The Magazine

South Toward Hell

The sad streets of New York.

Sep 24, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 02 • By MATT LABASH
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In this second category are Elliot and Andy Waller, two Maryland brothers on the lookout for their cousin, Josh Rosenthal, last seen on the 90th floor of Tower Two. The Wallers have come to supply investigators with more information, such as hair samples they pulled from their cousin's brush. After telling me how they almost failed to secure Josh's dental X-rays (his dentist's office is near Barneys, which today received a bomb threat), they hand me a "Missing" poster describing all their cousin's vitals. While the Wallers store their posters in a manila envelope, others are less subtle, preferring to advertise missing loved ones on their torsos--as if they were wandering city streets, waiting to be recognized.

The inside of the armory represents something Dante would have conceived of if he'd possessed a truly dark imagination. Hundreds of people sit on metal folding chairs on a scuffed wood floor, while hundreds more clog the aisles. It's difficult to tell if people are crying or perspiring, as the only cooling agents are two small fans propped against televisions beaming the latest in disaster developments. Row upon row of people shrug off detectives and chaplains and oversolicitous Red Cross volunteers, who every 30 seconds or so offer anxious family members bottled water or chocolate chip cookies or Arizona Iced tea.

"They ought to give you tranquilizers instead," jokes Edlene LaFrance, a nurse from the Bronx who is waiting, along with her adult son Jody Howard and his wife, to find out what became of Alan LaFrance, her husband and Jody's father.

It's about the only joking the family does. They, like other relatives, sit in stony silence, facing the door that leads to the basement, where, 20 at a time, they are taken to see two lists indicating that their loved one has been located and is either hospitalized or deceased. After two hours of waiting--"the most nervous I've ever been" says Edlene--the family finally gets the call. They go through an archway, descend a staircase, and snake down a long hall to see the lists. One volunteer offers a final shot of Pepsi, as if caffeine can prepare someone for the worst news they'll ever get. At a basement table, a Red Cross volunteer offers to comb the lists for Alan's name. Edlene assents, then lays her head on the table like a despondent child. Alan has not turned up in any of the hospitals. Neither is he on the deceased list.

For a moment, hope is restored. Edlene clutches a wedding picture of her husband in his white tuxedo. Their twenty-first anniversary is in two weeks, and maybe she'll be able to give him his already-purchased present--a new wedding ring. But then there's the hard math. It's been 58 hours since Alan disappeared in Tower Two. Though Alan wasn't on the "bad list," he wasn't on the "good list" either. Edlene's consolation prize, it turns out, is not much of one at all. Tomorrow, the bad list will be updated, and she'll have to look at it again.

Matt Labash is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.