Pouring whiskey in the wound – eating and drinking after 9/11
May 2nd, 2011
04:00 PM ET
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Editor's Note: This story originally ran on May 2, 2011

I poured myself a bourbon last night. Got into the good stuff, even - a 15-year-old Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve I'd been doling out in small drams for the past few years. After slogging through the flood of Osama bin Laden news from television and Twitter and shouts from the street, it seemed right to stop and mark the moment.

There are many ways to acknowledge a momentous occasion, and some have the benefit of ritual. Weddings have a Champagne toast, birthdays a cake, funerals have casseroles borne by well-meaning neighbors who may not have sufficient words, but can offer comfort by way of a turkey tettrazini.

Back on that sunny September Tuesday nearly ten years ago, so many New Yorkers were simply unmoored. There is no protocol for how to behave on a day when you're simply trying to go about the business of getting coffee, shoehorning yourself into a subway car and heading to work and a madman sends your city crashing to the ground. In the hours that followed, in addition to the stunningly grim task of ascertaining if our loved ones were alive, simply getting back to the safety of home (assuming it was still safely habitable) became achingly difficult.

On my third day of training at a new job in an office park in a suburb just north of New York City, I was still trying to find the restrooms and coffee pot without assistance. I spent the morning determining friends' whereabouts and e-mailing with the man I was dating as he watched people hurl themselves out the windows of the World Trade Center tower across the street. Having to figure out how to get myself back to Brooklyn when trains were suspended was simply rubbing salt into a rather grievous wound, but there was no way I wasn't going to try. Not only did I desperately need the comfort and normalcy of friends - my neighbors John and Anna Liza had reached out to say, "Get here, and we'll feed you."

That may seem trivial, but it was all that sustained me as I sprinted to the first available southbound Metro North train, through the empty, echoing subway stations and over the Manhattan Bridge, where I caught my first glimpse of the wrecked and smoking skyline. The few commuters still, like me, struggling homeward, craned in shock toward the familiar cityscape that now looked for all the world as if it had gotten its front teeth punched out. Once in my neighborhood, I hurled myself off the train, up the hill and up the stairs to their apartment.

We hugged, and Anna Liza went back to the work of making rigatoni with sauce and thick, spicy Italian sausage. It was dark outside, and stunk of ash and smoke and horror, and every once in a while, a piece of paper would waft to the street - all the way from someone's desk in one of the towers. John, our friend Chuck and I made our way to the bulletproof liquor store - seemingly the only business open - and purchased what we grimly referred to as the "tragedy-sized" bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey. We drained the entire thing as we stuffed our faces with Anna Liza's soulful dish and strained to hear news updates from any station that hadn't lost its antenna.

In the wee, small hours, when there were no new updates, simply endless loops of crash and fall and plumes of smoke, Chuck and I left our friends to attempt a fitful sleep, hugged drunkenly on the street and went our separate ways. Upon arriving home, I climbed up the six flights to my black tar roof, stared across the river at the decimation and for the first time all day, burst into sobs that lasted for a long, long time.

Like a good-sized chunk of my fellow citizens, I awoke the next day with my head throbbing and the TV droning in the background. The body count had begun to climb, and seeing Lower Manhattan again in the daylight from my rooftop did nothing to help. Chuck phoned. "Let's eat."

With no word yet of volunteer opportunities, we had nothing else to do and we headed to one of the few restaurants that was open - a Mexican rotisserie chicken joint - and I got what was to be the first of many plates of nachos I'd eat over the next few months.

Nachos are uncomplicated and pleasing - salty and crispy and laden with cheese and a kiss of spice. They're all I could wrap my head around, and since I had no one to cook for at home, nacho dates with similarly shell-shocked friends became a regular part of my social schedule. Volunteer, then nachos. Movies, then nachos. Drinks - with nachos.

Plenty of friends were more than willing to fall into the nacho swing - unless they'd developed a food tic of their own. One friend could only choke down grilled cheese and another couple subsisted entirely on breakfast foods. Anything more elaborate than that was a shock to the system - except for drinking. Everyone did plenty of that as well as sleeping (both alone and...not) and for a while, with this, we swaddled our souls and tried to adjust to a New York with a hole shot through its heart.

That state of half-being can only go on for so long. Some friends moved away. The rest of us mourned the dead and talked to strangers on the train and learned not to panic at every bang and thunderclap. It wasn't our old New York, but we built one that worked for us, and we never stopped craning our heads toward the place where the towers once stood.

Last night, when the whispers of the death of the man who'd orchestrated this carnage built to a roar and a howl online, on television and then through the mouth of our President, I did the only thing I could think to do. I walked over to the liquor cabinet, poured myself a glass of whiskey, woke up my husband, and raised a glass toward Los Angeles, where John, Anna Liza, their young daughter Simone and our friend Chuck now live, and then toward the silent Manhattan skyline.

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Filed under: Culture • Essay • Favorites • Feed the Soul • Rituals • Sip • Spirits


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soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. jeriwho

    What amazes me is that a million bikers rolled through the nation's capital yesterday, bringing traffic to a standstill and making a statement about showing respect to victims of 9/11, and yet CNN has entirely ignored that event. Why do you have a news blackout om something that happened in Washington DC itself that was seen by thousands and thousands of Americans on an important day? I don't know if I agree with the point of view of the bikers or not, but I am amazed that CNN has entirely ignored yesterdays "parade".

    Jeri Massi

    September 12, 2013 at 7:12 am | Reply
    • Out of Step

      What does this have to do with a food blog?

      September 12, 2013 at 7:22 am | Reply
    • Hogan's Goat

      They were there to oppose the "Million Muslim March," which most Muslims thought was a terrible idea. They were turned down for a permit, so they tied up the roads all around Washington while looking for some Muslims to beat up. There's no way to sugarcoat it, it was disrespectful and unwise; what if there had been some kind of attack with all these belligerent guys in the way? Bikers are great people but sometimes they follow the leader when they should go lone wolf instead.

      September 12, 2013 at 10:35 am | Reply
  2. hard124get

    Why don't you Americans demand an independent inquiry, the families deserve that much !

    September 11, 2013 at 11:10 pm | Reply
    • Jagged Little Pill

      Because it's easier to swallow the lies.

      September 12, 2013 at 6:33 am | Reply
    • Hogan's Goat

      Because Dick Cheney is too powerful still. Pretty obvious he knew ahead of time and moved Bushy to a safe place.

      September 12, 2013 at 10:36 am | Reply
  3. Yo momma

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuC_4mGTs98&w=640&h=390]

    September 11, 2013 at 8:42 pm | Reply
  4. RC

    I know this was written in 2011, but beautiful piece. Thanks Kat.

    September 11, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Reply
    • Kat Kinsman

      Thank you. I really appreciate that.

      September 11, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Reply
  5. Walter Sieruk

    Drinking whiskey is not the answer. The thing that should be kept in mind in the those same kind of likminded jihadists that commited that heinous affront against both humankind and America on September 11, 2001 are still around and are still scheming to do evil. So the answer is that in the light of this is that we need not live in fear or be afraid to do things or go places because of any jihaldist threats. For to live in fear would make the jihadist enemy happy. Nevertheless we all need to keep a balance and be aware of anything that seems not to look quite right. As in "What's wrong with this picture ?" For example that Tee-Shirt vender on the street of Times Square NY.NY. who saw some smoke come out of that parked van and then let a police officer know about it. " As it had been said "If you see something, say something."
    This may be put in another way, Thomas Jefferson had explained something which applies even more today then in his own time. For Mr. Jefferson had stated "Let the eye of vigilance never be closed."

    September 11, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  6. notaretard

    so we should deal with tragedy but turning into functional alcoholics while pigging out? sounds good to me

    September 11, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Reply
    • Kat Kinsman

      There's no "should" here. We were all just trying to cope as best we could, and it affected everyone who lives here.

      September 11, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Reply
      • Money2themax

        Here where? on the internet, the world, america?

        September 12, 2013 at 6:12 am | Reply
        • Kat Kinsman

          In New York, where I live, which I think is pretty clear in the article.

          September 12, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      I think you got your handle backwards.

      September 12, 2013 at 10:21 am | Reply
    • Hogan's Goat

      I was in a car crash once where my car turned over three times, the back seat was crushed, my friend got a concussion, and a five-year-old kid survived without a scratch because she was sitting up front. You better believe we spent the next four days drunk, going over and over what happened. We stopped shaking after about 48 hrs but were still waking up shouting at night.
      Trauma is very . . . traumatic.

      September 12, 2013 at 10:31 am | Reply
  7. neal amby

    Thank you for sharing that dreadful day. i still remember like it was yesterday. i had just arrived home after working all night long and had laid down to get some sleep when my mother-in-law said tgrab your cigarettes and watch tv. when i saw what was going on i thought it was some type of late night bull 4%(+ that they decided to play during the day but when i saw that skyline and reconized that skyline i thought that i had relatives working at the windows of the world restaurant. i immeadely called my mom and asked her if we knew anyone in new york and when she said yes i told her th try and contact them, i also told her that we just got hit at the world trade center. when she tried and got no answer i told her tob keep trying and to keep me updated. i also let her know to call me on the house phone because the cell phones might be busy. Luckilymy relatives were off on that day, but it still hurts to think of all of those people dying.

    June 17, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Reply
  8. curt

    Shoulda smoked a J

    May 23, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Reply
  9. SimonandGarFarkel

    Excellent comments by the writer

    May 6, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  10. Colleen

    Clicked on the link to this story on a whim, and was stunned and moved. I work in an Army office and did on 9/11, too. I can vividly recall that day, wondering why people were asking me if I knew where they should report for duty, had any official word been sent out, wondering what they were talking about.... the CNN website totally frozen... the intermittent, grainy reception on the black and white TV in the musty old conference room... TV snow, then a plane, then snow, then a fireball, then snow, then the Towers falling... silence from everyong trying to see, crammed in with 20 people in a room meant for 10... Nothing has been the same since.

    May 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Reply
  11. Broderick Smylie

    Excellent piece Kat, thanks for sharing.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:59 am | Reply
  12. A K Narendranath

    Very well written.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Reply
  13. mkjp

    That is just about the most appropriate way I can think of to react to the news of Sunday night. Well written, well handled. Kudos.

    May 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  14. itaschmita

    Kat, Beautifully put and absolutely true. We lived 1 block from the South Tower.
    Eric, Your loss is incomprehensible. We think of you and your family every day.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  15. McBrooklyn

    Amen.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:19 am | Reply
  16. ebuzz

    Very nice piece, thank you. I am an alcoholic but know that there are people who are not alcoholic and can drink without impunity. Yours was not escapism, but a chance to soothe the soul.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:27 am | Reply
    • Hogan's Goat

      I gave it up in time, so I can still drink one if I want. Actually, it's been four years or so; come to think of it. Shlt, now I want a beer.

      September 12, 2013 at 10:40 am | Reply
  17. SarahC33

    Kat, You speak eloquently for so many.... thank you

    May 3, 2011 at 9:26 am | Reply
    • Aggy

      Shoot, who would have thhuogt that it was that easy?

      July 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  18. Maverick2591b

    I am a retired paramedic and understand well there are some times everything you do is simply not enough. What sometimes we forget is there are those who can do NOTHING about a tragedy and the impact it has on them. One of the first lessons we are taught is scene safety-that if a situation is not safe you do not go in until it is. Kat illustrates this point well by talking about all she can do is look after herself in a situation the brain cannot comprehend, and in this case by food and drink. We can only witness an event and do nothing but continue to eat and drink, breathe and live, and move forward. This is an excellent article.

    And Eric, and everyone else who lost someone on this horrific day, my heart to you and your family.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:13 am | Reply
  19. eric

    Excellent, vibrant writing. You brought it all home for me. I lost my wife, Kathryn LaBorie on 9/11. She was a flight attendant on United 175 which went into Tower 2.

    May 3, 2011 at 7:49 am | Reply
    • Kat Kinsman

      Eric, I am so deeply sorry for your loss. Please know that there are many, many of us out here thinking of you.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:30 am | Reply
    • Snowbunny

      My heart goes out to you and your family. I couldn't imagine... and I'm so very sorry for your loss.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Reply
  20. da funkee 1

    @Wmesser58...dude..who pi-ssed in your koolade? Nowhere and at no time did the writer imply that either they or their friends were alcoholics. With the horrendous shock of what happened right at their front door who could blame them for getting snookered. I live all the way in Texas and I had several toasts to the living the injured and the dead. All while praying for everyones soul. This was a tragic event that changed lives instantly. Especially if you lived there. So let the lady alone and let her tell this beautiful story which reflects what most of us in the US did. Got a little drunk anf say a little prayer.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Reply
    • Thomas

      Where did they write that they weren't. The article was about someone needing alcohol to deal with an emotional event.

      Some need alcohol and others don't. Why are you getting so emotional about someone posting an opinion here?

      The posts here do not have to agree with your opinion do they?

      May 3, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  21. KittyKatastrophik

    Kat- This was a wonderful piece. Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience with all of us.
    Mine is similar but it involved hurricane Katrina, a bottle of Jameson, chain smoking & my mawmaw's gumbo.
    A toast to you & to New York! May you continue to surge forward with a strong heart. Cheers!

    May 2, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Reply
  22. art and lemons

    Salut—your lovely words offer insight and honesty to the tragedy we all carried in our hearts that day. Thank you.

    May 2, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Reply
  23. Philip Hades

    I DJed in DC the night after the attack, got plowed on Bombay and tonics. Last I toasted my wife's Lambic with my Sierra Nevada.
    Thanks for sharing.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  24. Kate @ Savour Fare

    Thank you for this. It was a national tragedy, but for New Yorkers - I think you had to be there. To smell that smell. I lived in Greenwich Village, and had to walk to Union Square to buy milk because all of Lower Manhattan was closed to traffic. And trains. It was a strange time. I'm not dancing in the street today but I'm glad they killed him.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Reply
  25. Jimmy the Bartender

    Kat, what a beautiful, beautiful piece. You spoke for so many of us.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Reply
  26. fob

    Thank you Kat. It's very nice that you share these personal moments with us. My husband stayed up to watch the baseball game last night and I had gone to bed. He came in and woke me up to tell me the news.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Reply
  27. WMesser58

    So an alcoholic wants to reminisce about a tragedy that was very horrendous but to drink to forget or to celebrate is never the answer. You cannot act as if this has solved anything.
    The only thing that was going Osama’s way was the element of surprise. He should not be regarded as anything but the murderer he was nothing more.
    He got what he deserved not as soon as we would like but, never try to explain insane. Our country got justice by getting him and it’s not something to celebrate.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Reply
    • Philip Hades

      Awesome job at completely missing the point of the story.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Reply
      • Thomas

        Some people need alcohol to deal with situations, and others don't.

        All these forums are, are people's opinions. WMesser58 was just sharing his opinion. Were you elected to be the king of all forums?

        May 3, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Reply
    • RichardHead@WMesser58

      Your a DUMBASS. Your screen name reflects your I Q. Go troll somewhere else!

      May 2, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Reply
      • Thomas

        A guy with the name richardhead is making fun of someone else's screen name?

        Priceless

        May 3, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Reply
    • KittyKatastrophik

      You speak like someone who has never been directly affected by a tragedy. Unless you can look into the eyes of stranger & know they feel the same heartbreak, confusion, anguish & paranoia as you, then just hush. This very well worded piece is exactly how it is for people in the midst of uncertainty after your entire world has been turned on it's ear.

      May 2, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Reply
      • AleeD

        Well put. Thank you.

        May 3, 2011 at 7:28 am | Reply
    • Truth, Temporary Bachelor@Messer

      I think I speak for many of us when I ask you to please go away.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:18 am | Reply
      • Martini

        And take thomas with you!

        May 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Reply
  28. Food*Sparks

    Wow...stunning...

    May 2, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  29. Ned

    Classy. Very classy.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  30. Jennifer Byde Myers

    As Michael Procopio said it: "This, my friends, is food writing." Thank you.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Reply
  31. Michael Procopio

    Beautifully put. That is all I can say at the moment.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Reply
    • Kat Kinsman

      Thank you, my friend. I needed to get it outta my system after nearly 10 years.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Reply
      • Navy Proud

        Simply Thank you.

        May 2, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  32. Truth, Temporary Bachelor

    Well said...I was on my bus into downtown Denver that morning, when I saw a woman across the aisle talking very excitedly into her phone. By the time I got to the office, we all had gathered in a conference room to watch it on television. That night, I was lookinig for escapism and emotional comfort food, so I watched "Casablanca"...I broke down when Bogart told Strasser "Well, there are certain parts of New York that I would advise you NOT to try to invade."

    May 2, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Reply
  33. RichardHead@Kat

    Well said My Lady. I do the same thing every Nov 22. Never forget.

    May 2, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Reply

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