I took a little time off. Some sort of injury is nagging at my pelvic nerves. The weather has been harsh, slush, ice and dirty piles of frozen snow and trash. The pathways carved out of ice on the sidewalks are very narrow in places and people are trying to stay warm and not fall down.
I was planning to crawl alone, no camera, no wingman, nothing. But I promised my wife and son I never would crawl alone. They are afraid I will get run over and dragged beneath a dump truck.
I don’t want to betray them. But I can’t stop thinking about it. What sort of compassion and loneliness might I discover if I am truly alone? I am so tempted to find out.
I see people moving around the city, elderly, crippled, blind, and they are alone, relying on their wits, luck, faith and the kindness of strangers. If they can do it I know I can too. I will ask for help.
I tell my wife about my temptation. I tell her I will wait at the crossing until someone is willing to cross the street with me. Every street is a river Styx! Every able-bodied citizen is a potential Charon!
The truth is I am more alert when I crawl than when I am walking.
Lately I’ve been sort of stuck. Weak shallow thought patterns. Pockets of dread. Anxious. Fragmented. I’ve got a writing job but I can’t get going on it. I’m not sure what my plan is, the meaning, the reason--- for anything. I’m stumped again by unwieldy questions, questions I thought I’d laid to rest.
At first the crawl lit a fire in me, it radicalized me, but I feel like the effect is wearing off. I need to up the ante somehow. I need to deepen my confession. No… not confession…connection. I need to make contact with people? My friend suggests I bring my dog on a crawl. Or have a person walk along next to me playing the violin or the accordion. I don’t see that happening.
Last week in the news there was something about a bad guy in Iraq who was teaching a group of wanna-be bad guys how to build and use suicide vests. Something went wrong and the teacher blew himself up and killed all his students. I couldn’t help think that maybe he did it on purpose. Maybe he had a dream and that morning when he woke up he realized his true mission. He saw that he needed to remove himself and all his students because the world doesn’t need more pain and suffering. So he did it. He made some serious contact. That was a Master Class in suicide bombing. He upped the ante. Or maybe it was just an accident. I can’t stop thinking about that guy.
Recently I found myself having a couple embarrassing bouts of obsessive envy. I saw footage of U2 performing on the roof of 30 Rock at sunset, 70 stories above Manhattan. I caught myself wishing I was one of them and thinking about Bono’s life, and the U2 adventure, and the glorious momentum of their existence. I didn’t’ want to actually BE BONO… what I fixated on was the EXPERIENCE of being with your four pals from high school, making beloved music, playing all over the world together. To have that be your life’s work? Wow!
The U2 fixation only lasted an afternoon but it was a bad sign.
Then Nick Cave got into my head. I started listening to a song of his over and over. A song called Push The Sky Away. What a song! I’ve seen him play live a couple times and it blew my mind. He feels almost within reach, but utterly superior! He’s scary and hilarious! I met him once. He was wearing a suit and sunglasses at a bar at night and he looked diabolically cool. I introduced myself. We shook hands. He had no interest in me. None. I was not offended. I was wearing a slick suit too, one of my father’s actually, and I was about to play a gig with my old duo Crash &Burn. Nick didn’t stay long enough to see us play. He was with his bohemian Rasputin looking collaborator Warren Ellis. They had places to be.
Anyway, so I was binging on Cave the last few days, over-pondering his excellent novels and screenplays and film scores and The Bad Seeds and Grinderman. His output is staggering. Johnny Cash covered one of his songs. It just goes on and on. I read interviews with him. I wondered what it’s like to be him. I wondered what it might be like to be his friend. I wondered if I was worthy. I binged out on the guy. It was not healthy and then the dream came.
In the dream Cave was nearly ten feet tall and I was sort of his helper or something. We were on a road trip in an eerie post apocalypse America. We made our way up the pacific coast, through burnt out villages past booming blue waves. I did a lot of silent beachcombing while he surfed. At night he did magic shows for money. I was his assistant. The shows took place in big tents and the audience looked like refugees. Nick would do impossible things like turn himself into a murder of crows. At our campsite he'd sit around with his balls hanging out of his shorts and they were big like my fists and purple and he'd hold forth on all kinds of arcane and esoteric matters. I was expected to pay attention. It was strange, maybe fun at times, but I was anxious and not his equal at all. I felt inadequate and powerless. I couldn't get away for fear he’d find me and kill me.
That was last night. Now it is time to crawl.
The dashing Spanish photographer Guillermo reappears in NYC and wants to take more pictures of the crawl. He meets me at 70th street wearing a snug leather jacket with a sweater underneath and he wears no hat. No bag, no nothing, just a cool little black camera and a tan from some island where he has been photographing more surfers. He has brought along a fetching young female journalist from Spain. As I put on my knee-pads he instructs her to stay back and not look at me too much. This will create the illusion for people that I am alone.
It’s a bit warmer, maybe 35 and the sun is going down in an hour or so. Gold and pink and orange are painted on the clouds to the west. People are out and looking slightly less pained by the elements. I hand my backpack to Guillermo for safekeeping and he hands it to the woman journalist.
She laughs a little and makes a joke about running off with my money.
I start to crawl and for a moment I can hear Nick Cave’s raspy chuckle in my head. “Of course you’re crawling,” he says. “ You’re you! And I’m….ME! HAH! HAH! HAH!”
“Shut up,” I mutter to myself. I’m crawling now. There is no place for envy here. Fuck Nick Cave and Bono and all my silly little doubts. I am the dream, I am the master class, I am Oedipus and all the rest of us, dragging what’s left of my ass up Broadway.
Power returns to my outlook. Crawling along and within a couple blocks I am noticing things are different this time. More people asking if I’m okay. More than ever before. Is it because I seem especially pathetic today or is it because they can’t see someone filming me? Maybe it’s the neighborhood. Guillermo stays hidden.
At 72nd I am up on my knees waiting for the light next to an ice cold puddle and a couple cops approach. They look so young. Another sign I am getting old. They look like kids with guns, playing police. Maybe that’s what they are.
“What’s up?” One of them says to me. “You alright?”
“Crawling home. Icrawlhome.com. This is on purpose. Social experiment. Lifelong dream. I’m good. Personal project,” I say. I hear myself and think I sound like an upbeat waiter reciting the house specials in a restaurant.
They look at each other, shrug, and the leader of the two says, “Okay. What’s the website again? Can we check it out?”
“By all means! Check it out!” I say.
I leave them with their law enforcement smart phones finding me together in cyber space.
An older woman with partially dyed blond hair, a baby stroller full of groceries. She must be 60 plus, lots of eye make-up and brains in her voice. She’s from this neighborhood, you can tell. She is known around here. She’s a fixture. She wants to know why I am doing this. She wants to solve me.
“Tony Robbins says that we need to do things sometimes to get ourselves out of ruts. Are you in a rut? Is that why you’re doing this? To jumpstart yourself?”
“Maybe. Yeah. Maybe I was in a rut. That sounds right,” I say.
She claps her hands together.
“Good. I figured it out. Now I know. I get it,” she says as if it was her responsibility as queen of the block to figure me out. She pushes her stroller alongside me for a little while. I like her. I imagine tonight she will cook the things in her stroller and putter around her apartment telling her cats about the crawler. She’ll forget me and maybe someday I will crawl through one of her dreams.
Tony Robbins? At least I wasn’t in a post apocalyptic road trip dream with him. Now there’s an idea…world famous motivational speaker loses everything and must reinvent himself from nothing. Would all his tools work if he had to start from scratch? How would he get out of his rut?
I’m working on a book called PLAN BE, A Self-Help Novel and Guide to MAXIMUM GLORY. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about it. Someone might steal my idea. I need to finish that book. One thing at a time. I’ve got a lot on my plate these days. My plate isn’t that big. On top of it all I am crawling.
“You still doing that crawling thing?” A person I know asked me the other day.
That crawling thing. Oh yes. The novelty is long gone. This is where it gets interesting.
At 77th Street I wait for the light to change and suddenly I rise and walk. No thought involved. My body wanted up and suddenly there I was, walking away from myself.
It’s the best part of every crawl, returning to tall. Resurrection. All the anxiety, doubt, envy and temptation, gone for a little while. Born again. Again.