NEW YORK Artist recalls a national tragedy

The artist was voting in the city's primary election when the terrorists hit.
On Sept. 11, Pat Oleszko watched her neighborhood near the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan crumble.
For the next eight days, she bagged garbage, distributed food for the Salvation Army, and sorted through boxes of donations. "You do what you see has to be done. No one is telling you what to do. I wanted to go and dig people out," she said.
"You really do believe you are in hell. All you want to do is go to the site and do something. I had to keep my head down and convince myself that I was a solider," she said. After eight, 12-hour days that were immersed in rubble, exhaustion kicked in and other volunteers took over.
Public forum: Oleszko, who is a performance artist, spoke about her experience during a public forum Monday evening at the McDonough Museum of Art at Youngstown State University. Oleszko uses song, dance and drama to interpret events or works of art. She was brought here to speak on an artist's perspective of the events of Sept. 11.
The forum was not a typical presentation for Oleszko who has performed in venues ranging from the streets to prestigious museums and theaters.
But the events of Sept. 11 changed Oleszko's personal and professional world in ways she continues to explore. "I live five blocks from ground zero," she said. Since moving to New York City 31 years ago, Oleszko said she felt a kinship with the twin towers as she watched them being built. She also recalled witnessing aerialist Phillip Petit crossing between the top of the towers on a wire in 1974.
"Sept. 11 was an extraordinary beautiful day," she said visibly holding back tears. She said she was voting in the city's primary election when she heard an explosion, explaining that she wasn't particularly alarmed because she often heard loud sounds in the city.
"I started working at the site immediately," she said. "I was literally rooted like a tree watching this event unfold. Many people had fled the neighborhood; I couldn't conceive of doing that because it was my neighborhood. These were my firemen and policemen. My thought was that only I had to help even if I was doing something brutally physical for eight days. That's how I dealt with it."
Touching e-mail: Oleszko read from an e-mail she titled "rubble without pause" that she wrote to friends after the tragedy.
"It has been grueling, appalling, deadening here in the spectral shadow of the trade center," she said. "Even watching it live it was incomprehensible until the north tower imploded like Vesuvius in reverse. And then building five fell, like a sheet of glass at the end of my street.
"Since then I have been working at the site, my destroyed neighborhood, in whatever capacity I could. I have bagged hundreds of containers of garbage. I have given out food at the canteen for the Salvation Army."
Among the rubble, Oleszko said she had seen the best and the worst. "Legions of firefighters so eager going in and leaving many hours and even days later completely encrusted with dust, walking bone-weary to sleep anywhere. Neighborhood restaurants making food and taking and putting it into rescue workers' hands."
Oleszko said, however, she was disheartened by the hordes of tourists, inline skaters and joggers who came to gape at the disaster area.