I crawled again. # 13! It was high time. I’ve fallen behind. Or maybe I am just adjusting my velocity. I don’t want to overshoot the landing strip.
I’ve actually been sort of busy. I was in L.A. on business for a few days. That’s not a common reason for me to go someplace. I flew there in an airplane and stared out the window for most of the second half of the trip. Miles of masterpiece patterns, formations, scorched earth tone canyons, painted with the palette of a drought. Roads leading nowhere, the only sign of humans. Towering red cliffs look out over Martian red valleys and dead riverbeds. I can’t stop staring. I want to go exploring down there with my son. I don’t know what is more mesmerizing, the earth or the sky. I try to forget the troubling fact that I am flying. They still don’t know where that Malaysian plane is.
In Beverly Hills I meet with a sharp young female agent about writing work. We stroll through the ultra modern compound to the agency café and I am encouraged to order the purple apple kale immunizing pacific smoothie. We sit by a window in the afternoon sun and I notice the light in her hair. She asks me what “my story” is. I babble on for a minute or two about my writing and how this led to that or almost turned into some kind of something. I think I make sense, sort of boring, and we both start to glaze over and then I decide to tell her about the crawl. I’ve been warned by some people not to bring up the crawl with anyone like an agent. But this woman seems cool and I want her to know what I’ve been up to so I let it drop.
“I’ve also been crawling up Broadway on my hands and knees.”
“And writing about it.”
“Crawling? Wait. What? You’re serious aren’t you?”
She’s sparked and asks lots of questions and our conversation suddenly becomes animated. She has ideas about what the crawl could become. I say yes, exactly, to all her ideas. We get back to the business at hand and then she jumps back to the crawl again.
“Wait…sorry, I can’t stop thinking about the crawling thing. What do your wife and son think about all this?”
I give her a few more fun details from the family angle then I slide her my crawling card and tell her it is all on the website. She seems happy to be tickled by something new. She says she will definitely check it out and pass it on to another agent who she knows will, “Flip for it.”
I walk away from the meeting feeling good. Then I start to wonder and I grow paranoid. I realize all the things I forgot to talk to her about, names I was maybe going to drop, scripts and projects that maybe could make money in her world. I imagine her going back to her coworkers and laughing about me and saying things like, “This guy is crawling! That’s all we talked about! What a freak! Help! Why do I get these guys? Am I, like, a dingbat magnet?”
Then I tell myself she’s exactly who she seems to be. She’s open-minded and smart. She’s interested in me damn it! I was charming and lucid! We had a connection! Why am I thinking like this? Why am I so excited and so unsure. I have no good reason for either feeling. I’m too old for this seesaw. Screw it. L.A. anxiety. We all know this town is a pudding of curdled hope, candy coated disappointment and teeth rotting envy. So many people did not get what they came here for, but they stay on just the same. The sunshine is blinding and makes it all seem possible.
I meet my writing partner and we work for many concentrated hours at an outdoor café and then the sun goes down and we join up with a friend at the steakhouse, Musso & Frank. We go see some comedy, then a speakeasy with salsa and gogo girls followed by a dim Asian saloon. Finally we land at a bar on skid row. Just a handful of us are still alive, with antlers on the ceiling and cold cans of Schlitz. No artificial stimulants. Not sure what is keeping me awake. A guitar ends up in my hands and I sing a song of my own called Its Lonely Here Without Me. When I’m done I hand the guitar to a new friend and he plays a song and by the end we’re all in tears and banging on things. The guitar goes round and round. After a while I notice the bartender is asleep, stretched out on the bar like it is an operating table. A voice calls out the time and we are shocked by the number. We try to leave and discover we are locked in. A key is soon found and we are released out into the first light of dawn.
While I was away in California winter finally started to die in NYC. I did not choose to crawl through the worst winter in memory but I am glad it happened this way. Spring is here and before she is done I will be home. I’m slowing down but I am still making progress. We are beginning our descent. My ears are popping.
Two wingmen, Teddy and Larry meet me with tiny cameras. The word for the day is stealth. We begin at 86th at 6 p.m. I promise martinis at Cleopatra’s Needle after we go ten blocks. This seems to encourage them both and spirits are high when I hit the pavement.
Lots of foot traffic, post rush hour, people moseying, enjoying the 50 plus degrees.
A car honks at me as I cross my first street. The kid in the passenger seat gives me the finger and I casually give him mine back. I’m back in my cockpit.
The first block or two passes without incident. I have an exchange with a woman who looks like a shrink. She speaks to me as if I just said something possibly interesting at a cocktail party. She nods thoughtfully and strokes her chin. She leaves me. Then a man with a mustache, side parted hair, khaki pants and a plaid pressed shirt throws his arms up from his sides and asks me what I’m doing. I tell him.
“Oh, great, so…it’s like….I just got fired and this is what I’m doing,” he says.
I’m certain he means this as a way to describe what I am about and I shrug him off. He starts to walk away, exasperated and upset. Something about the way he moves makes me realize he was talking about himself and I call after him.
“Hey, hold on, come back! Were you talking about yourself? You got fired?”
He stops and turns around.
“I’m sorry I didn’t understand,” I say.
He comes back to me.
“Yeah. I got canned. Sacked. Done. I’m just…I don’t know. They cut me loose.”
“ Sorry, man. What was your job?”
“Damn. What are you going to do?”
“Something. Anything to pay the bills.”
He’s not noticing that I am on my knees. He’s deep into his own disaster. I want to stand up for him. This is no time for my little metaphorical stunt. This man is suffering and I am playing around with a personal humiliation project. I am uncharacteristically embarrassed, but I don’t panic. I stay down and hear him out. He seems like he might cry or punch a wall.
“Well. I’d tell you to crawl but it doesn’t pay any bills,” I say.
He smiles for the first time.
“Yeah. I don’t imagine it does. Thanks though. Oh man. I’m so screwed. I’m just going to walk for a while. Take care, good luck with your blog or whatever…”
He walks north, talking to himself, making sounds of frustration and disbelief.
I crawl past a restaurant and two women sitting at the window toast me with thei martini glasses. I want them to toast the man who got fired.
An old white lady pushes a tiny, trembling, very old dog in a stroller. She and the dog are coming right at me and I move to the side. The dog leans forward, clouded gray marbles for eyes and he seems to be listening extra hard. He appears almost pleased to be outside but nearly overwhelmed by all the sounds and smells and vibrations. Like a sudden truck backfire or whiff of pungent trash could finish him off.
“Is your dog blind?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says. This woman is old too, but made to look a little younger by the truly ancient state of her animal.
She is not interested at all in what I’m doing. Not registering it. That’s fine by me. She’s got her hands full with her project.
“How old is your dog?” I ask as she passes.
“Twenty two,” she says without looking at me. She’s focused on her task, step by step, pushing her blind companion down Broadway.
A few blocks later a large black woman with a rolling walker is handing out Jehovah Witness literature. She sees me coming. I head straight for her and stop on my hands and knees at her feet. She wants to know if I am okay and I tell her I am. She very much believes I could use some help from God. She tells me I need to go to the church website, the bible, Jehovah. She tells me,
“You need to find your way out of this crawling situation.”
I can’t manage her literature with my work gloves on so I ask her to slip the brochure into my jacket pocket. She does this. Then I reach my arms up to her like a child. She hesitates for a split second and then she realizes what I am doing and she leans down and we manage an awkward hug. I wonder if she has ever hugged a man on his knees. I know this is a first for me.