Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Five years later, Jobsite Theater remembers ...

From local actor/director Paul Potenza:

For me there is not a better place for recreation and relaxation than Key West. A world away from the pace of life that I am used to at work and at home. A getaway. Getaway from this. Getaway from that. Getaway from almost everything.

Almost everything.

I am one of those people who travel with my cell phone, even on vacation. With a business and with family responsibilities it is a necessary item and it makes keeping tabs on everyone much easier. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I did just that. It was a beautiful morning in the Keys. There was a picturesque blue sky; warm breeze and all seemed right with the world. I took my cell phone outside on the balcony to enjoy the view while checking my voicemail. There was a cryptic message from my sister Maria calling from Tucson, Arizona. She sounded upset and nervous. “Paul, it’s Maria. I have been trying to call Claudia to make sure Tommy is ok. I can’t get through. I didn’t call Mom yet. Call me as soon as you can. I know you’re in the Keys and I feel awful. Call me if you can get hold of them. Call me as soon as you get this message. I’m home.” I immediately got a sinking feeling in my stomach that something terrible had happened. Claudia is my sister who lives in New York and Tommy is her husband. My brother in law is also New York City firefighter and the Queens Trustee. They have been married for over 25 years and Tom is more like a brother to me than an in-law. He has always been there for me and provided me with support and advice. I told my wife, Roz, to turn on the television. The first thing she said to me was “Oh my god ... the Twin Towers are gone.”

We stayed glued to the television for the next several hours, just devastated and in shock at what we were seeing. Just outside our window, people strolled in the tropical paradise oblivious to the horrific scene that had unfolded 1,200 miles away. We made frantic phone calls. Phone circuits were overloaded and many people weren’t able to make contact with their loved ones in New York for hours. We were fortunate and got through. Are you okay? Where is Tom? Is he safe? Is he okay? Once again we were fortunate. Tom was not in the city when the planes hit the Towers. He was safe.

I was born and raised in New York City. I love that city. No matter where I live it will always be home to me. That day and the days that followed I felt so lost and so far away from home. I felt like someone or something in my life, in my world, needed me and I was helpless to get there. It was an enormous feeling of loss. These feelings consumed me.

They consumed a nation.

In October 2001, I was guided through the site that is now known as Ground Zero by my brother-in-law, Tom. That day changed my life. The sights and smells of what were once the Twin Towers were emotionally overwhelming. It was also powerful and a true testament to the human spirit. Witnessing the search and rescue for the remains of lost loved ones by the country’s finest and bravest was awe inspiring.

As I walked around the site, word came that someone had been found. A temporary morgue had been set up in an old financial building and Tommy needed to speak to a chaplain. He asked me to wait outside. While I stood there looking at the devastation and watching the desperate searching for victims, I started to feel very uncomfortable and out of sorts. What was I doing here? I wasn’t helping. I was just ... staring.

Then, just as Tommy was headed back from inside the makeshift morgue, someone shouted “ATTENTION!” Instantly, men stood upright as a small off-road vehicle the size of a golf cart pulled up. On the back of the vehicle was a firefighter with an American flag draped over his body. I stood next to Tommy as I watched the dignity and respect that was given to this fallen hero. The reality of this place smacked me in the face. After this man’s brothers lifted him up and carried him in, Tommy turned to me and asked, “You ready to go?” I was.

In retrospect, I know I was fortunate for this experience, because it does make you so thankful and appreciative for what we have. Nonetheless, all the sorrow I felt does not compare to the sad injustice suffered by so many and their families. I pray for them.

Theater has always been a great source of pride and joy in my life. In January of 2002, I went back to New York City and saw the play THE GUYS by Anne Nelson at the Flea Theater.

THE GUYS takes place less than two weeks after September 11th. New Yorkers are still in shock. One of them, an editor named Joan, receives an unexpected phone call on behalf of Nick, a fire captain who has lost most of his men in the attack. He’s looking for a writer to help him with the eulogies he must present at their memorial services. Nick and Joan spend a long afternoon together, as Nick recalls the fallen men, recounting their virtues and their foibles, and Joan fashions the stories into memorials of words. In the process, Nick and Joan discover the possibilities of friendship in each other and their shared love for the unconquerable spirit of the city. As they make their way through the emotional landscape of grief, they draw upon their love of the city they call home, on humor, on the tango, and the enduring bonds of common humanity.

Immediately after the performance I thought about how I might become involved in a production of this play in Tampa. I wanted to do this for more than just artistic reasons. Many more. Ultimately, it is with the direct assistance of Anne Nelson that this hope has become a reality. Jobsite stage the southeastern US premiere of THE GUYS in 2003.

The Jobsite Theater will now present an encore performance of the THE GUYS at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center’s Jaeb Theater on Sept. 11th at 8 p.m. All tickets are $30.

All proceeds after expenses on this production will be donated to the Tampa Firefighters Museum. Please join us for this very special night.

Paul Potenza

1 comment:

Dominick F., Senior Bean Counter said...

Thanks for the poignant prose. It painfully reminded me that another great memomorial to the victims of 9/11 would be the truth of what happened that day. Irrespective of where one comes from politically, a reasonable person would agree that high school physics and chemistry illustrate that the official version of events is fiction. My hope is that the academic truth movement that is gaining traction will one day out the real story.