New York Observer

Jonathan Hayes
Senior Forensic Pathologist
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City

How I Spent September 10th, 2001

Originally Published in The New York Observer,
December 2001

The medical examiner’s office had been pretty quiet at the start of September. I had one case on Sept. 10, and I was finished in the autopsy room by late morning. Back in my office, I returned some phone calls and then worked on a presentation on drugs of the rave and nightclub scene, which I gave in Des Moines in November. (Things I learned in Iowa: Some kids in the northern part of the state are now dropping Ecstasy before their prayer group meetings. Also: good pie.) We ordered lunch from Wu Liang Ye, an excellent Sichuan joint over on Lexington and 39th; I tell you, the average New York City coffee-shop pie might not be that great, but just try ordering raw jellyfish and sliced beef tendon in Des Moines.

At 3PM, all of the medical examiners met with the chief for the daily case-review conference. The range of these conferences is pretty vast — in a typical meeting, we might cover the properties of poisons, the nature of Lichtenburg figures (feathery red marks left on bodies by lightning strikes) and the plausibility of a recent episode of The X-Files. The chief, Charles Hirsch, is an extraordinary guy, an arrow-straight Midwesterner and a really sharp thinker. He likes to say things like “Coincidence is not causality” and “Bacchus has drowned more men then Neptune”. He was almost killed the next morning in the collapse of the first tower; his return from the hospital that afternoon was the only time I’ve ever seen him less than impeccably dressed.

When I got home, I filed my piece for the December issue of Martha Stewart Living; as I write this essay, the whole world is savoring my musings on “Nutcracker Sweets”, a collection of confections and crafts projects inspired by The Nutcracker (I lobbied unsuccessfully for a change in title). I love writing for Martha. The cops rib me about it, but it’s a beautiful magazine.

I then called Bill Yosses, the pastry chef at Citarella Restaurant. Bill and I have been friends for almost 10 years now. We met when he was pastry chef at Bouley and I was just starting to write about food. Over the summer, I’d been testing recipes for Rocco DiSpirito’s cookbook. I’d been working on the crème frâiche and pink peppercorn sorbet Rocco serves at Union Pacific, and hit a snag. The sorbet base was fantastic – creamy, pleasantly tangy, the sweetness nicely judged, with a subtle tint of pepper. Once in my ice-cream machine, however, the fat-rich mixture kept massing on the beaters, ending up as lumps of spiced butter. I could have called Rocco, but I owed Bill a call: plus he’s an ice cream and sorbet genius. He made some suggestions, but the crème frâiche I bought that night is still in my refrigerator. It’s probably Brie by now.

In the evening, Cricket (my fiancée) and I went to the fourth anniversary party of Union Pacific. Rocco was trapped on the stairs greeting well-wishers, looking chicly unshaven. He was glum because a New York magazine profile had rhapsodized about his food, but spanked him a bit for the celeb-chef thing. Cricket had a couple of glasses of viognier and took up smoking again, and it got crowded and a little glamorous, so we left. We had dinner at Gramercy Tavern: black figs with prosciutto, arugula and gorgonzola dolce; roast baby chicken with Jerusalem artichokes; tarte tatin with crème frâiche and verjus and golden raisin sauce. I picked at Cricket’s filet mignon. I’d really wanted the steak, but couldn’t pass up the chokes.

IcoWe kissed goodnight in Union Square Park, the air around us warm and wet and still clean. I went home and played Resident Evil: Code Veronica X on my Playstation 2; I died violently a few times and then went to bed. I haven’t been able to play Resident Evil, a game in which you kill many zombies (or, more accurately, a game in which many zombies kill me) since Sept. 11. Instead, I play Ico, a game in which you rescue a princess from a tower, and there’s no death, only smoke monsters that evaporate when you whack them with a stick.