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PA ignores vultures at sacred site

On the way uptown, you paused on that sacred stretch of Church Ave. where Firefighter Christopher Engeldrum helped raise a torn American flag over the fiery ruins of the World Trade Center.
Engeldrum was also with the New York Army National Guard, and he was killed Monday in Iraq. His mortal remains were making the long journey home as you stood where he had stood three years and three months before.

Nobody is sure whatever happened to that torn flag, but a bigger Stars and Stripes flies from a pole just on the other side of the fence that now runs along the edge of The Pit. You watched this flag rippling in the brisk breeze against yesterday morning's porcelain blue sky.

"Ten dollars," a voice then said.

The voice belonged to a young man in a black winter coat who was holding an open photo book of the attack on the World Trade Center. You replied with as much disgust as you could express in a single syllable.


He flipped the pages. The planes flying into the buildings. Firefighters and police officers dashing inside. A jumper plummeting from the burning north tower. The towers collapsing.

"Eight dollars?" he asked.

You turned away. He called after you.

"Five dollars?"

You walked off down the broad sidewalk that runs along the fence. The pavement is Port Authority property, within the perimeter where such ghoulish sales are prohibited.

"No one can sell items within the perimeter, period. No permits apply," PA Police Capt. Susan Durett said on Nov. 17.

The PA cops say they make periodic "sweeps," but the dozen peddlers at work yesterday morning included two who were hawking not 20 feet from a sign reading "Port Authority WTC Command." This could only be seen as a direct insult to a department that suffered such horrific losses on 9/11.

You approached and one of the peddlers turned toward you, holding out a photo album. One picture showed the fire rig on which a dear friend had ridden to his death.

"I give you for $10," the peddler said.

You again turned away, only to encounter yet another peddler, this a woman who held a book whose cover bore the word "Tragedy" in blood-red letters.

"Ten dollars," this woman said. "Two for fifteen."

You then became aware of Christmas music coming from a portable sound system set up by two of the sidewalk solicitors the Salvation Army fields every holiday season. The solicitors each rang one of the handbells whose sound is synonymous with Christmas in Manhattan and you thought of all the 9/11 families who face another holiday without their loved one.

Ring-a-ling. Hear them ring. You watched two peddlers hurry over to where visitors were trooping off a pair of tour buses. The peddlers made a half-dozen quick sales and you could not help but feel that the people who buy this stuff are nearly as bad as those who hawk it.

One of the peddlers got a call on his cell phone and spoke in what sounded like Russian. Minutes later, a third peddler with a black shoulder bag appeared and they all shook hands.

The three then accosted another group of tourists gathering near the Port Authority WTC command. The peddlers appeared not the least bit concerned about a Port Authority cop who sat in a marked car parked at the curb.

You were striding away when the cop suddenly appeared at your side. He asked to see some identification.

"I saw you marking things down," he said.

You sought to allay any concern that you were conducting surveillance on behalf of terrorists.

"I was taking notes about the peddlers," you said. "They're all over the place."

He offered no response and headed back to the car, pausing to give two women directions. The peddlers continued to hawk their ghoulish wares a few strides away. You thought of a 9/11 mother who told you she could no longer bear to return to the site of her son's death because of these spectres with photo books.

You took one more look at where Engeldrum helped raise that torn flag. The peddlers moved on to more tourists and those holiday bells kept ring-a-ling-ing.

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