeks after the terrorist attacks. It was cute in the beginning, with dolls and houses and streets and Barbie cars in a neat makeshift town on Maddy’s floor. But urban blight soon took its toll, and Maddy’s room once again became a mess. This led to another talk with the kids about the state of their rooms, and this time Maddy has taken the criticism to heart because her room has been clean for days. Our 8-year-old-soon-to-be-30 has even hung a rewriteable poster board, where she now jots "to do" lists for herself.

Meanwhile, Nancy bought frozen margarita mix this past weekend, and Maddy crushed the ice for us. Cathy innocently asked, "Is this a drink kids would like?"

I’m writing this during my morning commute into work. New York City is shrouded in mist, so I can’t see its hollowed skyline from this bus.

Last night, I went to a play, "Contact." It was an outing for about 20 Public Relations colleagues held at Lincoln Center on the night of our previously scheduled annual planning meeting. The play featured marvelous dancers, set in scenes involving swing music. At curtain call, the music switched to Van Morrison’s "Moondance," which the cast danced to with a casual and fluid joy.

This set the stage for a wonderful walk home for me on a clear, cool night, more than 20 blocks down 9th Ave. to the Port Authority. There were many odd and curious sights among the neon lights and the shadows. I couldn’t guess what I might encounter from one street to the next. Near 50th Street, a homeless man began coherently cursing the historical Cleopatra. It made no sense, and yet it made perfect sense. All the people around me were diverse and full of stories. An uneasy excitement filled the air.

I hope, when my daughters get older, that New York will still be like this for them. In the wake of Sept. 11, I pray this special place does not become shallow and predictable and intolerant.

Monday, September 3, 2018

New Insights on Verizon’s 9/11 Recovery Efforts

Photo page, “Verizon Untethered”
“Everyone remembers that sunny Tuesday morning in September…”

That’s the chilling beginning of a 25-page chapter in “Verizon Untethered,” a newly published book about the company’s history. It continues:

Verizon CFO Doreen Toben was on the phone and looking out of her window south from the 39th floor of Verizon’s 1095 Avenue of the Americas, or Sixth Avenue, headquarters. She had a clear view straight south about four miles and clearly saw the first plane fly into the north tower of the World Trade Center at approximately 8:46 a.m. She ran down the hall toward [President Larry] Babbio’s office overlooking Bryant Park to the east to alert him.

Babbio and two lieutenants, Paul Lacouture, president of network services, and John Bell, senior vice president of northeast network services, and other executives gathered in the conference room at the southeastern corner of the floor. They watched in horror as flames and smoke billowed out of the tower. [CEO Ivan] Seidenberg quickly returned from an early morning meeting a few blocks away in Midtown to join them, as did head of corporate communications Mary Beth Bardin.

The second plane pierced the south tower about 17 minutes later. Like much of America, the executives couldn’t quite accept that this was happening. The nation was under attack. Bardin remembers looking from the television in the corner of the room to the actual towers burning to their south. “Somehow seeing it on TV made it more real. We could not believe what we were seeing,” she said.
Photo page, “Verizon Untethered”

They quickly kicked into operations mode. The towers were in the heart of Verizon’s densest telecommunications network, if not the most tightly wired telecommunications node in the world. Four massive computerized switches connected 300,000 Verizon landlines to the outside world. In Lower Manhattan, Verizon also provided nearly 3.6 million data circuits to serve the world’s largest financial center and the thousands of financial services and other businesses, as well as 20,000 residential customers. Most of those copper wires and optical fibers fed into Verizon’s two switching hubs at Broad Street and the 32-story art deco fortress of an operations center completed in 1927 at 140 West Street. It stands adjacent to the complex of World Trade Center buildings that were erected beginning in the 1960s. Ten cellular phone towers were also providing Verizon Wireless service in the area.

Bell turned to Babbio. “You’re an engineer. How long do you think that fire can last?” Earlier than most observers, Babbio understood the structural significance of the flaming structures. “I can tell you this. If it burns for more than an hour and a half, we’re in big trouble here,” Babbio said, “because that steel will melt in an hour and a half.”

And that meant the towers were coming down.


Purchasing link
The chapter goes on to describe Verizon’s behind-the-scenes network recovery efforts following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, culminating in the reopening of trading on the New York Stock Exchange on September 17, 2001.

“Verizon Untethered” was written by Scott McMurray and published by Post Hill Press and The History Factory, under Seidenberg’s direction. All proceeds from book sales are being donated to Verizon’s VtoV Employee Relief Fund for the use of employees and their families in need.

After the book’s publication in May 2018, Verizon contracted with The History Factory to re-establish a company archives to preserve the type of historical information gathered in the research.

This is great news. As a Verizon employee at the time of the attacks (and still today), I have sought to preserve bits and pieces of artifacts in the company’s files about 9/11 and its aftermath. I’ve posted much of this information on a Pinterest site about Verizon's response to 9/11.

Link to my Pinterest site
I would particularly draw your attention to two videos posted there: a remarkable 38-minute documentary, and a 90-second Verizon-backed TV spot called “Lady Liberty” that ran on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

The book includes the interesting backstory about that TV spot, which was mcgarrybowen’s first work as an agency.

If you’re a student, researcher or otherwise cannot purchase “Verizon Untethered,” please contact me with your mailing address at my work email – – and I will send you a copy and provide information about donating to the VtoV Fund.