Mike Jahn

I'm currently reformatting my 1998 hardcover, "Murder on Fifth Avenue," into a Kindle edition. I just came upon this exchange between Captain Donovan and  Sergeant Moskowitz beneath the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

"So what's with Christmas trees anyway?" Mosko asked, wondering if it wasn't time to break the spell.

"Its a nice tradition if you're not allergic to them and don't have cats," Donovan replied.

"I mean what's a tree got to do with Jesus or the Holy Land? I been to Israel a couple of times and I didn't see a single pine tree."

"This is a Norway spruce," Donovan replied. 

"I seen even fewer of them," Mosko insisted. 

"You want to know what the tree thing is about?" 

"Yeah. I figured you would know. Does it have something to do with the tree the Romans cut down to crucify him on?"

"I don't think so," Donovan said dully. "To the best of my knowledge, the Christmas tree is a pagan tradition from northern Europe. They used to bring a tree indoors every year before the snows closed in. It was a ritual to ward off evil and ensure that the trees outside would survive the winter."

"That still doesn't tell me what a Christmas tree has to do with Jesus," Mosko said.

"Nothing, okay? It has nothing to do with Jesus. What's a gefilte fish got to do with Abraham and Sarah?"

Mosko replied, "The day there's a seventy-foot gefilte fish standing on Fifth Avenue I'll tell you."

UserpicI'm on chapter three of my memoir
Posted by Mike Jahn

I just began chapter three of my memoir, which is not so much about me  as it is a retelling of the family folklore, the stories that fell off my very peculiar family's tree, titled "Told to me by a sailor who died (I’ll never know if the bastard lied)." They really were an odd lot, Forest Gumpian but not as intelligent. See one of my first blog entries, "Jimi, Harry and Me."


I wrote The Quark Maneuver in the early 1970s after having spent the first half dozen years of my career writing about music, TV, and the movies for several publications, predominantly The New York Times. Correspondingly, I was accustomed to periodic sleepovers at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, often while trying to get a foot in the door of Hollywood  screenwriting. The only thing to come of that was a script I thought perfect for Harry Guardino and Brenda Vaccaro, who were at the heights of their careers at the time. I had always wanted to write mysteries and was in love with the Inspector Maigret stories by Georges Simenon. I felt that New York City needed its own Maigret. At the same time I also was obsessed with The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth (book 1971, movie 1973). Between the two I had the notion of taking a middle-aged, going-to-seed sort of character and sticking him a thriller plot, adding a girlfriend. 

That’s sort of what Forsyth did in Jackal,  minus the girlfriend, though his Claude Lebel is hardly as studiously middle aged as Jules Maigret. Nonetheless, sticking an anomalous hero in a thriller won Forsyth fame, public acclaim and an Edgar Award. So I wrote a screenplay titled The Jericho Incident, booked myself into the Chateau Marmont, and shopped it around. There was some polite applause, but no sale. I doubt that Harry Guardino and Brenda Vaccaro ever got wind of it. Finally, a well-respected Hollywood agent told me to go back to New York and turn it into a novel.  

After 18 rejections it was bought by Ballantine, the publisher that rejected it the first time (a new and clearly more visionary editor had come on board). She considered the title too obscure. We changed it to The Quark Maneuver, referring to ... oh, never mind, that would be a spoiler. Our mistake was that in the early 1970s no one beyond physicists and a few science geeks had heard the word “quark,” nor could spell it. Likewise with the name of the Harry Guardino character, Paul DiGioia, the middle-aged, paunchy and somewhat grumpy detective lieutenant. The Brenda Vaccaro role was Diana Contardo, a lost and lonely 26-year-old who ran an Italian restaurant near the East River and who, fortuitously, got her exercise by doing martial arts. So here we had a pretty 20-something girl with sad eyes hooking up with a 42-year old man who life had beaten up a bit. The should-have-been-predictable result was that she took over the.whole.book as readily as she took over DiGioia. 

Whatever, The Quark Maneuver worked. People loved the combination of who'd-have-thunk-it heroes and thriller plot (that had a bit of a stealth mystery in it). Paul and Diana tore themselves away from Contardo's ("fine Italian food") and she rode off in her white 1970 Pinto to save the world. Six years after Forsyth got his Edgar I got mine. 

I was so enamored of the team of Paul DiGioia and Diana Contardo that, in the early 1980s, I brought them back, with the names Bill Donovan and Marcia Barnes, in Night Rituals, the first Bill Donovan Mystery. In 2012, exactly 35 years since they first came to life, Paul and Diana live on as Donovan and Marcy in the Donovan books. New York has its own Maigret, and he's hooked up with New York's own Emma Peel. Here, in The Quark Maneuver, is the moment of their creation.


Don't ask.


This came into my Facebook account (http://www.facebook.com/WeegeesBored): 

"Mike- your Murder in Coney Island book was just the ticket for reading while we were driving home to Austin from Big Bend. That's a long drive. The only way to make the book better was if it were about 100 miles longer. And I'm not even a big mystery reader. Loved it. Made me really miss Noo Yawk …  And I have another one queued up and won't wait for a road trip to read it. I can lock everyone out of the house and read it at home." -Sara Breuer

Wow! Thanks!




“Michael Jahn’s New York City Mysteries: Murder at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine” (originally titled “City of God”) went online at Amazon the other day. It's Bill Donovan Mystery #3 and the fifth of the ten-book series to go into Kindle. Here’s what Library Journal said about it the first time out:

"Bustling New York harbors a psychotic killer who, viewing himself as a latter-day St. Augustine protecting the "City of God," bashes people who desecrate the cathedral of St. John the Divine. Series detective Bill Donovan moves into the labyrinthine church to stalk the killer, possibly jeopardizing his relationship with black girlfriend-policewoman Marcie, who wants him to help her find the thugs who killed her best friend on the edge of Central Park. Tandem cases cram the story with detail and personal conflict, while energized prose adds excitement. A great procedural from the author of Night Rituals." 

“Murder at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine” is crucial to understanding the intertwining back stories of the Bill Donovan Mysteries. No spoilers here, but Donovan’s relationship with Marcie comes into focus, Brian Moskowitz makes his debut, and Marcie has a secret so deep and dark that not even she is aware of it. And Donovan begins to confront his deep-seated hatred of the rich and consequent fear of marriage to a wealthy woman.




UserpicCissy, Whitney, and Life Within the Yurt
Posted by Mike Jahn


For all the whooping and hollering and “just plain folks” blather about being “Jenny from the block” or otherwise like you and me, show biz operates pretty much within the yurt. You’re either inside with the rest of the tribal chiefs and the music and the wholly uncontrolled substances, or you’re alone on the steppes staring at mastodon bones.

I remember Cissy Houston at one or another rock scene powwow in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those were the years during which I covered rock and roll and related riots for the New York Times, which got me into a lot of yurts.  Those days Cissy was a session singer for Hendrix and a lot of others and just beginning a solo career. I saw her around. Everyone knew everyone else because they were around.

I did not know her daughter, who I understand just died. My son saw her around, in the early 1990s when he was working at Arista Records, founded by Clive Davis, who has been in the news a lot lately for having discovered Whitney  Houston. Clive was around at some of the same powwows I was, and presumably Cissy was, the big  difference between me and him being that he got there in a limo. (He let me use it once.)

I don’t know if Cissy ever brought her daughter to a powwow. I routinely brought my son to them, him riding on my shoulders.

Steve was another guy who was around. He was a good friend of mine who had a quartet that opened for the Who during one of their 1970s arena tours. How did a folk/rock/jazz fusion quartet get to open for the Who (and get booed for their effort)? Steve was good friends with Pete Townshend, who I also knew from around ... ran into him at a guitar store on 47th Street twice and on the street in San Francisco once, following which we went to his hotel room and split a six. I don’t recall what we talked about. Probably all the people we knew from around.

One weekend night circa 1970 I got a worried call from Steve, who said something like “Pete’s here. The cops are looking for him.” The exact words don’t matter when you’re in a situation involving guns and jails. It seems that Pete threw a fire marshall off the stage at the Fillmore East -- there was a fire next door and the man interrupted a Who set to ask that the theater be evacuated. Pete gave him the old heave-ho and later, when told that the NYPD frowns on such things, ran off to Steve’s apartment to hide. I told him that Pete should lay low until Monday when the lawyers were around.

One thing you always talked about when you were around was what everyone was doing. In the 1960s/1970s when I was around, everyone else was either “smoking dope” or “doing smack.” You hadn’t seen someone in a while and you ran into him, the first words might be “Tim kicked!” That was good news at the time, but in this particular case Tim didn’t kick permanently. Tim died.

So did Steve, but it was in the 1990s and not of a heroin overdose. He died of hepatitis C, but not the AIDS-related kind. He got it in a Nashville hospital, where he was working as a nurse, having failed to make it in show biz -- musical support from Pete and editorial support from me notwithstanding. He burned all his master recordings and turned his back on the show biz scene where people lived unhealthy lifestyles and, in consequence thereof, died. He got a nursing degree and went into health care, which killed him. 

I hear that he was a very good nurse, though. Found it very fulfilling and everyone at the hospital loved him.

Before Steve was entirely done with show biz, he wrote an especially good pop song and got Nashville session singers to record a demo. It was a wonderful song. So wonderful that I gave the tape to my son to give to Cissy’s daughter the next time he saw her around. He didn’t know her other than as someone he saw around, and thus gave the song to her A&R people, those record company souls who decide what songs pop artists record. The artists themselves are often too busy being around to make the decisions themselves. The tape came back with the word that it was a good, “well constructed” song ... thanks for letting us hear it ... but it’s not right for Whitney.

At Steve’s memorial service in Nashville everyone sang a different song of his, one about saying goodbye. At Whitney’s memorial service on Saturday in Newark, the church full of celebrities -- invitation only, mind you, this is a show biz powwow, ain’t no Jenny from no block gettin’ into this yurt -- will sing “I Will Always Love You,” the song she recorded about never saying goodbye. Naturally the service will be broadcast on CNN and livestreamed.

And we can hear those notes forever.



UserpicWhat are the Bill Donovan Mysteries?
Posted by Mike Jahn

I often get asked for the exact list of Bill Donovan Mysteries. Actually, I more often get asked if I forgot to take my meds that morning. The latter is written down someplace, but I can't remember where. Here’s the list:
1. Night Rituals 1982
2. Death Games 1987
Murder at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (original title City of God,   1992) (Kindle Edition 2012)
4. Murder at the Museum of Natural History 1994
5. Murder on Theatre Row 1996 (Kindle Edition 2012)
6. Murder on Fifth Avenue 1998
7. Murder in Central Park 2000 (Kindle Edition 2011)
8. Murder on the Waterfront 2001(Kindle Edition 2012)
9. Murder in Coney Island 2003 (Kindle Edition 2011)
10. Donovan & Son 2008

HYou know when there's something you were just born to do? It's effortless, natural, you don't have to think about it?  Babe Ruth was born to play ball. Angelina Jolie was born to be beautiful. Mitt Romney was ... was ...

Let me start over. I was born to write. Was I born to write well? I'm not sure, you'll have to ask my editor. His answer will depend on how drunk you get him. I'll pick up the tab.

I was not born to fish. The only way I could catch a fish was to make him die of laughter. I tried fly fishing when I was a kid. I even tied my own flies, spent hours and hours on it. But I never caught anything. My flies never got so much as a hungry glance. The fish were too busy laughing their fins off.

But I was born to race sailboats. I was a very good sailor, at least by the standards of the Great South Bay, alongside which sat my home town of Sodom-by-the-Sea. I sailed a dinghy (not dingy; that would be my resume). In other words, small. It would take a very long stretch of an exceedingly fertile imagination to call them yachts.

It takes quite an imagination to visualize sailing yachts at all these days. Forget huge, sleek wooden vessels with acres of billowing white canvas above and scores of gin-swilling gentlemen in blazers below. Think instead of the Volvo 70, which is ... let me think (it's been known to happen) how to describe it ... perhaps as a 70-foot windsurfer plastered with corporate logos and able to outrun a U.S. Navy destroyer. Watch a video shot from one and you think the camera was mounted on a surfboard. Towering spray shoots everywhere. The men who sail them describe the experience of going on deck during full-tilt conditions as “being firehosed.”

Manned by Olympic athletes and equally trained others who are also professional sailors, six of the $10 million boats are currently tearing around the world in the Volvo Ocean Race, a nine-month, 39,000-mile aquatic Grand Pris that began in Alicante, Spain, in November and will end in Galway, Ireland, in July. They're currently at a planned stop in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on the Persian Gulf.

And therein hangs a sail. The Volvo 70 may be a windsurfer, but it’s high tech in every way. Laptops and displays are everywhere. Satellite data let them find good wind and sail around storms. There’s a “Media Crew Member” who blogs, tweets, and uploads videos to Youtube. There are cameras all over the place. The boat is more thoroughly wired into the Internet than a thousand teenage hackers. Think of a Superbowl with a camera mounted in the ball. It’s possible for a fan to get engulfed in the data stream and spend night and day doing nothing but watching the Volvo 70s circumnavigate. It’s easy. There are position updates every three hours that can be read by anyone.

Including pirates.

Finally, the ink-stained wretch who was born to write gets to the point. Better pump a few more shots of Old Red Eye into that editor before asking his opinion. The point is to remind us yet again that nothing is new, no matter how many digital bells and whistles you hang on it. Here we have the ultimate racing boats ... extreme sailing, some call it ... ripping up the sea faster than a destroyer, interacting in real time with the entire planet, docked in glittery Abu Dhabi hiding from pirates. And worrying about Iranian threats to close down the Strait of Hormuz before Saturday, January 14, when the boats have to get through it again to start of their sprint around Southeast Asia to Sanya, China, the fourth leg of the circumnavigation.

They’ll make it and "the Everest of racing" will continue ... if they aren't kidnapped or blown up.

Why would the boats not have to fear pirates? They're big buckets of cash ... I think I mentioned the $10 million price tags ... sailing the ancient trade routes carrying a fortune in publicity and promotion from port to port. Abu Dhabi and Sanya aren't putting on immense, citywide celebrations because they love wind and sea. (They are sponsoring two of the boats, the ones repeatedly breaking down). The Emir's crew just announced that more than 12,000 Abu Dhabi hotel nights have been sold to race organizers, support personnel, and fans. I suspect that the room rates are a bit higher than you and I pay at Motel 6.

Let's face it -- the Volvo 70s are merchant vessels. And navies were created many centuries ago specifically to protect merchant shipping. At some point just past Madagascar, as they were about to enter the Somali pirate danger zone, the race managers shut off the data stream, cut the position reports, and hoisted the boats, masts and all, onto an armed ship ... there are photos of a deck protected by razor wire ... for a series of secret maneuvers that ultimately got them to Abu Dhabi. Where the Emir is throwing one whale of a party. Truly, some party, a citywide celebration like that given the Olympics. When I got back from one of my races maybe I got a bottle of warm beer.

Pirates are not invited. Bloggers are, and a bunch of ours were flown in to help cover the festivities. 

I didn’t have all these problems racing off the shore of Sodom-by-the-Sea. I might be swamped by a ferry wake, run up on the rocks or a sand bar, tipped over into a school of jellyfish, or get stuck in the middle of the bay in a lightning storm while quivering five feet from a tall metal stick. That happened. I had the soiled trousers to prove it. Worse, when I got back to the dock someone had stolen the beer and there was sand in the sandwiches. But no one took me captive and no Iranians were firing missiles at me. 

So on Saturday, January 14, have three fingers of Old Red Eye in honor of the Olympian, high tech, tweeting sailors of the Volvo Ocean Race and cheer them on as they ride their heavily armed freighter out of missile range and far enough past the pirates to get back in the water, switch on the data stream, resume uploads and tweets, and show, one more time, that nothing is new. 

They were born to do it.


Mike Jahn’s newest Kindle book is “Murder in Central Park” http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Jahns-York-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B006QBRN0C/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326057566&sr=1-3

The Volvo Ocean Race http://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/home.html


I was thinking about the Kardashians. Thinking about this family of orange grifters is a feat not normally accomplished without several applications of Ol’ Red Eye followed by a plump couch to sleep it off on. The Kardashians are, Mom would have said, a perfect example of the rule “you are the company you keep,” in their family’s case, O.J. Simpson. They do nothing, nothing at all, are boring as all get out, and are paid for it. They are like my ancestor on the Yankee side, Obediah, and the seven or eight generations following.

Obediah and his household came from Stratford-on-Avon, England, via Lynn, Massachusetts, staying in the Boston area just long enough to relieve themselves but not long enough to be tarred by the feather of living in the proximity of future Red Sox and Kennedys. They did not come from the place where loiter orange grifters and double murderers.

My ancestors left the place where, if lucky, you might have dug up the sod around Shakespeare’s begonias. They wound up in Southampton, New York, in 1641, becoming one of the first English settlers of the Empire State, which otherwise was chock full of stubbornly prideful Dutchmen and increasingly worried Indians. 

What did they do when they got there? They dug clams. For 10 generations they dug clams and, I imagine, grew potatoes and carved up the dead whales that washed up on the beaches upon which the celebrities who now overpopulate the place turn themselves orange. There were lots of whales to die and wash up on the Hamptons beaches. There were no celebrity sunbathers because, if you think about it, it has not socially acceptable to walk around half or entirely naked until quite recently. There were lots of whales and clams but a decreasing number of, as my newspaperman  father put it, “durn angry Indians whose land was stole.”

After finishing with clams, Obediah’s descendants moved to Sag Harbor and began going to sea and actively slaughtering whales, one of them, my great-great grandfather, acquiring the title “Captain.” That part of the Empire State having become largely rid of Dutchmen, prideful or otherwise, they finally moved west to the town on the Great South Bay that I call Sodom-by-the-Sea. I do not call it that because it’s the place to catch the ferry to the gay parts of Fire Island, but because before the gays came it was notorious for swinging. You can keep yourself quite busy on or near beaches these days.

As for the durn angry Indians, they moved to Upstate New York and opened casinos, which is substantially better than turning yourself orange in Hollywood. So is digging clams, come to think of it.


UserpicSeptember 11, 2001: A Letter From the Front
Posted by Mike Jahn

It rained Monday night and early Tuesday morning, hard enough to flood the West Village apartment of my son, Evan, and his wife, Denise. The flood was bad enough to keep them up half the night sopping up the water with towels. The task was so exhausting that Denise decided to skip her 9 a.m. meeting at the World Trade Center. Instead, she was out on the terrace and was putting the towels out to dry when a mob of amateur butchers flew two jetliners into the landmark buildings where she otherwise would be sitting. It was line-of-sight from their terrace to America's future. She watched, transfixed, as flames and smoke rose and the buildings came down. 

Praise the Lord for rain

I was in a New Jersey Transit bus pulling into the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 8:42 a.m., about three minutes before it happened. I was there as result of a last-minute decision made because I was too tired for the ten-minute walk to the train station. (But the bus stop is outside my door.) The bus goes straight to midtown. En route to midtown, the train goes under the World Trade Center. 

Praise the Lord for tired feet and impetuosity

Still unaware that the skyline was being redone, I walked across 42nd Street hell-bent for my own 9 a.m. appointment. I walked by the corner of 43rd and Seventh, and paused long enough to reflect on the fact that 43rd Street in front of The New York Times headquarters looked exactly like it did 35 years ago (not counting the demise of Gough's Bar, where the guys from the press room used to drink drafts, wearing hats fashioned from pages of newspaper). Everything else about Times Square had changed, considering what has been called the "Disneyfication" of the square over the past decade. When I started uptown again I found my path blocked by a large group of people looking up at the news ticker and giant screen TV on the facade of One Times Square, formerly called the Times Tower and, later, Allied Chemical Tower. It's the triangular building atop which the ball falls on New Year's Eve. "Tourists," I thought, and stepped out into traffic to walk around them. Two blocks further uptown I had been slowed by two more corner crowds, all looking up, many with mouths agape. Then I heard a hardhat yell to another that "a fuckin' plane crashed into the World Trade Center." I stopped, turned, and watched along with everyone else. 

It was eleven hours before I would get home. The homeward trek would take place via feet, boat, feet, train, and car, in that order, and the feet component would add up to about five miles--more than enough to put me into the recliner with the remote and a six-pack of Buckler (The Afghans who run my local convenience store having run out of Kaliber, the nonalcoholic beer that I drank in those days.

My early morning wish to avoid walking didn't exactly work out.

Here's what it was like in the City that Never Sleeps on the day that the Daily News described as with the simple words "It's War." It was long, and draining, and strange in that sort of way poets are called for to describe. It reminded me of scenes from Independence Day, Armageddon, M*A*S*H (the movie, not the sitcom), Godzilla, and, oh hell, I don't know, The Mouse that Roared, in which invaders land in Manhattan only to find it deserted. Very shortly after the attack, authorities (the famous "they"), closed the island. No one in, no one out. Whoever stood in the streets on Tuesday morning was staying a while. After my 9 a.m. appointment grew into three hours--much of it talking about what happened downtown--followed by lunch with a pal at an Irish joint in Times Square dominated, that day, by gigantic TVs, infuriated patrons, and at least one very nervous looking busboy who appeared to be of middle Eastern descent, I set off on two quests.

The first was to get my hands on a couple of pills I would need before midnight in case I couldn't get home. I will confess to having reached the age where I need that sort of thing nightly and, sadly, not for the entertainment value. I talked a local doctor into giving me a prescription only to find out that a Rite Aid pharmacist was more than willing to hand over a night's supply, no questions asked, no money accepted. It was only the first instance in which I found it impossible to pay for something. The pills turned out to be easy to get. But a cheap AM radio was not to be found anywhere. Normally, you can buy them from sidewalk vendors for a couple of bucks each.

The second goal was to get home. For the time being, that was impossible. The island remained closed, although as the day dragged on an increasing number of bridges (but none in the direction I was going) were opened to foot traffic.

According to the Daily News's Corky Siemaszko, "... New York resembled a Third World capital after a particularly explosive coup"

No subways or buses were running. Taxis had entirely disappeared. There were, in fact, almost no civilian vehicles about. Instead, the streets were empty and strangely quiet save for official vehicles and the occasional convoy of police-escorted buses carrying victims to hospitals. Phone service, especially cellular phone service, was on and off, and highly erratic when it was on. A woman calling from Connecticut got my cell phone, which has a New Jersey area code, and when we sorted out who she was trying to reach determined that the circuits got every single digit wrong. The number she dialed bore absolutely no resemblance to mine, despite the fact she swore she dialed correctly. Twice.

I set out on foot for Evan and Denise's apartment, a distance of 40 blocks (two miles). We hung out on the terrace for a while, watching the smoke rise, then watched the news on the big-screen TV back where it was air conditioned and shook our heads. The sun failing to do a good enough job drying the towels, Denise took them down to the basement and put them in the dryer. Occasional forays out onto the terrace showed billows of smoke still rising from what remained of the World Trade Center. The smoke shared the clear blue sky with press helicopters and fighter jets, which roared over Manhattan and the outer boroughs. The normal, 24-hour buzz of Manhattan traffic and the blaring of horns was gone, replaced by silence broken every minute or so by the wail of sirens. Slowly and silently, stunned survivors walked uptown, a sooty and morose procession. Some spoke quietly on cell phones ... or jabbed in frustration at them. Most just walked, alone in their thoughts. They passed each block's neighborhood hangabouts--the usual suspects one finds on every corner or in every local hash house countrywide, the janitors, delivery men, small storeowners, and borderline ne'er-do-wells--who debated loudly the mechanisms of building collapse, international terrorism, and carpet bombing. Doctors also walked around, and quickly one came to accept as normal the sight of a doctor in blue scrubs standing in line for coffee or candy at a local shop.

If you were in a suit and looked tired, you got used to strangers walking up to you and asking, "you okay?"

Toward late afternoon, the view from the terrace showed ferries operating out on the Hudson. So we headed off for the waterfront, where poking around turned up a couple of piers where I was likely to hitch a ride. Our feet clattered on the cobblestones of the wholesale meat district, which also is home to gay bars and the sorts of nightclubs that Puffy, Jennifer, and others of that crowd periodically shoot holes in. Now, Manhattan has a beltway of sorts. Starting near the mound of smoking debris on the southernmost tip of the island and proceeding clockwise, there is West Street, the West Side Highway, the Henry Hudson Parkway, the Harlem River Drive, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, the latter known simply as the FDR. West Street is a wide boulevard connecting Manhattan's West Side piers. Normally it's clogged with traffic, with the center lanes zipping along fast enough to qualify for a grand prix. But on that day it was almost empty. The few vehicles were official, principally ambulances on their way to the medical staging area set up at the Chelsea Piers sports and entertainment complex. 

Ambulances and EMS units from all over the New York metropolitan area were parked for blocks around what resembled a gigantic MASH unit. Doctors and nurses wandered around or drank coffee, wearing scrubs and masks upon which someone had placed large labels made from surgical tape. Most of the labels read either "ALS" or "BLS," for advanced or basic life support. Such labels also decorated the windshields of ambulances. Many of the medical professionals seemed at a loss for something to do; so many bodies ... up to 50,000 people normally work in the World Trade Center ... presumably remained buried in the 12-story-high pile of debris that were was a shortage of patients to work on. Yet amidst the disaster-movie look of the West Side waterfront were clear reminders that this was, after all, New York--mixing among the docs and rescue guys were dog walkers, couples in arms, and the occasional half-naked roller blader. Imagine Roller Girl in Boogie Nights slipping silently through the set of M*A*S*H.

The West Side piers had become a contemporary Dunkirk. It seemed that everything that could float had been pressed into service ferrying people from Manhattan to New Jersey. I saw the Amberjack V, a luxury dinner cruise ship, taking on refugees, as was the entire fleet of Spirit of New York Cruises. Further up the harbor, Circle Line cruise boats joined Weehawken ferries in making the evacuation. A line snaked around the pier to get into the Spirit of New Jersey. I joined the line ... becoming number 280 to step onto that yacht, and stood aft as the majestic white ship pulled out into the Hudson. The interior of the ship was a full-service restaurant designed to take maximum advantage of a New York City skyline view that had forever been changed. Tables were set for the lunch cruise, but now offered only free water for the refugees who, I learned, could get free water just about everywhere. Eager young people handed cups of the stuff to you as you trudged here and there looking increasingly lost, much as they did for marathon runners. 

The Spirit of New Jersey crossed the Hudson, slipping between two battered brown Army Corps of Engineers tugboats that were chugging downtown. The setting sun lit up the smoke and dust cloud over the financial capital of America, making it glow and, for a moment, radiate. 

A fighter jet flew overhead, flying east. A young man, pale skinned with a small mustache, said, "nuke Mecca" 

A thirtyish woman looked at him without expression, then made a cell phone call during which she described the view from the river to the folks at home. When the ship docked in Weehawken, site of the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, the sun was dipping toward the horizon. Another single-file line took me through another M*A*S*H-type scene, past portable tables covered with yet more free water, and to a staging area where dozens of buses were ready to shuttle the weary to the train terminal in Hoboken for the duration of the trip home. The wait for the buses was two hours, I was told. Despite the amount of walking I had done already, I decided to walk the mile and three quarters. I joined another line of refugees, and what seemed like an hour later got a seat in an ancient train car that New Jersey Transit found somewhere, most likely in a museum. Trains were running on a load-and-go basis, of course for free. Forty-five minutes later I debarked, weary and sullen, in the pretty little suburban town, twenty minutes from the still-closed George Washington Bridge and noble, battered Manhattan, where I have lived in recent years.

A kid had erected a seven-foot flagpole in the back of his black pickup and from it flew a large American flag. He was driving around, looking pleased with himself.

Ellen drove me to the convenience store, the one in which I had joined the owner in considerable Taliban-bashing over the past few years. He was watching TV like everyone else, but looking edgy. After waiting for all other American-born customers to leave, I said, "you know who's going to get blamed for this, don't you?" He jumped into a rant more excited that the ones the subject of the Taliban gets him into, and said, "bin Laden is a madman! You cannot blame Afghanistan! This is not the fault of the people of Afghanistan!"

"Nonetheless," I said.

He was so excited that his English began to fade, and I lost track of what he was saying.

"Take care," I said, and went home to put my feet up.