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Jewish World Review Sept. 17, 2001 / 28 Elul, 5761

Jimmy Breslin

Jimmy Breslin
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Consumer Reports

WERE GONE -- There is no laughter in the morgue.

The morgue, the office of the medical examiner, is a low building with a blue tile front that sat yesterday a couple of steps above the hot sidewalk of First Avenue.

"Can I show you this?" a man said. He was in front of the morgue, which was crowded with cops but no anguished citizens. The man had a file folder with writing all over it.

"What have you got?" a sergeant said.

"We went to the hospital and they said he had been treated and released."

"Where does it say that?" the cop said.

"Here. They had it on a list. It says treated and released."

"Yeah, I see that."

"Then it says released to the morgue," the man said. "Does that mean he's dead and you have him here?"

"You have to go to the armory, on Lexington Avenue. They have all that information there," the sergeant said. He was relieved when the man walked away.

Inside, the morgue was not overwhelmed with people of tragedy. The city has had a war crash down on it, but the center for dead was conducting what amounted to trifling business. On the side of the building, large refrigerated trucks sat waiting for grisly arrivals.

There were no bodies to be identified right now, one of the people in charge said.

"Body parts?" she was asked.

"Nothing now," she said. "If you had a hand with a ring on it, you could look for initials inside the ring. But we don't have even that."

"Where are they?" she was asked.

She looked up at the sky.

Down First Avenue at Stuyvesant Town, Kevin Madden's kitchen table was a clean morgue. He works for Aon, the great big insurance company, that had floors 92, 98 and 100 to 105 in the World Trade Center Tower Two. He had friends all over the buildings. He is 44, popular and with a tremendous personality. He has been sitting at the table and taking phone calls from wives asking if he had seen their husbands. Then he speaks to fathers and brothers.

James O'Brien called from Connecticut. He took a late train last Tuesday and was at the Trade Center plaza as the first plane hit. He breaks into tears when he asks why he is alive and so many others are dead. Somebody calls about Allen Friedlander, who took the elevator down to the 78th floor, where you change for the ride to the ground, and he said, no, he was going back up to make sure everybody was off the floor. He went back up to the 92nd floor and died.

Now at the table Madden figured that his company, Aon, had 400 people unaccounted for. Another, the Marsh Company, had between 500 and 700 unaccounted for. And Cantor Fitzgerald could have 800 workers missing. At his table, with more and more phone calls coming, Madden could listen and then show a figure: 1,900 unaccounted for. That is only from the companies he knows about.

Unaccounted stands for all those who were actually blown to pieces in the sky and leave not a trace for morgue or undertaker.

"Lucy Fishman," Kevin Madden said softly.

Lucy Fishman stands for the thousands. She made $40,000 a year as an office assistant at Aon, the insurance company, and she wore borderline clothes and everybody loved her for it, her friend, Madden, was saying yesterday. She worked for a great big insurance company, Aon.

She put a dash of Canarsie into a straight insurance company. Now and then, the unit she was in went out to lunch at Ecco on Chambers Street and she took over the table. "She loved her three kids," Kevin Madden was saying. "The husband stayed home with the kids. She loved him. That's all she ever talked about, the husband. She loved the idea of him with the kids. She was a happy woman."

Kevin Madden saw her on Monday night. Lucy Fishman was a professional. On Tuesday, she got to her desk at 8:30 a.m. A supervisor saw her and then went out for an early meeting. She worked on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center Tower Two.

On Tuesday, Madden flew on an early shuttle to Washington to make a speech about insurance at the Willard Hotel. As the plane landed at Washington, one of the jumpy people who always must get on his cell phone while still in his seat suddenly called out that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane.

Kevin got off and called his office. There was no answer. He called his home. His wife could look right out their son's bedroom window and see the smoke on the towers. Madden was in the Willard Hotel when a plane hit the Pentagon. The insurance conference was rushed to the basement, where everybody sat in fear of an attack on the White House, which is practically next door.

Late that night, when he got to his apartment on 14th Street, Madden sat for a half-hour in his son's bedroom and watched the towers burning to the ground.

Yesterday, with two phones and a cell phone working at his kitchen table, he talked with intensity about his business. "The first thing we have to find out is who is left. Then we have to take up the obligation to our colleagues who are gone. They were the ones who made it in at 9 and died because of it."

Jimmy Breslin, a long-time friend of JWR, needs no introduction. Comment by clicking here.

© 2001, Jimmy Breslin