The older Korean couple who run my local dry cleaning place are starting to look at me funny. It must seem as if I put on the suit and go on long drunken benders and sleep in the street. Then I calmly bring the suit back and ask them to press and clean it again. We briefly examine the stains and rumples and tears and I get my ticket. The woman shakes her head and says something in Korean to her husband. I tell them quietly, again, that the suit is very old, it belonged to my father, but I never explain how or why I keep getting it so messed up.
A few days ago I exposed my chiropractor to the crawl. We were standing in her office before she started to work on me. I hadn’t seen her in many months. She looked a little puzzled and amused when I told her about Crawling Home.
“Crawl? How do you do it, exactly?” she asked.
Down on all fours on her hard wood office floor I showed her my form and promptly got a large splinter in my finger. More of an injury than I’ve ever gotten crawling in the street. I pulled the wood out of my finger and I started to bleed. She went to get me a band-aid and I washed my finger off, lay down on her table and waited for her to come back and crack my spine.
Times Square. Rain. Kenny G playing under a small tent, on a platform, four stories above it all, live. The actual real live Kenny G. He plays some hits and then the theme from Titanic. Some kind of promo for the Soft Rock Café. That’s what the banner says. Soft Rock Café.
Waiting for Larry. He’s tardy today due to his very busy schedule. I’m lucky he makes time for me. Now I have time to listen to live Kenny G in the rain.
Kenny G sincerely thanks the umbrellas beneath him, “Thanks everybody. Isn’t this so cool? I’m having a great time.”
It’s been a while since the last crawl. Three weeks? I went to L.A. It doesn’t take long to lose your edge.
Larry appears and I give him my raincoat and hat and he puts on my backpack which holds only wallet, keys, phone and notebook.
I start on the jumbotron humongous TV screen that looks down onto this spot. Tourists love to see themselves and wave. Today it’s just me in this spot. When I see myself on the giant screen that is my cue… I drop down and crawl away. I stop once and glance back and up and there I am, for all to see, crawling out of the giant frame.
It’s strange to start. Always. The first block still feels pretty much one hundred percent wrong. Then it starts to open up into other things.
I stop at the cross walk, 47th and Broadway and stare down into a fist-sized pothole full of water. I gaze into it like it’s a crystal ball. This tiny body of water is headed for underground pipes and a river. But now it looks like the origin of life, a feral urban aquatic petri dish. I imagine a microscopic mermaid. A shred of kleenex paper waves in the underwater breeze, a waterlogged cigarette filter and a blob of mucous. The rain taps down on my back, little wet fingers, reminding me to move on.
Over Christmas both my parents visited at separate times. They were divorced forty years ago. My mother was not herself on this visit. Or maybe I encountered her new self. Whatever the case, it was an alarming encounter and it lasted four days. I’m wondering if she should cut back on travel. She is 85 and when a person is not herself at 85 it is possible she will never be herself again. Luckily, she made it back home safe to Guatemala and she seems better now.
After my father’s visit I was sad, just like when I was a kid. Back then he’d take my brother and I away for the weekend and drop us back at home with my mother on Sunday night. I would be on the verge of tears, stuck in bleak dad-less reality with my mother and younger brother. I just wanted him to take me with him. Now as a grown man I feel the same sadness in the wake of his presence, sitting there at the dinner table with my son and wife. I try to hide it. How could I feel the same sensation from forty years ago, crestfallen, ditched, hollowed out?
My son is waiting for me to cheer up. My wife asks me to pass the salt.
Uh oh, where did Dad go?
I force myself to snap out of it.
Yesterday on the train going home from Mason’s school he said, “Dad, are you going to crawl tomorrow?”
But he mouthed the word crawl so nobody could hear.
“Why are you saying the word crawl silently?” I ask
I lean in so he can whisper his answer.
“Because if someone hears me they might ask for your autograph.”
I laugh and wonder at this for a second and then I realize maybe he doesn’t want to say CRAWL out loud because he’s embarrassed for me, and for himself.
Did he make up the autograph idea as a way to make me feel better? Is he worried about me?
I don’t interrogate him on any of this but it does make me wonder again about the nature of shame and pride and protecting one’s parents. And protecting one’s self.
Moving along in the steady rain past a high-end strip joint and Caroline’s Comedy Club. The faces of up and coming comedians look down at me from the posters in front.
I did a bunch of comedy open-mics one winter six or seven year ago. Things were bad with my wife at the time. I started “researching” the comedy scene, seeing what it was like to die on purpose. Dying means getting no laughs and killing is making everyone in the room laugh. Most people know this. But most people don’t know that dying, on purpose, on stage, is a uniquely exhilarating and troubling experience, especially in front of a bunch of jaded aspiring comics.
I’d wait my turn, get up on stage and say whatever came into my head. No preparation whatsoever. One night a a comedy club on 79th st I lay down on stage and got in the fetal position and started to softly sing into the microphone, a lullaby my mother sang to me when I was a child. This did not kill. The lullaby led into a disjointed, disturbing conversation with me playing the parts of my mother and me. No discernable applause at the end, but one guy came up to me afterwards and said he really dug it. “I’ve never seen someone die like that,” he said.
One night I prepared and tried to kill and it worked and that felt great. But in a way nothing beats a flawless death.
When I got home from these adventures my wife would occasionally ask me where I’d been. “Just out, walking around,” I said the first few times. Eventually I told her the truth.
A guy walks along next to me in the rain. He seems very gentle and curious and respectful. His name is Shaun, he lives in Brooklyn, works in a nearby office. He’s on his lunch break. He’s black.
“Do you mind if I take pictures of you?” He asks.
I am fine with that. He hangs with me for a few blocks, crouching in front mostly. He takes hundreds of pictures. Where will they go?
A big tan dude from Brazil with a leopard patterned iphone case and an umbrella films me with his phone. I only exist in his phone.
“What are you doing, man? What’s happening with you right now?” he asks as he films me, eyes on his phone. His accent is thick and his umbrella is large.
My leather gloves are soaked and hard to strip off. I get a naked hand free and dig out a business card, pulling my suit pants pocket inside out, losing a lot of change on the sidewalk. I had the cards made up for this exact situation, with the icrawlhome website and my name. He takes the card, nods and says he will tell friends in Brazil about me.
Two other black men and a middle-eastern food cart man. They all nod at me with approval and knowing smiles. They don’t seem to need or want an explanation. We have a quick discussion about abdominal definition enhancement via crawling.
The crawls are now riddled with déjà vu from other crawls.
A stylish Asian woman with short-cropped black hair, high shiny boots and an umbrella. She stops and tries to hand me money. Cash. Seven or eight bucks.
“Please, you take. Get coffee. Hot coffee. I am from Bangkok. Here this money. You take please.”
I thank her many times and respectfully refuse the donation.
Another guy looks Tibetan, like a Sherpa, and he’s carrying a sign for a strip club. He is calm and seems worried but loving.
White people are not so friendly to me. Not compared to black people, people of color, minorities. When I crawl the most engaging, sympathetic, outwardly curious people, by far, are non-white.
A brown woman with lots and lots of face makeup seems almost irritated at the sight of me. She asks me questions while two other men stop and film me with their phones
“Why you doing this?” she says.
“I’m not sure.” I say and stop. “You ever do something and you’re not sure why you’re doing it?” I ask.
“Not really,” she says.
A tickled looking guy films me with his phone and nods his head vigorously.
“All the time,” he says. “I never know why I’m doing anything.”
The woman wants an answer.
“Not something like this,” she says. “This man crawling. You doing this for attention?”
“I don’t think so. Maybe. I mean, there’s easier ways to get attention, right” I say.
“Is there a cause? A reason. You need a reason,” she says, exasperated now.
“Are you doing this for someone close to you that is disabled?” she asks.
“He says he’s not sure why he’s doing it,” the tickled looking guy says to the woman.
“He knows. He’s just not telling us,” she says.
I move on.
A cop up ahead, a small white female cop ,in front of a store, hands on her hips. She’s around five feet tall and maybe twenty-five years old. I’m about to crawl past her.
“How you doin today?” She asks.
“I’m going to need you to stand up, sir.”
I’m going to need you to…?
This must be some kind of cop language that she was taught at the academy. What about what I’m going to need me to do? I’m going to need me to not stand up.
I stop at her feet, her standard issue black utility boots, and I get up on my sore knees and look her firm in the eye. I am not exactly confrontational. I am direct, relaxed, almost matter of fact.
“I started way back at the bottom of Broadway, I’m crawling to Washington Heights, I keep moving, I’m good, personal project, just heading home.”
There’s that moment just after I speak when she decides I am being respectful and I am telling the truth. She decides this is not worth pursuing. She smiles and wishes me luck.
On I go beneath a big sign that says LOVE WINS, advertising the new stage musical of the movie, ROCKY.
I get to the block where they do the Letterman show. The Ed Sullivan theatre. As if on cue some dude walks by fast (dorky white guy) and says, “You doing this for Letterman?”
I tell him no.
Then I have a brief fantasy that someone from Letterman comes out and the timing works and they are taping live right now and they want me to crawl through the show. A crawl on. A production person could wrangle me, lead me, and I could just crawl over to the theatre and crawl in the side door and crawl down the special hall and across the stage and nod at Dave and ignore the cameras and crawl out another door and be back on Broadway like it never happened. All in one non-stop crawling motion. That would be the only way to do it.
But that’s not how it goes. I am not plucked from absurd obscurity on my hands and knees, in front of the Ed Sullivan theatre in the rain. The show goes on without me.
I’m soaked to the bone and feeling a little rusty. It’s time to stand up. Standing up is my reward for getting down. Ten blocks is enough for today. Besides, I need to go pick up my son at school. I’m never late. No time to go home and change.