DEC 4/CRAWL #5
On the 1 train I get the now familiar surge of conflicting emotions. Dread. Melancholy. Adrenaline. Fight and flight wrestle for dominance. Part of me gears up for battle. The other part wants to retreat. Every crawl requires a mix of bravery and surrender. Those two things don’t always mix easily together.
My hearing and sense of smell are heightened before a crawl. As the train takes me down the island I can smell the man’s cologne next to me like I was wearing it myself. I can hear the details of the robotic reggae music in a woman’s headphones two seats down.
I try to read an old paperback of Essential Alan Watts but I can’t focus. Much of the book has been underlined by my father. He must have loaned it to me years ago. As I read I keep hearing his voice and I look down and I’m wearing his suit again and it’s too much him and not enough me. He’s in the hospital today. I should dedicate this crawl to him, at least a few blocks of it.
On the train I make the mistake of mulling over two responses to Crawling Home from the past week. An email;
“…I think this project is worthwhile, and you should do it every week for at least a year. Because right now, you're not very good at crawling. In fact, it's borderline embarrassing just how bad you are at it, and until you master it, you won't understand why you're doing it. And neither will anyone else.”
Master crawling? I know this guy but I haven’t seen him in years. Maybe he’s joking. It’s not easy to tell in an email.
There was a story about the crawl in the Woodstock Times and someone wrote in to the paper with this comment.
“…great story spoiled rich kid from new england crawls for the rest of us cuz he hasn’t accomplished a freakin thing in his life wow hurray for humanity keep crawling moron….”
I know who wrote this. He signed it with a fake name. We had a falling out a while back and we don’t speak anymore. I am reminded why.
No point in thinking about it anymore. At 42nd street I switch to the N train.
At my house on Thanksgiving a man I respect praised my “project” and then asked me what I meant when I wrote “I’m crawling for you.” And “I’m crawling so you don’t have to.”
I think he said those parts, “Give me pause,”
I think he wanted me to explain what I meant and I’m not sure I was able to explain myself very well. If I could maybe I would not be crawling.
Maybe he is worried I will alienate people with this sort of pseudo messianic talk.
I could have told him….I’m crawling for “you “is one way of saying that I am crawling for the collective “you”, the part of “you” that is overwhelmed by all that bombards us, all that fragments us, all that we wish we could protest but we don’t have the time or the impulse or the strength. So down here on my hands and knees I’m picking up a little bit of that slack in my own tiny way….by crawling. For you. So you don’t have to.
Makes sense to me.
I don’t always say “I’m crawling for you,” or “so you don’t have to.” People ask me why I’m crawling and I sometimes just shrug.
Sometimes people ask and I respond with,
“Why do you think I’m crawling?”
”I’m not sure yet.”
“I have no idea”
”Things got out of hand.”
I meet my wingmen at 8th street, 11 a.m. 45 degrees, partly cloudy. Guillermo is joining us. He is a dashing Spanish photographer, friend of a friend. A professional. He photographs primarily war. War and surfing. And now some crawling.
Larry is here too, looking alert and slightly insane in the daylight with his camera attached to a high pole that I hope doesn’t attract too much attention.
I’m nervous pre knee-pads and I bum a smoke, choke on it and chuck it away. I’ve been sore in my wrists and knees. I overdid it on the night crawl when I became a badger. I worry that eventually I will be too sore to go on. Permanent damage will be done. All for the crawl.
Guillermo says he might know a guy who wants to do a story for a Spanish magazine about the crawling. Yeah….Spain. They’ll UNDERSTAND ME in Spain. I like the idea of being BIG in Spain. Maybe Europe is just waiting for the Crawling American. Maybe the whole world is waiting for the Crawling American to crawl through their town. Maybe not.
I blew through the toes on my Blundstone boots last time and now I wear my old Red Wing steel toe work boots. By the time I get to Strand Books I’ve scraped away the leather and I can hear the exposed steel toes grinding along the sidewalk. Steel scraping pavement and stone. I like the sound. That’s my sound from now on. That’s how you know I’m coming. Or going away.
There’s some spring in the air. Or is it fall? It’s not winter. But it should be.
I pass a few homeless people. Maybe not homeless, but begging, seated Indian style, heads cast down in dismay, with signs that explain they are having a very bad time. We exchange nods.
I am startled. I just forgot I was crawling! I was going along, thinking about what I might do later and I realized out of the blue that I’m CRAWLING. I’d forgotten what I was doing, like I do when I’m walking. Up until now I was aware of the fact that I was crawling all the time. This is new territory.
I cross Broadway at 14th street and it’s big trucks and honking ugly torso crushing traffic. I wait for the light to change, my eyes level with a pair of ornate stocking legs. I glance up at a nicely dressed corporate woman above me and her mouth twitches, maybe a smile down my way. I have an impulse to ask this woman if I can crawl next to her as she walks across. For a second I think I could use her for protection. But I leave her alone and head out on my own in a hurry.
The street is a tool used to get somewhere else, the method by which we reach our destinations. Everyone is running late. The market is different. The market is the destination.
I feel calm and safe here in Union Square off the street. No cars or crossings. The Christmas gift stalls are bursting with goods. A busker plays a violin. I smell the pine garlands, hot cider and incense.
My odd presence sends ripples around me and I don’t need to look up. I am being observed and absorbed into the ecosystem of the market. I am being treated as a sort of quasimodo monk in a suit, a harmless freak, moseying through the village square. I slow down, adjust pads, hobbling a bit from the soreness in my bones.
People ask what I’m doing and offer water and food and let their children wave at me and their dogs come close.
A guy with a nervous little dog walks along near me and keeps saying , “Don’t scare the horses.”
Someone compliments the suit and I say it was my father’s.
“Is he still with us?”
“He is… but he’s going under the knife as we speak.”
Yes, today’s crawl is for Dad. Not just a few blocks, the whole thing. And for my son. So he doesn’t have to. If only that could be true.
“Do you think you’re Jesus? Did Jesus make you do this?” A guy says.
I stop. I can hear the people around us waiting for my answer. I hang my head and shake it slow.
“No…. Not Jesus,” I say and keep moving.
“Are you an actor?” A fresh-faced gift stall guy asks.
“Nope. Not an actor,” I say. “Just crawling home.”
An organic vegetable man brings me water and I drink some without touching the bottle. He promises it is clean. I believe him.
“Ever thought about a bicycle?” another guy says with an edge in his voice as he moves by fast..
“Ever thought about crawling?” I call after him.
Down here in this vulnerable state it is hard to drop my defenses. I’m not a stand up comedian attempting to crush my hecklers. I want to be the humble traveler, the one who doesn’t need or want the last word.
Just because I’m on my hands and knees does not mean I’m enlightened.
I smell fresh vegetables and bees wax candles. I hear humans and sirens in the distance.
“I hope you’re getting paid for this.” A man says to me, tying to make his girlfriend laugh.
“It’s a thing, a happening!” someone else exclaims. “Like the sixties”
“Oh shit now I’ve seen it all!”
“Look look look! No way!!!”
“It’s me, I’m in Union Square. Can you hear me? You’re not gonna believe this. A guy in a suit is crawling. Crawling. I don’t know why! I’m taking a picture right now. ”
A thick neck jocky guy in a group of other large guys tell me, “Have a nice holiday.”
I thank him as I go by and say,
“I won’t be home for Christmas.”
This makes them laugh.
I hear French. French people are around me, talking about me, I think, taking pictures. I crawl past a mountain of deep green broccoli, on a table above me. A Frenchman squats next to me and asks how I am and why I am doing this. His accent is thick, his voice, rumbling and soft. He is calm, respectful and interested. White hair and a smushed, medieval, world-weary mug. He seems to know me, the way he peers at me. He has a camera but he is not taking pictures. This could be 700 years ago in another part of the world. Maybe I crawled in another life. Maybe he was my father. I feel ready to believe anything. I stop and we look into each other’s eyes for a moment. He looks like he is about to cry. I thank him for his concern and tell him I am fine.
Scuffed up clogs and bell-bottom jeans at two oclock. I look up at a young woman with a long scarf and fuzzy hat.
“Hi. What are you doing?” She says, amused, and peaceful.
She’s eating a long pear, nibbling on the core, getting every last bit.
She’s not remotely thrown by what I’m doing. She strolls along beside me. My head is mostly down, but when I look up she beams calm west coast mellowness down at me. I don’t know where she’s from but she tells me her name is Melody.
I spot a shiny penny by my hand on a manhole cover and I point at it and suggest she put it down the hole in the manhole cover and make a wish. She picks up the penny.
“Oh no…I save change I find on the street and when I have enough saved up I take a friend on a picnic,” she says.
She asks me more questions and then I stop for a moment on my knees.
“So why are you crawling. Are you protesting something?” she asks.
I take a breath and look at the sky for a second. Sweat is trickling into my eyes and I wipe it away with the back of my glove.
“I don’t know,” I say. “ It started that way, wanting to protest, but there were so many things that needed protesting I couldn’t make up my mind, too many options, overwhelming, so I just chose them all and started to crawl.”
She seems to get that. She seems to get the whole thing. I ask her what she does. She says she’s a pianist. It’s time to say goodbye to Melody. It’s time to quasi moto on out of here.
I crawl across 17th street and out of the square. It’s like I’m headed back into the dark forest, leaving the safe embrace of the village, going out beyond the pale again.
Times Square is the next major destination. It looms in the undone lore of my crawl like some distant kingdom, filled with neon dragons. A digital inferno lights up the sky. I don’t know what I will find there. Or what will find me.
I turn and look back one more time. Why do I have to go? I could crawl around the market, round and round and mingle with these wholesome folk. There is no need to go any further. Everything I need is in the market. I could be the Union Square Crawler. Why not leave it at that?
This is probably how it was when people expanded west across this country. They planned on going to California but it was so far and after a while a field in Iowa next to a river seemed good enough and they stopped there and made a stand. And some kept going. But they weren’t going home. They were pioneers, looking for a new life in a new place.
I’m going home. Already I worry about the ending. Who will I be without the crawling? I want this to change me… or make me who I’m supposed to be.
This is my Odyssey. Some might call it an Idiodyssey but it is an Odyssey nonetheless! Maybe I’m getting carried away again. Humble pilgrim. Humble pilgrim.
I imagine crawling ever slower, taking more time, becoming addicted to this journey and losing track of the destination.
The distance that remains is real. Soon the snow will fly. I cannot linger here. I move north away from Union Square, steel toes scraping the sidewalk behind me.