“A hero. He is the Hero of Times Square, the man who saved New York from a tragedy.” These are the words of mayor Bloomberg. The hero leaves the red carpet and the sparkling lights of history with four words, paradigm of his philosophy of simplicity and humbleness: “See anything? Say something.”
Lance Orton is tired, confused, 12 hours after the bomb-alarm which frightened New York and kept the whole world in suspense after the hair-raising announcement that recalled the 11th of September, 2001 in such a grotesquely terrifying way. Four words that can result in being much more noisy than any cascade of words which flood presidential offices, ministerial departments and, above all, the internet and the whole world broadcasting network.
Four words to be a normal hero, not a shiny, glossy, showbiz monster. A man who embodies the biggest contradiction of the American dream: he was, is, and will be – forever, according to the modern myth-making fantasy and imagination – stationed next to his souvenir stand in Times Square, between the Walt Disney’s “The Lion King” musical and the Marriott hotel, a small spit of asphalt, where he sells to counterfeit bags, watches, t-shirts and condoms with Obama’s face. But his modesty and his apparent misery didn’t prevent him from serving his nation, saving lives and honoring the valor of civic commitment and social order.
Or maybe not. We can say he was the biggest subversive hero of the idea of “social order.” Yes, because he demonstrated the interchangeability of the dialectic of responsibility: in other words, he prevented America from being hit by a new catastrophe and he avoided an Arabic-speaking psychosis without laser beams, galactic armor, radioactive helmets, super muscles or arcane superpowers. He saved thousands of lives, maybe he was not even aware of the actual situation: he sensed a nasty smell and reported it to a police officer, without claiming to act as a savior, without even meaning to be.
So no super suits, no bombastic boots and x-ray mantles. Just a sense of civil duty. I wonder what would have happened if Paris Hilton, Lady GaGa or Cristiano Ronaldo found themselves walking next to the explosives-packed car: maybe they would have just turned up their nose and assumed an expression of disgust at the smell; then, they would have prosecuted, forgetting the car and the smell, ignoring the risk of an impending death, after seven or eight steps.
Our hero, everyone’s hero, everyday hero, a black, 57 year-old veteran from Vietnam (“Rangers” – he says – “1973”), leans on a stick, as heritage of an old war injury, which hurts even more now: the stress has confused and weakened him. He was dragged to the Pandora’s box which is called “fame” and, now, he tells his story with a disarming simplicity and humility: “Hey, I said, who stops the car in a no-parking area, right here, opposite to my stand? Flashings and engine on, nobody on board in the very middle of Times Square? I got closer and I noticed there was a key in the dashboard.”
Oh, well, a bunch of keys. Then I saw some smoke getting out of the back window and I didn’t want to lose a second, I immediately looked for a ranger”. This is the officer Wayne Rhatingan, one of those veterans who spent their days riding and taking pictures for tourists. He calls for reinforcements, including blasters to keep an eye on that suspect gunpowder smell.
“My car was just a few meters ahead – he continues – and it was full of merchandise: I couldn’t leave it there, a few steps from a bomb. When I got back, everyone jumped on me. They all were asking: whose car is that? What did you see? Who was there? Gosh, what do you think I know? No panic, though: we made it again.”“My car was just a few meters ahead – he continues – and it was full of merchandise: I couldn’t leave it there, a few steps from a bomb. When I got back, everyone jumped on me. They all were asking: whose car is that? What did you see? Who was there? Gosh, what do you think I know? No panic, though: we made it again.”
This story can open our eyes up and make us think about two issues: the vulnerability of the deep inner core of America and the social inequity which carachterizes nowadays’ society.
This is not the first time we witness such a heavily thrilling attack against the heart of the heart of the World: we can mention the Christmas evacuation (another bomb alarm), the Easter night, when the black and Puerto Rican gangs got out of the Bronx to attempt to take back the center, spreading terror with shootings and assaults. They were just sneer jokes compared to what could have happened last Saturday. In the ordered chaos of America, even a 15-years-old amateur novice can trigger a new 11th of September and spread the panic worldwide. These days’ American motto could be: “Our strength, our weakness.”
We can mention the density, the fame and the symbolic power of Times Square: it is the brightest, the most visited and most famous square in the whole world. It still gathers millions of tourists from every single corner of the planet, from Shangai to Rio, from Oslo to Johannesburg. The whole American lifestyle, society, business – in other words, the whole American dream – is trapped between the 42nd and the 44th street, between Broadway and the 8th Avenue.
The most photographed square of the world is the secret hope of inquireres: thousands of tourists were walking across Times Square on Saturday around 18.30 and, maybe unconsciously, they might have caught the face of the bomber in their photos or videos.
The show must go on, though. Not even one single musical was canceled in Broadway and the whole event has become a huge business. Once the danger was escaped, Times Square metabolized everything and the shows goes unavoidably on. Even our hero, Lance Orton, exhausted, goes back home, but again, the show goes on: he is quickly replaced by an impersonator, Duane Jackson, a black giant. Mr. Jackson wears a baseball hat that says “Vietnam Veteran”. He starts smiling for the pictures and distributes interviews.
Because the show has to go on and in New York it doesn’t actually matter who you are, it doesn’t matter where you are from, it doesn’t matter how you saved the city. They need myths and some hot news to screen on the enormous light banners that tower upon Times Square.
Yes, everything starts and ends up in Times Square and as Lance Orton is going back home people still love the hero but start slowly forgetting his name and his face.
The show will go on.