Nearly 15 years ago …  the day I thought I was going to die

By Kevin Canessa Jr.

September 2001 was probably going to be one of the best months of my life. I was in my fourth year as a teacher at St. Anthony High School, Jersey City, and I was finally going to be able to work with one of the greatest classes in the school’s history, the class of 2002.

I started with the class of ‘02 back in September 1998 — I was a frosh on the faculty and they were all freshmen students. Over the three previous years (1998-2001), I got to know them all very well and got along with them all notoriously. Yet I had never taught them.

Finally, in September 2001, I’d get to teach them — all 60 of them for religion and 25 in my criminal justice class, which was my favorite to teach.

Before the first day of classes — in the first week of September — we had a series of faculty meetings as we did every other year. But there was a difference this time. A veteran teacher, who had been at the school many years ago and who left, was coming back to the school.

He was and is a legend, a model teacher who taught me so much about being a better teacher. Before 2001, he was called Brother Ray. Now, he was just Ray, having left the Marist Brothers order just some time before coming back to St. Anthony’s.

He was, as they say in the trade, a “Master Teacher,” and as such, was chosen to lead workshops for the rest of the faculty.

On Friday, Sept. 7, 2001, during one of these workshops, he asked the entire faculty: “What is your biggest peeve was about working at St. Anthony’s?

I immediately knew my answer and didn’t hold back. I was the first to respond and I didn’t even wait to be called on.

“The damn firetrucks,” I blurted out immediately. 

You see, the adjacent property to the St. Anthony’s building is the Jersey City Fire Department’s largest station — home to the Haz-Mat unit. Firefighters and their fire trucks were always going on calls — and the screams of the sirens were enduring. It seemed like they had to go out on a call every five minutes, though it wasn’t that often in reality.

As someone who has undiagnosed ADD, those sirens always threw me off, especially when I was in the middle of a good lecture or a heated discussion. They always threw me way off track — and it would often take a minute or two before I could regroup.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it would be those very sirens, that very sound that irked me to no end, that would in just a few days become the signature sound of the end of 2001 — somehow already 15 years ago.

Little did I know that Friday morning, as I drove to Jersey City, and stared at the beautiful Twin Towers — something I did every single school day the three years prior while always taking them for granted — that in just four days, they’d be gone forever. Little did any of us know our world would soon be forever as we never knew it before, our lives thrown upside down.

Sept. 11, 2001 was just four days away, and it was the first day in my life — the only day in my life — when I thought I wasn’t going home (we had actually been told nuclear missiles were heading for New York at about 10:30 a.m. that day).

That day that started out with such amazing promise — with a sky that didn’t have a single visible cloud in it, with humid-less, 70-degree air and an aura that everything was just right — I thought I was going to die.

The rest of this story will be published on Wednesday, Sept. 7.

Odds and ends

Avoid Craigslist for rentals — use our classifieds instead

A few weeks ago, my colleague Karen Zautyk wrote a story, with information from the Kearny PBA, of a scam that seems to be growing — fake rentals on Craigslist. People who don’t own apartments are pretending to own them — and are collecting all sorts of cash, from deposits, to first-month’s rent, you name it, from unsuspecting potential renters.

The thing is — these scammers seem brilliant, and use actual photos from real-estate websites. They take information readily available and turn it around to create the fake ads.

One of the reasons why these scams are so successful is that it doesn’t cost a cent to post the ads. This is why we still believe our classifieds are the best way to go with apartment/home rentals — despite the nominal fee they cost. Scammers are much less likely to pay for a fraudulent ad — and you’d think they’d be much less willing to leave a paper trail as to their identities.

So next time you’re ready to take out an ad for a rental — or search for one — on Craigslist, think twice and think of the ease of mind The Observer’s classified section offers.

That was low!

Flash back with me, if you will, to Monday afternoon, July 25. Did you happen to see, at around 4 p.m., that day, in Kearny, the six or so airplanes, including a Lufthansa 747, that came in for a landing at Newark, at what appeared to be an altitude of about 1,000 feet — maybe even less?

I was just outside The Observer office on Seeley Ave. (at Kearny Ave.) as the jumbo jet came in — the LUFTHANSA logo was clear as day, as were the windows on the plane.

When the plane banked south (it had been heading due east) I was almost certain it was about to crash. I later learned the planes were redirected because of the storm clouds that had formed to the west (over Belleville and Newark). That said, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen planes landing at such a low altitude.

Thank you for the dialogue

I want to thank Kearny police Capt. Tim Wagner, Sgt. Anthony Limite and retired N.J. State Police Trooper Paul Bershefski for their responses to a column I wrote several weeks ago. They opened up a dialogue like we’ve never had before on the pages of this newspaper. That was my only goal in penning what I did — so thank you to each for taking the time to write.

Learn more about the writer ...

Editor & Broadcaster at 

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, an organization he has served since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on social media channels such as YouTube, Facebook, and X, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to Kearny to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.