I start at 125th street, at 5:30 in the afternoon. Larry up on the elevated platform, far above the street getting a long high shot of me moving north. I have some kind of microphone hidden in my jacket as an experiment. I crawl too soon and a UPS truck swings around the corner headed for me. I see the walk sign countdown--six seconds left to cross. Not enough time… I balk and return to the curb, false start.
I can sense the general sort of WTF energy on the street relating to the man on all fours. I’m like a busker who is playing the same song again for a new part of the city. It is warm out and feels like rain. Low milky gray sky, the sound of sirens, emergencies, coming closer and moving away. I am sweating already.
I almost get run over by an ambulance.
Larry is hidden and far above me for now so it feels like I am crawling solo into Harlem. A few blocks of tall, densely packed brick housing projects to my right. Gingko trees shade the sidewalk when the sun shines. To my left the elevated number one train barreling up and down the island.
I am no longer watching myself, at least not like I was. I am no longer a spectator at my event. I am inside the action, doing what I do. That was back at 14th street, back when I got giddy at the realization that, for a minute, I’d forgotten that I was crawling. I was proud of that milestone. I thought I was on to something. Seems sort of quant now.
Now I am here, over a hundred blocks later. Now I remember and forget at the same time. What is that called? Bored? A trance?
Maybe meditation is migration and migration is a form of meditation. I imagine the butterflies and hummingbirds that fly all those thousands of miles every year. For them so much depends on the wind. Maybe they are in a trance.
A woman screams and curses into her cell-phone and drops her shopping bag on the sidewalk. She looks permanently pissed off. She is laying down the law and threatening someone on the other end of the line. They’ve had this conversation before.
Two white cops roll up and bleep their sirens and motion me over. I crawl over to the police car and lean in the open passenger window. The officer riding shotgun crosses his arms and the bald cop at the wheel laughs.
“Okay…What’s this? Let’s hear it,” he says to me.
I lay it out like always and the guy behind the wheel checks out my website on his phone and shakes his head laughing and hands it to his partner. The partner is non-plussed. There’s always one who is enthused and the other doesn’t really register the situation. Good cop/blank cop.
We say goodbye and I crawl on, feeling the uphill sensation as I climb out of the natural bowl of the Broadway/ 125th street area. That’s why they have an elevated train here, I guess. The land dips down and then rises back up. It was easier to elevate the train than to bury it deeper in the ground.
“Is this a promise?” a gaunt, withered Hispanic man asks me. He has a long healed slash scar on his face and arm and an old lump on his forehead. But he seems very calm and together. Those scars are from another life.
“What do you mean by promise?” I ask.
“Like for God, for the Catholic church.”
“No it’s not a promise. I don’t think it is. Have you ever made a promise?” I ask.
He tells me he had some problems and 23 years back he promised to quit drugs and he hasn’t’ had a drug since that day.
“Because I made a promise,” he says.
“One promise lasted 23 years?”
“No. I have to make the promise every day,” he says.
I move on, another block, crawling over some old candy probably dropped by a child. Smarties and twizzlers, ground into powder and filthy sweet red rubber.
“Are you doing this for God?” a woman asks in a thick Hispanic accent. She’s wearing a tight pink tank top, jeans and her hair is short, her torso dense but petit. Her face is very kind.
“I’m not sure,” I say, sweating hard now, a little out of breath, on my knees in front of her.
“So why you…. who you do it for?”
I think for a second.
“Me,” I say. She nods, but looks a little disappointed. I see that ME sounds a lot less meaningful to her than GOD.
“Or maybe it’s for everybody,” I say and she nods, considering me in the affirmative again. I want to please her.
“And so, maybe, if it’s for everybody-- then it’s for God too,” I say.
She repeats the “God too” part nodding again, motherly, and approving. For her I am back on track.
“So, yes. This is for God. Yes is the answer,” I say and we laugh together at the winding path I took to find my answer.
As I crawl I wonder what God was she talking about exactly? I want to meet Her God. I saw love in her eyes when she said his name. Does she think my crawling is a bid for forgiveness. Or to show Him love. What is the difference?
Part of me is crawling to find faith. And if I find new faith in myself would she tell me to thank God for that? I’m not sure what I believe. I believe I need to learn more about what other people believe. I want to ask her a question, but she’s gone, and so am I. There is holiness at every turn. I do believe that much.
God is in the air above 125th street and I am trying to understand what that means to my crawling brain. I know what it means when I am standing upright, but on my knees I may eventually want religion. I may need my very own God if I stay down here.
I catch the eye of an especially menacing looking big hairy white dude digging around in the back of his red Hummer. I hear cop radio sounds coming from inside his vehicle. He looks armed and godless. I imagine he’s a corrupt plainclothes narcotics or homicide cop. Or maybe he is a criminal. The darkness and pain comes off him in waves. This is a guy who knows violence and depravity. He shoots a look my way, a cold zap of fragmented disdain, before he jumps behind the wheel of his chariot and takes off in a hurry, gunning his engine up Broadway, bound for more mayhem.
A brown woman and a girl lean against the metal fence outside the projects. The girl is shy and wary, maybe ten, and the woman has a lot of facial hair and an unusually relaxed, open manner.
“Got far to go?” she asks me.
“I’ve come far. I’ll be home soon.”
I stop and rest on my knees for a second.
The girl at her side is narrowing her eyes and studying me with a look that says, if you’re not crazy, mister, you must be out of your damn mind. But the woman talks to me like I’m just another guy on a warm day dragging a heavy load up the road. The three of us stare up for a moment, as if the sky might tell us what we need to know.
Everyone keeps glancing up at the sky. The air is thick. You can almost feel the weight of the rain in the clouds up above. But it is not falling yet.
I will miss this pilgrimage. And this pilgrim. Two more crawls? Could I stretch it into more? I could almost do it all at once and be home today. I want this to be over, but I never want it to end. What is that feeling called?
A finger on my leather glove has worn through to the flesh. The plastic knee-pads are cracked. They won’t be able to protect me for much longer. My wrists have no complaints. My pelvis is a little cranky. The sidewalk has grinded all the way through the steel toes of both boots-- almost to the sock.
The suit is holding up pretty well. My suit. I own it now. My pinstriped shroud. My disguise. My armor. My shield. We’ve come far. Autumn feels like a lifetime ago. Winter finally died. Spring is already chasing summer.
I’m almost at 135th Street. I’ll stop there. Suddenly a twinge of fear hits my side like an arrow.
What if--- when I stand up at my door--- at the end of my final crawl…what if I stand up and I don’t know who I am? Or where I am? What if I’ve crawled right out of myself and into a stranger. I’ve had this thought before. I must be careful what I conjure. What if I stand up and home isn’t home at all and the only thing I can think to do is to keep going?
Why not the opposite? I will stand up a new man, born again, ready to love and be loved like never before. Why not?
Maybe I’m afraid nothing will be different when I am finally home. It will be as if this crawl never happened at all.
I imagine there is a man who walked on the moon and he had these fears on the way back to earth. Or some guy, right now, on that number one train, rumbling over my head, going home after another long day on the job.