In part one of this two-part interview Harry Waizer a dear friend of mine shares his own harrowing story of being in the first tower when it was attacked on 9-11. He describes the huge bricks he faced, how he survived, how he got out of the building, healed both from his many physical injuries but also emotionally having lost most of his coworkers and friends. It is a heartbreaking and inspiring story that you don’t want to miss!
Ari: Welcome to whispers and bricks. My name is Ari Schonbrun. I’m your host. I have a very, very special guest for today’s episode. He’s a very, very dear friend of mine. We met while we were both working at Cantor Fitzgerald. And we have remained friends ever since he’s an amazing, amazing individual. And you’re going to hear his 911 story today. So buckle up. And you know, it’s going to be a great it’s going to be a great interview. Let me tell you a little bit about my friend Harry Weiser. Harry received a BS in accounting from Brooklyn College in 1976. He got a CPA in 1978 and his JD from Fordham Law School comm loud Of course, in 1982, from 1975 to 1981, Harry worked as a revenue agent for the IRS. You know, those are the people that most normal people hate. After that Harry was an associate at the law firm of Debevoise and Plimpton and counsel at Friedman Kaplan Seiler. Harry joined Cantor Fitzgerald in 1996 as tax counsel, responsible for the firm’s worldwide tax planning. He also holds those positions at BGC partners and Newmark to publicly listed companies controlled by canner. Harry has been a partner at Cantor Fitzgerald since 1997. He has served or is currently serving on the boards of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, the hill at Brandeis where he also served as President and Board Chair bet am Shalom synagogue where he also served as financial vice president and then President West Chester Jewish Council Westchester children’s Association, where he serves as treasurer and the Lorraine O’Brien Foundation. He also served on the board and as treasurer of his homeowner’s association at South pond farm in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he has a second home. Harry also volunteers as an assistant chaplain at White Plains hospital. He and his wife Karen have lived in Edgemont since 1995, where they raised their three children. Please help me welcome Harry Weiser. Harry, how are you?
Harry: As I said before, I can’t complain
Ari: been a long time. How’s the family?
Harry: family’s good? All grown up? Yeah. Karen and I are empty nesters have been for some years now.
Ari: Wow. That’s awesome. What are you kids up to these days? I didn’t realize that a married single working.
Harry: Still single one in a serious relationship to silicon. Yeah. And two in DC. One a Manhattan.
Ari: Wow. What are they doing?
Harry: We have a lawyer.
Ari: no shocker there. Yeah.
Harry: An economist and a, a late bloomer. Still trying to find yourself. Oh, okay. Finishing up, college late. Went back to college after a little bit of a gap and is now really doing well.
Ari: Wow. You know, better late than never let me tell you something, sometimes. You know, it takes it takes people time to realize, you know, or they need to mature. Okay, I know that I always tell people when I went to college, I wasn’t ready for college. Alright, I wasn’t mature enough for college, and it showed in the first couple of years. But it got better. So, you know, I’m glad that she took the hiatus she you said right. Yes. I’m glad she took the hiatus. And now you know, she’s probably a different person going back with a different mindset. And I’m sure she’s gonna be great. Alright, I know her father. I know a little bit about her mother. But I certainly know her father very well. So I have very, very high hopes for her as that. Thank you. Okay. Well, let me tell you, let’s get started. You know, as you know, the name of this podcast is whispers and bricks, the whispers of those voices telling you what the right thing to do is and they represent the good in life. The bricks represent the bad things we go through in life. Now we all know that there are many ups and downs in life and many bumps in the road, or bricks that we get hit with. On the surface. As I read your bio. You seem to have had a great life and a great career. But as I said, Every so often life throws a brick at us. My biggest break was 911 and the whispers helped me through my reckless escape. You as well. were hit with a huge brick our 911 certainly worse than mine. My yard audience already knows my story. Now they’d like to hear your story. So please take us back to that day, tell us what was going on.
Harry: It’s been a while. It’s funny, I haven’t told the story. And so I was on my way up to my office that day, my office was on the 100, and fourth floor. And for those who know, the Trade Center, it had a series of elevators, I would take the, the large elevator up to the sky lobby, on the 78th floor, get off and switch to a smaller elevator that would go up to my office floor. And I was in that second elevator. When the when the plane hit the tower. Of course, I didn’t know what was happening. All I knew is that the elevator suddenly shook. And then started public. And as it was putting, I could see sparks through the gap in the door. As I imagined the elevator was hitting against the the concrete walls of the outside elevator shaft. And then it burst into flame. I’m going to give you this with, with what sounds like timing. I can’t talk about timing because Oh, happened in in slow motion. And yet all at once.
Ari:Right? I look I get it because you know, when I tell my story, and people ask me how long to take your debt to get down. I go like I don’t know. And they’ll give me like, I’m crazy. Whatever you don’t know, you know, so you I hear it. All right. And I think most of my audience understands that, you know, when you go through something like that. It’s not about the time it’s not about what happened when it’s just about the entire experience. So, uh, your elevator was actually was actually going up? Correct. It was like, Hey, you’re already you already as opposed to like, the elevator that Virginia was on and everybody knows my orders. Y’all know who Virginia was? The elevator that Virginia was I didn’t start moving yet. Alright, she was lucky in that sense. So yours. Okay, so now you’re going up like you normally would and all of a sudden the plane hits you don’t know what it is that the entire the elevator shakes like crazy, right? And then all of a sudden starts to plummet down. Okay, go ahead.
Harry: It it first has to find the carpeting on the floor is burning. And I had a cloth briefcase with me and I start beating at it, trying to put it out. And it does go out. The emergency brakes must have caught because it’s no longer plummeting. It’s now coming down smoothly. And all of a sudden the fireball came in through that gap and the doors and the fireball just caught me right in the face. Oh my god. Sudden, I mean just it was there. It hit and it was gone. And the the elevator came to the sky lobby 78 for the doors opened about six inches off the floor, but just a short drop to the floor. There was a woman in the elevator with me. She was behind me. And she and I both got off and started walking, looking for a stairwell. Again, no idea when it happened, but we knew something had happened. And that this was not time to get another elevator pitch to show how strangely the mind works. I had no idea how badly hurt I was. I had my briefcase it had some papers. It had my palm pilot if you remember those.
Oh my god. I walked
over to the side of the elevator. I put it down and I said I probably shouldn’t carry this I’ll come back and get it later you know that that’s the way you’re thinking it’s just this is happening but it’s it’s who knows. You know you try to you try to have a sense of normalcy. I walked to the fire stairs. We walked to the fire stairs and started walking. Oh, let me stop you’ve already filled with people.
Ari: Let me stop you for just a second when you say the fire stairs. You got out on because I know the kind of the layouts you got out of the elevator. Right? You walk towards the big hall. Right. And then and then and then which stairwell did you take? Do you remember?
I can tell you that facing the big elevator, right? System. I turned left,
you turn left. Okay. All right. So with me was the other way around facing the elevator system I turned right. But we’ll get to but people, nobody cares about me right now. Okay. So please continue. I’m sorry for stopping you. Oh, of
Harry: course we care about we started walking down the stairwell was already filled with people at that point. And I started asking people to fairly loud voice to step aside, let us down more quickly because I knew we needed to, to get help. Right. And I remember I mean, it was very orderly. And faces would turn towards me, you know, wondering who is this disruptive person? And, you know, the expression seeing their jaw drop. Yeah, I was watching jaws drop. So I have no idea what it looked like. Right. But I knew I must look like something. Yeah. In fact, at one point I I reached for the bannister and I noticed my right arm. I had short sleeves. I noticed that I had this big flap of skin hanging down. And I said, okay, just don’t work. I looked at my feet. I said put your feet down one after the other. Just walk. Somewhere, maybe a third of the way down. We ran into a I think a firefighter not in full garb but wearing those big boots. On his way up. He turned around with us. And he started clearing the path for us to come down behind him. We made it to the sky lobby, autograph it to the the regular lobby. It was a chaotic scene. At this point, it was filled with firefighters other first responders just it seemed to be just running back and forth. And people getting out. We were guided towards the Church Street exit. firefighter was still with us. There were ambulances ambulance 30 water put me in an ambulance. The ambulances were awful. Somebody else took charge of the other woman. So she went separately. I walked with him to Broadway looking for an ambulance didn’t find one came back to choose street we found an empty one. He helped me settle in.
I was on adrenaline and I was on pure adrenaline at this point. They put me in the ambulance. They put me on my back.
I could see the through the windows at the top of the ambulance. His buildings went by that point I started feeling it and I started shaking and I actually didn’t feel hot. I felt cold. I was going I was having some sort of reaction. I got to Weill Cornell.
Ari: Can I Can I stop you for just one second? When you get into that ambulance, alright. Did they? Did they have to put other people in there? Did they wait or did they just take you alone?
Harry: They took me alone and immediately. Uh huh.
Ari: Because the reason I ask is when I got to Virginia into the ambulance, the ambulance wouldn’t leave until they filled up with people. So even though she was writhing in pain, and she had third degree burns, you know, they weren’t leaving and they said we can’t leave until we fill the ambulance. Ultimately they did obviously and that’s another story but that’s why I asked the question if they you know if they because with Virginia they made a weight and which was horrific, but okay. I’m sorry. Continue please.
Harry: I wonder if because of the delay, you know, walking to Broadway walking back. I missed the the rush hour if you want a better word. But he took me up to New York Presbyterian, which has a burn center. So I was very fortunate that way. I went to one of the few parent centers in Manhattan and they spoke to me they told me that they had to cut off my clothes. I to do it you have to do. I asked them to call Karen to call my wife. And I gave them her phone number. And then they said, We’re going to need to intubate you. And again, I just say, do whatever you need to do. So the last thing I remember for about seven weeks, seven weeks, yeah. I, I know from the story being filled in by others, after the fact that they kept me in an induced coma. I was very badly burned. My body wasn’t that badly burned, maybe 30%. But I had burns on the lungs. The the fireball that I mentioned. Yeah, absolutely went into my mouth and down my Oh, my trachea. And
that I guess that accounts for the the hoarseness in your voice. Because you never used to say he didn’t sound like this before. 911.
No, I know, I know, my vocal cords were bearing. And they’re now partially paralyzed. And the lungs were burned and infected, they got infected. And that was the real danger. The infections on the long side, I had some blood infections that I had other things that went on during those seven weeks and after. And I also could probably hear my voice. Because my vocal cords are are scarred. They’re partially paralyzed. I expel a lot of air when I talk. Which means that I can’t speak sequentially. For a long period of time, I have to stop and catch my breath. Okay, it’s, it’s, it’s it’s not painful. It’s just, it’s something I need to do.
Alright, so we’ll brace for that. All right, you just let us know put your hand up when you when you have to stop and we’ll let you stop.
Or I’ll just stop. I can do that. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes. Oh, sad. So I. Yeah. So I woke up slowly. And I didn’t wake up all at once. And I remember seeing I would wake up by behalf. They started see faces. Usually Karen’s nurses, doctors. I know I had some hallucinations when I was under dreams, if you will. But I know I had one where I I swore the doctors were trying to kill me. I had I had one where apparently I woke up long enough to tell Karen that the doctor was a drug kingpin. And they needed to keep them away from me.
You remember that? Karen told you that you said that.
Harry: I remember the first. The first one was pretty frightening. Karen told me about the second. I remember once waking up in the middle of night. And my nurse was there doing some sort of preparation by nurse was a an ex Navy man, just big and burly. And so. And he was doing something with some sort of small sheets. And so I woke up to a side of this big burly man at the foot of my bed draping some sheets. And I was thinking, oh my god, I’m being prepped for sacrifice. You know, the mind does strange things.
Ari: Oh, without a doubt.
Harry: Happily, I was wrong. He was actually a wonderful nurse. And I realized that I gradually woke up. The first day that I was fully awake. I wanted to know what had happened. And Karen was there and I asked her and she had she had decided in advance that she was going to spoon feed me information. She was going to answer your questions but nothing more. So I said, I asked what happened she said you were burned in a fire. I asked, was it a bob? Because the Trade Center had that history, right? So she told me about the jet. I asked how many died. And she gave me the VIN number which happily was exaggerated. They still thought at that point that it was 5000. They still hadn’t done the cap properly. And then I started naming names. I asked about individuals. And there was a lot of they didn’t make it. They most of my department, most of my closest friends and colleagues did not.
Ari: You were listening to whispers in bricks and my name is Ari Schonbrun You’ve just heard the end of part one of this amazing interview with Harry Weiser. Stay tuned, coming soon, part two. And until that time, listen to the whispers avoid the bricks and never ever give up on your dreams. Bye for now.