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Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is the President of Intermat, Inc., a consulting practice that specializes in the intersection of media, technology and marketing. For two years, he produced the Emmys on the Web and supervised web related activities for the Academy, including for the 50th Anniversary year of the Emmy Awards. In addition to its consulting engagements, Intermat recently sold METEOR’S TALE, an unpublished novel by Michael O’Rourke, to Animal Planet for development as a television movie. Visit his web site at

Life Goes On
December 10th, 2001

Standing here, it’s Ad Tech, the NATPE for people who are marrying
advertising and technology. It’s the world I wandered into when I went into
the dot com world and I’m standing here for one of my clients, meeting and
greeting folks.

Out of towners ask me where I live in New York? I say SoHo and their eyes
widen and ask me if I’m okay? Yes. Do you have WTC syndrome? Well, yes.
Sort of.

WTC Syndrome is a newly diagnosed medical issue that has now become common place for those who live and work in lower Manhattan. We know the air is
supposedly good but there are lots of people with constant, persistent
coughs. Add me to that list. I keep an inhaler, not frequently used, by my
bed. I suffer only a little, not like the police and firemen, but I know
that living and working in SoHo hasn’t been the best for my lungs.

Good thing I quit smoking.

This is just another fact of life we deal with in the new reality.

Another one will be met tonight when I get to the first of two Board meetings
for Body Positive, a charity here in New York on whose Board of Directors I
sit. Like all charities in New York that are not disaster related they are
financially stretched right now because so much funding is going to Disaster

No argument with that. The challenge to us is to find ways to financially
and physically support our clients, who are just as much in need today as
they were on September 10th; may be more.

Risky behavior in risk groups has gone up. What does it matter what you do
when you’re living at the end of the world? That has been the feeling post
September 11th and we’ll be feeling the effects of it for literally years to

But our world grinds on. We’re still here. No more buildings have fallen.
We are warned to be careful by Attorney General Ashcroft and since that was
on the front page of the New York Times there is another time of heightened
awareness, a little more looking over the shoulder than there was last week.
That becomes mingled with the gallows humor of feeling we’re living in a war
zone, somehow, and we make jokes about security to mask our uneasiness.

At the Board meeting we deal with declining donations and I spend a little
time with Michael Dentato, the Executive Director, who is frustrated by the
huge amounts of paperwork that must be done to get relief. The offices of
Body Positive were closed, swamped with dust, and unusable for weeks. As a
group and a small business in the disaster zone it is eligible for help but
help has been elusive because of the paperwork.

That’s a theme for everyone touched by the disaster – there seems to be as
much paperwork as there was dust. It is so difficult to navigate it that
people are giving up. There are some programs we are eligible for at the
agency that we probably won’t be able to apply for because the paperwork is
just too much.

The survivors of WTC victims are in the papers every day now, bemoaning their
confusion and despair over the weight of paperwork that they must do to get

There are hundreds and thousands of people who are somehow lost, lost in a
sea of paperwork, lost in their own grief, lost because anchors have
evaporated. We have not regained our bearings in this new world – a new
world which seems sometimes more overwhelming than it should be. Some
struggle with the paperwork; some surrender and put it aside; all of us just
try to keep going.

The circle of life keeps moving. There are a large number of women who have
or are giving birth to children that will never know their fathers. A large
number of the lost were men in their 30’s and 40’s and a large number of
them were expectant fathers.

It was a photo of a widow about to give birth to a son her husband will never
know that stabbed my heart yesterday, a widow who struggled with pregnancy
and paperwork, unable to quite process the joy of birth and the sorrow of
grieving in a cohesive whole.