I had been sweating for years. Leaking vital fluid. It wasn’t lack of sex. But something was missing. I used to calm myself with 7&7’s in front of the local news. I’d sip, slip into something comfortable, sigh, see life isn’t too bad when everyone else is getting screwed. Random gunfire killing infants. Teenagers pushing homeless women in front of the BMT. I’d relax. I’d unwind. That or I’d go shopping.
So this one drizzly day in April everything’s normal for New York in the wine-and-dine ‘90s. After work I go to Macy’s to buy some satin underpants, athletic socks, a new black lace Maidenform bra. Feel-good shopping. Normal enough.
Then I start walking up to Port Authority. The drizzle’s stopped, the sun’s inching out its tiny hiney, which immediately makes me suspicious, and I’m thinking to myself, “God, I’m so ordinary I could die.”
And just at that moment, God must of heard me because there’s this gigantic rumble and roar as if He’s finally hauling His stinking butt out of bed on my account, and at that instant, right next to where I’m walking, a twelve-story building crumbles. Falls apart before my eyes. Collapses in three seconds and I’m looking at a pile of rubble that used to be a parking lot at 35th and 6th.
My first thought is, “How fucking dare they?” My father’s in construction—I know about these things. Then out of this tangle of steel and concrete and burst boxes of paper crawls this guy. He’s moaning “Oh, my. Oh, my,” over and over again, clucking his tongue like he forgot where he put his eyeglass case or his extra Metrocard. I run over to help him which surprises the hell out of me because I’ve learned you don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong. You go call 911 or something.
But that was then, this was now, and I was being driven by a power greater than myself.
So I’m running over to this man while other people are kind of standing around like statuary in a tea garden. Here’s a building collapsed and they’re just watching the show like it’s Oprah fucking Winfrey. This guy has a big gash on the side of his head. Right over the ear.
I’m really not thinking clearly at this point. It’s only April, I’m in the garment district no less, but what does Sister Suzie Modesty do but whip off her blouse and apply a tourniquet type knot to this guy’s gushing head. Then suddenly I’m screaming, “Call an ambulance! Call an ambulance!” But people stare at me. As if I was talking goddamn Swahili.
Finally, I see this black kid run off like he was on fire and in about two minutes there’s sirens blasting and cops and fire engines pulling up... and I’m in the middle of the biggest catastrophe in New York City since the ’70-something blackout.
Meanwhile this guy is in my lap, groaning, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.” So I’m rocking this stranger in my arms trying to calm him down. I’m not wearing any blouse at this juncture. Just the new bra I put on in Macy’s bathroom. I’m splattered with blood. My hair’s wrecked. I kind of imagine myself looking like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens.
So I’m thinking two thoughts. First. Does this guy have a girlfriend because if not, we’ve gotten to know each other real fast in an intimate sort of way. Besides, he’s obviously well-off, diamond cufflinks sparkling in the flashing red lights, and NO WEDDING RING. Second, I’m thinking if I’ve got to get a date with this guy he better snap out of it and notice whose lap he’s cradled in. Right then he starts moaning for his mother and I think, “Uh-oh.”
That’s when it dawns on me. This is my fifteen minutes. Andy Warhol and all. No one else’s fifteen fucking minutes. Reporters sprout up from God knows where and are asking me to repeat what I saw while firemen clamber in those big boots all over the rubble in search of more people. My mind is swirling. This is my time in the lime. I realize I better not let it dribble away. In fact, I better get as much out of it as I can.
I excuse myself from this snot nose reporter in a Ralph Lauren sweater who must have gone to Columbia from the looks of him and I find this authority figure, a deputy police chief or something, and I ask him if there are other people still trapped in the pile. He jerks his big thumb towards two EMS guys loading my little Mama’s boy into the back of the ambulance. “Your friend says there’s at least two others,” he says. All the while he’s looking at my bosom with this cat burglar smile.
I give this samurai yell and attack the mound of rubble and dust, plaster and screaming wires whipping in the wind. No one tries to stop me. I was possessed. By God, by Mother Theresa, by Buddha for all I know. But there I am, lifting beams that I wouldn’t even try to step over in high heels on a good day, filled with this bestial power. I’m gone. What athletes call “in the zone.”
I was throwing off pieces of plaster board, plowing through filing cabinets. I’m yelling, “Hey in there. Can anyone hear me?” This last is what the papers said. Because like I said. I was gone.
Anyway. I found him. Jimmy. I found Eddie too but he was dead. Thank god it wasn’t the other way around because Eddie Cantori was two hundred and fifty pounds and only five-five.
But Jimmy. Jimmy owns a factory in Queens that sews the lining into fur coats! Can you believe it? He’s Italian, he’s Catholic, he’s better looking than goddamn Derek Jeter! I find him pinned down underneath a drinking fountain. I lift it off him like a bag of groceries. Possessed. The Church may have to exorcise me for all I know. And Jimmy, poor baby, looks up at me with those saucer, moonlighting eyes and says, “You look mahhh-velous.” In that Billy Crystal sort of way you know? Mahh-vellous. Like that. That’s all he keeps saying. I’m asking him if he can get up. He says, “My, but you look mahh-vellous.”
“Jesus,” I think. “Maybe this one’s lost his mind too.” I don’t know at this point, see. But I lift him up and start stepping through all the glass and crap, and photographers are clicking and flashing, and two paramedics rush up to me to help and I just collapse. Black to the world.
If the Almighty wasn’t responsible for anything up to now, He certainly practiced a bit of divine intervention next.
We’re both sent to Roosevelt. Jimmy and me. Same damn hospital. I was told they usually spread ‘em around in a catastrophe but St. Clare’s was made into an AIDS ward, lucky for me. So I’m put in traction for two weeks because I’ve about pulled everything there is to pull and Jimmy’s down the hall, broken leg and vertebra, lacerated liver.
But I don’t know anything, see. It’s the next day and I’m feeling no pain because they’ve shot me up with demerol or whatever and this male nurse comes in, a stringbean of a black man with a lisp, and he asks if I’d like a visitor. I say, PLEASE GOD!!! I’m already going loony with loneliness and it’s only been twenty-four hours. And who does he wheel in but Jimmy. Jimmy Ferrino.
I could have fucked him right in his wheelchair if I wasn’t strapped in. I tell him he looks Mahh-vellous and he laughs and right then I know that we’re going to have babies together. He doesn’t even have to say thank you or go into the I’d-really-like-to-get-together-after-this-is-all-over routine. I’m overcome. I start crying for some reason. And he starts singing the Canadian national anthem in this really goofy way and so I kind of sniffle and look at him and he’s singing “Oh, Canada” as if he’s at a hockey game and so I start laughing. He stops singing. I stop laughing. We’re just looking at each other, two wrecked animals in plaster casts. He looks out the window toward New Jersey and says quiet and peaceful like he’s a zookeeper, “I was married to you in a past life and back then we had great sex.”
God has his ways. I used to almost throw up when I saw cripples or palsy types. But now, with Jimmy, I’m used to it. Even without the use of his legs he can do things that count—back rubs, TV dinners, anything microwave he cooks great. We’re planning children some day. Soon.
So this is for anyone who feels like they’re leaking too, watching other people’s boats not only come in, but load up and sail by in front of your face. Just remember. When the opportunity comes, don’t just stand there. Listen to that tick of the clock. When your fifteen minutes come, shop till you drop. Go for a spree. Hop on that ambulance called love. And ride it, honey. Ride it.