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Unfiled November 15, 2001
The Three Amigos: A Tale of Love and Loss in Manhattan
By John Dolan Browse author Email
The Three Amigos

For these three friends, Sept. 11 began like any other working day. They were given the day's work and locked in the copy room as usual. As the machines warmed up, Tommy called on the Holy Ghost to help his "morning head," while Turbida playfully practiced knife-throwing at his atrophied legs. In his special corner of the room, Ignatz recited syllables which he hoped his coworkers would take to be Hebrew.

You couldn't found three people with less in common than the photocopiers at Kellerman O'Kay and Wang. There was Tommy Pat Gilligan, a ruddy, cheerful victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome who scooted around in a turbo wheelchair that made his 400-pound frame seem weightless; Turbida Santa-Muerrto, a recent immigrant from Mindanao who was raising 17 children on her minimum-wage, no-benefits copying job supplemented with part-time bondage work; and Ignatz Maus, an Orthodox Jew so devout that he had to ride on Tommy Pat's wheelchair to prevent his feet from touching the ground.

And yet these three, united by their love for work and country, became the best of friends. They lunched together every day, though surviving coworkers say that their arguments about where to eat often took up most of the lunch hour. Tommy Pat needed a place with wheelchair access and menus accessible to a kindergarten reading level, while Turbida insisted on rare pork at every meal, and Ignatz could only eat with a hollowed-out ram's horn. Even when they found a place to suit everyone's tastes, Turbida would often spot a client and insist they leave. "I stick fork up him asshor ras week, no wan share silvwar today!" Chuckling indulgently at their buddy's earthy banter, they would come back to the office hungry, Tommy content with one of his infamous "energy drinks," and Ignatz clinging to Tommy Pat's weaving wheelchair and doing the elaborate Sthetl shrug he had learned from watching Barney Miller.

Their friendship did not end with the working day. After nine hours of inhaling copier fumes, the three amigos would lie on the copy machines, too tired to go home, often arguing good-naturedly about whether a penny dropped from their 179th floor office would in fact go right through the skull of pedestrians on the street below. Tommy Pat, a dreamer, would drool happily imagining the penny's impact; Ignatz would make his trademark "wry" "wremarks," such as "when the penny drops"; Turbida, ever impatient and practical, would take out her butterfly knife and carve away at the seal on a window, hoping to settle the question by direct experimentation.

Then their whole world changed in an instant. Surviving employees of Kellerman O'Kay say that their first inkling something had gone wrong was a sudden, catastrophic drop in share prices on their monitors. "Do you think it has anything to do with that huge explosion a few minutes ago?" asked one. Horrified brokers gathered around their monitors, watching the disastrous fall in prices, while others pressed toward the office TV, flicking from channel to channel in the hope of finding something more fiscally germane than the images of the WTC burning.

Then Armand Kellerman-O'Kay, the "boss" or "CEO," as his employees fondly called him, came from his office clutching a briefcase full of negotiable securities in one hand and in the other, the pubescent Thai girl he kept beneath his desk. He made a simple, moving announcement: "People, listen: you can't make money if you're dead. So get out of my way and follow down stairs in order of office-size."

There was no panic, survivors say. It wasn't that the office manager forgot to unlock the door to the copy room where Turbida, Tommy, and Ignatz were trapped; it was simply "not a priority," as she put it. While she and other benefits-level employees followed the boss's lead downstairs, the three copying buddies enjoyed watching bodies flash by, inventing a contest to see if they could identify the jumpers from the brief glimpses.

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