Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering Sal - Salvatore J. Zisa

When I was a freshman in college in the 1970's, I took my very first job, as a "confection attendant" - aka candy girl - at the Hyway Theatre in Fair Lawn. Over the years we were employed there, I and my co-workers became a very tight-knit group that hung out together after work, at whatever places we could find that were open and served food after midnight. It wasn't a job for us. More like a place to get into the movies for free and to make some pocket change while goofing around with people we liked. Most of us got jobs for friends, or got our jobs there because we knew someone who also worked at the Hyway. (I got mine from a classmate of my sisters, Linda Wasserman.)

One of the ushers, (I think it was Carl Winter) got a girl he knew a job, and she had a friend named Sal who also hung out sometimes with her and with us. She lived on Pomona Ave, near the Fair Lawn - Hawthorne border, and he was from Hawthorne.

Ask me her name, and I can't remember, but I always remembered Sal. He was quiet and serious most of the time, maybe even a bit shy to hang out with what was a big group of strangers that had spent a few years working and being friends. He had a soft voice most of the the time, sitting quietly at the table when we went out to eat after work, sober-faced, just eating and listening to us clown around and unwind. But it always happened that at some point he would unexpectedly jump into the conversation and have everyone cracking up, as if he'd known all of us for years and years, too.

After a few weeks, he seemed to be one of the gang. We would try, but we could never talk him into taking a job with us. He had better ideas than spending his life making minimum wage to sweep up popcorn in the lobby. In that regard, he was a lot more mature than the rest of us. He was in school. He had plans. The biggest plans we all had was what weekend to go to the shore, and what movies were opening that we could get into for free.

At some point, his female friend got a better job and quit, and Sal stopped socializing with us, too. Eventually, we all moved on to other things, got real jobs that worked normal hours, and stopped hanging out late and driving home on empty streets in cars stuffed with as many as we could fit into them.

In other words, we grew up.

In that blur of a week in September five years ago, I remember seeing his name and hometown on a message board as I searched for the name of some of my husband's former co-workers at the WTC. The first time I saw his face, I recognized him.

Damn, damn, damn.

When the New York Times posted his profile, it said:

The Top Priority

When traveling on business, as he often did, Salvatore Zisa, 45, would almost invariably take the red-eye flight home from the West Coast. From the airport, he would then typically proceed directly into the office at Marsh Inc., where he was a senior vice president, arriving at his desk as though he had slept in a bed like everyone else. This pattern repeated itself again and again over the years.

Workaholic? Maybe. Or maybe just a father who wanted to make sure he could get home to Hawthorne, N.J., in time for a soccer game where his daughter Christina, 16, or his son Joseph, 12, would expect to look up and see him cheering.

"His priority was making sure he got to his kids' games on time, that he didn't miss anything," said his brother, Tony Zisa. "He traveled a lot, but he would work his schedule around making sure he was home for the important things. He was always there for our parents, and for his kids, and for his wife."

For all of us living in the suburbs of NYC, the events of 9/11/01 will forever remain in names on a list that were of neighbors, co-workers, faces we passed on the street or saw on a train, in a meeting, in a lobby, at the newstand or at the bagel shop nodding over a cup of coffee. Or a face from nearly thirty years in the past, a guy that made us all laugh over garlic bread and pizza at Barcelona's on Harrison Ave. in Garfield as we sat having dinner after work at midnight, too young, too full of life, to go home to sleep yet.

I will always remember Sal, and I am happy to remember him as I knew him. And I am sure there are a lot of others out there who he touched who are thinking of him, forever young, forever with that smile he was always sharing, too. Having him pass through our lives was a gift.

I am sorry that I never got to meet that guy he grew up to be.

More comments from Sal's coworkers at the Marsh memorial site. Or view the guest book dedicated to him at . His panel in the United in Memory Quilt is here.

There is a scholarship set up in his memory - for more information, look here.

Many groups have proposed alternative ways to honor the memory of victims of 9/11, most by volunteering or participating in community service projects. Sal's page on the USA initiative site, part of the movement known as One Day's Pay is here. I am proud to be a volunteer in my own community, something I did after my family's 9/11 experience, and hope that you will help turn this tragic day into something that helps make America a better place.

Please take a moment to leave your comments and view some of the others memorialized by the participating bloggers of the 2996 project

(My husband is a 9/11 WTC survivior. I wrote a little bit about his experiences back in April. The link is posted below.)


Kami said...

Great tribute; thank you.

Justice Montgomery said...

This was a wonderful tribute to Sal. My deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends....

~ ~ Justice
In Memory of Edward P. York

Sodapop said...

That was a great tribute.

I am enjoying reading allt hese tributes. I'll be trying to get through all 2996. I've got my box of tissue next to me.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all their family and friends.

cathy said...

That was a really nice tribute. I keep reading these and each one brings more emotions that the last.

My Prayers go out to you and to Sal's family.

mine is up now also.

bernie said...

I'm on my second box of Kleenex. Wonderful tribute.

I linked to your tribute from 2996 tribute to victims of 9/11 - Terrence E Adderley

Suzi said...

Thank you for introducing us to Sal. I liked reading about him taking the red-eye to be sure he could get back for his kids' events. I know that meant more to them than where he worked or how.

I also appreciated that you knew Sal from the movie theater, from garlic and pizza at Barcelona's. My memory is not that good and I don't remember too many folks from that long ago. But you made Sal more real to me with that memory and helped me understand that some people can remember that long ago!

That makes the comments I read about Laura Gilly fresher and more poignant. Thank you.

William said...

We don't know each other, but I served at Ground Zero with The Salvation Army. I had a camera with me and took a close up picture of the missing poster with Sal's name on it. Thought you may be interested in having a copy. You can email me at if interested. Blessings to you on this day.

keda said...

beautiful. thank you.
i'm so sorry for your loss. but glad you knew him and could write such a lovely tribute.

maggie's mind said...

Wow, truly a beautiful tribute, and I love that you shared your personal connection to Sal, however many years ago it was. Really, truly a great guy, and I'm so glad you shared and re-posted this year, too.

I've remembered Jean D Roger.

Flag Gazer said...

Great tribute - it is so hard each year to read all of the tributes, but we must never forget!

I paid tribute to Angelene Carter and Major Dwayne Williams who lost their lives at the Pentagon.

Raggedy said...

Great tribute!
My tribute is for Michael Benjamin Packer.
God bless.

indie21 said...

Thank you for this memorial.
It touched my heart so much :)
Job well done :)
May his soul forever rest in peace.