“…for a man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost.” —Thoreau
It is my birthday and I’ve been thinking about being lost. When did I get turned around with my eyes closed? Birthdays make me feel lost. Maybe being born is getting lost.
47 years ago I was born. But the sense of time, the exact number of days, the math of my life leaves me confused. I am involved in a strange transaction. I am counting the changes after purchasing time. But I can’t figure out how much I’ve paid and how much I’m supposed to get back.
I’ve also been thinking about the he urging of Rumi to, “sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment…”,
I’ve never had much luck selling my cleverness, but I seem to be all stocked up on bewilderment.
I’m fighting off a cold today, an itch in the back of my throat, something sore in my bones. Snowing outside. I spend part of my morning by the window in my apartment, watching the snow fall. The weathermen say it will be 70 degrees this weekend, the Sunday before Christmas.
My birthday kneecaps carry just a trace of soreness from the last crawl. Those were phenomenal shadows….last week passing the Flatiron Building, a lifetime ago.
At the window in my apartment looking south at the graveyard through the snow. The graveyard I’ve written about in songs and films and poems. Where Audubon is buried. Where the hawks perch in the tall trees. Where they still have room for more dead bodies.
I want the snow to get deeper, to fall harder, to stop the city and bury the cars.
The weather report says it will taper off, and so it does, after only a few inches. Seventy degrees on Sunday? What sort of fever is this?
This crawling idea started after the BP oil spill, a couple years ago. I had the fire of protest in me for a minute. The outrage! I had a plan to crawl to D.C. with a picture of the earth on my back. It was too far. The idea had no legs. No reality. But the planet is still sick. The planet has been driven to its knees. The planet has a fever.
I put the crawl idea away… but it kept presenting itself to me. When the stage of my mind was empty a man would crawl across it. The man was me. So I found a way to be him.
Seventy degrees? Guys in shorts will be laughing. “Dude! This weather is sweet!”
Who are these guys who put on shorts as soon as it is not snowing? Global warming is progress to them.
But today, now, my birthday is white, the snow is falling and I am crawling at rush hour. The sun will be down.
Larry is ready, he’s a hearty man, and we speak on the phone, pumped for the potentially messy extreme conditions. I ignore my shaky physical state, hoping some adrenaline will fix me.
The sidewalk welcomes me again, wet, cold and packed with people. The masses see the man crawling and they are appalled, alarmed, amused, interested, indifferent.
For the first time I sing to myself as I crawl, bits of this and that, and then Oh Come All Ye Faithful in a thick Boston accent because that is how Christmas Carols should be sung.
Up ahead the light is like a minor sun. It’s like I’m crawling towards a gigantic blazing arena, a coliseum where the roar of the crowd is electricity itself.
Lights are pink and blue and white brighter by the block. Sounds from people’s mouths move in every direction. We all have questions.
“Why are you crawling?” someone asks.
I hear myself answer and I don’t like my tone. The question, the answer, none of it adds up. The light is in the puddles and on my skin and in the eyes of tourist children. Some parents try to show their children the man crawling at their feet but their eyes are locked on the lights up ahead.
I wish I could fix things by crawling.
I crawl towards the light, squinting. A cold inferno. Why can’t the lights at least keep homeless insane people warm?
I apologize as people almost trip over me. They bump into me and startle themselves. I represent what? A bad Christmas party? The end of life as we know it?
Something else needs to happen. That’s what someone said to me in an email. The crawl and the diary and the video and the pictures are not enough for them, I guess. I need to “Mix it up.”
I guess maybe I’m losing my audience? I'm not going anywhere. Come when you can.
I’ve taken myself hostage. This is a hostage crisis. What is the ransom?
Times Square has me thinking. What will it take for us to wake up from our collective state of denial? Can we save the earth? Is our destiny to fall apart and ruin everything. Adios Eden. Is it a done deal? How deep can we go down this hole of fragmented chaos, this dry grind of disconnected cyber-pleasure? These are the birthday thoughts I am dragging along with me.
I get up on my knees and I point urgently up at the sky like I see a UFO. I look for eye contact and point again until strangers look up with me into the sky and then I drop down and keep crawling because nothing is there.
This is science fiction. This is modern friction. A Salvation Army bell rings in my ears as I crawl across ice-cold puddles of toxic chocolate milk.
I am not a big fan of Christmas. Maybe that’s my problem. I am not a Christian. Jesus was in over his head. I believe life is short and death is forever. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I want to drink horseradish vodka when this crawl is over. Liquid light.
At 42 St the upright masses and me get siphoned down a narrow detour shoot and the surface is slimy plywood. It is a detour made to take us around the construction. I am surrounded by the bottom half of humans, pushing in tight all around, Uggs and knees and calves and sneakers, muscle, bone, boots, leather and plastic. All this humanity is mine from the femur down.
We dead-end like cattle on the way to slaughter. A cop is there, a lost looking young red headed cop, and I rise up on my knees as we mill about with nowhere left to go.
“This is absurd! Who is in charge of this?!? You can’t send people down a dead end! There’s nowhere left to go!” I say. People agree with me and the cop looks nervous. “Seriously! Totally unacceptable!” I say and I can tell he is about to call for back up.
The people around me join in, following my lead, voicing their confusion and dismay and for a moment I am the leader, I have the power to take this frustration up a notch.
I imagine my own mob growing, listening to me and tearing things apart in a frenzy of wrong-headed outrage. I see myself at the head of a revolution, a movement of outraged people. I’ll go underground. The city will grind to a standstill. A revolution led by a man on his hands and knees…I will be known only as The Crawler. I will crawl to the negotiating table. I will make demands and give legendary speeches on my knees. Eventually I will be assassinated. The sniper will hesitate for a second when he sees me crawling into his crosshairs.
The cop finds his voice and tells us what to do.
“Turn back! You gotta go the other way, back where you came from.”
We get redirected and I crawl south, a minor disaster for a northbound crawler, for half a block. My little mob dissolves.
Where is the right-headed outrage? How do we activate it? . I’m not much of a preacher or a leader. If my son was taken hostage and the kidnapper’s only demand was that I attempt to start a revolution what would I do?
I can hear the kidnappers voice, cold and hollow over the phone,
“You want to see your kid again? Start a revolution. And do it on your hands and knees.”
The night sun is high in Times Square. Look up and you can see sex in the sky, temptation, hope, the twenty four hour copulating commercial that renders the witness mute with longing and misguided lust.
I am blaming myself for my selfish inaction. It is a good way to spend this middle-aged birthday, blaming myself for not being selfless.
Lighten up crawler! I am on my way to a Russian restaurant. This night wants to end in vodka. I will crawl out of this epileptic seizure of commerce. If I choke on my own tongue why can’t I see my own eyes?
This crawl should mean more. It should cure this seizure I am trying to describe. This crawl should be fighting to save us… to keep us from swallowing our tongue. But of course the crawl is no cure. It has no more value than streaking or standing on a street corner and screaming the bible.
Down here on my hands and knees… am I ducking the truth? Have I been knocked down? By what? My life? Have I been bound for this position since the day I was born? This is my destiny? I embrace this idea and it hugs me back and squeezes the air out of me.
I need to focus on the positive! Pat myself on the back!!!
I’ve made it all the way to Time’s Square! And by the looks of it we humans are thriving!
No amount of exclamation points will lift my spirits. The list of what’s wrong in the world is too damn long. I carry a list in my head and on my back and I share it with friends. We all have lists. We compare notes and we fret and forget together.
These are not the crossroads of the world, they are the crosshairs, and, with or without a revolution, I am crawling into the sights of a sniper. Red and green laser lights dance on the sidewalk in front of me. The sniper is drunk. He will only accidentally kill innocent bystanders. That’s his job.
Christmas is not my cause for celebration, no more than my birthday is. This is not a cause at all. I am simply here, executing my project. I represent nothing more than a fallen vision of a man pressing on into the future.
Wow. Happy Birthday. What a downer this diary entry is. I left out all the funny quotes, all the unexpected comments and questions. I’m disgusted and thirsty. I have nothing to report. Take away my right to crawl. I have failed to make a mark. I am fired. I am free.
I stand up and march north to the vodka saloon where I go to the basement restroom and change out of my suit into dry clothes. I sit and reflect with a few friends at a booth in the back of the bar. We share some laughs. We don’t exactly drown our sorrows, we just float them for a while, weightless in our tanks of isolation.
A few days later the fever comes and the snow vanishes. I see men in shorts high five each other. Seventy degrees. All the weathermen were right. They saw it coming.