Saturday morning on my way to get my nails done I ran into Johnny Mac.
Who might that be?
One of the bravest, kindest men I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
It was the oddest thing since I had just been thinking of him the way I do every September 11. He’s a firefighter who miraculously made it out on that hellish day when most of his comrades did not.
I’ve known him several years prior to that having had a crush on him that alas, was never consummated. Who’s cuter than a fireman and Johnny then, now and always, is no exception.
Saturday was the annual German Day Parade down Fifth Avenue; many policemen and firemen participate. As I was rounding Park and 83 Street, I see this fetching looking man in his dress blues staring at me from across the street. I suddenly hear, “Hey Miss Bianchi, is that you?”
How shocking is it when you’re just thinking of someone and out of nowhere they turn up. Some call it the law of manifestation. I call it just plain amazing.
Of course my vanity went into full swing realizing I had forgotten my gloss. Hey, I don’t care if you’re as old as Gramma Moses, a girl always wants to put her best foot, or sneaker in this case, forward.
When I told him he was on my mind he became immediately somber clearly knowing why.
“Every September 11 John, you’re the first person I think of,” I told him plaintively.
“Just one day, that’s it for you?” he said looking down at his well polished shoes. “I think about that day, every day of my life.”
Of course he does, why wouldn’t he after what he saw and went through.
He was one of the first responders finding himself buried beneath wreckage where he, by the grace of God, dug himself out. It’s wild to me that he managed to do this while no one in his immediate vicinity succeeded in doing the same. Imagine realizing this as you surface gasping for breath. He had told me how pitch black everything was as he dug finally breaking through a window.
Looking at him now, his rosy complexion bleating with health, it’s quite hard to imagine.
I took the liberty of asking if he’s had any health issues like so many others who were there. He said he has to go in for tests because he’s been having respiratory problems.
He spent 4 months at Ground Zero sifting through the debris. “I stayed till the final day,” he said, “till they made us all leave.” He then showed me his Survivor’s Medal with two stars that signify his presence on that day.
He then asked if I wanted to ride in the truck he’d be driving in the parade.
Ride in the truck? But I have olive oil in my hair. What if he suddenly turns to me and says, do you smell salad? Let’s just say I couldn’t risk it. A girl has her image to uphold after all.
“Can I take a rain check?” I shyly asked. “Well,” he said, giving me that half smile that was making me seriously reconsider, “it might have to wait till next year. Same time, same corner?”
We said our good byes: a quick kiss, a soft rub on the shoulder.
When I turned around he was in the same position as when I first saw him – back ramrod straight, one knee slightly bent, dark glasses in place.
Did I just dream that I wondered?
Johnny Mac, old fashioned like many of his brethren.