I’m a collector. I hunt down runs of literary magazines and signed first editions of tricky prose, and place them in university library archives. I collect comic books and the Jokers from decks of playing cards. I also lust after die-cast model cars; mostly Hot Wheels. I have hundreds of them – maybe thousands — some on display, but most of them stashed away in boxes.
As I’ve gotten older, it’s become more difficult to compete with younger Hot Wheels collectors. They line-up outside the doors at Toys R Us and, when the store opens, they shove the mothers with their kids aside as they race to see who can get to the pegs first. I usually come in last. So, in order to get the newest releases I’ve had to hook up with a ‘dealer’ — a guy who spends most of his waking hours tracking down product; some for himself, some to list on eBay, and the rest for schmucks like myself.
My dealer’s name is Ken, and he’s a prison guard who works the night shift at Rikers Island, which means he just barely makes it to the store before it opens. But he’s buff,
so no one fucks with him — he always gets to the Hot Wheels display rack first without having to hustle — the other guys part like the Red Sea when he walks by.
Anyway, I took the day off from work and made plans to meet him on the Toys R Us parking lot in Long Island City on the morning of September eleventh, 2001. My wife and I sent our two sons off to school and then walked across Northern Boulevard towards the store. His car was parked pretty far away from the entrance, even though the lot was mostly empty. We noticed as we approached that his car doors were open, and his car was surrounded by several young girls all wearing red t-shirts, who seemed to be listening to the car radio, which was turned up real loud. Then we saw in the distance a plume of smoke rising into the sky from the city’s skyline; more specifically, from one of the World Trade Center towers.
“Seems to have been hit by a small plane,” Ken told us when we got to his car.
“Man, New York City firemen are the best,” I enthused. “They’re probably inside putting it out right now.”
Moments later a manager came charging out of the store, shouting, “I don’t give a
fuck what’s going on! If you don’t get your asses inside and punch in I’ll fire all of
you!” which quickly dispersed the crowd.
I looked back at the skyline — one of the towers had disappeared and smoke was
now pouring out of what used to be its twin. When we heard on the radio that planes
were flying into things, my wife left to get our youngest son, while I flagged down a
car service to Astoria to collect our oldest.