This article was first published in the September 6, 2002 issue of The eXile.
AN OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD EXILE EXCLUSIVE LOOK AT THE UNSUNG GHOST-HEROES OF 9/11!
Mike was always the hard charger, the sparkplug of his 77th-floor accounting office. He was the one who insisted that everyone stay at their desks on that fatal morning, wryly telling his frightened staff, “This is not gonna turn into one of those 20-minute coffee breaks, people” before he went back to work delicately balancing the books of Enron.
He raised his head in annoyance as a great collapsing roar consumed his office — and then all vanished in smoke and darkness.
When Mike awoke, he found himself in Enron’s offices in Texas, listening to a briefing by a terrified accountant. “They’ve got us!” moaned the craven paper-pusher. “There’s nothing we can do!”
One grizzled exec spoke up: “Whaddaya think shredders are for, damn it?” he asked in a Texas twang. “We can pulp every piece of paper in the damn building!””We’ve done that already,” shrieked the cowardly number-cruncher. “But there are copies of every document in the NY warehouse! By the time we get a shredding team in, the Fed’s’ll be there!”
Mike thought, “I know that warehouse!” He tried rapping the table to get everyone’s attention — but his hand went right through. In amazement he tried again, and found his ghostly body passed easily through wood, metal and plastic. “Jesus Christ, what the Hell’s going on?” he wondered.
There was no answer; but Mike felt a greater power propelling him through time and space, back to New York, leaving him standing next to a forklift full of documents. A poorly-dressed slacker, with “Union” written all over his weak features, was slowly feeding documents from the forklift into a shredder.
“Damn it, shred faster!” screamed Mike — but the slacker could neither hear nor see him. A whistle sounded and the slacker, looking at his cheap domestic watch, punched the air and shouted, “Miller Time!”
“Come back, you bum! You’re fired!” shouted Michael — but the slacker had vanished. Mike looked in horror at the huge stacks of Enron documents still unshredded.
“Let’s roll,” he said quietly, and grabbed a stack of documents.
To his horror, his hand passed right through the fatal papers. Mike tried again and again, concentrating fiercely on moving objects by sheer willpower, using all the lessons learned in many an afternoon on the driving range.
After an hour, he managed to master his telekinetic powers. Guided by his invisible hands, piles of documents floated from forklift to shredder all through that long night.
Mike was just feeding the last pile of incriminating numbers into the shredder when he heard noises outside. Floating to the window, he saw Federal vans discharging grim-visaged, hate-filled auditors. Mike smiled proudly. “You’re too late, suckers!” he whispered. Then he felt himself pulled again through time and space, to reappear in Enron’s Houston HQ.
Lay continued thoughtfully, “I still don’t know how they managed it. Somebody up there must like us.”
Standing invisible in the corner, Mike smiled wryly. “Somebody sure does,” he whispered. “Well, I guess my work here is done.”
No sooner had he spoken than he felt the same invisible power pulling him through time and space toward another threatened entrepreneur, this time the folks at WorldCom in Clinton, Mississippi. Proud of his new mission, and the deep wisdom acquired as he passed from life to death, Mike nodded and whispered, “Let’s roll.”
Jerry had been married only three months when the towers were struck. His last thought, as his world collapsed in fire and smoke, was for his new bride: “Jesus, she’ll blow everything on some crap investment!” he thought as he fell to his death.
Jolene O’Dell-Perndock, Jerry’s widow, shared much with her husband — but not his skill in picking investments. Jerry had spent many a cozy evening teasing Jolene good-naturedly on her ignorance of financial matters. “You are truly fucking hopeless!” he’d say, chuckling. “Don’t think you’re ever gonna touch a dime of the 401K! In your hands, the whole fucking egg would vanish overnight and I’d never be able to retire to that gated golf community in Scotsdale.”
“Whaddaya gonna do with the money?” asked her colleague, squinting as she smoked furiously to finish the Marlboro before their ten-minute break ran out.
“Jerry always said you’d hafta be crazy not to put it into the market,” Jolene said, “I wanna honor his wishes, he was everything for me. And also he said you could make 20% a year.”
“20% a year? Shit!” said her colleague, coughing. Then she added thoughtfully, “I wish Allan’d worked on a higher floor. The schmuck — naturally he’d work on the third floor.”
“He made it out?” asked Jolene anxiously.
Her friend nodded sadly. “Just my fuckin’ luck,” she grumbled as they tossed their butts away and headed for the elevators.
But Jerry had heard little of this exchange except the horrifying news that Jolene was going to invest his life-insurance in the market. “That goddamn air-head,” he thought. “Only an idiot like her’d put it in the market now! She’ll lose everything I’d earned. I knew it! I gotta stop her!”
Suddenly filled with a strange determination, his floating changed to a kind of airy muscling, as if he was transporting himself on an air-jet ski. He followed his widow back to their apartment, hovering above her like a schmaltzy Chagall painting, cursing and shaking his head. He peeked over her shoulder as she wrote a check to a brokerage firm for the whole settlement. He saw that the check was made out to a cut-rate Index Fund only a total loser would buy into. Jerry tried to bat her hand away and scream into her ear “Stay in cash! Don’t time the market you idiot! Stay in cash!” as she wrote, but his ghostly fingers passed right through.
All through the night, as Jolene slept, Jerry tried to open the desk drawer in which Jolene had placed the fatal check. By morning he had barely managed to pull the drawer open. Before he could take the check, Jolene grabbed it and headed for the brokerage.
Jerry followed her, still trying to perfect his telekinesis. Jolene was drawing close to the brokerage now — all she had to do was cross one last corner. Jerry put all his hopes, all his dreams, all his human spirit, into one last effort. As Jolene waited at the corner, he focused his energy and ran at her like an ectoplasmic cannonball. Jolene, struck from behind, fell forward into the path of an uptown express bus.
As a crowd gathered, Jerry stood weary but proud. When it counted, he had done what had to be done. Personal handicap, in the form of death, had not stopped him from achieving his goals.
He noticed a vaporous apparition rising from under the bus. Jolene’s ghost, realizing what had happened, screamed at him, “What have you done, you bastard?”
Jerry waved his hands, reassuring his erstwhile bride. “Don’t worry, honey,” he smiled. “The money’s safe now.”
* * * *
Not all those who perished in the tragedy of September 11, 2001, were highpowered financiers. Many of the dead were ordinary Americans, working in less-glamorous jobs. One of the most heartwarming aspects of the disaster is the way these “little people” provided an example of courage and decency — even after their deaths.
Pablo had been an American for only two of his 33 years, but the flag he wore on the shoulder of his security guard’s uniform meant more to him than anything — more, even, than life itself. Pablo was one of the heroes most often mentioned by survivors of 9/11. It was he who had held open the door of the one stairway which led those on the upper floors to safety. Many of those survivors — hard-charging executives who had hardly noticed Pablo in life — took time from their ardous recoveries to praise the “that little Mexican in the guard uniform” who had ushered them to safety with no thought of his own fate.
True to his humble, diligent nature, Pablo was one of the first ghosts of 9/11 to resume work. It was he whom rescue workers first saw as they worked through the nights to clear the ruins: a small figure in a beige uniform, walking in midair where once the 82nd floor of the tower had been. Pablo’s ghost was soon so familiar to the rescue workers that they began to call up to it, engaging it in friendly banter. At first the small figure could be seen shaking its head in embarrassment as it stood in mid-air, whispering “No Eenglish” in a ghostly quaver. But at last Pablo seemed to understand what the construction workers were calling up to him. When one hardhat joked, “Hey Pablo, you oughta put in for overtime!” The ghostly figure halted in its eerie progress, leaned down towards the hardhats, and called in admirably clear English the words which have made him famous: “No overtime! No make waves!”
Astonished by this response, the rescue workers halted to listen. One said, “Hey Pablo, what’d you say?”
Pablo leaned down to speak to them again, and repeated, more strongly, “No overtime! No health plan! I not, how you say, ‘legal’! No make waves!”
A great silence fell over the ruins. The grizzled construction boss let the tears fall without shame down his ash-smeared cheeks, muttering, “The poor bastid!”
Then he sighed, “You guys know what we gotta do here.” His workmates nodded solemnly as the Foreman dialed a familiar number and said, “This INS? Lissen, we got an illegal immigrant here. You gotta get down here an’ take ‘im away.”
When Pablo began his ghostly circuit the next evening, a bevy of law-enforcement officials from INS, Animal Control, and the FBI were waiting below. When their spotlights caught Pablo, his ghost jumped several floors and hovered, quivering so wildly that the officials below couldn’t help laughing. An INS official bellowed into a megaphone, “Manos a-ba-ho! You are violating Federal Employment Law. Descend immediately for deportation!”
But Pablo’s ghost simply vanished, only to appear the next night, attempting to carry out its rounds. This time officials had called in reinforcements: a fire-department cherry-picker carried an Animal-Control officer equipped with a large collecting net. Officer Diana Hammett lunged out at Pablo, but the wetback ghost simply ran up invisible stairs to the next floor of what had been the WTC. “The perp keeps evading me,” she informed her superiors via chin-mike.
At that point one of the many true miracles connected with the Ghosts of 9/11 took place. A commanding Chuck-Yeager-like voice announced to the assembled officials, “It’s OK, we’ll take the collar. You can relax.” Officer Hammett, hanging in her cherry-picker harness, stared is awe as two ghostly figures in the uniform of the INS approached Pablo’s ghost and firmly manacled it. One of the ghostly law-enforcement officers waved to Hammett, saying “We’re from the 96th-floor office, INS! Just doin’ our job!”
As the two INS officers led the illegal ectoplasmic immigrant away into the clouds, Officer Hammett gave them a last salute and whispered through her tears, “Throw the book at the little wetback, guys!”
Mike was on the stairwell between the 58th and 59th floor, steadily continuing his run upwards even as the roar of tens of thousands of tons of concrete began to barrel down upon him like a hundred freight trains belted together. Mike figured it was probably nothing, he’d seen worse. His boss or Mayor Giuliani would never put him in harm’s way, so there was really nothing to worry about. Even as the steel girders started to bend and collapse, and chunks of concrete smeared with human flesh fell around him, Mike stoically headed higher up the stairwell, determined to put out the fire and rescue any survivors.
Just as he was attaching his hose on the 64th floor, the roar suddenly exploded like a giant mile-wide tornado. The next thing Mike knew, he was falling in a giant cloud of ash and smoke.
He held onto his trusty fire hose, which passed with him through a bright light and ectoplasm. There was nothing anywhere, no stairwell, no land.
“Hey, I’m floating,” he thought matter-of-factly. He looked over and saw Stevie Callahan, also floating and also clutching a fire hose.
Mike and Stevie hovered there for days, and then the days turned to weeks, until they began to understand that all was not right and they probably wouldn’t be making it home in time for Sunday afternoon football and beers. It was hard to know what he would miss more — football or beer. He spent most of the next week debating, while floating, the merits of each and coming up with a rating system. Beer won every time.
As the smoke began to dissipate, Mike began learning how to navigate closer to the ground. So many of his buddies were gone. All these new faces… Not just any faces either. Dark faces. Black, Latino, people with accents.
That was the day President Bush finally came out of hiding. Millions of tourists and volunteers had already been hard at work at Ground Zero, donating blood and sweat before the Commander-in-Chief felt safe enough to visit New York for about 70 seconds.”Andy, think I can drive a few balls on Ground Zero, show those terrorists that they haven’t won diddley squat,” President Bush asked his chief of staff.
“No Mr. President, that would not be appropriate at this time,” he was told.
“I think the firefighters’d appreciate a good drive,” the President said. “And I get so bored at these things. This way I can golf, which I love, and be seen. Kill two birds with one drive.”
Mike didn’t know why but he liked Bush right off the bat. He felt that they had a lot in common, that he knew him. He thought, “This is a guy I can imagine having a beer with, ya know?”
After the President was whisked away, Mike felt sad that they didn’t have that beer. “Maybe next time.” Then Mike looked around at the firemen gathering there.
“Hey, these aren’t the firemen I know,” Mike thought.
He hovered just a few feet above the ruins, gliding through people and debris alike, till he came upon one of his superiors, Jerry O’Neil.
“Jerry, what gives with these new firemen?” Mike demanded.
But Jerry ignored him.
“Jerry! Goddamnit, you gotta stand up for us. We’re all brothers here. What’s wit’ all the darkies?”
Jerry solemnly walked away.
“I need a drink,” Mike thought unhappily.
He fast-floated up to the nearest African American firefighter recruit, and yelled out to the others, “Watch this!” He tapped the recruit on the shoulder. “Hey, darkie. Wanna take me and my buddies’ jobs? Just because your ancestors were slaves? Here, take this!” He cocked his arm and swung, but it went through the African-American’s jaw and out the other side. Mike swung again and again, but every punch went through as if through air.
That’s when his buddy Stevie floated over. “What’s wrong, Mikey?”
“Something ain’t right here,” Mike said. “I ain’t ever hearda invisible niggahs. We’re doomed if they’re breeding new invisible niggahs now.” Dejected, he floated away and nearly gave up.
Stevie talked him out of his funk and assured him that blacks were not invisible, it’s just that he, Mikey, was dead.
“Hey, just because we’re dead, doesn’t mean we gotta give up!” Mikey said.
“Whattaya sayin’, Mikey?” Stevie said.
“I’m sayin we gotta save the FDNY, now!” Mikey said.
“How’re we gonna do that?’
“Jerry!” Mikey said. “Gotta tell Jerry… Gotta keep the fire department hiring on a merit basis. Because as everyone knows, dark-skinned peoples don’t withstand heat as well as white skinned peoples. It’s a biologicacal fact.”
“You know somethin’, you’re right Mikey!”
Mike floated into his fire station and struggled hard to communicate his message to the living, but no matter what he yelled out, it sounded like howling wind. That’s when he discovered something: if he wailed long drawn out cries in the same key as the wind, using just two or three choice words, sometimes someone among the living would take notice.
Now Mike had to think about what he’d say. Had to boil it down to the simple message.
“I got it!” he said. “My message to America!”
One evening, he floated towards Jerry O’Neil, the superior, while he was on a coffee break. O’Neil thought he heard something, and it gave him the creeps. Like a voice. He looked up. Nothing.
It happened again the next day, and the next. Especially when Jerry was alone, or when it was later at night. The voice called out like the wind, only it wasn’t the wind.
Finally, after a week, while heading through the rubble to pick out a helmet, Jerry heard it: “Nooooo Aaafff… Nooooo Aaaffffir…”
“No what?” Jerry said. “Does anyone hear that?” He ran away.
The next night, Mike was hovering just a few feet above O’Neil, moaning for all he was worth.
“Nooooo Aaaffiiirrrrmmmaaat. Noooo Aaaafffirrmmaattive.”
Jerry stood up. “I think it’s tryin to tell me something.”
“Nooo Aaaffiiiirrrrmaaative Aaaccction. Nooo Aaaffiiiirrrrmaaative Aaaccction…”
Jerry suddenly stood up and snapped his fingers. “Ha-ha! I get it. I get you!” he yelled out, smiling with joy. “I get you, brother firefighter! We didn’t give our lives for nuthin’ here!”
Mike gave Stevie a high five, and soared up to the clouds with joy, shooting 2000 feet above Ground Zero. He had been heard! But this was only the beginning. Every fire department had to hear his message.
And so Mike went to every fire department in Manhattan and then on to the other boroughs, bringing his message about affirmative action. And every day, with every convert, Mike soared another 2000 feet, each time floating closer to Heaven.
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