Israel Horovitz Remembers Sept. 11
By JERRY TALLMER
Israel Horovitz and his wife Gill British-born marathon champion Gillian Adams were at morning coffee in their house on West 11th Street, across from St. Vincents Hospital, when the aircraft came screaming past, no more than 100 feet overhead, playwright Horovitz said.
He and his wife and everybody else in the 11th Street neighborhood held their breaths, waiting for the sound of a crash. There was a distant thud. And then, within minutes, the telephone rang. It was Gills father, retired school administrator Ken Adams, calling from London. You might want to have a look at the telly, he said
He hadnt made the connection to his grandchildren at all, says Horovitz, but we knew that Oliver and all the other kids at Stuyvesant were right across the street from the World Trade Center.
Oliver, then age 15, is one of Horovitzs five children. Olivers twin sister Hannah was at that moment in class at La Guardia High School, five miles north of the WTC, but Oliver who knew where he was? Inside Stuyvesant? On the street? Was there anything left of Stuyvesant High? Was Oliver alive? Was he dead?
Olivers fathers written recall of that hideous moment, that day, the nightmare of days that immediately followed, became a testament called 3 Weeks After Paradise, which in turn became a theater piece that was done and keeps getting done (by one or another solo actor) around the world.
The first such actor on the first anniversary of 9/11/01 was Mel England, who was four blocks from the WTC when the planes hit, and lost his friend Mychal Judge, the Fire Department chaplain, in the fall of the first tower.
At 3 p.m. this later day, Thursday, September 11, 2003, the second anniversary of 9/11/01, Mel England will perform 3 Weeks After Paradise at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Commerce Street, for benefit of the Children of WTC Victims CUNY Scholarship Fund.
3 Weeks After Paradise was subsequently made into a 52-minute documentary film with lots of family footage thats been widely broadcast 25 times, to date by Bravo television. There will be a screening of it at 6:30 p.m., Thursday Sept. 11, at the CUNY Graduate Center, Fifth Avenue and 34th Street the old Altmans building will be introduced by Horovitz, who dryly terms himself the talking head of the film. Afterward, hell conduct a give-and-take with the audience.
Actually, on that frightful 2001 morning, 15-year-old Oliver Horovitz was very much alive, and, with all his schoolmates and teachers, taking in everything that was happening right in front of his eyes the buildings on fire, the people leaping to their death, one by one, two by two, the buildings exploding, collapsing, first one, then the other . . .
Israel and Gill Horovitz go out on their bicycles, bound for Stuyvesant High. The human tide pressing north prevents any hope of reaching the school, or what may remain of the school.
I imagine myself in Olivers skin, Horovitz will write. I am 15 and have just learned that the towers are burning, just across the road . . . I am sure that I, at age 15, would have wanted a much closer look . . . We decide to return home, to call the school, to wait for Ollies call. We reach home just in time to watch the towers fall.
The images replay on television 50 times in five minutes. The doorbell rings. It is my oldest son, Matthew, a 39-year-old basketball fanatic and TV sports writer-editor-producer who lives with his wife Kelly on West Street, diagonally up from Ollies school. Matthew is white-faced. Ill go see, he says. Ill call you.
Time passes. The TV plays. Matthew phones. By now, Israel Horovitz, who prides himself as a runner, is sitting on the floor. His legs have given out. Suddenly, Matthew yells over the phone: The Stuy kids are walking up the West Side Highway with their teachers! Theyre okay!
But nothing is okay, not really, nor will it ever be again not like it was, all of Israels life, all of all our lives, before this day.
Its gone. It was there as long as Ive been a New Yorker, the playwright born and bred in Wakefield, Mass., will write, but now its gone. The sense of safety, of innocence, thats whats gone, he will say to the lifelong New Yorker, myself, who first laid eyes on Horovitz and his work when scared, skinny, cocky Israel filled in for some missing actor at the premier of a very young Israels own Line at Ellen Stewarts La MaMa, upstairs on Second Avenue, a thousand years ago. New Yorks safety and innocence thats what Paradise meant to me, 64-years-young Israel will now say.
I resent my childrens smiles, my wifes good nature, he writes in that 9/11 testament. Can they not smell death in the air as I do? And the two thousand photographs on the Missing Persons walls, just outside our door at St. Vincents and The New School and Rays Pizza? . . .
I see a policeman today. He is no more than 40, mustachioed, dapper. I am out running, which is, of late, a shuffle of despair. He is alone on the corner of Ninth Avenue and 17th Street, guarding God only knows what. He seems so sad.
How are you? I ask, if only to let him know he is not invisible. Not so good, he answers. And he begins to sob, turns away. I touch his arm, and move along the road, allowing him his illusion of dignity. A sobbing policeman? Can this be the same pig I so detested in 1968?
For a while after 9/11, Oliver preferred to sleep on the floor. Im all right, he assured his parents, Im just having a little trouble sleeping. Then Stanley Teitel, the principal at Stuyvesant High, asked Oliver to create a film about 9/11 to be shown in every home room when students and staff returned from temporary evacuation to Brooklyn Tech. Oliver immediately manifested signs of emotional improvement.
Horovitz, meanwhile, was having hideous dreams of desperate hand-to-hand Superman combat in airliners against highjackers armed with box cutters. Hed awake in a screaming sweat.
In that wretched condition I started seeing a shrink Dr. Carl Berg, who lives in the Village. One day I said to him: My sons been working on something, this film for his school, and seems to be a lot better. Should I do something? The psychiatrist looked at me and said: Hel-lo of course.
Thats when Horovitz started writing what would turn into 3 Weeks Ater Paradise.
It wasnt intended as a performance piece, he says. It was simply home therapy. But after a while he started e-mailing bits of it to friends and associates.
It had been a very busy time, just then. Plays, movies, other work. So the e-mails were to show: This is why Ive disappeared from my life and what its like, right now, in Downtown New York.
And to a man, says Horovitz, these people started putting it on stage. Alan Ayckbourn put it on stage in London. It began getting published all over the world. Was the No. 1 spoken-word CD in Germany for six months.
Then I was approached by several young filmmakers, all from New York City. I should tell you that some of them were Muslims, and that it was important for them, these Muslims, to work on the film. We made the film, showed it to Bravo, and Bravo put a significant amount of money toward a fund I started, a CUNY scholarship fund for the kids of poor people restaurant workers, prep chefs, illegal employees who died in 9/11. Weve raised a couple of hundred thousand dollars through the film and the stage piece.
Israel Horovitz has a son named Adam who is one of raps Beastie Boys, and thus much more famous than his father. Horovitz also has a daughter named Rachael who was executive producer of the Jack Nicholson movie About Schmidt. In the three weeks after 9/11, Horovitz smiled only once, when Rachael sent him a cartoon of the Taliban being threatened with: Turn over bin Laden or we will let your women go to college.
But it was also Rachael who, at 15, Olivers age two years ago, had said to her father: I think the people in our lives who cause us the most trouble are exactly the people we always knew would cause us the most trouble.
Horovitz knows that now. I keep telling myself Better days ahead, but I dont believe it for a second, he writes. I only believe that I will cope better . . . I will put this all somewhere in the inner reaches of my brain in a special place reserved for Hitler and my raging father the Wakefield truck driver who had been beaten as a child, became a lawyer at 50, and spent a whole life being angry . . . because he was angry. Israel wrote a play about him. It was produced at Off-Broadways WPA. Unexpected Tenderness it was called.
Its strange, Israel Horovitz said on the phone the other night. Terrence McNally and I just did a duet up at Gloucester (Mass.) a play of his back to back with a play of mine. We got talking, and Terrence said: All my life Ive always thought things were going to turn out okay.
Send for the mirror, somebody. The key line of 3 Weeks After Paradise is: Not once in my life have I ever thought that anything would work out okay. So we have a funny-house mirror that really isnt funny.