El nueve once is what I call that day. Un día that started out with me co-anchoring a New York City early morning television show and then within minutes finding myself rushing toward the mortally wounded World Trade Center.
As I ran down the street, I made note of the friendly, clear-blue sky and the inocentes all around me still going about their New-York-State-of-Mind-Kind-of-a-Morning, still unaware of the horror downtown.
I will never forget the shockingly distinct dividing line that separated the clear, crisp September air from the thick, white curtain of death.
I will never forget the deliverymen, the busboys, the deli workers; their Aztec, Maya, and Inca faces set in stone like those of their ancestors on the pirámides, as they watched the visible New Yorkers, those with U.S. birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, and Social Security numbers, flee the madness. The latter ran in designer shoes and no-nonsense business attire, still clutching their briefcases; their cell phones, pagers, and laptops flopping about like evolutionary dead-ends, appendages no longer useful in a world that had lost its mind.
The brown faces also fled and, already invisible in the year-round grind of making a life in Nueva York, were rendered even more non-existent by the dust cloud that shrouded them. Grim-faced and silent, they haunted the space outside the camera lights of television crews, hoping perhaps at least one reporter might mention their plight as well.
And then, as I prepared to go on camera yet again, someone rushed by with something that had not been seen since the towers fell … a smile. The woman thrust into my hand what she called a survivors list and vanished into the crowd. The families of those who had been in the towers grasped at the list as if they were embracing their missing loved ones.
The reporter’s instinct kicked in and I read every single entry in the supposed survivor list before going on the air with the information; studying every name, every hospital, every condition listed; critical, stable, and guarded. And there it was, several pages deep into the stack of papers … proof that el diablo still danced in the streets of Nueva York.
Among the names of the “survivors” were what could only be called abominations, proof that the entire list was suspect, an evil fabrication as noxious and sinister as the thought of innocent passenger planes slamming into innocent buildings sending hundreds and hundreds of inocentes to their deaths.
Names of the survivors: President Clinton, President Bush, cartoon characters like Beavis and Butthead, and the Simpsons.
The medical conditions: “Help me I am burning,” and Ausilio, me quemo.
There were many other comments too diabolical to mention here; too dark and unthinkable to invoke lest they poison with their veneno once again. I reported on the hoax list and told people to ignore its evil.
But again, no hope of survival was found even among a false survivors’ list for the undocumented immigrant workers of Nueva York. They were invisible in the working world, the television reports, and even nonexistent on a fake list of survivors.
According to one report, a still undetermined number of the undocumented, from countries including Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Republica Dominicana, Honduras, and México, went from invisible to desaparecidos on that nueve once. Their Manhattitlán, as some Mexicanos called their new Aztlán, offered them no words of comfort that day. They may not have had an official U.S. identity, a formal job, or a Social Security number — but there is a more important number they have in their possession … forever.
Ese número es 9-11.
That is all the number they need. You cannot get more American than that.