Crawling away from Columbus Circle on another cold morning. Sunshine and Larry with new electric green bootlaces. Better for me to spot him. This is my tenth crawl. My son is about to turn ten. Today I will crawl ten blocks.
I am half way home, give or take a few blocks. I am deep into this relationship now. I suppose I am roughly half way through with my life too, give or take a few years and barring anything unexpected…
As I crawl out of the circle I ponder being in the middle of something. I tell myself I finish things. It’s true. I’m pretty good like that. Often I finish things that only I will ever know about. Songs. Poems. Books. Scripts. Stories. A couple degrees. I also abandon things or, maybe… I neglect to perfect them. Some things demand to be abandoned.
Show your work, as the math teacher used to say. Maybe that’s what this journal is. I guess the work, the figuring on paper, gives one something to look back at, something that might help in figuring out where it all went wrong. Or where it all went right. Am I solving a problem? Was there a question? Is there answer? Crawling makes me think these thoughts. Crawling made me do it.
Fully realized. That’s the idea. Arriving home on my hands and knees is the only ending, the only conclusion that matters. Or is it? Could it be that the fullness of realization is already behind me? Maybe I’m done and I don’t even know it.
My bootlace is untied. I stop and tie it with numb fingers. The steel toes are loud in the cold on a dry sidewalk.
Frozen spit on the sidewalk in front of me. Smeared silvery coins of ice. Not long ago these saliva islands were warm and safe inside someone’s mouth. Now this spit has hit the ice age. Do people spit more in the cold? Is it all male saliva? Not many women spit on the sidewalk. Or do they? People leak like cars. How many gallons of saliva are deposited onto the sidewalks of this city every day?
I see spit on the sidewalk and I wonder what words that particular bit of spit was responsible for lubricating. Maybe the spit in my path was instrumental in forming a last goodbye or some long overdue confession. Or maybe it never knew words and was born on a stick of gum after a cigarette and then fired from a mouth down to the concrete. And now we meet on the sidewalk, both of us a long way from home.
A strange phenomenon is occurring for me lately. When I go around the city living my non-crawling life I sometimes walk the sidewalks I have crawled--- without realizing I have crawled there. I’m not sure what that means. The other day I was walking down Broadway, striding south, upright and anonymous inside the expected form of locomotion. Along I went, oblivious to the fact that beneath my feet I was crawling just a few weeks before.
When it later hit me that I had just recently crawled that very block I was struck by how far away I felt from myself. The act of crawling, maybe like the act of stealing, or murdering, or cheating on a spouse---sometimes it feels so distant, like it is a thing done by someone else. That wasn’t me. It was the other me, the one who crawls. Never to be confused with the one who walks.
“This is strange… Is this a social experiment?” A long legged black woman says to me, trying not to laugh on the corner of 63rd Street. She’s filming me with her phone. Something about her question stops me short and I laugh for real and she starts laughing harder.
“Good question!” I say and I’m really laughing more and her too.
“Right?! It is?! Right?! It’s one of those social experiments!” She says and I tell her it surely is and we bump fists and I keep going.
An elderly black lady asks me if I can get up whenever I want. I tell her yes.
“Good. That makes me feel better,” she says.
A white woman in ankle length goose down with a baby in a stroller. We are strangers yet there I am at her knee like a loyal hound waiting for a stoplight across from Lincoln Center.
“What did you do?” she asks me. She’s on the phone, or at least she’s holding a phone to her ear.
“What didn’t I do?” I ask. “Tell your friend on the phone to look me up on their computer, icrawlhome.com”
She tells her friend on the phone and as I crawl across Broadway I can hear that her friend has found my website.
“YES! That’s him!” stroller woman says into her phone. “He’s crawling away from me right now.”
Another person asks me what bet I lost. Never fails. People like to ask that question. It makes them feel clever and friendly. I can hear it in their voices when they ask. They’re pleased that they’ve got the perfect thing to ask the crawling guy. I remember way back before I started when I thought saying “I lost a bet” was going to be one of my primo retorts when asked about the crawl.
The next time I crawl and a person asks me if I lost a bet I’m going to say no, in fact, I WON a bet. This is what winning looks like. This is my reward.
Oh won’t that be clever and funny! Maybe by the time I get home I won’t be a person who plans snappy comebacks.
A red-headed lady in neutral Buddhist style clothes nods warmly at me as I approach. She looks hearty and in need of a chat. She’s not wearing a hat. I’m not either.
“May I ask about your journey? I have many Buddhist monk friends,” she says.
I can’t talk long before the sweat on my back starts to freeze.
There is a muscle complaining in the nether regions of my groin. It is a hidden place, way up the inside of my leg, at the top, the loin, up in the joint where thigh joins pelvis. A weak, hidden, lazy muscle lives in there and it is getting abused when I crawl. It may be a long dormant crawl muscle, a muscle that has been sleeping since I started to walk decades ago. Now it is awake and upset.
An old white man with a leaky nose stops and asks me if I am okay. I tell him I’m fine and he asks me why I’m crawling. I try the simple explanation and he stares at me with old school elderly blankness. His hands are clasped behind his back.
“You can find out more about it on my website,” I say.
“I can’t do that! I don’t have a website!” He says loudly, a little annoyed. He’s sick of telling people he has no website.
“Do you have a computer?” I ask.
“No. Even if I had one I can’t see you because I don’t have a website!”
Outside the glass cube Apple store three Amnesty International volunteers in yellow vests with clipboards.
One black woman in her 20s and two bearded white guys. She seems happy to see me, curious, instantly supportive. The slightly smug alpha of the two white dudes looks down at me.
“You think you can make a difference doing that?” He says.
“I don’t know. What do you think?” I ask.
“I think you need to stand up and fight if you want to make the world a better place,” he says. He seems very certain of this.
“I like him. I like what he’s doing. I like it,” she says, defending me, getting sure of her feeling.
At this point Apple sales people and customers are looking out through the wall of glass, taking pictures of me. The store really does look like a temple, a transparent temple.
After some more back and forth about how to save the world I realize I am getting cold. I say something canned to the Amnesty people about how maybe every person just needs to do what they can.
The young woman asks me my name and I tell her. The dudes have lost interest in me but I can feel her good will building by the second. She finds my website on her phone, she’s grinning and turned on by it all, ready to toss the clipboard and signatures and try something stranger. She hasn’t always been interested in Amnesty. This is a new thing for her. It’s easy to imagine her getting extremely passionate about all kinds of things. I need to keep moving.
“I love you, Robert,” she says. “I totally love you.”
“I love you too,” I say as I crawl away.