My thoughts and remembrances of people and events that shaped my life and others on 9-11

Author: Greg Michalowski | Category: News

20 years ago suddenly things changed

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001. That day saw a plane crash into the Pentagon, another crash in Shanksville Pennsylvania presumably before reaching its intended target at the Washington Capitals or White House. However, it was the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and brought down those two towers that had the biggest impact on my life and the life of so many.

The date of September 11, 2001 came about one month after I had moved from the New York/ New Jersey area to my present home in Arizona. If my family had not moved, I would've been in downtown Manhattan either in an office on Wall Street or another office just one block north of the World Trade Center complex. I would've commuted into the World Trade Center earlier that day, but who knows what might have happened after that.  I fell fortunate and blessed that I had not been there on that day.

I was not there that day because of a series of incidents on February 22, 2001. 

That day was my oldest son's birthday. I planned on leaving work early at FXDD to complete the hour and 20 minute commute back to our home in Bernardsville New Jersey. That commute home involved walking to the PATH train in the World Trade Center. The PATH is a subway that connects New York to New Jersey.  I would get off in Jersey City, walk to my car in a garage there, and then drive the 30 – 35 miles west to our home. 

It started to snow that afternoon and there was a small dusting of snow gathering on the ground. When I reached the parking garage around 4 PM or so I got to my car and headed down a ramp in the garage. Unbeknownst to me, there was some freezing on the ramp along with the dusting of snow. My car started to slide down uncontrollably. At the bottom a car was parked along the wall. I rammed into the back of the car while the owner was opening his front door. The impact pushed is car against the curb, the wheel axle was bent, the car was pushed up on the curb and into the wall opposite. All the energy of the impact was pushed through the car and into the wall on the other side. My car sustain limited damage. The car I hit was totaled. Thankfully, the gentleman who was getting in his car was startled but okay.

After all the garage reports and police were filled out, I ended up offering the guy I hit a ride home.  Meanwhile, at home,instead of celebrating a birthday for my oldest son, my second son was being taken to the hospital by my wife to replace a picc line for antibiotics for Lyme's disease he was suffering from. The picc line had come out of his on, and the Doctor recommended going to the emergency room.  

Both my wife and I arrived home near 9 PM and questioned "what the hell are we doing".  We were concerned about my sons Lyme disease (he got it from a tick bite which was becoming more commonplace in our area). The commute took over two and half hours each day.  We seemed to be swimming against the tide in a lot of things at the time. 

The next day my brother sent me an email with 10 reasons why we should move to Arizona (he lived there).  I, in turn, gave work 10 reasons why should work in Arizona. Both top 10 reasons worked, and we planned our move from NJ to Arizona with an arrival date by mid August to correspond with the start of school there.  

I'm pretty sure our two older sons and I (with Pinta the dog) arrived in Arizona on August 10 after driving cross-country.  My wife and our toddler son flew in a day or two later after seeing the moving truck fill up, and head out.  

A month later I was on the phone with my colleague from FXDD.  He was in our office just north of the World Trade Center complex. At first, the initial reports were of a small plane flying into the building. There was not a lot of panic. The building falling down was not a thought. We didn't know all the details. 

However, once the live broadcast of the second tower getting hit by a commercial aircraft was aired, the level of concern increased exponentially. I told my colleague to "get the hell out of there".  

The rest the day was spent like others in disbelief, horror, and in prayer.  I feared the absolute worst.  You see, my first job out of college had their office office right outside one of the main arteries out of the South side of the World Trade Center complex on Liberty Street (it was the building by WTC 4 on the corner of Liberty and Church on the map below). 

From that office, we could look outside the window and watch the steady stream of people leaving the building after commuting during the morning rush hour(s). At some point the flow in and out of that artery would even out. 

Later in the afternoon, the flow would reverse with hordes of people moving back in as they made their way home. 

My boss called the World Trade Centers "the biggest ant hill in the world". The ants would come out in the morning, do their work, and go back in at night.  

When the buildings came down in the plume of smoke and soot that enveloped the area where all those "ants" - including my colleagues at FXDD - were doing their work, I thought they all had died either from the collapse of the buildings or from the smoke/dust/whatever that was in the air. I felt as if someone was spraying ant repellent and thought all the ants would be dead soon.

20 years ago suddenly things changed_
Thankfully that wasn't the case, but it was something in my mind on that day.

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Back on May 6, 2000, my wife and I were invited to a Kentucky Derby party. At the party I met someone and started chatting about what we did. He worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. I told him about my "working at a startup called FXDD.  It was a online foreign-exchange brokerage company".

Anyway, he commented that I should interview at Cantor Fitzgerald. They were moving more into online brokerage. We exchange business cards. A few months later in the fall, I contacted him and he arranged an interview. I wasn't necessarily looking actively but I thought "why not".

I remember going for the interview. It was on the 100th something for of WTC 1.  I was familiar with the building in how you took the express elevator to a landing level and then the "local" to the higher floors.  

I reached the reception desk and told the woman, the name of the gentleman I was going to interview with.  I sat down and waited.  After a while the receptionists took a call and told me that the person I was to see (I don't remember his name), was called to Chicago at the last minute. I would be meeting with someone else.  

That person was named Lauren Manning.  I was taken to an office.

After a few minutes, Lauren came in. I extended my hand to greet her but she explained that she had a cold.  

For the next 20 minutes she sniffled, coughed, rubbed her eyes, was basically uninterested. She was more interested in finishing the interview, getting a tissue from the women's room and blowing your nose. She didn't have any tissue in the office. 

While I was trying to put together replies to her questions, I could only think how miserable she seemed and how there was no way I had any chance of impressing her.  She didn't want to be there. The person who was supposed to interview me was presumably in Chicago (or perhaps on his way home after he forgot).  

I remember how it didn't bother me.  I didn't get a job at Cantor Fitzgerald that day. For some reason I remembered Lauren Manning's name. 
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After we decided that we are going to move to Arizona, the same son who had Lyme's disease was looking forward to baseball season. He was Little League age, and AND loved baseball. However, one day at school while jumping up to grab the top of a door as 12-year-olds do, he lost his grip fell down, and dislocated his elbow. The doctor told him that he would have to wear a sling and couldn't play baseball for a few weeks. He was bummed.

So I thought he still needs to be on the field. So I asked him if he wanted to volunteer with me to be umpires. He agreed so that's what we did.

One early Saturday, we were at the field waiting for the two teams to finish their warm-ups, when a coach from one of the teams approached me. He coached a neighboring town's team which played in our league as they only had a handful of players (it was a small town).  He came up to me and asked, "Aren't you Greg Michalowski?".  "Yes".  "I'm John Bocchi".  

At first I didn't recognize him, but I recognize the name. John worked in the financial markets. Both he and I traded interest rate derivatives and our respective banks. We "spoke" electronically through Reuters dealers and also shared the same voice brokers. Those relationships led to playing golf at a nearby country club a few times. 

"John, how are you doing?  What are you up to?"

John proceeded to tell me he worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and then asked "What are you up to?".

I told him about FXDD and also how we were escaping the long commutes and moving to Arizona where I would work remotely from my home. 

I remember how excited he was for me to be escaping the rat race of the near three hour commute each day and be in an area where life was going to be slower and less intense.  He also expressed jealousy that he could do the same. He told me how his wife was pregnant with her fourth son (I had three sons).  It wasn't a good time to even think of it, but he sure was happy for me.  

I went home that day thinking how fortunate I was.  I knew it was the right decision even though it was a huge decision for us to back up the truck and move 2500 miles away.  

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John Farrell and I went to the same high school - Bernard high school in Bernardsville New Jersey.  John was a year older than I was but we both played football, basketball and baseball for the school teams.  John lived in Peapack Gladstone, a neighboring town so small that two towns Peapack and Gladstone merged to form Peapack Gladstone.  

The Peapack Gladstone crew from his class were close. They included Pete Washburn, Bruce Callahan, Cris Kincherf, Bob Bush, Dutch Stevenson others and John. As I have  

We didn't necessarily have huge success on the sports fields, but if you play high school sports together, you work together to try to do the best you can.  You also spend a lot of time together.  Being from a small town that can be good and bad but mostly good.

I remember when I was a senior, John and his crew were freshman in college. I went to a party and saw a classmate named Carrie.  She dated Cris Kincherf one of John's good friends.  Anyway she told me that they were breaking up, college and separation had taken it's toil,  and we talked for a while. 

Long story, Cris and the people from Peapack Gladstone including John arrived at the party.  Cris was intent on speaking with Carrie. So they did.  Later he left.  Carrie came back in the house and we ended up speaking some more. Later she asked if I could take her home. 

While walking to the front door, out came "Kinchie" from the bushes at the front of the house.  
Next thing I knew we were rolling on the ground. Carrie was screaming.  Lights in the house came on and her parents came rushing out in their pajamas and bathrobes.  

They broke up the wrestling match and Kinchie stormed off.  I was shaking but it wasn't much of a fight with many punches thrown or connected.

The the next morning Kinchie called and we talked it out.  

I remember, later after seeing John at another summer function, he asked about the scuffle.  After telling him, he just laughed and laughed.   "He really came out of the bushes?" , he said.  I can see John in my minds eye right now just laughing out loud..  

John ended up marrying Maryann who was the older sister of one of my younger sisters best friends Megan Sullivan. Maryann and John were literally the "popular steady and the king and queen of the prom."   

They had four children in 2001. John worked at a investment company called Sandler O'Neil that had offices on the 104th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center.

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I met John Murray, through his older brother Michael. Michael was one of my brokers in the derivatives market.  His brother John was working at the same firm of his brother at the time and was cutting his teeth in becoming a broker. 

Michael and I met for drinks after work one day, and he asked if he could bring his brother along. "Sure".  Michael was a great person. His brother had to be the same.  

When I was able to meet up with them, it had been a little later than I expected.   Apparently, John had been a bit "over served", which was a good thing seeing it loosened him up for idle chitchat.  

Anyway, the conversation started with the basic stuff like where you from and where have you worked. Where did you go to school?  Do you like the Mets or Yankees? etc.  

John cycled through the list of questions, went to the bathroom, came back and started to recycle through the exact same questions over again.  

I looked at his brother Michael, we started laughing and I said "You have the memory of a goldfish".  His reddish hair was the perfect complement to his new nickname.  

John later got married, and had a five-month-old daughter on September 11, 2001. He was turning 33 in six days on September 17th. He had worked with his brother earlier in his career but in 1995 joined Cantor Fitzgerald.  He worked his way up to partner and director at a very young age. I didn't see a lot of John, but when I did he was always "Goldfish" and we laughed about it.

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Twenty years years later, I remember Lauren Manning, John Bocchi, John Farrell and John Murray.  

Lauren Manning on September 11, 2001 was running late to work. She was waiting for the elevator when the first plane hit. When the elevator door opened, she was engulfed in flames and ended up with burns over 80% of her body.  She survived and went on to write a book and become a motivational speaker.  Below are some of the accolades from some of those who admire her story, her courage and perseverance. 


Lauren Manning

Lauren and I only talked that one day when a tissue was all she cared about. That's okay. I feel blessed things didn't work out for me. I am also elated that she was blessed with the opportunity to tell her story and inspire others through it. 

While finishing up this post, CNBC just aired a segment where they interviewed Lauren Manning.  How strange is that?  You might be able to see it on the Closing Bell for today.....

john
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John Bocci and I didn't talk again after that meeting on the baseball field in the spring of 2001. 

The story I heard was that on Monday, September 10, John was let go from Cantor where he was a managing director, but went into the office on September 11 to speak with clients and clean out his desk.   I wonder if he was thinking about leaving with his family and moving away to some place different?

Recently I queried his name and found out that his oldest son Michael (who is nine at the time and probably the son that was playing baseball that Saturday) had written a book called "Sway".   

The Amazon summary says: 

"I was only nine years old, but I knew what death was. It was the end. When it came to my dad though, no amount of rational thought could outweigh my feelings. I watched the footage over and over again, trying to validate my hopes and dreams, believing there was a minute possibility he made it out of the building alive."

After his father died on 9/11 in the World Trade Center, nine-year-old Matthew John Bocchi began an obsessive quest to find out exactly how he died. He researched video tapes, pictures, blogs, anything that could potentially answer the question looming in his mind: was his father one of the jumpers? In the first memoir told by a child of 9/11, Matt intimately delves into the psychological and emotional torment that ensued after his father's death. With heartbreaking vulnerability, he details how his incessant quest resulted in a devastating act of violence that stripped his innocence as a young man. As Matt spirals down a bottomless pit of drug abuse, he willfully risks his life in search of the next high-all in an attempt to forget his past. 

Now at twenty-eight years old and sober, he recounts his unique story-one full of heartbreak and despair, grief and uncertainty, but most importantly, happiness and hope. The lesson he teaches us is clear but intricate: No matter how far you fall, you can always rise again. No matter how far you stray, you can always find your way home. And no matter how wide you sway, you can always pick up the pieces and stand tall.

Our church is embarking on a new theme starting this week.  The one word theme: RISE.

This is the dedication page from Sway:

Sway
 
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John Farrell left four children and the queen of the prom behind.  His sister-in-law Megan (one of my sister's best friends), in honor of John started a nonprofit called Heartworks.  It is still going strong. 

This is "Their Story" from their website:

Dear Friend,

Thank you so much for visiting our website. I want to share with you a little bit about how and why Heartworks got started.


On the morning of September 11, 2001, I had just finished giving my daughter a spoonful of yogurt when the phone rang. It was my brother asking me if I had the television on. Life as my family knew it changed between that spoonful and the next. My brother-in-law, John W. Farrell, would not come home from his job at the World Trade Center. My sister Maryanne had dated him since she was 16. They were married with four children, Kaitlin, Patrick, Molly and Colin. John had been like a member of my close-knit family since I was seven years old.

There are no words to describe the agony and numbness of that first year. I watched my sister struggle to catch her breath each morning. Day after day, my family organized the notes, flowers, donations, religious mementos and food that were brought to the house. Kids from California sent change from their piggy banks and money earned from mowing lawns. Funds were set up, car pools were formed and meals were delivered through April of that year.

I remember a sensation of sinking, usually when I would wake up at her house each morning and remember what life had brought to us. By the time I walked downstairs, coffee had been delivered and there would be a neighbor raking leaves. The phone would begin to ring and would not stop until long after the kids had fallen asleep. I stopped several times a day to say a silent "thank you" for the friends, neighbors, professionals and complete strangers who were reaching out to her. While the rest of the world may remember images of crashing planes and burning buildings, my nieces and nephews have memories of teddy bears made from their father's shirts, games and candy being delivered to the front door, and hugs whenever they left the house. The show of kindness from all over the world would have brought us to our knees if we were not already there.

I cannot remember when it was exactly, but I remember clearly saying to myself that when we have our feet solidly on the ground again, I would spend the rest of my life paying forward all the kindness shown to my family. How could I not? My silent "thank you's" needed to be said out loud and often, in a way that would benefit the world the way this kindness had affected my sister. September 11th was a very public tragedy, but people live every day with private or less known struggles. I wanted to create a way of life that encouraged people to pay closer attention to these struggles and to the power of healing available through giving. I knew that the scope of what I wanted to do would be impossible to accomplish on my own. I did not have the time, money or energy to pull off all the ideas I had. I knew I would need a group of people committed to the same ideas to bring these ideas to light. We had moved back home to New Jersey from Colorado in March 2003. I was craving deep friendships and a focus on the common good as a means to move forward with my life after the compassion I had been privy to. The mission of Heartworks, from the very start in 2005, was to maintain the sense of connection and overt kindness our country had experienced through the terrorist attacks. I dare say that I believe we have succeeded.

I'm encouraged that you're visiting our website. It's here for you to use in your own life. Use any idea or inspiration that you find here in your own circle of friends, family and community. I have come to understand after 15 years that we all have the capabilities to be a Heartworker, all that is needed is a willingness to reflect upon our own humanness, vulnerability and the part we play in the bigger picture of our humanity.

In Gratitude,

Megan

Below is a video from Fox and Friends that aired this week. John, Megan, his family is featured in the story.  

Lauren Manning
I can still hear John's laugh. He is still the same old John in my minds eye.  His goodness lives on.  

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I lost touch with Michael Murray.  I have a need to find him. To talk with him to see how he is doing? What he has been up to?  Where he lives?  I want to know how Johns wife and child is doing? I pray they are doing ok.

Then after that, hang up, I will call him back and ask him the same questions over again.  

I think it would be a fitting tribute to Goldfish.   

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To all who lost loved ones, I hope you have been able to RISE like Lauren has, like Michael Bocchi has, like Megan and John Farrell's family and friends, and like - I hope - Goldfishes family has.   There can be peace in our sorrow even if it seems hopeless. 

RISE.

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