Side by side on Riverside

It’s been twelve years now, so perhaps you’re ready for a remembrance that isn’t solemn and reverent. As usual, I promise to relate this to the world of musical comedy. And avoid politics. Tall order.

It was a gorgeous day, and I think I got up to see Joy off. She had rehearsal for a national tour, which meant we’d soon endure our first long separation. So breakfast together was worth waking for, but then I decided to go back to sleep. My sloth, in those days, would shock a lot of people. But I had a project lined up, a revue for Second City, and writing couldn’t commence until the cast met and did some improvs. You know how some people use the sleep function on their radios to nod off to? Well, I do that with news radio. I don’t want to drift off with someone else’s tune in my head; might wake thinking it’s mine.

The headline I heard as I began to doze was that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Not startling enough, incredibly, to stop me from nodding off! I knew that the Empire State Building once had a small plane crash into it; not that many injuriesZZZZ…

After the third or fourth plane, Joy’s best friend, in Washington, woke me, hysterical on the phone. “WTF is happening?” I calmly related that Joy was at a rehearsal, nowhere near the WTC. In case you haven’t guessed, neither of us used initials.

A phone call with Joy hatched the plan that I would bicycle down and walk her home. I may have taken Riverside Park to avoid crowds. It was unbelievably beautiful and quiet. Those of us who were there instantly understand the title of my friend Elizabeth Lucas’s musical movie, Clear Blue Tuesday.

At Columbus Circle, I encountered the expected crowds parading towards me, and dismounted. These were all people who worked in midtown, trying to get home. There were no trains and the tunnels to New Jersey were closed. So Garden Staters would have to walk for miles, crossing the George Washington Bridge, with miles to go after that. Some yuppie asked if I’d sell him my bicycle and I reflexively said no and he walked on. This is my great regret about that day. I was a few blocks from Joy, and had no need for the bike any more. At NOLA Rehearsal Studios, Joy was making sure each company member had some way of getting home, didn’t need to sleep on our couch. I think this was her second or third check-in with everybody, and, for some reason, I got annoyed.

We wended our way West, again to Riverside Park, again to avoid crowds. At one point, military jets zipped down the Hudson. With the similarity to Pearl Harbor, it seemed certain the U.S. would be thrust into war. President George W. Bush was in his first year in office, had no experience with the military, Or foreign policy, and had previously governed a state where governors don’t do all that much. I tried to be optimistic he’d react intelligently to punish the perpetrators and wished him well.

After Joy and I got home and rested our feet, we headed up to St. Luke’s Hospital hoping to give blood. Seemed like everyone in a two mile radius had the same idea. A worker at the hospital door announced their blood bank was full and we should donate elsewhere or another day. We then saw some cars that were covered in dust.

The next day I bicycled empty city streets to see if the Lee Strasberg School was open. They weren’t, so no income that day. A teacher I know had a sign up in her studio, a quote from Brecht:

“In the bad times, will there be singing?”

“Yes: There will be singing about the bad times.”

It had taken a bike ride for me to learn that one gig was canceled. Meanwhile, Joy learned her tour would go on as scheduled. The key question, circulating around the company: would anyone’s romantic relationship survive the separation? I was part of a dour and nervous group, giving our send-off kisses at the bus terminal. Joy quickly bonded with her cast-mates, and they shared worries about whether they or the loved one back home could remain faithful. Early on their journey, everyone expressed their commitment to fidelity, but, as they traveled, one by one, it seemed, performers had affairs. Whether affairs with each other (sometimes leading to marriage) or one-night stands, the spreading wildfire of screwing around was deeply disturbing to Joy.

There is a phenomenon known, in some parts, as Terror Sex. The experience of going through a frightening trauma propels some into each other’s arms, or beds, at a rate that doesn’t happen in times of peace. I found out about this when I had to write a song about it. Six days after the attack, the Second City cast convened and contemplated how it would be possible to devise a topical comedy revue in roughly twelve weeks after such a tragedy. They came up with some marvelous ideas, including doing a ensemble song about Terror Sex. But the brilliant part of that show (We Built This City On Rent Control), I feel, was a film sequence that introduced it. In it, you see typical scenes of New York annoyances, such as getting your purse stolen. The victim is shocked, but then a smile creeps on her face. She turns to the camera and proclaims “New York is back!”

Indeed, it felt liberating and useful to be part of a theatrical endeavor that was actually making New Yorkers laugh, the December after the bleak September. And Joy went from town to town bringing musical comedy to the hinterlands. And I read that the divorce rate plummeted and marriage proposals had skyrocketed. And I thought about fear. In the light of the bravery of the First Responders, and also our troops in Afghanistan (a place I couldn’t previously say without following with the words “banana stand”), other fears seemed mighty petty. Such as one’s fear that getting married sends you inexorably on the road to divorce. So the moment my Second City show was over, I flew to wherever Joy was and proposed.

There’s a Harry Warren tune I dearly love, and it kind of applies, if you squint and look at this sideways: Sump’n Good Will Come of That.

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