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Day One Hundred and Fifty Two: Reading the Prologue to “Love Triangles”, Book Two in my New York Trilogy at ‘The Author’s Spotlight’ at the Hasbrouck Heights Library October 7th, 2019

On the evening of October 7th, 2019, I did my second book reading of my up coming novel, Book Two in my New York Trilogy (the first being “Firehouse 101” published in 2005), “Love Triangles”. This is the story of Wharton Business Senior and Retailer Alan Balantine-Garfinckel adventure into New York City for the Christmas Holiday season working at Steinman’s Department Store.

Brooklyn Book Festival.jpg

Justin Watral, Author and Blogger

(Author Justin Watral at the Brooklyn Book Festival 2012 promoting Book One “Firehouse 101” (IUniverse.com 2005).

Alan who finds love while working in New York City gets more than he bargained for when while choosing between falling in love with his girlfriend, his best friend and a fantasy Champion figure skater his world is turned upside down when a mysteries rodeo cowboy enters the picture. How will true love conquer all?

Steinman's Department Store

Steinman’s Department Store’s first floor that mesmerized Alan Ballantine-Garfinckel

I read the beginning of my novel to a room full of hopeful authors and their friends at the Hasbrouck Heights Library in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ.

Steinman's Department Store II

Steinman’s Department Store at Christmas: Their first floor chandeliers

 

Here is the Prologue to my upcoming novel, “Love Triangles”.  I hope you all enjoy it and will buy the book:

 

Prologue

She came back to campus and now I have to flee, Alan thought. It was never easy confronting an old girlfriend and Alan didn’t want to start now. He took the coward approach and decided to leave campus. Not a good move in this bad economy but he decided it was time to leave Philly.  Alan and his best friend, Jerry were winding their way through the career fair on the University of Pennsylvania campus for most of the morning without much luck.  After over a decade of knowing one another, Jerry still acted like the whiny undergraduate Alan had known his freshman year.

“I can’t believe that they’re going through with it,” Jerry exclaimed as they passed the tables of recruiters. “They must be kidding themselves. They have known each other for almost forty years. God, my mother is such a shit. She is always pulling things like this! Why does she have to divorce the guy now?”

Alan did not want to discuss this any further having problems of his own to deal with at the moment. He had known Jerry’s parents for years and they never seemed happy. Jerry’s mother was a self-centered bitch, who always wanted things her own way regardless of everyone else’s feelings. Jerry’s father had gone along with it for years, her demeaning his every move. While vacationing in Europe, he caught her cheating with another man. It was the last straw in their marriage and Jerry knew it.

Jerry’s parents were now trying to get a quickie divorce while still in Europe. Jerry was flying abroad at the end of the semester to try to talk some sense into the two of them. Alan was grasping with his own issues. After losing his long term job at Sears when they closed his store as part of the downsizing, he had decided to go back to Penn and study at Wharton. His father wanted him to come into the family consulting business and Alan wanted to delay that as long as possible. His mother provided the excuse by recommending that he apply to Penn, where she had been a professor since their move to Philly years earlier. He knew he needed to get off campus. His ex-girlfriend was returning.

Christine and he had started dating as underclassmen. She had played center and had been the co-captain of Penn’s Women’s Basketball team and had been Alan’s girlfriend throughout most of his junior and senior years. There were a lot of things that Alan had been attracted by, her blond hair, her green eyes and a winning smile that lit up a room. After they clobbered Harvard for a share of the Ivy League title their junior year, with Christine leading the way, Alan had met her by approaching her afterwards to congratulate her on the winning basket.

Alan had always tried to put Christine on some sort of pedestal that even she could not understand. Their relationship had been strained from the beginning. By their senior year, as he watched her defend the Ivy League Women’s Basketball title, he knew that the relationship had cooled. Christine had told teammates she didn’t know if she was winning the championship for the team or to keep the relationship going. It struck anyone who knew them as odd as they always seemed like the happy couple.

Now over a decade later, she was returning to coach the team she lead to two championships and a second berth to the NCAA’s. In that time, she had also played professional basketball for New York and had been on the Olympic team, winning a gold medal in the Summer Games. Even with all that, none of it impressed Alan enough to rekindle the relationship. He just wanted a fresh start.

Too many people were entering the business school without any concept of what they wanted to do with the degree once they got it. The economy was a wreck but Alan knew there might be something out there that would give him a break from school. He wasn’t even sure what he wanted to do when he graduated the next year and didn’t want to have other younger students around to remind him of it.

“I know why you are leaving and it has nothing to do with Christine,” Jerry said as they rounded the corner looking for the Ritz-Carlton booth. “You can’t blame her for not being champion skater. Alan, that was a decade ago. You think you would have gotten over all that years ago. You built Christine up to be something she wasn’t and then you fucked the whole thing up. Ironically, here she is a decade later an Olympic champion herself and you still don’t care.”

“Shut up Jerry,” Alan said, not believing what he was hearing.

This was from a person who was a virgin until he was 38 and never had a serious girlfriend his whole life. The only reason why he even lost his virginity was that he saw the movie, “40 Year Old Virgin” on cable and did not want to have himself labeled the same.

Jerry knew the truth behind the breakup and couldn’t believe that after all these years Alan still harbored the same crush. Years earlier, when everyone else was glued to the TV for the controversy in figure skating scoring and medals that were shuttled to appease different countries and fighting skaters, Alan fell in love. When the skater had taken the ice, Alan wondered who she was and why everyone applauded her so much. When she finished her short program, the whole arena went wild.

It was what happened when she looked up and smiled. Alan’s heart raced and he knew that was the woman for him. It was her spunk, her determination and the look in her eyes of great accomplishment. The commentators were going wild with her performance and you could hear the boos in the background with her marks, which later everyone commented were too low for her performance.

The sports announcer said that she had done it to prove to herself that she could accomplish her goal of returning to skating and coming back to land the jump that made her famous a decade earlier. She showed such grace and dignity that even Alan felt it did not deserve the third place finish. She really deserved the gold!

It was later on in a documentary that Alan realized that she had not wanted to go to the Olympics. ‘I had already been there’, she commented and she wanted to give someone else a shot at competing there. Magazines hailed her as a great sportswoman and represented finally what was good in competition. She may not have won the event that night but she won the hearts of everyone who liked a comeback kid. It was the moment that Alan developed a major crush on skater, Darlene Durbin, the ‘Queen of the Quadruple’.

“That has been your problem for years, Alan,” Jerry explained as they walked. “You have held every woman you have ever met to that peak. In your eyes, no one is good enough, including Christine, who herself won a gold medal.”

“But no one ever applauded her like that,” Alan explained. “Alan, you were at the basketball championship. They applauded the team and all the players. They even gave the team a standing ovation,” Jerry exclaimed. “You saw it on TV. Even both of your parents could not believe you broke up.”

That spark wasn’t there, Alan said to himself, that heart and that great sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t in Christine’s eyes that night. She had done it for the team, but that sense of self-accomplishment wasn’t there.

“I just can’t explain it to you, Jerry. You wouldn’t understand the whole relationship,” Alan said, searching for the Ritz-Carlton booth and a chance to get off the subject.

Making the wrong turn down the isle, instead of being at the Ritz-Carlton booth, Alan was standing in front of the recruiting desk of M. Steinman & Company of New York City. While Alan looked at his map for a minute, the bored recruiter was happy to finally talk to someone. The recruiter was getting annoyed with having to direct undergraduates to the banking and financial booths (as if they would get jobs in this economy, he thought). He looked at Alan and saw something in him and then started his pitch.

“There are a lot of changes happening at Steinman’s,” the recruiter, George stated. “We have a whole new management team, new advertising and have reintroduced our old logo from 1896 as new. We even brought back our original slogan, ‘Steinman’s, it’s always a pleasure’.

Alan was not sure what he wanted to do with his time and thought that going to New York might be a nice change, plus it was far enough from Philly where he could avoid the college but close enough by where he could come home as needed.

“Do you have any retail experience?” George asked, trying to get Alan interested. George would later tell the interviewers in New York what a catch Alan was for the company.

“I was born to do it George,” Alan said. “I had been working at Sears as an Assistant General Manager until the company closed my store due to the downsizing.  That’s when I decided to go back to graduate school. There has been too much instability in the field and it has not gotten any better with this economy.”

George explained that Steinman’s was holding its own in New York and the recent renovation of the old store on Fifth Avenue brought curious shoppers into Steinman’s, who as Millennial’s had pretty much left it to their grandparents to shop. There were so many positive changes in the company and they were looking for people who understood the business to work along with them.

“Alan, please look over the material and call to schedule an interview. We would like to meet with you. I think that you will be a good match. There will be a second round of interviews in New York and you will be able to see the workings of the store. I would like to see you soon,” George said as he shoved his business card in Alan’s hand and scheduled the on-campus interview.

Even though Alan was much older then the usual candidate, he could be placed in a higher position then the typical college graduate. Alan agreed to the interview and said he would see him tomorrow.

Alan felt a sense of déjà vu. Had this happened before? Something seemed so familiar about all this but he could not put his finger on it. He said goodbye to George and set off to look for Jerry. Jerry was probably boring some recruiter with all his parents’ marriage woes. For God sake, the guy was almost 40 and he was worried about his parents?

Jerry saw Alan and waved down to him. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company was down this aisle, he pointed out. Alan could see the hotel display from a distance.

“Where were you all this time,” Jerry asked. “Ritz-Carlton was down this side of the aisle. We went the wrong way. You must have read the map upside down.”

Alan explained that he was talking to Steinman’s Department Store out of New York and had arranged for an interview for tomorrow. Jerry asked him if he was crazy.

“You always told me that your father nearly went crazy after losing the family store decades ago and that you never wanted to enter the field again after that whole thing at Sear’s. You have the rest of your life to go into that business, especially if you join your father in his consulting and buying business.”

“It’s not that Jerry,” Alan explained. “Something seemed so right about it. It was like I was going home. Steinman’s reminds me so much of what I grew up with in DC. The stores were always considered very similar. Hell, I remember my grandfather complaining that old man Steinman used to come to DC just to steal his ideas. Besides it would be nice to spend the holidays in New York. Let’s face facts; I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.”

“You are just avoiding Christine, Alan,” Jerry said. “You just want to avoid the issues of your breakup and not see her around campus. You built her up to be something she wasn’t and then you screwed it all up. You had no one to blame but yourself.”

“Shut up, Jerry,” Alan growled as he walked towards the Ritz-Carlton booth. “Don’t let your parent’s problems cloud your judgment about mine. I am getting tired about talking about it and let’s change the subject. Did I tell you I had the elevator dream again?”

Jerry shook his head but knew of the dream. It seemed that Alan had been having this dream ever since he hit puberty. Alan had always reached a certain point in the dream and then always woke up before it was over.

As Alan got older, the dream would progress but would never reach a conclusion. He always woke up. Jerry asked what had happened this time. Alan told him this time the elevator had reached the top floor and the door had opened. He stepped out into an open plain. He saw a figure in the distance. As the figure approached him, he woke up.

“You have gotten further then before,” Jerry said as they waited in line to talk to the recruiter from Ritz-Carlton. “What do you think it means?”

“It means I am closer to finding a solution to a problem,” Alan explained. “I don’t know what it is supposed to mean, Jerry. I just don’t understand why I keep waking up before it’s finished.”

When Alan was younger, it always ended up being a wet dream. Now as an adult, he woke up hard. When he and Christine were sleeping together, she had no idea of the dream. He was always hard and she enjoyed love making in the morning. Alan never told her the reasons. Jerry asked him what he thought he was going to find in New York. Was it the answer to this riddle?

“I don’t know, but I need a change. I need to get out of Philly and away from my parents. I have been cooped up in Philly too long. I knew I should have gone to graduate school elsewhere. While it is great that I am saving so much, I don’t like the fact that I am Professor Garfinckel’s son,” Alan stated with some disgust.

Alan did not like the fact that his mother, a Senior Professor at Wharton, pushed him so hard to attend the school. He had liked working but she worried about him being lost in his career.

“Maybe what I am looking for is in New York, you never know,” Alan stated as his turn with the Ritz-Carlton recruiter came up.

The night before his interview with Steinman’s, Alan had the elevator dream again. This time the dream was longer and more vivid. The dream had always started the same. Alan was walking down a long hallway of office doors and then an elevator at the end of the hallway would open up on its own. He would press the button to go up and the elevator door would close with a thud. As the elevator rose, it went faster and seemed to want to get to its destination as quickly as possible. The elevator light panel criss-crossed quickly and twinkled like a Christmas tree. Alan began to worry that the elevator might crash through the roof.

Then as suddenly as the elevator rose, it began to slow down. It stopped with a small jolt and the red flashing light flashed “17th Floor”. The door slid open quietly. Alan stepped out of the elevator onto an open plain, as far as the eye could see. No noise, no cars and no people. Just open plain with cactus, brush and mountain in the distance.

Alan took a few steps out of the elevator, contemplating on what to do next. He was startled as the doors slammed behind him. He turned to see that the elevator had disappeared, as if it never existed in the first place. “Where am I?” he thought to himself. Alan stood all alone in the blazing sun, dressed in a blue suit, Gucci red tie and loafers and briefcase, looking totally out of place in the environment.

He wondered how he was going to get out of there, when he heard the faint beat of hooves in the distance. Alan turned to look in the direction the sound was coming from and it grew louder as the figure came closer. Alan made out the faint figure of a man on a white house riding in his direction. This is strange, Alan thought, this is where the dream had always ended.

Alan stared as the man on horseback rose toward him. Suddenly, he was about twenty feet from Alan. He dropped his briefcase and walked toward the man. Alan could not see his face very well. Climbing down from his horse, the cowboy walked toward Alan. His white Stetson covered part of his face, but Alan could see the rest of him. He was wearing a duster, blue jeans and cowboy boots.

Alan was amused by his slightly bow-legged walk. Now directly in front of him, Alan still could not make out his face.

“So I finally found yawl,” the cowboy said with a slight Southern drawl.

“It was not that difficult, I have been here many times before,” Alan stated. “Why has it taken you so long to appear?”

The cowboy kicked the dirt in front of him and shrugged. “I was not sure that yawl wanted to see me, but I see the time has come,” the cowboy said. “I feel that the time is right. Yawl wished for me and now I’m here.”

“I did?” Alan asked.

“Yawl always wanted to meet me and here I am,” the cowboy added.

The cowboy stepped in front of Alan and rubbed his right shoulder gently and then walked closer. Alan could see the dazzling smile appear as his thick mustache crinkled slightly. Even though the face was fuzzy, he could make out the cowboy’s green eyes. Not just any green, but a deep emerald green that sparkled in the mid-day sun.

Alan moved himself closer to the cowboy and with that, the cowboy reached over and gently hugged Alan. Alan had a warm feeling all over his body that did not come from the heat of the sun. Alan moved closer as his hand reached for the zipper of the cowboy’s jacket and slowly unzipped it. It revealed the cowboy’s leather vest, printed cowboy shirt and his gun.

Alan put his arm around the cowboy’s waist and drew him in closer, reached over and started to rub his back. The cowboy put his arms around Alan and hugged him gently.

“If yawl wants me to stop, just let me know,” the cowboy whispered into Alan’s ear, as he slowly rubbed his head on Alan’s shoulder.

“No,” Alan answered, “Come closer.” His arms encircled the cowboy’s shoulders.

Though Alan still did not have a clear view of his face, his mustached lips moved closer to Alan’s and he kissed him. Alan giggled slightly.

“What’s so funny?” the cowboy asked as he pulled away.

“Your mustache tickles,” Alan replied.

It did not just tickle; it felt wonderful, Alan thought, soft and bushy. It was thick and neatly trimmed and brushed up against Alan’s clean-shaven face. Alan moved the Stetson over slightly and they kissed again. The kissed gently at first and then harder and more passionate.

Alan hugged the cowboy tightly and could feel pressing against him the erection in the cowboy’s tight jeans. As the cowboy’s head rested on Alan’s shoulder, Alan could feel his warm breath on his neck and the faint smell of cinnamon. The cowboy’s hand then made its way to Alan’s groin and caressed his growing erection. He gave it a slight grab.

“I think you are ready,” the cowboy said. Alan looked into the cowboy’s eyes and asked (he could still not make out the face).

“What do you mean?” Alan asked.

The cowboy flashed that mustached smile as he pulled away from Alan.

“I think it’s time for yawls wish to come true,” the cowboy answered as he slowly moved away and walked back to his horse. Alan stared as the cowboy mounted his horse, slid his duster back to reveal his holster. He pulled the gun out, spun it rapidly on his index finger before returning it to his holster. He turned the horse towards Alan.

“What wish do you mean?” Alan asked as he looked up.

The cowboy smiled again and said, “The one that yawl have locked deep in yawls heart and wished to come true. The one yawl fantasizes about coming true even though yawl don’t understand the feeling. It has always been in front of yawl, Alan. Yawl are just beginning to understand it.” The cowboy tipped his Stetson, so that Alan could see the bright emerald of his green eyes again.

“Will I see you again?” Alan called to him.

“Yawl will know when it’s time,” the cowboy shouted back, as he slowly rode away.

“When will that be?” Alan asked.

“When it’s time,” the cowboy replied.

“Why can’t I see your face clearly,” Alan yelled.

The cowboy turned back and flashed his smile again and rode off shouting, “When it’s time, yawl will know.” Alan could hear the echo and fade as the cowboy rode off in the sunset, “when it’s time, when it’s time….”

Alan took a few steps backward to see the cowboy riding in the distance and then tripped over his own briefcase. He fell back into the now opened elevator door. The doors closed shut on the western scene. The elevator raced down as rapidly as it had ascended. Floor numbers lit up quickly as the elevator reached the bottom floor.

The door opened at the ground floor of a department store crowded with hundreds of holiday shoppers who were busy doing their Christmas shopping on one of the busiest days of the year in a store decorated for the holidays. Alan walked down the main aisle toward the front of the store as the words, “when it’s time…” rang in his ear. As the crowd parted for him without him asking (this must be a dream, he thought, no one does this in New York City), he walked through the glass revolving door to exit the store and the bolt of cold air woke him up. He finished the dream!

Alan jumped out of bed. ‘Holy shit’ he thought, I am going to be late. He was starting his first day at Steinman’s and wanted to make a good impression by getting there early. He showered, shaved, dressed and ate quickly. He grabbed his briefcase and his papers and ran past Gramercy Park on the way to the subway in Union Square. He took one look back to look at the trees, which were still green. ‘That will change’, he thought to himself. The holiday season was right around the corner. As he got to the subway, he said quietly to himself. “Maybe it is time.” He then added, “Nothing like being late on your first day of work!” He then disappeared down the subway stairs.

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The Former Garfinckel’s Department Store on F Street in Washington DC

 

Special Author’s note: “Firehouse 101” can be ordered on the IUniverse.com website, Amazon, Barnes & Nobel.com, Walmart.com or any other book platform. The book can be found for sale at the FDNY Museum in Lower Manhattan if still in stock.

Be on the look out for Book Three of the Trilogy “Dinner at Midnight”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day Fifty-Five: The Fifteenth Anniversary of the Attacks of 9/11 and the Tenth Anniversary of my novel, “Firehouse 101” September 11th, 2016

I can’t believe that it has been fifteen years since the attacks on the World Trade Center. It seems like a lifetime ago. As the site has been almost rebuilt with the new One World Trade Center (visited earlier in my walk last Thanksgiving) and two visits to the 9/11 Memorial Museum and numerous visits to the site, I think back on my eleven years on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department and the path I have lead to this point.

I think that the department has really grounded me in many ways and made me more disciplined. I have been able to help my community in ways that baking items for bake sales and selling Christmas trees never did even though these raised a lot of money for their respective causes. I think I have become a better person and a more aware person since joining the department. I really do think you are born a fireman. It just comes out a time when you recognize it. It was like a calling for me and I found what I was looking for in my life and I would never change it for the world.

Am I the best fire fighter or the most dedicated? That is up for debate after every call. I do know one thing, I have been able to help the people in my community in so many ways and when I hear from perfect strangers in my town or surrounding towns “I remember you. You came to my house and helped so-in-so in my family. Thank you so much for that.”, it makes me feel like a better person.

When I wrote “Firehouse 101” (part of a trilogy of books that take place in New York City, the other two being “Love Triangles” and “Dinner at Midnight”), I was at a different stage of my life and honestly if I had to write the book today, I could not do it. The book helped me grapple with what I saw and heard from other guys on the department when I got home to New Jersey from the island of Guam where I was living at the time.

Firehouse 101 Picture III

How did a ‘preppie’ like me join the fire department? I was writing several articles on 9/11 for the local paper when I got home (basically because would write for free and I volunteered) and I interviewed so many fire fighters in my town on their role on 9/11 that I got sucked in. After a three hour interview with our now former chief and a long service fire fighter that had me on the edge of my seat the whole time with the stories they told me of that horrible day, the chief turned to me and said, “Have you ever considered becoming a fire fighter?”

I really thought about it when I got home and said to myself “Why would anyone think ‘Preppie Me’ would make a good fireman?” Then it really got me thinking of a lot of times I had met firemen along the way in my life and how impressed I was by them. It stayed with me for a long time and then I was helping out with the town’s tree lighting ceremony about a year later and the fireman I interviewed was standing in line behind me for a hot chocolate and I asked how he like the article I wrote. Then out of the blue I asked “Are you still looking for more firemen to join the department?” He then took me over to meet the chief I had interviewed and I asked about joining the department. Two months later I interviewed with my company and five months after that on June 12, 2005, I became a member of Engine One of the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department and eleven years later I am still going strong as an Exempt fire fighter, member of the Bergen County Fireman’s Home Association, Department Secretary, Company Secretary, Head of our company’s annual barbecue and chicken parm dinner and still writing articles on the department. I  really do think they saw something in me that day that I did not see in myself.

As much as my brothers can drive me crazy at times, there is no other place I would rather be and when push comes to shove, they are there for me. The one true time I saw the ‘Brotherhood’ shine was when my father died and on the night of the wake, they came out for me. The fireman, who I wrote the article about, Fire Fighter Tom Rubino, who will be retiring from the department this year and is our acting Fire Chaplin, read a beautiful speech about my father, whom everyone on the department had known for years at that point and had admired his bravery and hard work after his stroke to get better. It made it even more touching that it was him that read the speech after that night so many years ago. The members of not just my company but other companies as well came out to support me and my father at a very tough time in my life and I will never forget that kindness. It is really a feeling that someone who is not a fire fighter will ever experience. There really is something to being a fire fighter and being part of a community in the fire service.

So on this anniversary of 9/11, I leave you with a section of the book when Alex Livingston, a scion of the famous Livingston family of the Hudson Valley, interviews the fire chief from Firehouse 101 in Brooklyn, New York and his tale of the 9/11 attacks. It tells the story of fire fighter Ryan Callahan, who survived that attacks that day and watched his best friend die next to him.

To all the families and friends who lost loved ones that day, my heart goes out to you. It still is not easy for any of us on the fire service no matter when we joined. I hope one day you can read my novel “Firehouse 101”. It might help you grapple with your pain. If you want to read a funny but touching article on me, read The Gazette newspaper article in 2006 on my life a year later in the fire service “So, yous want to be a Fireman?”

Excerpt from the interview with Carmen Giovanni (who I wanted it to be played in the movie version by musician and actor Huey Lewis)

What exactly happened to Ryan that day?” Alex asked. “At the school or on September 11th?” Carmen replied. “Both,” Alex said now fascinated by it all. He wanted to get the story straight once and for all. “I can only tell you what the men told me. When they got the call on September 11th, this house was the second one to respond from Brooklyn. They were going over the bridge when they saw the second plane hit the towers. The house sent seven men down plus two others who were off duty. Some stayed to man the house, while the others went down to the site. We were going through a shift change, not unlike my own house at the time, so there were lots of men milling around that morning. They got the call early and being so close to lower Manhattan they went. Hilly was never one to wait. One of the men told me that on the ride down, Hilly had said, “When we put this one out, I personally want to catch those rat bastards that did this to our city.”

“What about Ryan that day?” Alex said wanting to get back on the subject. “From what I heard he barely said a word. He was in another world by that point. Others were chatting on and on about what type of plane must have hit when the second plane hit the other tower. Then they were all quiet. Those men saw too much that day,” Carmen added. He paused for a second, looked at Alex and gave him a sorrowful look like he was waiting for a reaction. Alex sat wide eyed and continued to write.

“From what the men told me, Hilly went into the Tower Two to see what they could do and where they should go first. Since there was so much chaos, Hilly took control and helped escorting people out of the building and away from danger. They say he was pretty calm. From what I knew of the guy, he would have had everyone double step and yell at them if they didn’t do it. So he and the rest of the men helped there. From what I heard, they then got a call to help on the upper floors, so Hilly took four of the men with him and told Ryan and Patrick to stay behind to help get the infirmed or injured out of the building. That’s why Ryan and Patrick were alive that day.

The picture of Ryan and Patrick was taken ten minutes before the first tower came down. It had literally knocked their helmets off. All Ryan could remember when he came out of the coma in the hospital was that he and Patrick had gone back to the lobby to help get more people out of he building. They had been helping an older man and the next thing he knew, he woke up in the hospital a few weeks later. Carmen was calm as he explained the story to Alex.

Alex could not believe what he was hearing. It was like a TV movie. So that was the story, that’s what really happened that day. No wonder Ryan wanted to forget it, what a horrifying experience. “So what happened at the hospital when he woke up?” Alex asked.

Carmen thought about this for a minute. Should he continue on? Who was this for anyway? Carmen decided to continue thinking that Alex was a concerned friend. In actuality, Alex was trying to get an idea of the magnitude of what happened that day to one person. He wanted to know what Leslie, Ryan, and Roger were not telling him. Alex felt that he had never been that nice to Ryan the whole time he lived in New York. He began to realize that he felt sorry for himself as Ryan had for himself and what concerned Ryan was much worse.

“One of the men told me that they could not believe that Ryan made it out with just a sprained ankle and a few minor cuts. It was the way he fell. The base of a fountain protected him. Even I couldn’t believe it but that’s where they found him. He and Patrick were still alive. The man they were helping was literally crushed by the beam they found on top of him,” Carmen added. “How did they find them?” Alex asked. Some firemen from a downtown house found them and got them the hell out of there,” Carmen continued, “no one could believe that they survived the first collapse. There was no help for Patrick though; he died after they got to the hospital. The impact was more severe that it appeared, he was suffering from internal bleeding. He died before his parents even knew that he had made it to the hospital. Mr. And Mrs. Callahan had to help the two of them home.” Alex had known that the two families were very close and Patrick and Ryan knew each other since they were practically born. Carmen was not sure how much Alex knew of Ryan.

“His old girlfriend told me about that,” Alex said, “it must be horrible for any parent to bury a child under any conditions but after what had happened on September 11th, it must have been even more traumatizing, especially when it seemed like there was a chance he survived. No one should have had to die such a terrible death.”

Alex had not noticed that during the interview. Carmen’s face turned red them almost to almost purple, like he was holding his breath. Alex was worried and said, “Carmen are you okay? Do you need some water or something?” Carmen looked away then looked back at Alex. He looked him straight in the eye and started a speech that Alex would not ever dream of interrupting.

“You’re right, Alex. No one should have had to die such a horrible way because no one should have had to die that day!” Carmen shouted. “We had so many good men die that day that should not have and why? I’ll tell you why. No one was watching the signs, no one shared information. Everyone letting their egos get in the way. No one had a back up plan, no one understood the big picture. We all went in blind because no one knew. And the city, Jesus Christ, I still can’t believe it. You’d think we would have learned from the bombings in ’93, but we didn’t. We got smug. We thought they couldn’t possibly do it again. They wouldn’t even try. And we warned the city government! We said we needed new equipment but did they listen, NO!!! It was too expensive, we have no money, we have to cut the budget and wait until next year. Jesus Christ, here it is nine years later and we still don’t have it! What the fuck are they waiting for to get hit next? The Brooklyn Bridge? The Empire State Building? I would like to know what the hell they are waiting for. My own brother and I can’t even talk to each other on radio. The police can’t talk to the firemen in this city and that is so fuckin’ ridiculous!” Carmen said now screaming at the top of his lungs. Carmen took a book off his desk and threw it at the wall. He was really pissed!

Then he continued, “Nothing in this god-damned city will ever change. They will spend money on parades and on memorials and then turn around and not want to buy new radios for us because it is too expensive! Well tell me this; would the person who said it would be too expensive to buy us new radios like to explain to over two thousand family members and to over a hundred and fifty widows of fire fighters that there was no money for them? I would like to meet them myself and explain it to them!” Carmen was in a near frenzy.

“I even yelled at that stupid brother of mine to knock some sense into some of his friends in the police department to get the ball rolling. This is such a load of bullshit! When did we let out egos get in the way such that departments won’t even help each other? Do you know how many firemen are former policemen? This is our wake up call to talk to one another and be better organized. If we don’t, I won’t blame the federal government because it won’t be the government’s fault but our own pride and stupidity! We don’t need anymore god damn parades praising us. We need good working conditions. Our firehouses can’t be falling apart and rat infested, we need new equipment to do our jobs and we need better salaries so our men and women can live closer to the city they serve. Do you know that some of our men have to live at home because they can’t make it on the starting salary? Christ, that’s pathetic! Our men aren’t being subsidized by Mommy and Daddy to live on the Upper East Side!” Carmen gave Alex the conclusion to his speech when he swept everything off his desk and yelled at the top of his lungs, “NO ONE HAD TO DIE THAT DAY!!!!”

 

Day Fifty-Two: A Visit to Washington DC in search of Alan Garfinckel-The Release of “Love Triangles” August 19th, 2016

 

I am getting ready to release the second book of my trilogy, “Love Triangles” (“Firehouse 101” was released ten years ago and will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary on September 25th). Since a section of the book takes place in Washington DC and I had to run an errand in the nation’s capital, I decided to get some research in as well since I wanted to update that section of the book.

To put it bluntly, DC has changed tremendously since I started writing the book in 1989. When I first started to write “Love Triangles”, Washington DC was falling apart. I had just graduated from college and had visited DC several times since the eighth grade and decided to set the book at Garfinckel’s Department Store when I visited it in the summer my father took my brother and I down to DC for a business trip. Those were the days when you could let a 13 and 11 year old roam the city by themselves. We were staying at a hotel close to F Street and my dad trusted us while he was working.

I knew at a young age what I wanted to do when I grew up and since I has just been in Washington DC with my eighth grade class a few months before, my brother and I roamed downtown DC and spent the day roaming the department stores on F Street. This was the heyday before the shopping district went downhill. We roamed around the Willard Hotel, Hecht & Company, Woodward & Lothrop and finally spent the afternoon at Garfinckel’s shopping for gifts for our parents before hitting the Smithsonian .

I remember buying my father a bottle of ‘Grey Flannel’ for a thank you gift and getting my mother a decorative candle because we could not afford the silver salad server by a dollar when we were at Garfinckel’s. Looking back on customer service, it must have been unusual to see two teenage kids shopping by themselves in DC but the woman never blinked an eye and as friendly and professional as I remember her being, she wouldn’t give us a break on the salad server. So we settled on the candle. I still remember having a snack in the Greenbrier Room, the restaurant in the store and my dad had that bottle of ‘Grey Flannel’ until I moved back in with him in 2001 from Guam. I believe that I was the one that finished it up. It is funny how one afternoon can inspire a book considering the store closed over twenty five  years ago.

Once I finished some work I had to do in the city, I took a special trip and walked all over the downtown area that had inspired the book so long ago. The buildings for the most part are still there. Hecht & Company converted to Macy’s years ago and they had closed the old store on F Street back in the 90’s, Woodies closed in the 90’s too when merged with John Wanamaker from Philly and both stores which needed massive renovations fell under the weight of a bad economy and Garfinckel’s closed when it was spun off to Hooker Real Estate Company and all the stores owned by Hooker that included Altman’s and Bonwit Teller closed for lack of business. The early 90’s were dark days in retail as many old-line and carriage trade department stores that had survived the Depression and years of consolidations finally closed their doors for good. The closing of Garfinckel’s came about the same time I started to write “Love Triangles”.

To keep the updates on the book fresh, I walked down to F Street to see the old buildings. Hecht & Company was now another retailer but the building is still beautiful and a testament to when shopping wasn’t a chore but a leisure activity. Woodies still keeps its name plates and pictures of the old store in its heyday in the lobby which is still polished oak and marble. Occasionally an old timer like myself will walk the lobby and still look at the old pictures and have good memories of a store long forgotten by a newer generation of shoppers. My next part of the F Street tour was the old Garfinckel’s building which is now been renovated, reopened and renamed the Hamilton Square Building housing what was once Clyde’s of Tyson’s Corner and now the Hamilton Grill. You can still see the Julius Garfinckel nameplate above the doors of the building hidden behind the awning. That is all that is left of the store that I bought those gifts so many years ago. It’s still an elegant building.

After the department store tour, I made my way across the street to the Willard Hotel, still considered one of the Grand Dames of the city which has been now overshadowed by Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton Hotels plus a slew of others that have opened in the last thirty years. It’s still a beautiful old hotel but it could really use a spruce up when you look closely at it. The one nice added feature was the outdoor café that they put in the back of the hotel facing the Mall. That was packed to the gills with tourists looking for some shade.

I walked around the Mall and towards the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue and the security was out in full force. I have never seen so many policemen and security before but since people have jumped the fence and landed in the yard lately, it is better that way. The tourists acted like tourists in front of the building but I always felt that I was being watched.

I walked back around the downtown and walked down to Chinatown, which at this point has been reduced to one block and about a dozen restaurants in which some are still living on their reputations from years ago. I went to Chinatown Express (746 6th Street SW), a noodle and dumpling house that I had eaten at back in 2010 with my dad when we took a trip to DC to see the White House Christmas tree. Back then, the restaurant was introducing fresh dumplings and noodles made in front of you which not many places were doing in New York City yet. How New York has caught up and done better. The food went downhill in six years (See review on TripAdvisor).

The soup dumplings were dried out, the shrimp dumplings were under cooked and over pan-fried and the noodles were good but not great. The service was lackluster. Ever since they built the Verizon Center, they pretty much destroyed what was left of Chinatown. It is now down to about a block and most of the restaurants look like tired old relics of bygone era. The area has gentrified itself out of character.

I was able to walk back down E Street towards Ford Theater. The modern section of the building really showcases the times but the old building is a step back in time. The scary part is when you walk across the street to the doctor’s house where they took the body after the shooting. They still have the blood soaked pillow in the display case. The exhibition is a real eye opener and this should not be missed. It is one of the tours that is a must do when in DC (See review on TripAdvisor).

My last part of the tour was a walk around the Mall and a tour of the Natural History Museum off Constitutional Avenue NW. This is one of the museums I still remember from my eighth grade trip to DC. I still have a fascination with the Hope Diamond and it is something to see it. The whole Gem exhibition should not be missed as some of the most famous gems are located here as well as the stones in their raw state. The animal exhibitions are good but do not have the same effect as in the Museum of Natural History in New York.

By the end of the day, the humidity was a killer. I was exhausted from all the walking and the heat was no help. I walked back to Union Station and cooled down. They have fully renovated the station and it is much more than just a train station. It is a destination of shopping and restaurants and has the most impressive lobby to walk around. The station is the true hub of the city with both the trains and subways to take you to all parts of the city. Make sure to visit the McDonalds in the station. The service is excellent and for a McDonalds the food is really good (See review on TripAdvisor).

I don’t care what people say about travelling by train, it is the best way to go. If I drove this trip, it would have taken me four hours and we got down to DC in two and a half hours by Acela and it is the best way to travel. It is so relaxing and peaceful in the Quiet Car. You just relax and watch the cities and towns pass you by. Even Trenton looks pretty good from the train.

Be on the look out for the release of “Love Triangles” as an Ebook as well as read my first book, “Firehouse 101”, the first book in the trilogy. You will see how they tie in a moment in time and show New York City in a unique light. Enjoy the reading and take a train ride down to DC. With so many things to see and places to visit, it is well worth the trip.