Earlier today I watched the crawl for the first time alone at home. There I am in the rain. It is not easy for me to watch. I’ve created something that shows me, to me, in a way that is a little overwhelming. I see myself as a child, as a baby, as a failure, as fearless, as fearful, as striving, as desperate, as lost, as doomed, as blessed. All at once. In the rain. On my hands and knees. There I am.
This is my choice. Nobody is forcing me to do it. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
We meet in a bank at Broadway and Canal. It’s not really a bank, it’s the ATM room, open all night, a shelter for heat and cash.
I’ve got two wingmen tonite, Larry and Teddy. This is my first night crawl and I think I might need some extra upright eyes to make sure I don’t become roadkill.
I feel ready. I think. Or not. I’m not right in the head today. And now today is tonight and I feel like a bad actor in some kind of botched tragic comedy. Something bleak is nipping at my heels and I kick it away.
The rule remains, once I start to crawl I do not stand up under any circumstances until I reach my destination. And I do not speak to or acknowledge my wingman until I am done and standing. It’s just cleaner that way. Allows for more…something.
I wonder what it would be like to crawl on a pitch black night. People were scared of the dark for so long. Darkness held danger or death. Fire helped, but not much.
Ever since electricity people have been killing off the darkness, like it was revenge, like the dark should be punished for all those years of fear.
There is no real darkness on Broadway. Darkness is going the way of the blue whale and the black panther. Firelflies are disappearing too. They only like to live and breed where night is truly dark. The History Of Light. Someone wrote a book about it.
I read a book once about the middle-ages called A World Lit Only By Fire. I think my mother gave it to me. I need to call her. She says she loves to hear about the crawling. This is surprising to me. She says, “I want to tell the whole world about it, but I’m afraid my world wouldn’t understand”
It’s a little after nine when I get down to business.
There are very few people out here tonight, just occasional tight groups moving fast, an occasional loner or a couple in a hurry to get out of the cold. The sidewalks are old granite, wide thick slabs, worn smooth. Along the curb are low mounds of leaky trash in black and white bags waiting to get picked up. A thick rat tail slides slowly out of sight behind a bag.
If I stopped and lay still how long would it take for them to come for me? The rats I mean.
Teddy’s red sneakers move past and his camera clicks and he’s gone. Documentation. I had to do it. What if I did this crawl without telling anyone, not even my wife? No writing. No images. Nothing. That would be pure. So what is this? Tainted?
What is this bile I feel rising up in me, coating my thoughts, coloring my attitude.
The Grim Crawler is here.
“Mother. Fuck. Son of a fuck,” I say, cursing at the blisters on my knees as I go.
Without thinking I find myself muttering things I hear passing people say.
“I just texted you.”
“We’ve got plenty of time.”
“No. No. No.”
“Totally. I Agree.”
I repeat these lines quietly in a bitter sing-song voice as I swing my head from side to side and crawl. I let my mind wander and it goes to the bad places.
What if I couldn’t get up? What if I was doomed to live this close to the garbage and rats, ignored, cold, with blisters, talking to myself, quietly mocking people long after they pass me by?
A tall strong looking woman in a short skirt strides by fast and she doesn’t even look down at me. Nothing. I don’t exist. Then a man on his phone glides by. Then two women clutching each other. They barely a glance in my direction.
I stop and put my forehead head down on a worn iron manhole cover. The metal is cold on my sweaty forehead. I listen to the trickles and movement of sewage underneath. The manhole cover reminds me of an old subway token.
I feel like heaving this manhole cover through the plate glass window of Victoria’s Secret.
Crawling is doing strange things to my libido, a spike of lust, out of nowhere and then nothing. I felt it when that tall woman passed in the mini skirt. The Grim Crawler wanted to crawl after her, drag her down here with me and devour her.
In every other window there are blank-eyed female mannequins. This is no way to flirt with them, on my hands and knees in the glare of their dead retail sun. I can’t court them like this! They deserve upright men. Of course they are looking past me and through me. I am beneath them. I understand.
If I was crawling past bonfires I wouldn’t feel so evil. Evil? That’s not what I mean. But I said it. Touch move. Like in chess. Once you touch the piece you have to move it.
Losing lotto tickets blow past my hands. A tangle of used dental floss slides by with the wind.
“Hello tickets. Hello floss,” I say.
I come upon a small tattered street map flat on the granite slab, about to blow away. I say hello to the map too and fold it and slip it into my jacket pocket.
This talking to myself is a form of protection, a kind of companionship. If I was scared and alone and living on the street I would talk like this. I would mumble curses and shout non-sequitors,
“I MAKE MAPS!” “ARE WE GOOD?!” “THE MOON WILL BE TAKEN HOSTAGE!”
I swing my heavy head back and forth like an elephant, remembering things, like I have a trunk and huge flapping ears. This motion is a kind of warning saying stay away, maybe I’m dangerous and please don’t hurt me.
Over time I would get used to this. Over time crawling would become familiar, normal for me. My body would change to accommodate this motion.
I’m no elephant. No wolf. I’m more of badger, surly, low down, and hard to hurt.
Blisters. These new pads are so wrong. But I’m feeding off the blister pain. It’s not real pain, just a stinging bite pushing me north.
I hear myself grunt a few “fucks” down at the pavement. I spit and then I whisper secret desires and strange promises.
A shrink I know said he likes reading the crawl journal entries because it makes him feel like he is inside the head of Sisyphus. I’m not sure what he means by that. I like that idea, but I don’t get the Sisyphus connection.
I stop in the glow of a Halal food cart and I rise to my knees. The food smells good, meat, onions and rice. The cook turns and looks down at me. I know this look. You are in the richest city on the planet. And you choose to crawl? In a suit? Who raised you? Where is your respect? You are a fool. I am working.
Someone told me the other day,
“ People might really get interested in your crawling thing. This might really turn into something.”
Turn into something. I’ve heard that a lot. What does that mean? Make me famous? Go viral? Crawling up Soho’s spine at night in the cold does not go viral. It does not “turn into something.” But it seems to be turning me into something. I exhale and a low growl comes up from my chest
“People might get interested but then they will lose interest, nobody can pay attention for long these days,” a friend warned me.
Lose interest in me? Oh no. Damn. I should stop now, curl up in the fetal position and wait for the ambulance.
Interest in a crawling man is guaranteed to wane.
I am not the first man to do this. The Sherpa went south to Ground Zero. Bill Pope took nine years. Burden did it on glass. No women in that group. I know why.
I say someone should be crawling this island at all times! There are designated drivers. I have designated myself Crawler. This is my time. My reckoning! I am the transcendent man badger! I am the bent master of my own little imaginary universe!
A metro-sexual sort of man steps out of a building with his puppy on a leash. Looks like a dalmation. The pup shivers and squirms and strains to get to me, to lick my face. But the man yanks him back. He won’t let his puppy get too close. I reach towards the puppy and I make nice sounds,
“Hey little buddy, come here.”
There’s nobody around but us. The metro sexual puppy master looks to be a little scared of me. The puppy doesn’t mind at all that I am down here. He is not afraid. He gets it. He loves it. I make nothing but sense to the puppy.
The master jerks him back again and I glare at him for a second, proving him right. I am ready to lunge at his throat.
How dare he deprive me of one moment of contact with that damn puppy! We were inches apart… my fingers and that puppy’s wet little nose. I wanted to smell the puppy, nuzzle him, feel the warm squirming puppiness. And the man yanked him away, scooped him up into his arms, and fled.
“Fuck you…and your little dog too,” I say to the sidewalk.
Crossing Grand St a cab turns in my direction and I raise a fist and yell hard at the shiny yellow bright-eyed beast bearing down me. “I’m CRAWLIN’ here!”
The cab stops and I make my way across.
Houston is the big crossing. Traffic is loud and I shake my head and bellow at the ground as I go.
What a way to die, getting hit as I crawl across Houston Street. This whole “project” would take on a whole new flavor. Mine would be a tragic story about a strange man who felt compelled to crawl and the crawling killed him.
More than likely I would only be mangled. People would yell and wave their arms and the cab or car or garbage truck would stop. I would be pulled out from underneath. I would live to crawl again.
I shiver at the thought, pick up the pace and make it to the sidewalk on the other side of this treacherous river.
I feel like I am growing a tail as I pass Bleeker Street.
More people now, north of Houston. More light. More fun! NYU! Cool shoes! I’m making sounds of man pain and effort and stopping sometimes to rest on my knees. I ask strangers how far it is to 8th street and many are tourists, unable to tell me what I need to know.
Almost everyone ignores my position. They respond as if I’m standing. Or as if I am a dwarf.
Two drunk girls run away from me giggling and then they stop and wait and I grunt at them and they run off giggling again. They want me to chase them. They love this game and then they get bored and go away.
Cobblestones hurt. The knees are ready for this to be over for the night. I go into a blank zone, holding on to a rhythm, counting my exhales. The end is in sight. I crawl past Mcdonald’s at Astor place, past the feet of a passed out man. He is collapsed, legs splayed, head and shoulders propped against the wall.
When I finally stand up the Grim Crawler slips away. Just like that, like a ghost, blown off down Broadway with the losing lotto tickets and dental floss. I’m warm, sweating.
I catch a rank whiff of him, or is it me?
Maybe he is hiding in a cave back behind my kneecap. He’s afraid of my friends. Afraid of their smiles.
Endorphins flood my system. Things come back into focus. No harm was done. I am not evil. I am not an animal. I am not invisible. I made it from Canal to 8th street on my hands and knees. I want to find a bar and buy drinks for my wingmen. I feel like I haven’t seen them in so long.