Gertrude Stein said that she wrote only for herself and strangers. Maybe that’s who I will end up crawling for. Myself and strangers.
This past weekend I go to a large party upstate at Larry’s farm. 75 or more people, the usual gang of arty liberal country city people eating and drinking. I enter the house to find footage of me crawling in the rain on a big tv for all to see. It is unsettling. I watch people watch me. Lots of people I know. Some are friends. Some are strangers.
People come and go gathering around to watch the footage. I am riveted at first. This could not be stranger, I think. I do not look cool crawling. I look wrecked, brought low, suit wet, wobbling through the rain on my hands and knees.
A guy shouts, “Look, it’s Forest Gump… on all fours.”
“This is hard to watch… but I can’t stop watching,” a woman says
“Compelling! Oh my God. He’s HERE right now?” Another woman I’ve never seen before asks. She turns around and sees me. She’s excited. I wave at her.
Another dude gets a look at the TV and says, “Uh oh! MAN DOWN!”
Shock, awe, sympathy, a peppering of indifference, maybe even some disgust. I see all these reactions and more.
People want to talk about it with me, and with each other, after they watch.
People I know study me with new interest, like maybe they missed something before. Men slap my shoulder. A woman takes my hand.
I overhear talk about crawling’s profound implications, metaphors and revolution. I sample a guy’s artisinal whisky and after a while I hear myself talking. I speak in glib riddles, flip and over enthusiastic.
Someone asks me why I am crawling.
“Nothing else was working,” I said. So funny! So enigmatic!
I am slowly making myself sick. More whisky is in my glass. Someone asks me to show how I crawl.
Others vow to crawl with me.
“Crawl right now, come on, please, crawl to the kitchen! Let’s see it!” the artisanal whisky guy says.
“No. Sorry.” I say. “Not gonna happen.”
At least I have that much sense. But whisky might change that.
There is good-natured chanting. “CRAWL! CRAWL! CRAWL!”
I beg off. I am still on the TV. The same twelve-minute loop is still going as I plunge out the door into the cold night air.
More people outside, happy to corrupt the crawler.
Later I am alone, stumbling around in the barn, while everyone else watches fireworks from the field.
Now it is crawl day again. They come up fast. The pre-crawl electric sadness is with me on the train like last time. For some reason I am consumed by memoires of violence.
Four different men over the course of a few months. This was my first year in the city over 20 years ago.
The first one shoves a long black pistol in my face underneath the Manhattan Bridge overpass. He is startled when I suddenly bolt forward past him and down the street in a zig-zag pattern with my hands over my head. I make him laugh and he yells at me to have a nice day.
A crack head Bruce Lee cold cocks me in the mouth while I stand on a corner in Chinatown looking at the headlines in the morning paper. A massive punch and I go down like a tree, banging the back of my head on the sidewalk. He jumps around like a pogo stick, yelling down at me. He thinks I am someone else. I see two of everything and spit out a lot of blood and yell back at him. “Me Wrong Guy. Me Wrong Guy!” I can only say these three words, over and over again, until he panics and runs off into the projects.
Another gun. “Turn around. Stop looking at me,” the man says, after he has the money in his hand. I am working the register at a deli in the west village. I have seen his face. My back twitches, waiting for the bullet. When I turn back around he’s gone but he calls the deli every day for a week wanting to talk to me, telling the owner that he and I had a special connection.
Not long after that I lure a butcher knife wielding maniac away from a mother and her children on the F train. The train grinds slow through a long tunnel underneath the East river. He and I face off at the empty end of the car and he makes me a promise, a shrieking declaration,
“I’m gonna cut the heart out of your chest and show it to you.”
I manage to get very calm and quiet. We lock eyes and I tell him in various simple ways that we don’t need to do this. He steps back after a while and starts arguing with his knife.
I always see these four assailants together in my mind’s eye. One was caucasian. One was Asian. One Was African American. One was Hispanic. ; The four horsemen of my metropolis.
The crawling makes me think of times when I was scared.
I could dedicate this day’s crawl to those four men. Or not.
At the time of these assaults my friends and family asked why I didn’t leave the city. But I never even considered it. I was in love with the woman who is now my beloved wife. She still worries that I am a lunatic magnet and that the crawling will draw them to me. But I’m not afraid of that sort of thing anymore.
I find Larry waiting where we left off, just below City Hall. I begin to feel my spirits lift. The weather is brisk, windy and clear.
I get down on the ground and start crawling home.
Two blocks later I see some kneepads set on the sidewalk off to the left. Odd. A worker left them there? Are they fixing the sidewalk? I look up and I see a friend, a woman, putting on gloves. I look away, startled. This is totally unexpected. She lives so far away, in another state.
I don’t break my stride, or say hello to her. I just keep crawling. Maybe she’s just here to watch. I crawl on and she falls in behind me moving with ease on her hands and knees.
My first thought is, “What the fuck is she doing? Is she crazy?”
And then I remember what I’m doing.
I’m flustered. I know I’ve encouraged this but now that it is happening I am massively conflicted. I glance down and back between my legs as I crawl and there she is, a leg length away. She’s a yoga person and she’s got her own freaky crawling style, loose and flowing compared to my grim lumber. I look ahead and try to keep my focus.
A drunk troubled homeless lady with whiskers and a walker asks me if I know of the such and such hotel and when I say no.
“I’m going to call the cops and I hope they come and shoot you,” she says.
I sent crawl journal and pics to a guy I know who works on The Daily Show. He wrote back and said, “I would like another update but only if homeless people start riding you.”
I stop and rest on my knees at the next intersection. My companion stops as well. An ambulance driver rolls by, window open, and asks if I’m ok. I give him a solid thumbs-up.
A guy strolls by listening to music on headphones, smiling wide, and he fist bumps me and thanks me and I thank him.
Two rich looking women ask me what I’m crawling for and I point at them. One laughs and thanks me.
I glance back and my fellow crawler is in a prayer position on her knees, waiting for me to start again. She’s Indian. She looks centered and groovy in a tiny yellow leather jacket and red corduroy pants. I move fast across the street, and I hear her knee-pads close behind. Larry is up ahead filming, low profile.
People are startled. I hear a “What the FUUUUUUUUCK?”
It’s all about TWO crawlers now. The Crawling Couple. I’m Crawling Home. Where is she going? She’s just here for today, for one leg of the journey. Relax. What will I tell my wife? What am I afraid of?
A friend told me his wife thinks I’m just doing this for attention. I’m not above wanting or needing some attention. But there’s other ways for a grown man to get attention. Am I that desperate? No. This is for more than attention. There are so many reasons for this…I lose track of them and find them on the street every time I crawl.
I look down and back, between my legs again. This is how I see her. There she is. Where am I?
This woman is my friend. She came from far away to do this. Let her crawl. But what if she wants to crawl with me all the time? What will I say? I’m not ready to be joined, to be a link in a chain.
Who cares if I’m ready? I don’t get to choose the time or the place that people join me.
I’ve been working at making peace with the solitude and loneliness of solo crawling. But I’ve told people to come along. I never thought anyone would. I’m the one who opened this door.
A Federal cop steps in front of me and I stop and rise to my knees.
“What are you doing? You can’t do this,” he says. He’s serious. Federal.
“I’m just crawling. I talked to some other cops, I mean officers, south of here. They were okay with it. I’ll just keep moving…” I say.
“This is Federal Property. You can’t be doing that. You need to get up. You need to walk.”
“Okay. Thank you, sir. I’ll just keep crawling on to Canal Street.”
This brand of polite defiance seems to work. He shrugs and goes back to his post.
On WE go. I’m WE now. I’m them. We’re us. She’s right behind me. Part of me wants to bark at her and chase her off.
I need to stop worrying about it. I focus on the rough rhythmic scraping sound of my knee- pads and the slap and slide of my leather gloves as I move. I study the ground.
Every block has different sidewalk surfaces, different brands of concrete and granite, patterns, textures and cracks. The city isn’t so dirty. The gutter is not so foul. Spit, gum and cigarette butts are the constant. A few leaves scuttle across the granite in front of me. The wind kicks up a little dust devil of trashy bits and a black plastic bag blows by. I haven’t seen a single rat since I started crawling. Maybe they see me. I hope they are confused. If I crawl late at night I will meet them face to face.
We make it to Canal. I rest on my knees and decide we should cross. I don’t want to start the next crawl with a major crossing. There’s a group of people waiting to cross and I join them. They walk fast away from me when the light changes and I hurry along behind them, nipping at their heels, herding them, my friend picking up the pace behind me.
When we get to the other side I stand up. Blood flows prickly back down into my legs and my head spins and throbs a little. I look back and she is still on her knees waiting. Maybe she thinks this is another break. She could keep going, but I’m done for the day. We went a dozen blocks or so. I walk away stretching my legs more and I consider not turning back. I turn around and see her still on her knees. Is she waiting for something? For me? She’s no follower. She’s on her own trip.
I go back and put my hand on her shoulder and she stands up, smiling and hopeful.
“I thought we were going to crawl all afternoon,” she says.
“That’s it,” I say.
We hug for a second and then I turn away and walk north. She crosses back over Canal, headed south. We met, we crawled, we went our separate ways. No need to talk. Not now anyway.
Larry falls in next to me and we take long strides up Broadway.
“Who was that?”
“She’s a friend.”
“She can really crawl,” he says.
I bristle at this. I don’t know why. Maybe I should keep my crawl times and locations a secret from now on. My crawl times? Please.
As if anyone really cares. What could matter less than another man down?
Confused again. There may come a day when I am desperate for someone to crawl with me. Maybe it was just too soon, having someone there with me. Maybe it was just what I needed. Maybe it was perfect.
If it was a thousand people crawling behind me instead of one, would that be okay with me? What’s so hard about one becoming two for a few blocks?
What happened to Mr. Come Crawl With Me? I was so open and inclusive at the start. Now I feel guilty, stingy and defiant. Maybe I’m selfish. Maybe I’m just in it for myself. Myself and strangers.
Suddenly I’m a stranger to myself. It will pass.
Crawling Home is taking over my head and my body. I’ll be sore tomorrow.
It feels good to walk for a while.