NEW YORK, NEW YORK — My friend David Tengelin, a Swedish kid, got lost somewhere in the collapsed north tower. David was an accountant with Marsh, one of the hardest-hit firms. He was twenty-five and worked on the 101st Floor, near where the first plane hit. David and I were relative newcomers to a team that plays soccer together on Tuesday nights in a city league called UrbanSoccer. Our team called him Toe Poke, because of his notorious method for goal-scoring. His friends from Arizona, where he went to college, called him Swede.
His death brought many people together. We told each other, based on the sad forensics of watching television, that it was likely he didn’t suffer. I still find myself fantasizing that David’s down in the basement of the World Trade Center, in the shopping mall, eating Almond Joys with a pretty secretary and waiting for the cops to show up.
Last week, another teammate, and fellow journalist at CBS News, Dean Cox, and I set out to tour the area around ground zero. Dean had visited earlier, and wanted to return. I intended to report on the plight — or success — of local businesses, among other things, for the website I work for. We also just wanted to know how things were going down there. But our walk, which lasted several hours, was really defined by David’s disappearance. Every movement and conversation took place in the shadow of loss.
Working just blocks from where it seems David may lie forever, buried if not laid to rest, there is a young Senegalese man, Souleymane Dieng, who lost his job at a Chambers Street Blimpie sandwich shop because it was too near ground zero. Blimpie didn’t provide Souleymane with a golden parachute. Within two days of the attacks, Souleymane, who’s twenty-three and lives in Brooklyn, visited a distributor of patriotic flags, pins and T-shirts on 28th Street, and purchased several boxes of lapel pins, including the stars and stripes; “America Fights Back”; and the familiar red, white and blue ribbon. Now he’s selling them out of a cardboard box on the corner of Broadway and Chambers.
Souleymane is tall and lanky, the same build as David. The two could be cousins. I could see David, famous among friends for his wily ways on the soccer field, adapting as Souleymane has. My friends and I are reluctant to give up hope about David, though I tell them — and they tell me — that such a sentiment is, at this point, little more than a caveat.
Two blocks to the west, at the corner of Chambers and Greenwich Streets, a mobile McDonald’s has been humming day and night, slinging free Quarter-Pounders and Chicken McNuggets — along with sodas and coffee — for the hard-hat workers, cops, fireman, EMTs, ASPCAs, and soldiers. McDonald’s workers from local franchises come in and take shifts. They are proud and energetic.
Last year, anti-globalization protesters, people in whose eyes the Golden Arches represent much that is wrong with the modern world, trashed David’s hometown of Gvteborg, Sweden. He was furious. Now, here was McDonald’s, strangely comforting, keeping the troops fed. Anybody could see it was a good thing.
McDonald’s is here because it can afford to be generous. Cheryl O. Forsatz, who works PR for the company, says the mobile McDonald’s has given away 15,000 burgers and just as many Chicken McNuggets each day. Nearby, tiny delis and pizza places are struggling to reopen, and their owners are worried about the future. The little guy vs. big chain battle has not taken a holiday.
“I’m scared,” says Joey Scalici, 24, of Joey’s Pizza nearby. “Hopefully in a couple of months we’ll get it going.” Joey’s face is beaded with sweat; he’s been making pizza all day. He comes in from New Jersey early in the morning, despite the slow business. He’s determined to stay in the game until things return to normal. He figures: I come in, act normal. So will they. Mom-and-pop shops in the World Trade Center area have mortgaged into very expensive real estate. But Scalici knows that, even when the clean-up is complete, the huge infusion of foot traffic the World Trade buildings were responsible for each day at lunchtime will not be coming back for a long time.
My friends and I said goodbye to David Tengelin last Saturday, in a small Swedish Lutheran house of worship near Gramercy Park. His parents, sister, and brother got on a plane and flew here from Gvteborg, showing more courage than I believe I could muster. The hardest part of the ceremony was watching his family cry and knowing I couldn’t do anything.
As of September 30, the State Department listed David as the only missing Swede.
David’s father, Peter, unshakable in his faith, and without tears, told us he was sure he would see David again. Many of David’s soccer mates, hearing David’s father, broke down into tears. Peter’s five minutes of grieved stoicism were more powerful than any hymn or prayer we heard in the church.
The following Tuesday night, our team, the D. Boon All-Stars, named after the late singer from the Minutemen, lost 4-2, in a match on a rooftop at West Side Highway and Houston Streets. The soccer pitch overlooks what’s left of the World Trade Center. Not only did we lose, we didn’t play all that well either. David, I’m sure, would have been unhappy with the loss. Last year, when he sprained his ankle in a game and couldn’t play the next week, I remember he came out anyway, just to cheer us on.