Crawling Home

ROBERT LEAVER (2013 - 2014 Performance Art)

I Crawl Home was a performance piece by Robert O Leaver who crawled on hands and knees up Broadway in Manhattan from Wall Street to Washington Heights, 10 blocks a day over the course of 8 months. Glass Eye Pix was there to document.



Crawl #1 : 10.31.13

I am alone and having second thoughts.  Wearing my father’s pinstripe suit from the 60s,  vintage, rumpled, a little big on me and worn out, like maybe I got it out of a box at the salvation army.

Waiting for my wingman at the very bottom of Broadway.  This route was once a game trail that wild animals ran on,  then a hunting path for indians, then a muddy dirt road for the white man.  Now this. It would be so easy to not do this.  I’ll bet the guy who walked on a tightrope between the twin towers felt that way.  But what he did was so brave, so exciting and risky.  It was the opposite of this. Can crawling be brave? I am crawling from the bottom of this island all the way up Broadway to my home in Washington Heights?  Why am I doing this?  Suddenly I can’t remember.

My brother called me as I walked south past Wall Street and h asked me not to do it. He sounded worried and that’s unusual.   At moments like this I realize he’s getting older and supposedly I am too.  He’s making sounds like this crawl might be a sure sign that my unraveling is finally at hand.  I’ve done plenty of weird things in public and everyone knows I don’t embarrass easily– but somehow this one is giving people  pause.

What about your wife and son, man, he says, what do they think? Is this a cry for help? he asks.  Why are you doing this?

I’m crawling so you don’t have to, I tell him.

I imagine if you don’t live in Manhattan crawling up Broadway could seem sort of self destructive  It’s true, I could get vomited on, or kicked in the face, or spit on.  An insane homeless man limps by me now with bare torn up feet, muttering to himself, stabbing at the air with his hand.  He might jump on my back and try to ride me.  I see construction workers who look sort of drunk on the sidewalk smoking and spitting and cat calling at passing women.  What will they say when I crawl by??  Then again maybe the person who is dangerous is the one who is crawling.

Teddy, my wingman for the day, arrives.  He’s got a camera.  He’s hip, low key and  alert.  He checks out passing women as I put on the knee-pads.

I need to start.  I need to silence these doubting voices in my head.  Is this just self abuse?  Is this just me being bitter or wanting attention?  No Fuck that.  This is an offering.  A loving gesture to my fellow man!  My sense of why I’m crawling flickers in and out of sight inside my head.

Can something be profound and pathetic all at once? Of all the things I could be doing with my time.  This is lame.

Shame. Penance.  Punishment.  Blah blah blah.

Come on Leaver, you’re all talk no action.  Stop thinking! Start crawling!

I put on my gloves,  worn leather work gloves  from upstate stone walls.  I want to make sure I don’t panic and crawl too fast.  I don’t want to meander or crawl too slow. A confident purposeful crawl seems like the way to go.  I guess I’ll know it when I feel it.

I haven’t crawled more than a few feet since I was a baby, back before I could walk.  Back before I could walk. …… That’s where I’m going.

People are starting to get out for lunch and fill the sidewalks.  I take a breath and take a look up at the overcast sky.  Deep in the financial district. I get down on my hands and knees and nod to the earth beneath me.  I start to crawl.

Deep in my sub conscious an alarm sounds telling me that I am in trouble.   It si not right to be down here like this.  Adrenaline is released and I get a surge of energy.   It’s harder than I thought, physically, like little pushups. The movement torques my core  It feels wrong on so many levels.   I’m vulnerable and claustrophobic.   A voice inside says get up.  Walk.  Don’t’ crawl. Stand. Don’t crawl.  Run. Get up! Fight!  But I stay down and climb the flat sidewalk forward.

I can’t really see up ahead unless I stop and twist my neck.  My wrists are going to be sore. I should be using my fist knuckle, like an ape.  I can tell this flat palm method will strain my wrists. My kneepads are slipping and my knees are on their way to raw and I haven’t even crawled a full block.  I try to concentrate on my pace and hug the right side of the sidewalk, out of the way of the main flow.  Some pictures get taken.  I feel like a dog and a clown and holy man.

A young cop leans down into my vision  and his voice is  genuinely nice and concerned, “What are you doin?”

“Personal project,” I say, like it’s nothing to worry about.  I keep moving.  I’ve got it under control.

“Okay.” He says and that’s it. He disappears.  I was going to say “private challenge” I think that might have worked too.

Nobody says anything to me for a while.  I hear people take pictures and make sounds about the guy on the ground, but nobody engages with me directly.  Nobody asks if I’m okay.   I wasn’t hoping they would.  But still…I must seem like I’m okay.

My crawling form must make me look like I don’t need help.  I take a break on my knees and trade a nod with Teddy, then I keep going.  I look down, 18 inches or so below.  It’s  like a view from a plane as I pass over black smears of dry gum, tiny lakes of spit, cigarette butts, and wide prisitne plains of smooth cement.

After a while I stand and a uniformed doorman asks me how i’m doing.  I tell him “I’m crawling home to Washington Heights. Something I’ve always wanted to do.”  His eyes get wide and he nods.  He sort of likes it, or gets it, or maybe he’s pleased to have a new story to tell his family tonight at dinner.

I realize that like walking you can crawl as if you know where you’re going, like you mean business, like you might not be someone to trifle with.  Even in this defeated position one can project strength.

I feel like a fish, a man salmon swimming up this concrete river of commerce, indifference and pain. Up Broadway I go to spawn and die.

It is lonely down here on my hands and knees in the Canyon Of Heroes.   Huge parades came through here.  I wasn’t expecting to feel so lonely.  Is this an act of desperation? There is desperation in the air.  Does that make me desperate? Voices in my head told me to do this.  Since when did voices in your head get such a bad rap? Maybe I’m praying.  Maybe this is a meditation, or a migration.   I am going home.

Crawl #2 : 11.7.13

Rain forecast for today.  Last week on crawl day it was just a threat, but today its a sure thing. Since the first crawl Ive been distracted by the next leg of the journey and the overall distance I plan to go.  I daydream about new kneepads, crossing the street on all fours, getting run over, getting the right footage.

I dreamt I was crawling alone late at night up Broadway and the city was empty. There was no sound but my breathing. I woke up on my back in bed and I realized I should crawl at least once at night, alone. No wingman. No pictures or video or even a mention.

I’ve sent out emails and pictures and the first diary entry to at least thirty people.  An old friend who I don’t see much anymore wrote back, “Get a job, kneepad.”

Another guy I know said, “There’s got to be a twelve step program for you.”

A close friend in Memphis said he thought the photos were funny but he was,”…really on the fence about the whole thing.”

I talked to him on the phone and he asked me questions.

After ten minutes he said it sounded like a walking meditation. He’s into that sort of thing.  I told him I’d like people to crawl with me sometime, in a long silent line.  He got excited.

“I get it now!  I thought you were just being a Jackass,” he says.

I’m glad one of us gets it.

He says he’s going to come north and crawl a few blocks with me.  I doubt he’ll make the trip.

Other people have been tickled,  a few genuinely sparked and moved.  One friend said, “..what you’re doing is so out there is makes me dizzy. I love it.”

Overall the response has been positive. That’s nice, but it doesn’t stop the rain when it’s time to get down on the ground.

I’m set to meet this week’s wingman, Larry Fessenden, down by Trinity Church at 11.   He’s a old friend, a filmmaker, he’s got a great camera and he knows how to use it.

I start in one hour.  Maybe it’s the weather.  Low sky fat and gray with rain, about to break open and fall. I feel a sense of dread. But I get the dread sitting at home too. I want to shed something, a layer of itchy anxious skin, some cloak of doubt and worry that weighs me down. I want it off me.

I leave home wishing I had never told anyone about this “project”.  Then I would be able to back out.  But I don’t want to back out. Nobody really cares if I do this.  Its not like I’m Evel Kneivel blowing off his Grand Canyon jump at the last minute.  There’s no sponsor that will sue me if I pull the plug. Just a handful of sympathetic people, friends and family with a lot of other things on their mind.

I’ve painted myself into a corner. The only thing harder than doing this would be not doing it.  I can hear the low chuckle, the nemesis me that lives inside my head.

“Checkmate, motherfucker,” he says.

In my suit reading The Wasteland on the train.  I feel like a teenager discovering poetry for the first time. A pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floor of a silent sea!?  That’s me! The book is coming to pieces in my hands, an ancient paperback version, falling apart at the seams.

Now I’ve got altered blood, just like last week. My chemistry is changing as the time approaches. It’s coming up inside me like a drug. I make eye contact with strangers and smile in a distant way.  I feel pity for everyone, including me, like a terrorist struck with wave of remorse just before he blows himself up.

Or maybe a monk about to go light myself on fire in the street.

Or maybe this is what it feels like to be some middle aged white guy in his dad’s suit about to go crawl up Broadway in the rain.  Yeah. That’s more like it.

A profound downer engulfs me as I arrive exactly on time at Rector and Broadway. Trinity church is wet, dark stone, gold and copper leaves on the trees, vibrating in the graveyard.

It’s the secret again, making me nervous.  And the rain.  I loiter outside a bank and the security guard looks at me sideways, like I might be about to rob the bank.  If you look twice you see my suit fits wrong and people who are paying attention to such things mark me as an oddball drifter.

Not today. I should postpone.  But I’m here, I’m dressed, ready, with the new pads and the work gloves and Larry coming to be my wingman. He will video. The show must go on. The low must be strong?  I consider getting a drink first and Larry appears grizzled and ready, no raincoat, just his Carhart and a horrifying strip of scabs and half-healed cuts across the knuckles of one hand.  It looks like he dragged his fist down the highway at high speed. He shrugs it off. Something happened while he was shooting.

I walk him down to where I stopped last time and give him some information,

“I won’t talk to you at all but please keep close when I cross the street, or be prepared to warn me if I’m in danger and don’t know it. I won’t stand up at all either, all breaks will be on my knees only.”

We agree on a few other things and I gear up.  He films me putting on my knee pads and gloves and I give him my backpack to put on.   I crawl with no phone, no wallet, no ID.

The rain is soft and steady now. I look up at the sky and take a couple last upright breathes.

When I dropped him off at school this morning my nine year old son, Mason asked what I was doing today.  I said I had to write, run some errands, and crawl for a while.  He didn’t blink.

I feel like I’m about to fall backwards off the edge of a boat with scuba gear on my back.  It’s like I’m going under water, but I don’t have a tank or even a snorkel. I’m holding my breath.  I’m surrendering again in public, begging but not giving up.  Two hands are banging strange dissonant chords on the keyboard of my soul.

Down I go.

Once I’m moving on all fours the rain becomes steadier but my spirits are on the rise.  I can’t be sad down here. Lonely, but not lost.  Not confused.  Thought is replaced by purpose and heat, muscles working, the weight of my head pulls on my neck in a new way.  I can breathe down here just fine.

A thin slick layer of water on the sidewalk makes it all seem cleaner. Not as many scents today.  They’re all getting washed away.

Clear puddles and tiny rivers wet the leather of my gloves.  For a few blocks nobody says a word.  Passing Trinity Church I barely glance left to see it.  I keep my head forward, my gaze a few feet in front.  I start to hear people say things.

“What the fuck?”

“That’s a new one.”

“Zombie!”

“Poor guy.”

“Dude, no.”

“I saw him already.”

I see Larry’s wet leather work boots rush by and up ahead to get in position and shoot me coming towards him.  Some other guy crouches up ahead a few times, filming.  I know him by his wet canvas sneakers.  His sneakers look French. I can’t see any higher than his knees.

Zucotti park is all yellow leaves on trees strung with party lights.  What do I Occupy?  Maybe I’m a sign that says things are really starting to fall apart.  The end is nigh.  I imagine someone going home and saying when they saw a guy crawling in the rain, that’s when they knew things were really fucked.

Under scaffolding I crawl by a couple of seated homeless people and we stare at each other.  I can tell by their faces they’ve been living outside. The impulse to stop and chat is there but it feels wrong.  Too photo op.  I’m not one of them and they’re not one of me.  We barely exchange a nod. We’re almost growling low at each other, canceling each other out.

I few yards ahead I move past a mentally ill woman’s filthy bare feet with toenails like infected scabs, so close I could lunge forward and bite her big toe.

Someone says,

“He’s making a movie.”

A construction worker yells down, “What are you crawling for?!”

I yell back, “I’m crawling for you!”

Some teenage kids move alongside me.  They look like the kind of kids that get loud and nasty and scare people on the train.

The kids ask me questions and some film with their phones and tell people on the phone about what they are seeing.  I am not prepared for how gentle they are towards me, because I am below them?  They seem stumped, amused and sympathetic.   One girl leads the interest, but they all chime in.

“What are you doing, mister?

Mister, why don’t you get up?

Why don’t you walk?

Take the train or a cab?

Are you ok?

Do you have a family?

Does your family know?

Are they worried about you?

Do you have job? What does your boss say?”

Where do you live?

Where are you going?

Mister, are you insane?”

I try to answer but it’s hard to talk and crawl so I stop to rest on my knees and they surround me.  I answer a few questions.  I don’t want to say too much.  I thank them and one of them says,

“Damn. He’s sweaty.”

“Yeah. It’s hard,” I say.  ” I live uptown. I have to get home. This is the way it has to be for me now. But I’m okay.  It will take time, but I will get there.”

They are listening.

I drop down and keep going.

Crawl #3 : 11.14.13

11/14/2013

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.

Crawl # 4: 11.20.13

11/20/13

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.

Crawl #5 12.04.13

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.

Crawl #6 12.12.13

CRAWL # 7 DECEMBER 17/2013

“…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.

JANUARY 14/ 2014

The older Korean couple who run my local dry cleaning place are starting to look at me funny.  It must seem as if I put on the suit and go on long drunken benders and sleep in the street.  Then I calmly bring the suit back and ask them to press and clean it again.  We briefly examine the stains and rumples and tears and I get my ticket.  The woman shakes her head and says something in Korean to her husband. I tell them quietly, again, that the suit is very old, it belonged to my father, but I never explain how or why I keep getting it so messed up.

A few days ago I exposed my chiropractor to the crawl. We were standing in her office before she started to work on me.  I hadn’t seen her in many months. She looked a little puzzled and amused when I told her about Crawling Home.

“Crawl?  How do you do it, exactly?” she asked.

Down on all fours on her hard wood office floor I showed her my form and promptly got a large splinter in my finger.  More of an injury than I’ve ever gotten crawling in the street. I pulled the wood out of my finger and I started to bleed.  She went to get me a band-aid and I washed my finger off, lay down on her table and waited for her to come back and crack my spine.

Times Square. Rain.  Kenny G playing under a small tent, on a platform, four stories above it all, live.   The actual real live Kenny G.  He plays some hits and then the theme from Titanic.  Some kind of promo for the Soft Rock Café.  That’s what the banner says.  Soft Rock Café.

Waiting for Larry.  He’s tardy today due to his very busy schedule.  I’m lucky he makes time for me. Now I have time to listen to live Kenny G in the rain.

Kenny G sincerely thanks the umbrellas beneath him, “Thanks everybody. Isn’t this so cool?  I’m having a great time.”

It’s been a while since the last crawl.  Three weeks?  I went to L.A. It doesn’t take long to lose your edge.

Larry appears and I give him my raincoat and hat and he puts on my backpack  which holds only wallet, keys, phone and notebook.

I start on the jumbotron humongous TV screen that looks down onto this spot.  Tourists love to see themselves and wave.  Today it’s just me in this spot.  When I see myself on the giant screen that is my cue… I drop down and crawl away. I stop once and glance back and up and there I am, for all to see, crawling out of the giant frame.

It’s strange to start. Always. The first block still feels pretty much one hundred percent wrong.  Then it starts to open up into other things.

I stop at the cross walk, 47th and Broadway and stare down into a fist-sized pothole full of water.  I gaze into it like it’s a crystal ball. This tiny body of water is headed for underground pipes and a river.  But now it looks like the origin of life, a feral urban aquatic petri dish.  I imagine a microscopic mermaid.  A shred of kleenex paper waves in the underwater breeze, a waterlogged cigarette filter and a blob of mucous. The rain taps down on my back, little wet fingers, reminding me to move on.

Over Christmas both my parents visited at separate times. They were divorced forty years ago.  My mother was not herself on this visit.  Or maybe I encountered her new self.  Whatever the case, it was an alarming encounter and it lasted four days. I’m wondering if she should cut back on travel.  She is 85 and when a person is not herself at 85 it is possible she will never be herself again.  Luckily, she made it back home safe to Guatemala and she seems better now.

After my father’s visit I was sad, just like when I was a kid.  Back then he’d take my brother and I away for the weekend and drop us back at home with my mother on Sunday night.   I would be on the verge of tears, stuck in bleak dad-less reality with my mother and younger brother.  I just wanted him to take me with him.  Now as a grown man I feel the same sadness in the wake of his presence, sitting there at the dinner table with my son and wife. I try to hide it.  How could I feel the same sensation from forty years ago, crestfallen, ditched, hollowed out?

My son is waiting for me to cheer up.  My wife asks me to pass the salt.

Uh oh, where did Dad go?

I force myself to snap out of it.

Yesterday on the train going home from Mason’s school he said, “Dad, are you going to crawl tomorrow?”

But he mouthed the word crawl so nobody could hear.

“Why are you saying the word crawl silently?” I ask

I lean in so he can whisper his answer.

“Because if someone hears me they might ask for your autograph.”

I laugh and wonder at this for a second and then I realize maybe he doesn’t want to say CRAWL out loud because he’s embarrassed for me, and for himself.

Did he make up the autograph idea as a way to make me feel better? Is he worried about me?

I don’t interrogate him on any of this but it does make me wonder again about the nature of shame and pride and protecting one’s parents. And protecting one’s self.

Moving along in the steady rain past a high-end strip joint and Caroline’s Comedy Club.  The faces of up and coming comedians look down at me from the posters in front.

I did a bunch of comedy open-mics one winter six or seven year ago. Things were bad with my wife at the time.  I started “researching” the comedy scene, seeing what it was like to die on purpose. Dying means getting no laughs and killing is making everyone in the room laugh. Most people know this.   But most people don’t know that dying, on purpose, on stage, is a uniquely exhilarating and troubling experience, especially in front of a bunch of jaded aspiring comics.

I’d wait my turn, get up on stage and say whatever came into my head.  No preparation whatsoever.  One night a a comedy club on 79th st I lay down on stage and got in the fetal position and started to softly sing into the microphone, a lullaby my mother sang to me when I was a child.  This did not kill.  The lullaby led into a disjointed, disturbing conversation with me playing the parts of my mother and me.  No discernable applause at the end, but one guy came up to me afterwards and said he really dug it.  “I’ve never seen someone die like that,” he said.

One night I prepared and tried to kill and it worked and that felt great.  But in a way nothing beats a flawless death.

When I got home from these adventures my wife would occasionally ask me where I’d been.  “Just out, walking around,” I said the first few times. Eventually I told her the truth.

A guy walks along next to me in the rain.  He seems very gentle and curious and respectful.  His name is Shaun, he lives in Brooklyn, works in a nearby office. He’s on his lunch break.  He’s black.

“Do you mind if I take pictures of you?” He asks.

I am fine with that.  He hangs with me for a few blocks, crouching in front mostly.  He takes hundreds of pictures. Where will they go?

A big tan dude from Brazil with a leopard patterned iphone case and an umbrella films me with his phone.  I  only exist in his phone.

“What are you doing, man? What’s happening with you right now?” he asks as he films me, eyes on his phone.  His accent is thick and his umbrella is large.

My leather gloves are soaked and hard to strip off. I get a naked hand free and dig out a business card, pulling my suit pants pocket inside out, losing a lot of change on the sidewalk.  I had the cards made up for this exact situation, with the icrawlhome website and my name.  He takes the card, nods and says he will tell friends in Brazil about me.

Two other black men and a middle-eastern food cart man.  They all nod at me with approval and knowing smiles. They don’t seem to need or want an explanation.  We have a quick discussion about abdominal definition enhancement via crawling.

The crawls are now riddled with déjà vu from other crawls.

A stylish Asian woman with short-cropped black hair, high shiny boots and an umbrella. She stops and tries to hand me money. Cash.  Seven or eight bucks.

“Please, you take. Get coffee. Hot coffee. I am from Bangkok.  Here this money.  You take please.”

I thank her many times and respectfully refuse the donation.

Another guy looks Tibetan, like a Sherpa, and he’s carrying a sign for a strip club.  He is calm and seems worried but loving.

White people are not so friendly to me.  Not compared to black people, people of color, minorities.  When I crawl the most engaging, sympathetic, outwardly curious people, by far, are non-white.

A brown woman with lots and lots of face makeup seems almost irritated at the sight of me.   She asks me questions while two other men stop and film me with their phones

“Why you doing this?” she says.

“I’m not sure.” I say and stop.  “You ever do something and you’re not sure why you’re doing it?” I ask.

“Not really,” she says.

A tickled looking guy films me with his phone and nods his head vigorously.

“All the time,” he says. “I never know why I’m doing anything.”

The woman wants an answer.

“Not something like this,” she says.  “This man crawling. You doing this for attention?”

“I don’t think so.  Maybe. I mean, there’s easier ways to get attention, right” I say.

“Is there a cause? A reason. You need a reason,” she says, exasperated now.

“Are you doing this for someone close to you that is disabled?” she asks.

“He says he’s not sure why he’s doing it,” the tickled looking guy says to the woman.

“He knows. He’s just not telling us,” she says.

I move on.

A cop up ahead, a small white female cop ,in front of a store, hands on her hips. She’s around five feet tall and maybe twenty-five years old. I’m about to crawl past her.

“How you doin today?” She asks.

“Good, thanks.”

“I’m going to need you to stand up, sir.”

I’m going to need you to…?

This must be some kind of cop language that she was taught at the academy.  What about what I’m going to need me to do? I’m going to need me to not stand up.

I stop at her feet, her standard issue black utility boots, and I get up on my sore knees and look her firm in the eye.  I am not exactly confrontational. I am direct, relaxed, almost matter of fact.

“I started way back at the bottom of Broadway, I’m crawling to Washington Heights, I keep moving, I’m good, personal project, just heading home.”

There’s that moment just after I speak when she decides I am being respectful and I am telling the truth.  She decides this is not worth pursuing. She smiles and wishes me luck.

On I go beneath a big sign that says LOVE WINS, advertising the new stage musical of the movie, ROCKY.

I get to the block where they do the Letterman show. The Ed Sullivan theatre. As if on cue some dude walks by fast (dorky white guy) and says, “You doing this for Letterman?”

I tell him no.

Then I have a brief fantasy that someone from Letterman comes out and the timing works and they are taping live right now and they want me to crawl through the show. A crawl on.  A production person could wrangle me, lead me, and I could just crawl over to the theatre and crawl in the side door and crawl down the special hall and across the stage and nod at Dave and ignore the cameras and crawl out another door and be back on Broadway like it never happened.  All in one non-stop crawling motion.  That would be the only way to do it.

But that’s not how it goes.  I am not plucked from absurd obscurity on my hands and knees, in front of the Ed Sullivan theatre in the rain.  The show goes on without me.

I’m soaked to the bone and feeling a little rusty.  It’s time to stand up.  Standing up is my reward for getting down. Ten blocks is enough for today. Besides, I need to go pick up my son at school.  I’m never late.  No time to go home and change.

JAN 23, 2014 CRAWL #9

Bitter cold and a real snowstorm.  NYC might get a foot of snow. I’m downtown  thinking I should call Larry.  I should be crawling in this.

At that moment Larry calls and leaves me a message in a slightly deranged sing-songy voice.

“I can’t help but think…you should be crawwwwwwling.”

No way I can do a day crawl.  I’ve got real things to do.  Responsibilities! But I’ve got no excuse for ducking a crawl tonight.  And the storm is supposed to intensify.

Larry can do it… but not until 10 pm.  It’s one of the things I always pictured, crawling at night in the snow. In a storm?  Crawlng up to Columbus Circle from the Ed Sullivan Theatre?    This must occur.

Arrangements are made.  My son, Mason, hears me talking on the phone about it  and he begs me not to go.  Last week on a bright cold afternoon upstate I read him Jack London’s story, To Build A Fire.  Now he knows one way a man can die in the cold.  But London’s man “…lacked imagination…”

At least that’s what the narrator in the story tells us.

Mason reminds me of how the man’s feet froze solid.

“I’ll be fine.  I won’t be alone. I’ll be careful. You remember why the guy died in To Build A Fire?”

“Yeah.”

“What did he lack?” I ask.

“Imagination?” Mason says, still sounding worried.

Blair doesn’t want me to go either but I explain to her that I must!  By the time I leave the apartment Mason is asleep and he believes I am staying home tonight.  I lied and said I probably wasn’t going.   I lied to make him feel better. I didn’t want him to wake up and worry.  What category of lie is that?  Blair falls asleep snuggled up with him on his bed and I sneak out of the apartment as quietly as I can.

I get off the 1 train at 50th and walk north on Broadway to the spot across from the Ed Sullivan Theatre where I stopped last week.  The snow is spinning in the lights, the streets are still a mess, traffic slow, sparse.  Only a few hearty types lingering in the storm.  The rest are moving fast to get to where they are going.

The cold is painful if you stand still for too long.  The weightless snow is still falling, but not quite as heavy as earlier in the evening. A few state of the art snowblowers are able to clear their sidewalks down to bare dry concrete.

Once I start crawling I warm up. I am cheating, wearing a hat, a massive Alpaca hat that a friend gave me. It looks like I’ve got an overstuffed light brown fur chair on my head. I promised I would never wear a hat on this journey, just the suit, but it is down near zero and the cold is menacing.  I’m okay with breaking another promise to myself if it means keeping my skull unfrozen.  And the hat is kind of funny.  I’m feeling like maybe the crawl could use a little levity.

The hat had two fuzzy decorative balls hanging down, one on each side, but I cut them off a few weeks ago.  They kept blowing into my mouth and getting tangled together.  The hat is much easier to deal with now.

Crawling in the snow.  I get a good slide on the kneepads except where the anti slip salt stuff is scattered on the concrete.  What this stuff is made of is anyone’s guess but it melts ice and tastes real bad.  I slap my gloves together and somehow get a face and mouth full of a chemical salty mix and I gag and spit off to the side.

A few people around, tourists taking my picture, trying and failing to make snowballs with the powdery snow. A few friends of mine have come to watch. I ignore them.  I only talk to strangers.

The roar of the plows on 57th Street makes the ground shake.  They sound like arctic dinosaurs foraging, marking their territory, scraping the road like its some kind of mating call.  When they are gone everything goes gentle again. The snow cover muffles the usual racket.  The city feels safer, smaller, softer.  A distant siren sounds less sharp, less urgent.

Cold and dry enough so there’s barely any wet slush.  The snow is tapering off. Powder puffs up as my hands slide forward.  I am leaving a trail that makes no sense.  What animal is this?  A hunter would be thrilled.  I am big game.  The only one left.  Or maybe the first of many.  I leave the mark of solitary migration. Two unbroken lines from the sliding of each knee and the dragging toe of each boot.  The two lines run through my handprints.  Mine is an easy track to follow, but one that will soon, quite suddenly, evolve into footprints.   This will confuse the hunter.

The air is cracking cold, each inhale a fresh blast on my mouth, throat and lungs.  My breath comes out in puffs of warmth from deep down in my core.  I slow down and listen to the rhythm of my movement and my breathing as I crawl.

I’m not going far tonight.  I thought my knees would hurt more than they do so soon after the last crawl. I was expecting more desolation, wind swept empty streets, snow drifts.  But we’re too close to the heart of the city for that.  There will be desolation up ahead, up above 125th street in the snow. Late at night. Maybe that’s where I’ll find it.

I cross the last wide street, at Columbus Circle, bound for the spire.  I crawl as fast as I can when the sign says walk.  Deep virgin powder on the three steps at the base of the spire. I climb them and turn around, sit back and let out a big plume of breath.  I pull the alpaca hat off and feel steam rise off my sweaty head.  A man bounds out of nowhere, in green lycra, dressed like a cyclist, with some kind of foreign accent. He rushes to me and hugs me.

“You have accomplished something!” he announces, happily.

I thank him and tell him I’m only halfway.  He thought I was finished.

My visiting friends congratulate me, give me a hug, Larry too and Teddy has appeared.   Everyone is shivering but me.  I’m still warm, and a little bit giddy.  We aim for the glow of a little Irish bar across the street.  We are very much going to that bar.  The night has just begun. I’m talking, answering someone’s question, and I nearly wander out into traffic and get run over.  Someone from our group grabs my arm and pulls me back.  Who was that? I must thank them again.

JAN 30 2014 Crawl #10

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.

FEB 19, 2014 CRAWL # 11

I took a little time off.  Some sort of injury is nagging at my pelvic nerves. The weather has been harsh, slush, ice and dirty piles of frozen snow and trash.  The pathways carved out of ice on the sidewalks are very narrow in places and people are trying to stay warm and not fall down.

I was planning to crawl alone, no camera, no wingman, nothing.  But I promised my wife and son I never would crawl alone.  They are afraid I will get run over and dragged beneath a dump truck.

I don’t want to betray them. But I can’t stop thinking about it.  What sort of compassion and loneliness might I discover if I am truly alone?  I am so tempted to find out.

I see people moving around the city, elderly, crippled, blind, and they are alone, relying on their wits, luck, faith and the kindness of strangers.  If they can do it I know I can too.  I will ask for help.

I tell my wife about my temptation.  I tell her I will wait at the crossing until someone is willing to cross the street with me. Every street is a river Styx!  Every able-bodied citizen is a potential Charon!

The truth is I am more alert when I crawl than when I am walking.

Lately I’ve been sort of stuck.  Weak shallow thought patterns. Pockets of dread.   Anxious. Fragmented. I’ve got a writing job but I can’t get going on it.  I’m not sure what my plan is, the meaning, the reason— for anything. I’m stumped again by unwieldy questions, questions I thought I’d laid to rest.

At first the crawl lit a fire in me, it radicalized me, but I feel like the effect is wearing off.  I need to up the ante somehow. I need to deepen my confession.  No… not confession…connection.  I need to make contact with people?  My friend suggests I bring my dog on a crawl. Or have a person walk along next to me playing the violin or the accordion.  I don’t see that happening.

Last week in the news there was something about a bad guy in Iraq who was teaching a group of wanna-be bad guys how to build and use suicide vests.  Something went wrong and the teacher blew himself up and killed all his students.  I couldn’t help think that maybe he did it on purpose. Maybe he had a dream and that morning when he woke up he realized his true mission.  He saw that he needed to remove himself and all his students because the world doesn’t need more pain and suffering.  So he did it.  He made some serious contact. That was a Master Class in suicide bombing.  He upped the ante. Or maybe it was just an accident. I can’t stop thinking about that guy.

Recently I found myself having a couple embarrassing bouts of obsessive envy.  I saw footage of U2 performing on the roof of 30 Rock at sunset, 70 stories above Manhattan.  I caught myself wishing I was one of them and thinking about Bono’s life, and the U2 adventure, and the glorious momentum of their existence.  I didn’t’ want to actually BE BONO… what I fixated on was the EXPERIENCE of being with your four pals from high school, making beloved music, playing all over the world together.  To have that be your life’s work? Wow!

The U2 fixation only lasted an afternoon but it was a bad sign.

Then Nick Cave got into my head.  I started listening to a song of his over and over. A song called Push The Sky Away. What a song!  I’ve seen him play live a couple times and it blew my mind.  He feels almost within reach, but utterly superior!   He’s scary and hilarious!  I met him once. He was wearing a suit and sunglasses at a bar at night and he looked diabolically cool.  I introduced myself. We shook hands.  He had no interest in me. None.  I was not offended. I was wearing a slick suit too, one of my father’s actually, and I was about to play a gig with my old duo Crash &Burn. Nick didn’t stay long enough to see us play.  He was with his bohemian Rasputin looking collaborator Warren Ellis. They had places to be.

Anyway, so I was binging on Cave the last few days, over-pondering his excellent novels and screenplays and film scores and The Bad Seeds and Grinderman.  His output is staggering.  Johnny Cash covered one of his songs.  It just goes on and on.  I read interviews with him.  I wondered what it’s like to be him.  I wondered what it might be like to be his friend.  I wondered if I was worthy. I binged out on the guy.  It was not healthy and then the dream came.

In the dream Cave was nearly ten feet tall and I was sort of his helper or something.  We were on a road trip in an eerie  post apocalypse America.  We made our way up the pacific coast, through burnt out villages past booming blue waves.  I did a lot of silent beachcombing while he surfed.  At night he did magic shows for money.  I was his assistant.  The shows took place in big tents and the audience looked like refugees.  Nick would do impossible things like turn himself into a murder of crows.  At our campsite he’d sit around with his balls hanging out of his shorts and they were big like my fists and purple and he’d hold forth on all kinds of arcane and esoteric matters. I was expected to pay attention. It was strange, maybe fun at times, but I was anxious and not his equal at all.  I felt inadequate and powerless.  I couldn’t get away for fear he’d find me and kill me.

That was last night. Now it is time to crawl.

The dashing Spanish photographer Guillermo reappears in NYC and wants to take more pictures of the crawl. He meets me at 70th street wearing a snug leather jacket with a sweater underneath and he wears no hat. No bag, no nothing, just a cool little black camera and a tan from some island where he has been photographing more surfers.  He has brought along a fetching young female journalist from Spain. As I put on my knee-pads he instructs her to stay back and not look at me too much. This will create the illusion for people that I am alone.

It’s a bit warmer, maybe 35 and the sun is going down in an hour or so. Gold and pink and orange are painted on the clouds to the west. People are out and looking slightly less pained by the elements. I hand my backpack to Guillermo for safekeeping and he hands it to the woman journalist.

She laughs a little and makes a joke about running off with my money.

I start to crawl and for a moment I can hear Nick Cave’s raspy chuckle in my head.  “Of course you’re crawling,” he says. “ You’re you!  And I’m….ME!  HAH! HAH! HAH!”

“Shut up,” I mutter to myself. I’m crawling now. There is no place for envy here.  Fuck Nick Cave and Bono and all my silly little doubts.  I am the dream, I am the master class, I am Oedipus and all the rest of us, dragging what’s left of my ass up Broadway.

Power returns to my outlook.  Crawling along and within a couple blocks I am noticing things are different this time. More people asking if I’m okay. More than ever before.  Is it because I seem especially pathetic today or is it because they can’t see someone filming me? Maybe it’s the neighborhood. Guillermo stays hidden.

At 72nd I am up on my knees waiting for the light next to an ice cold puddle and a couple cops approach.  They look so young. Another sign I am getting old.  They look like kids with guns, playing police.  Maybe that’s what they are.

“What’s up?” One of them says to me.  “You alright?”

“Crawling home. Icrawlhome.com.  This is on purpose. Social experiment. Lifelong dream. I’m good.  Personal project,” I say.  I hear myself and think I sound like an upbeat waiter reciting the house specials in a restaurant.

They look at each other, shrug, and the leader of the two says, “Okay.  What’s the website again? Can we check it out?”

“By all means! Check it out!” I say.

I leave them with their law enforcement smart phones finding me together in cyber space.

An older woman with partially dyed blond hair, a baby stroller full of groceries. She must be 60 plus, lots of eye make-up and brains in her voice. She’s from this neighborhood, you can tell.  She is known around here. She’s a fixture. She wants to know why I am doing this.  She wants to solve me.

“Tony Robbins says that we need to do things sometimes to get ourselves out of ruts. Are you in a rut? Is that why you’re doing this? To jumpstart yourself?”

“Maybe. Yeah. Maybe I was in a rut. That sounds right,” I say.

She claps her hands together.

“Good.  I figured it out. Now I know. I get it,” she says as if it was her responsibility as queen of the block to figure me out.  She pushes her stroller alongside me for a little while. I like her.  I imagine tonight she will cook the things in her stroller and putter around her apartment telling her cats about the crawler. She’ll forget me and maybe someday I will crawl through one of her dreams.

Tony Robbins? At least I wasn’t in a post apocalyptic road trip dream with him.  Now there’s an idea…world famous motivational speaker loses everything and must reinvent himself from nothing.  Would all his tools work if he had to start from scratch?  How would he get out of his rut?

I’m working on a book called PLAN BE, A Self-Help Novel and Guide to MAXIMUM GLORY.  Maybe I shouldn’t talk about it.  Someone might steal my idea.  I need to finish that book.  One thing at a time.  I’ve got a lot on my plate these days.  My plate isn’t that big.  On top of it all I am crawling.

“You still doing that crawling thing?” A person I know asked me the other day.

That crawling thing. Oh yes. The novelty is long gone.  This is where it gets interesting.

At 77th Street I wait for the light to change and suddenly I rise and walk.  No thought involved. My body wanted up and suddenly there I was, walking away from myself.

It’s the best part of every crawl, returning to tall.  Resurrection. All the anxiety, doubt, envy and temptation, gone for a little while.  Born again.  Again.

CRAWL #12 MARCH 7 2014

Friend and crawl photographer Teddy Jefferson is back today as my wingman.  My regular ace, Larry, has been off acting in movies. I’d like to say he was discovered while he was on the crawl but that is not the case.

It’s a dank sort of gray cold day, 11 A.M. and Teddy is late.  When he arrives I notice his hair is wet under his hat. He’s a warm weather cat.  He looks a little pale and bedraggled today.  He mutters something about a late night.

In a small coffee place I sit by the window and put on my kneepads while Teddy sips his tea.  I am next to an elderly couple, a man wearing a beret with a long nose and rheumy eyes and his wife, ruddy faced, retired librarian type.  They notice me putting on my pads and they look at each other and shrug. I make a moment of small talk with them about this and that and I do not mention the pads.  I can tell they are curious.

Outside on the street I can’t recall where I stopped last time. I must not chance leaving a block out so I go back half a block and start at 76th.   As I am about to begin Teddy is telling me a story about a crazy Russian from the night before.  Teddy tells great stories but I can’t focus right now.

“Sorry, man, can you finish this story when I’m done?” I say.

My ability to listen grows limited right before I crawl. I hear talking but the words start to be distant sounds drowned out by a kind of wind rising inside my head.  All this is accompanied by the sound of what I am about to do. He understands.

I crawl half a block and then I go right past the old couple by the window in the coffee place and I wave to them and they wave back. I imagine all their speculation about the pads is put to rest as they watch me crawl by.   I’m sure neither of them guessed that this was my special purpose.

Occasionally I see Teddy’s fancy two toned Spanish assassin shoes moving near me. He is taking pictures, but he is very discreet.  I let my head hang and I concentrate on the sidewalk and the sound of my boots.

I’m punching the clock, reporting for duty.  I feel like a farm animal, like a workhorse or a donkey pulling a plow.  Nobody says anything to me at all for a block or two. A few dogs bark at me and I bark back.

I stop at a light and a light skinned Hispanic guy in camo pants swings in out of nowhere on a bike with a radio strapped to the handlebars.  He’s solidly built with a mustache and a certain thick- necked menace about him. He looks like he might have done some time.  His manner dares anyone to comment on his radio.

He turns down his radio and we exchange a few unpleasant pleasantries.  I can tell he’s not happy with me. His hackles rise as he speaks and an internal alarm alerts me that he might be a problem.

“If I had a son I would NEVER ever let him be on his knees. Ever. That’s not what God wants.”

He strikes me as a guy that gets ahead of himself on a regular basis.

Something in him wants to punish me for being publically submissive. That’s how he sees it.  We are dogs. He’s wrestling with his impulse to attack.  He pauses.  Maybe he’s counting to ten.   I am waiting for the light to change, resting on my knees.

“Yeah, well…  I don’t know what God wants,” I say.

“Get off your knees,” he says and he seems ready to get me off my knees.

“I’m not done yet,” I say, matching his conviction.

“You shouldn’t be on your knees.  It’s not right.”

I shift my tone to something a little more intense.

“Maybe I put some people on their knees and I’m doing this for them,” I say.

I’m not sure what I mean by this but I say it with sufficient force and it reroutes him somehow.  He looks away, the corners of his mouth turn down and he nods.  Suddenly, for him, I might actually be okay.  He changes his mind.

“Okay. Suit yourself. Be well.”

He holds out a fist and I bump it with mine and then he rides off. I hear his radio volume go up to full distortion as he heads south.

For some reason after that interaction I start feel like I am dragging my own dead body at the end of a rope behind me. I feel heavy but the heaviness is not within me, it is my burden, back behind me.   It is hard work to keep going and my shoulders and chest burn.  How far could I drag my dead self?  Another thing I will never know.

A block later I see a whispy haired guy at the corner on his smart phone.  He looks mild, unassuming, with tensed up shoulders and a fake smile on his face.  I imagine he enjoys complaining.  He’s talking about me.  I hear the word “crawl” and “suit” as I approach and when I stop for the light and get up on my knees I am just a couple feet away from him.

“Are you talking about me on your phone?!”  I say, sort of mock confrontational.  I think I smile but maybe I don’t.

“I should hang up,” he says to the person on the call with him and he lowers the phone and looks a little worried. He tries to explain himself to me.

“No. I mean yes… but no judgement at all. No criticism. Nothing like that.”

His words come out fast.  He is unnerved.

“It’s okay,” I say and I drop down and crawl away.

On the next block, around 84th, the elderly white couple from the coffee place is standing there smiling down at me.  They’ve been following me.  They look younger when they are standing up. Or maybe they are energized by the little adventure we’re having.  First there was the small talk with the kneepads in the café, then my crawling by and waving from the sidewalk and then them following me, and finally this interaction on the street. Maybe this is fun for them. Maybe everything has been the same for them for too damn long.  Today something unusual happened.  Today the city seemed alive and magical again, capable of surprising them, like the old days.  Maybe I jolted them out of a rut. Maybe someday when life is almost over one of them will remind the other of this moment. Remember when we followed that man who was crawling?

I come upon a towering, fully made-up, mind-bendingly gorgeous black woman. She looks to probably be caring for two little white boy twin toddlers. Her smile is shy and vast.  She’s pushing the boys in a stroller and talking on her phone. She sees me coming and she stops.  I wave to the boys as I approach and they stop eating their snacks and gape at me. She gets off her phone, brushes her long gold streaked hair back with her candy-coated fingernails, and calmly asks if she can take my picture. Her voice is a low, animated, deeply female moan.  There is no way to hear her speak without hearing the sound of her private pleasure. I want to climb her like a tree and swing from her eyelashes.

Teddy is suddenly with us.

“You have a beautiful voice,” he says.

“Thank you,” she replies and she takes my picture. He takes her picture.

I keep going.

A block further north I come upon a pile of rags.  It is a man in the fetal position half sleeping against the wall of a storefront.  He is beyond the bounds of filth.  It takes months to get as dirty as he is. Maybe years. He wears many layers of shredded plastic and cloth. A green blanket.  His head is wrapped in a kind of mangled turban of soiled burlap.  The dirt on his face has conquered his pores, at one with the leather of his skin, scorched by wind and sun and cold.  His eyes flash, bloodshot and shining with exhaustion and madness.  I stop, he sees me, I nod and he nods back.

“How’s it going?” I ask.

“Not bad. I guess,” he says. “You?”

“Just crawling,” I say.

He attempts to explain the outrage of his situation using a series of apocalyptic paranoid non-sequiturs.

Teddy drifts over and takes a picture and the guy immediately gets very agitated.

“Hey no pictures of the family!  No pictures of the sidewalk family, you motherfucker. No pictures of US!” He says.

Us?  He means him. And me.

He sits up and tries to stand and go after Teddy, but he’s tangled in his own rags and blankets.  I decide I should keep crawling. Teddy is briskly walking away up ahead of me.  The man manages to stand up and then he starts to rave at my wingman.

“Come back here you faggot, I’ll fight you right now, I fucked your wife! She’s a prostitute, YEAH, we all fucked her last week!”

For some reason I’m not especially worried that he will come after me.  I’m moving away from him though, and that seems right.  He could change his mind and decide I need to be punished, but I never once consider getting up.   I must crawl away with the faith that he includes me, somehow, in his world.  I must have faith that I will not be attacked. He made a decision about me when he first saw me. At least that’s what it felt like. For the moment I am not at risk. He is still screaming.

He wants to rape Teddy’s corpse, but he’s cool with me.

No pictures.

Fair enough.

THURSDAY APRIL 4/ 2014 #13

I crawled again. # 13!  It was high time.  I’ve fallen behind. Or maybe I am just adjusting my velocity. I don’t want to overshoot the landing strip.

I’ve actually been sort of busy. I was in L.A. on business for a few days.  That’s not a common reason for me to go someplace. I flew there in an airplane and stared out the window for most of the second half of the trip.  Miles of masterpiece patterns, formations, scorched earth tone canyons, painted with the palette of a drought.  Roads leading nowhere, the only sign of humans. Towering red cliffs look out over Martian red valleys and dead riverbeds.  I can’t stop staring. I want to go exploring down there with my son.  I don’t know what is more mesmerizing, the earth or the sky.  I try to forget the troubling fact that I am flying. They still don’t know where that Malaysian plane is.

In Beverly Hills I meet with a sharp young female agent about writing work.  We stroll through the ultra modern compound to the agency café and I am encouraged to order the purple apple kale immunizing pacific smoothie.  We sit by a window in the afternoon sun and I notice the light in her hair.  She asks me what “my story” is. I babble on for a minute or two about my writing and how this led to that or almost turned into some kind of something. I think I make sense, sort of boring, and we both start to glaze over and then I decide to tell her about the crawl.  I’ve been warned by some people not to bring up the crawl with anyone like an agent. But this woman seems cool and I want her to know what I’ve been up to so I let it drop.

“I’ve also been crawling up Broadway on my hands and knees.”

“Excuse me?”

“And writing about it.”

“Crawling? Wait. What? You’re serious aren’t you?”

She’s sparked and asks lots of questions and our conversation suddenly becomes animated.  She has ideas about what the crawl could become. I say yes, exactly, to all her ideas. We get back to the business at hand and then she jumps back to the crawl again.

“Wait…sorry, I can’t stop thinking about the crawling thing. What do your wife and son think about all this?”

I give her a few more fun details from the family angle then I slide her my crawling card and tell her it is all on the website.  She seems happy to be tickled by something new.  She says she will definitely check it out and pass it on to another agent who she knows will, “Flip for it.”

I walk away from the meeting feeling good. Then I start to wonder and I grow paranoid.  I realize all the things I forgot to talk to her about, names I was maybe going to drop, scripts and projects that maybe could make money in her world. I imagine her going back to her coworkers and laughing about me and saying things like, “This guy is crawling!  That’s all we talked about! What a freak! Help! Why do I get these guys? Am I, like, a dingbat magnet?”

Then I tell myself she’s exactly who she seems to be. She’s open-minded and smart.  She’s interested in me damn it!  I was charming and lucid!  We had a connection! Why am I thinking like this? Why am I so excited and so unsure.  I have no good reason for either feeling.  I’m too old for this seesaw. Screw it.  L.A. anxiety. We all know this town is a pudding of curdled hope, candy coated disappointment and teeth rotting envy.  So many people did not get what they came here for, but they stay on just the same. The sunshine is blinding and makes it all seem possible.

I meet my writing partner and we work for many concentrated hours at an outdoor café and then the sun goes down and we join up with a friend at the steakhouse, Musso & Frank.  We go see some comedy, then a speakeasy with salsa and gogo girls followed by a dim Asian saloon.  Finally we land at a bar on skid row.  Just a handful of us are still alive, with antlers on the ceiling and cold cans of Schlitz.  No artificial stimulants.  Not sure what is keeping me awake. A guitar ends up in my hands and I sing a song of my own called Its Lonely Here Without Me.  When I’m done I hand the guitar to a new friend and he plays a song and by the end we’re all in tears and banging on things.  The guitar goes round and round. After a while I notice the bartender is asleep, stretched out on the bar like it is an operating table.  A voice calls out the time and we are shocked by the number.  We try to leave and discover we are locked in.  A key is soon found and we are released out into the first light of dawn.

While I was away in California winter finally started to die in NYC.  I did not choose to crawl through the worst winter in memory but I am glad it happened this way. Spring is here and before she is done I will be home.  I’m slowing down but I am still making progress. We are beginning our descent.  My ears are popping.

Two wingmen, Teddy and Larry meet me with tiny cameras. The word for the day is stealth.  We begin at 86th at 6 p.m. I promise martinis at Cleopatra’s Needle after we go ten blocks. This seems to encourage them both and spirits are high when I hit the pavement.

Lots of foot traffic, post rush hour, people moseying, enjoying the 50 plus degrees.

A car honks at me as I cross my first street.  The kid in the passenger seat gives me the finger and I casually give him mine back.  I’m back in my cockpit.

The first block or two passes without incident.   I have an exchange with a woman who looks like a shrink.  She speaks to me as if I just said something possibly interesting at a cocktail party.  She nods thoughtfully and strokes her chin.  She leaves me.  Then a man with a mustache, side parted hair, khaki pants and a plaid pressed shirt throws his arms up from his sides and asks me what I’m doing.  I tell him.

“Oh, great, so…it’s like….I just got fired and this is what I’m doing,” he says.

I’m certain he means this as a way to describe what I am about and I shrug him off. He starts to walk away, exasperated and upset. Something about the way he moves makes me realize he was talking about himself and I call after him.

“Hey, hold on, come back! Were you talking about yourself? You got fired?”

He stops and turns around.

“Yeah!”

“I’m sorry I didn’t understand,” I say.

He comes back to me.

“Yeah. I got canned. Sacked. Done. I’m just…I don’t know. They cut me loose.”

“ Sorry, man. What was your job?”

“Social worker.”

“Damn. What are you going to do?”

“Something. Anything to pay the bills.”

He’s not noticing that I am on my knees.  He’s deep into his own disaster.  I want to stand up for him.  This is no time for my little metaphorical stunt.  This man is suffering and I am playing around with a personal humiliation project.  I am uncharacteristically embarrassed, but I don’t panic.  I stay down and hear him out. He seems like he might cry or punch a wall.

“Well. I’d tell you to crawl but it doesn’t pay any bills,” I say.

He smiles for the first time.

“Yeah. I don’t imagine it does. Thanks though.  Oh man. I’m so screwed. I’m just going to walk for a while. Take care, good luck with your blog or whatever…”

He walks north, talking to himself, making sounds of frustration and disbelief.

I crawl past a restaurant and two women sitting at the window toast me with thei martini glasses.  I want them to toast the man who got fired.

An old white lady pushes a tiny, trembling, very old dog in a stroller. She and the dog are coming right at me and I move to the side. The dog leans forward, clouded gray marbles for eyes and he seems to be listening extra hard. He appears almost pleased to be outside but nearly overwhelmed by all the sounds and smells and vibrations.  Like a sudden truck backfire or whiff of pungent trash could finish him off.

“Is your dog blind?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says.  This woman is old too, but made to look a little younger by the truly ancient state of her animal.

She is not interested at all in what I’m doing. Not registering it. That’s fine by me. She’s got her hands full with her project.

“How old is your dog?” I ask as she passes.

“Twenty two,” she says without looking at me. She’s focused on her task, step by step, pushing her blind companion down Broadway.

A few blocks later a large black woman with a rolling walker is handing out Jehovah Witness literature.  She sees me coming.  I head straight for her and stop on my hands and knees at her feet.   She wants to know if I am okay and I tell her I am. She very much believes I could use some help from God.  She tells me I need to go to the church website, the bible, Jehovah.  She tells me,

“You need to find your way out of this crawling situation.”

I can’t manage her literature with my work gloves on so I ask her to slip the brochure into my jacket pocket. She does this. Then I reach my arms up to her like a child.  She hesitates for a split second and then she realizes what I am doing and she leans down and we manage an awkward hug.  I wonder if she has ever hugged a man on his knees.  I know this is a first for me.

APRIL 11, 2014 #14

Nervous but eager like I am about to leap off a high bridge into a swimming hole at night. I’ve been secretly buzzed all morning, jangled with anticipation, like the old days, back when the crawl was new.

Anything can become redundant. If a baby were to be born over and over again, stuck in a loop of birth, after a while the baby would stop crying on arrival.  The fear and trauma and shock would be gone and the most radical of experiences would become old hat. Same with death?  Maybe the people who aren’t afraid to die have just done it more than the rest of us.

I crawled alone for the first time today. No more putting it off. In the wake of my L.A. trip I was thinking about it all the time. I sullied the crawl a bit in Hollywood, talking about it to the agent and others, talking about how I was entering the pivotal “third act” of the crawl, wondering what other forms it could take. It’s a movie!  It’s a reality show!  It’s a board game!!  It’s a dance craze!   I grossed myself out.

Someone close to me said they wanted the crawl to be more pure.  They liked the pure parts best. You and me both, brother.  But it can’t be pure all the time because I am not pure all the time. Often I am polluted!  I am a stream that you should not drink from. Maybe occasionally I run clean and clear but other times, it’s not a good idea.  The internal and external voices that led me to the crawl are still alive and I am alternately loving and killing them as fast as I can.

Anyway, pure or not, my road has led to some freecrawling.  I had to push myself out into the light, into the next life, out of the winter womb. I told nobody before I did it.  Some things just have to happen. Like spring.

I get a few sideways looks on the train going down.  Once again I am a man with a secret, like the old days.  The exposed steel toes of my boots catch people’s eye. The steel flashes like silver.  The boots don’t match the suit.  I’ve got nobody to carry my backpack for me when I am crawling.  My pads and gloves are in a plastic bag on my wrist. At 96 Street, late morning, I prepare for my solo.

As I put on my pads I think about my wingmen. We are making something together. What will they say to this new development?  Larry has known this was coming.  I guess we all knew it was coming, and they will be happy not to have to trek all the way uptown. This solo is just an experiment.  Or is it my future?  Why not add people to this project instead of whittling it down to only me? I know my friends enjoy these outings but do they really want to be a part of the whole thing? Maybe they have been waiting, like patient parents, for me to finally declare my independence.

I get down on my knees and a woman in a suit looks me in the eye and quickens her high heeled stride past me headed south.  My wife and son have no idea where I am right now or what I’m doing.  Usually they know when it is a crawl day for dad.  But this time I didn’t want to say a word.  For a second I think about texting my wife or taking my picture and sending it to her.  But I just sit there on my knees for another minute wondering what it is I am trying to prove.   Why am I alone again? I just need to get home.  I just want to find the core and finish. I look down at the smooth palms of my worn leather work gloves. My heart shouldn’t be so heavy.

Enough thinking. The light turns green and I crawl across the intersection. The motion is the same as ever and the action instantly starts to heal the sadness.

Within a block I am struck by an obvious idea–the documentation can be done by strangers. And this is what happens. People take pictures, sometimes selfies with me, and I ask them to please email me the pictures. I give them my card.  Within a few blocks I am feeling hopeful and communal, humming to myself as I go.

I am recognized. Someone I know has spotted me. This is a first.

“Robbie!” she calls out from her blue minivan.  This woman is a neighbor from upstate.

“Hi,” I say, staying down on hands and knees.

“Hi, I’m heading upstate right now,” she says about to turn west on 96th for the west side highway.  She says it as if I might need a ride or as a way to tell me she can’t talk right now.

“I’m crawling,” I say, loud enough so she can hear me.

“I know!” she shouts back.

I guess it is pretty obvious what I am doing. There is nothing else to say and I keep on going.

The texture of engagement with others is different when I am alone.  I am sharing the sidewalk in a new way.  I need these strangers like I never have before. I am tickled by the idea that when I get home there will be emails, pictures from strangers, just as they had promised.

I can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner.  But afterwards there will be nobody to talk to about what just happened. Soloing renders me the sole witness.  A witness is different than a spectator.  I alone saw what happened.  This fact forces me to pay a different kind of attention.  I will only have the memories I forage for myself.

Cop legs coming towards me.  Four of them.  They always work in pairs.  One is a young skinny-necked white man and the other a stout Latina woman in sunglasses and not a chance of a smile.   It feels different knowing I have no back-up. I do my usual rap, lay it on a little thick, over explaining myself, probably because of my nerves.  Once again they decide I am not a threat to anyone, so they let me continue. I give the female officer my card and feel I overstepped. I could be stopped and frisked but I don’t seem to raise those flags. I am not on the menu.

I come upon a mason fixing a crack in the sidewalk.  I tell him my son is called Mason and I was once a stonemason and we talk about how hard it is to mix the cement by hand on your own.   He wants to take pictures of me and he does. He promises to send some to me but that will never happen.

He compliments my suit and I tell him it belonged to my father.

“Is your father still alive?”

“Yes.”

“Is he okay with what you’re doing to his suit?”

“He is.”

I arrive at the feet of four foreign women standing outside an English language school. They have maybe four words of English between them. A stranger takes my picture with the women and promises to send it to me.

Ever since I started the crawl, all those blocks ago, certain people on the street search intensely for proof that I am not alone. They want to solve it, to answer the question I pose, all senses engage…something atavistic, akin to trying to find a lost child… that moment when you realize the child is no longer at your side.

I can almost hear people see me and then look for a camera– so that they can dismiss what I am doing?  So they can be released from the challenge of my little plight? This search for an explanation must be modern human nature mixed with something primitive, something that we need to survive.

I am with strangers and every block I find a new willing wingman, but the strangers only have a few seconds to spare. They are everywhere, but only for a moment.  I feel an anonymous safety net forming beneath me according to how much I reach out to the people around me.  But the net is filled with holes.  It is an illusion.

Truth be told I handed out maybe a dozen crawling business cards to people who took pictures with me. And only two people sent me pictures back. They all promised.  They took my card. They looked me in the eye.  And then they disappeared forever. I don’t know what that means.  I guess maybe it will be my responsibility now. I suppose I’ll have to selfie myself as I crawl?  Am I too pure for that?

Someone is screaming up ahead. All along I’ve told myself, if things get hairy I can always stand up and fight, or run, or walk away.  Instant evolution.  Standing up is my eject button. It’s been great to know that I have that— but now I wonder– how can I have that same feeling when I am actually already standing up?  What will save the standing me?  You can’t eject from an ejection.  Once I’m up… that’s it.   That’s all I’ve got.  From the standing position I have no secret power that saves me and helps me escape.  Or do I?

A young man pushes an older man in a wheelchair. The man in the wheelchair is missing both legs and he does not speak English.  He seems happy to see me.  His helper takes my picture then darts into a bodega, returning a moment later with a bottle of cold water for me.   The sidewalk is warm, the sun’s heat bouncing up off the concrete and into my torso and face.  I am sweating through my shirt.  We take a picture together with my phone, the man with no legs and me.

The question forever dogs me, is the crawl more “real” and “pure” if it is not documented  with cameras?  Or less?  How valuable is a visual record?  Am I now a tree falling in the forest with nobody to hear it?  But I know I am still making a sound.  I am keeping a journal.  That was enough for Lewis and Clark! I can hear my boots scraping, and grinding, louder than ever before behind me.  The steel toes are turning into mirrors.  In a way I’ve said all there is to say and all that remains is the act itself.  Maybe that’s true.  Mine is not to reason why?

What is the next frontier? What is beyond crawling and more solo than solo? What else can I shed? What more can I offer to this project?  I would like to know these things before I get home. And once I am home I will realize something new and I will long for the crawl. I am afraid I will be lost without this practice.

I wonder if I should have been alone all along.  No.  I wasn’t’ ready. That wasn’t me. But… am I still him?

Is there a balance to be achieved?  Or is this just an ongoing series of adjustments?   55 more blocks.

EASTER SUNDAY APRIL 21, 2014 CRAWL #15

My father told me the other day that he had to be in Brooklyn for a wedding Easter weekend. Highly unusual to have him come to NYC, especially along with his wife and daughter.  His daughter is ten years old, two days younger than my son.

My father and his wife have been together for 30 years, ever since she cut short her freshman year of college and came to live with us in Provincetown.  They met when she was a student of his at an alternative high school in Vermont.  He was the headmaster. The school was forced to close and a year or two later my father was in Provincetown, working odd jobs and trying to write a book. I got kicked out of my prep school, on purpose, so I could join my beloved Dad in Provincetown. I didn’t stay too long after she arrived, maybe six more months?  I was in all kinds of trouble, protesting the fact that I felt like a third wheel.  They were a couple and I could not compete.  My father was the same age then that I am now.

Is that what this crawl is?  Is that what I am still protesting? No. Wait. It goes back even further. On my hands and knees in HIS suit? Am I protesting my father leaving our family when I was six years old?  Am I still trying to get him to finally SEE his broken hearted little boy?  And if he really saw him—what? He would come back?  He would never leave? What’s done is done. But here I am again. There’s got to be an easier way.

I am shaken as I sit here and write these words. This is not some re-heated, over processed insight.  This is a fresh kill!  I suppose it is plain as day to an outsider, but for some reason I had to have my father see me crawling, in the flesh, to get my hands on this new truth.

And there are truths that flow from this new one. Like this beautiful damn suit of his—he had it made for himself, for his body, right around the time he moved out of our house. It could be the suit he was wearing the afternoon he came out into the back yard and told me he was leaving. Or maybe it is the very suit he wore when he seduced a woman who was not my mother. None of this occurred to me when I started this project.

Am I trying to shame him? Make him proud?  Honor him? It is hard to do all those things at once. Our lives are, among other things, a reaction to our parents.  Forgiveness can be punishing. Our choices color our lives. He did what he had to do. Maybe he was saving himself.

My father has been wildly enthusiastic and supportive of the crawl since I began.  We’ve talked and laughed and riffed on it weekly. He excitedly warned me early on that it might become huge. Have I proved him wrong?

I never planned on crawling back into the cave of myself to re-examine these bones.  I’m a grown ass man!  I laugh easily. My heart is not broken.  But the bones in the cave are blue.

My head is swimming right now. My little brother says I shouldn’t spend too much time on this stuff. “It’s a lot,” he says to me from his Smart car in California as I walk my dog over by the graveyard.

Where was I? …. yesterday, right.  Easter Sunday.  We meet at 6:00 at 103rd.  I decided I needed to crawl for my family.  I organized it, told people where and when to meet.

It was time for my wife and son to see this thing live. Last week preparing to crawl alone was easy compared to the lead up to crawling in front of my wife and son and father.

I need them all to know how real it is.  I want to share.  I want my wife to…what?  Experience shock and awe and to be struck dumb with love? To celebrate me?  She already does that. To pity me?  I hope not.

I want my son to be inspired and to respect the mystery that makes people do these things.  But do I really want my son to see me crawl?

I choose to crawl. I can show him the choice. Nobody is forcing me. That’s something he needs to know.

I feel some shame welling up before I start.  My son’s face makes me feel better. He is excited to take pictures and be my wingman, we’ve talked about it and we’ve made it a thing, a mission.  My wife could use the rest at home as she is fighting a sore throat and flying to L.A. first thing next morning. But she would not miss this new piece of life theatre I have arranged. She is my one-woman army. Our love runs long and deep.

The crawl itself is short.   Seven blocks. My father is early to the starting point but his wife and daughter are still en route.  I am feeling antsy, grim and filled with purpose.  My pads and gloves are on. I announce that I will wait no longer and I drop to my knees and start crawling.  At 105th the others join us.  I keep my head down and I hear a few snippets of conversation among my group, but I stay silent and let the exertion be my ballast.  The blocks go by quickly and the occasional voices of my wife, father and son float just out of reach.

When I am done I stand up, face slick with sweat and I hug and thank each person for coming.  It is sort of awkward.  I have not just given a performance, but then again I have. People have a natural impulse to joke but I am not feeling funny.

Sitting in the restaurant it strikes me that witnessing the crawl was not particularly shocking or moving for my family at all.  We all make small talk about things other than the crawl.  I wait sort of hoping my father will ask me how it felt to crawl in front of him. Or maybe someone might ask my son what it was like for him.  I wait for someone to initiate a conversation about a crawl related topic. I don’t want to be the one to say, “So how was that for everybody?”

I have a brief general conversation with my father’s wife about it.  She is sitting directly across from me at dinner. She is a doctor now and a serious artist and I appreciate the respect she’s given to the crawl.  But I am agitated that nobody talks about what just happened.  What just went down!  There is a mention of how strangers were less inclined to engage, tipped off by my obvious “entourage” but that is pretty much it.  I’m not fishing for praise or attention, but I do want my crawling to take us to a different place.

I get up abruptly, and leave, alone, before everyone is done. I need to be outside and walk around the block. I need air. I want to run right off the face of the earth.

I want to be done crawling. This project suddenly feels like it is pushing me backwards into places I thought I’d left behind.  Again.

And then I recall my son at my side as I crawled. Such a gentle, kind presence. So calm with me as I made my way along. He never said a word to me and I never spoke to him.  But we were together.  At one point I heard a stranger ask him what I was doing and he answered quietly like we were in a church, or maybe just a library.

“He’s crawling up Broadway…it’s an art project.”

I meet back up with my group as they get dessert next door to the restaurant. My son is nearly dancing down the street, glowing, loopy and licking an ice cream cone.  He is proud to be my wingman and to see members of his tribe, to be with blood beyond our home triangle.

In the cab home up Riverside Drive the afterglow of sunset lights the sky, the color of easter eggs over the Hudson.  I am struggling inside. Blair and I look at each other, exchanging information with our eyes, the shorthand of a quarter century.  There will be much to talk about as I process this latest move.  No need to get into it now. Mason takes in the sunset for a moment and then, voice filled with light, he declares, “That was a very pleasant time.”

And so it was.

CRAWL#16 MAY 7/2014

After my alarming solo crawl, and then the magical Easter family crawl, I wondered what might be next.  The crawl has become about everything. ….fear, courage, family, freedom, future, resurrection, regression, progression, past, present, city, dreams, community, insanity.  The list goes on and on.   But this week I was looking forward to something upbeat and simple. Then I received some awful news.

My friend and former band mate Julia “Burn” Brightly was very sick in a London hospital. Cancer. Sudden and moving fast.  I went as soon as I could and I spent two days visiting with her. She was dying and I said goodbye.  I knew I would never see her again. The day after I left she was gone.

Julia was once Stephen. We were in a trio with his wife called Raw Believer.  That trio broke apart. I called Stephen, a year or so later, and asked him to be in a duo with me called, Crash&Burn.  I asked which one he wanted to be and he said Burn.  That left me one option. After our first or second rehearsal Stephen revealed to me that he was on his way to becoming a woman. It was a decision that had been coming for a lifetime.  It was a scary and liberating and confusing time. I started calling him Burn. I was Crash. It all made sense. We talked about calling him Burnadette, but that didn’t stick.  I sometimes accidentally referred to her as him, onstage, and that upset her. Old habits are hard to break.  We put on one hell of a show.

Burn became Burn Brightly, and ultimately our duo broke up. Burn Brightly became Julia Brightly.  And Last week Julia Brightly died. And Burn died. And Stephen died.

We played dozens of shows and made many songs together.  Her journey was not always easy.  She was a sonic wizard, and a brilliant musician.  She was brave and she loved to laugh.  And she was my friend.  She loved Crawling Home. I wrote a song called Crawl Away With Me and Larry shot some video on this latest crawl from 110th St to 125th and we put the two together.

This crawl is for Stephen. And Burn. And Julia most of all.

CRAWL #17 MAY 21/2014

I start at 125th street, at 5:30 in the afternoon. Larry up on the elevated platform, far above the street getting a long high shot of me moving north.  I have some kind of microphone hidden in my jacket as an experiment.  I crawl too soon and a UPS truck swings around the corner headed for me.  I see the walk sign countdown–six seconds left to cross.  Not enough time… I balk and return to the curb, false start.

I can sense the general sort of WTF energy on the street relating to the man on all fours.  I’m like a busker who is playing the same song again for a new part of the city.  It is warm out and feels like rain. Low milky gray sky, the sound of sirens, emergencies, coming closer and moving away.  I am sweating already.

I almost get run over by an ambulance.

Larry is hidden and far above me for now so it feels like I am crawling solo into Harlem.  A few blocks of tall, densely packed brick housing projects to my right.  Gingko trees shade the sidewalk when the sun shines. To my left the elevated number one train barreling up and down the island.

I am no longer watching myself, at least not like I was.  I am no longer a spectator at my event. I am inside the action, doing what I do.  That was back at 14th street, back when I got giddy at the realization that, for a minute, I’d forgotten that I was crawling.  I was proud of that milestone.  I thought I was on to something.  Seems sort of quant now.

Now I am here, over a hundred blocks later.  Now I remember and forget at the same time. What is that called? Bored?  A trance?

Maybe meditation is migration and migration is a form of meditation. I imagine the butterflies and hummingbirds that fly all those thousands of miles every year.  For them so much depends on the wind.  Maybe they are in a trance.

A woman screams and curses into her cell-phone and drops her shopping bag on the sidewalk.  She looks permanently pissed off.   She is laying down the law and threatening someone on the other end of the line.  They’ve had this conversation before.

Two white cops roll up and bleep their sirens and motion me over.  I crawl over to the police car and lean in the open passenger window. The officer riding shotgun crosses his arms and the bald cop at the wheel laughs.

“Okay…What’s this? Let’s hear it,” he says to me.

I lay it out like always and the guy behind the wheel checks out my website on his phone and shakes his head laughing and hands it to his partner.  The partner is non-plussed. There’s always one who is enthused and the other doesn’t really register the situation. Good cop/blank cop.

We say goodbye and I crawl on, feeling the uphill sensation as I climb out of the natural bowl of the Broadway/ 125th street area. That’s why they have an elevated train here, I guess. The land dips down and then rises back up.   It was easier to elevate the train than to bury it deeper in the ground.

“Is this a promise?” a gaunt, withered Hispanic man asks me.  He has a long healed slash scar on his face and arm and an old lump on his forehead.  But he seems very calm and together.  Those scars are from another life.

“What do you mean by promise?” I ask.

“Like for God, for the Catholic church.”

“No it’s not a promise. I don’t think it is. Have you ever made a promise?” I ask.

He tells me he had some problems and 23 years back he promised to quit drugs and he hasn’t’ had a drug since that day.

“Because I made a promise,” he says.

“One promise lasted 23 years?”

“No. I have to make the promise every day,” he says.

I move on, another block, crawling over some old candy probably dropped by a child. Smarties and twizzlers, ground into powder and filthy sweet red rubber.

“Are you doing this for God?” a woman asks in a thick Hispanic accent. She’s wearing a tight pink tank top, jeans and her hair is short, her torso dense but petit. Her face is very kind.

“I’m not sure,” I say, sweating hard now, a little out of breath, on my knees in front of her.

“So why you…. who you do it for?”

I think for a second.

“Me,” I say.  She nods, but looks a little disappointed.   I see that ME sounds a lot less meaningful to her than GOD.

“Or maybe it’s for everybody,” I say and she nods, considering me in the affirmative again.  I want to please her.

“And so, maybe, if it’s for everybody– then it’s for God too,” I say.

She repeats the “God too” part nodding again, motherly, and approving. For her I am back on track.

“So, yes. This is for God. Yes is the answer,” I say and we laugh together at the winding path I took to find my answer.

As I crawl I wonder what God was she talking about exactly?  I want to meet Her God.   I saw love in her eyes when she said his name.  Does she think my crawling is a bid for forgiveness.  Or to show Him love. What is the difference?

Part of me is crawling to find faith.  And if I find new faith in myself would she tell me to thank God for that?  I’m not sure what I believe.  I believe I need to learn more about what other people believe.  I want to ask her a question, but she’s gone, and so am I. There is holiness at every turn.  I do believe that much.

God is in the air above 125th street and I am trying to understand what that means to my crawling brain. I know what it means when I am standing upright, but on my knees I may eventually want religion. I may need my very own God if I stay down here.

I catch the eye of an especially menacing looking big hairy white dude digging around in the back of his red Hummer.  I hear cop radio sounds coming from inside his vehicle.  He looks armed and godless.  I imagine he’s a corrupt plainclothes narcotics or homicide cop.  Or maybe he is a criminal.  The darkness and pain comes off him in waves. This is a guy who knows violence and depravity.  He shoots a look my way, a cold zap of fragmented disdain, before he jumps behind the wheel of his chariot and takes off in a hurry, gunning his engine up Broadway, bound for more mayhem.

A brown woman and a girl lean against the metal fence outside the projects.  The girl is shy and wary, maybe ten, and the woman has a lot of facial hair and an unusually relaxed, open manner.

“Got far to go?” she asks me.

“I’ve come far. I’ll be home soon.”

I stop and rest on my knees for a second.

The girl at her side is narrowing her eyes and studying me with a look that says, if you’re not crazy, mister, you must be out of your damn mind.  But the woman talks to me like I’m just another guy on a warm day dragging a heavy load up the road.  The three of us stare up for a moment, as if the sky might tell us what we need to know.

Everyone keeps glancing up at the sky.   The air is thick. You can almost feel the weight of the rain in the clouds up above.  But it is not falling yet.

I will miss this pilgrimage.   And this pilgrim. Two more crawls?  Could I stretch it into more?  I could almost do it all at once and be home today. I want this to be over, but I never want it to end.  What is that feeling called?

A finger on my leather glove has worn through to the flesh. The plastic knee-pads are cracked.  They won’t be able to protect me for much longer.  My wrists have no complaints.  My pelvis is a little cranky.  The sidewalk has grinded all the way through the steel toes of both boots– almost to the sock.

The suit is holding up pretty well. My suit.  I own it now.  My pinstriped shroud. My disguise. My armor. My shield.  We’ve come far.  Autumn feels like a lifetime ago.  Winter finally died.  Spring is already chasing summer.

I’m almost at 135th Street.  I’ll stop there. Suddenly a twinge of fear hits my side like an arrow.

What if—  when I stand up at my door— at the end of my final crawl…what if I stand up and I don’t know who I am?   Or where I am? What if I’ve crawled right out of myself and into a stranger. I’ve had this thought before.  I must be careful what I conjure. What if I stand up and home isn’t home at all and the only thing I can think to do is to keep going?

Why not the opposite?  I will stand up a new man, born again, ready to love and be loved like never before.   Why not?

Maybe I’m afraid nothing will be different when I am finally home. It will be as if this crawl never happened at all.

I imagine there is a man who walked on the moon and he had these fears on the way back to earth. Or some guy, right now, on that number one train, rumbling over my head, going home after another long day on the job.

CRAWL # 18 JUNE 2/2014

CRAWLING BLIND AND OTHER PENULTIMATE VISIONS

I had a dream that I was crawling blind.   Since the dream I keep meaning to try it.  For some reason I forgot to do it on the last crawl and the one before that I was thinking about Burn’s death and I wanted my eyes open.

A busy warm evening on Broadway in Harlem could be a good time to crawl blind.  My plan is to try one block without sight.  I tell myself I must do it, but I can feel there’s a chance I might lose my nerve.

The dry cleaner closed early.  No idea why.  The steel gates are shut tight. My suit is locked inside and the crawl is scheduled to start in thirty minutes.  For a second I think I might need to cancel. Teddy and Larry are already on their way uptown.

I consider my options. I could wear anything. Who says I must wear that exact same suit?  Nobody gives a shit— always a liberating realization.   But I wouldn’t want to break the continuity of the piece.  I crawl in that suit!  The suit has become the uniform.  Maybe it’s time to let go and improvise.  These things happen for a reason. The crawl must go on.

I choose another suit that once belonged to my father. I’ve got a few. No point in ditching the father connection. The suit is a rare green with a hint of gold and blue pin stripes.  The inside lining is ripped up pretty bad.

The sun is sliding down a cloudless sky and Broadway is thumping, thronged and humming with people. Bass pumps from cars, the air is warm, soft, and a breeze is moving the leafy green trees.  I wait alone for a few minutes on the corner.  Larry arrives with his fourteen-year old son Jack, a budding young filmmaker.  Some small talk and waiting as I gear up.  Jack will be carrying my little daypack.

We can’t wait for Teddy. The penultimate crawl must begin.  At the last moment Teddy ambles towards us across the intersection at 135th street.  We all embrace before I begin.  The sensation that we are near the end of the crawl is infusing every moment. Pads and gloves on—I drop down to the ground as the light turns green.

After one block I remember the blind idea.  At the start of the next block I dare myself to shut my eyes.

It turns out crawling blind on a crowded city street is deeply alarming. It feels like a nightmare and I want to wake up, but I’m already awake.  All adrenaline, internal alarms ringing wrong and dangerous—exactly like crawling with vision felt at first, way down by Wall Street. Who knew that I could make it new just by shutting my eyes?

I’ve created a bit of an emergency for myself. I attempt to stay calm with a plan to feel my way along and eventually reach the corner curb at the end of the block.  But my sense of direction is spun.  Which way is forward? Do not open your eyes, I keep telling myself.  Do not break your promise.

Being blind is only half the battle.  It’s the staying blind that is hard.  This is a volunteer situation.  This is temporary elective blindness. The desire to open my eyes is nearly too much. I move slow and tense.  I am sure I appear to be very out of sorts, like I’ve lost my contact lenses, or worse. My hands are now my eyes and I am sweeping them around in front of me on the sidewalk.  I feel loose ground under my gloves, mulch from around a sidewalk tree?  I planted trees and spread mulch all over the city when I worked as a landscaper in the 1990s.    I know the feeling of the bark pieces in my hand.  Trees are planted near the curb so I must be veering off course.  It takes real effort to manage my desperate need to see.   I hear people saying things to me in English and Spanish, but I am too focused on finding my way to respond.

I move to the right and feel for a seam in the sidewalk that I can follow.  Rock climbers follow seams, small openings, up stone faces. The sounds of the teeming urban scene are bouncing off my body, poking me, making me wince and cower.   I need to find my seam.  I should have done that before I closed my eyes. Once I have a seam I will trust it to lead me in a straight line to the end of the block.  I’ve studied these seams for miles of crawling. They are a constant on every sidewalk.  Where is it?  The small space between the squares.  I finally find it through a hole in the finger of my leather glove.  Now I have my lifeline north.

I imagine this blind experience is a little like pre-birth. I am all the way back in the near blackness of the birth canal and the sounds outside are getting closer.  Or maybe I’ve finally disappeared up my own ass.  Whatever the case I am being pushed out into the world again.

The blindness changes the way I crawl.  I am painfully careful, attempting to sense with my whole being.  This is a radical new level of vulnerability.   I am aware of my  motions, one movement, then the next, stringing them together, making my progress.  I can feel my face is bunched up in a pained grimace.

A child screams at me. The sound slaps at my head from above, and off to the side.

“Get up. It’s dirty. You’re crawling! You’re crawling on the street. Stop it!”

I look towards the child but I keep my eyes shut. I imagine this must appear rather disturbing, but I can’t stop now.  Scaring children wasn’t part of the plan…

The child’s mother warns him away from me, but the kid keeps ranting, more annoyed than scared.  I want to show him my eyes.  I think my eyes might calm him down.  But I can’t let that happen.   I made a vow to myself.  I have never been so hungry to see.  I keep following the seam forward through my self -imposed darkness.

When I arrive at the corner I feel the curb and then the road in front of me.  I hear a car rush by.  I open my eyes and the world floods back into view.  The colors are like air and I’ve just finished holding my breath for as long as I could.

The return of vision sets off a powerful chemical reaction in my body and I feel grateful, elated and shaken.

I wait for the light to change and my eyeballs drink in the visuals.  An elderly man dressed all in white is standing by my side.  White slippers and white pants and a white short sleeve button down shirt.  His shock of hair is white too. He looks very old world, a slight build, like a jockey.  He is light on his feet.  He looks like he has come to collect me.

“Hola,” I say, knowing somehow that he does not speak English.

He speaks to me in Spanish and I hear words like Mafia and Christo and Cabron and Caballo, Corazon and Finca.  He’s animated and spry and he begins to sort of dance around and clear the way for me.   He blocks traffic for me and gestures my way like I am his prized and sacred animal, like I am for sale, or maybe just for show.  I ask him his name.

“Roberto,” he says and smiles as if he already knows that this is my name too.

My Spanish isn’t so good anymore, but I try to talk with the man in white the best I can.  After a while I decide it’s time for another first.  With one crawl to go I need to get these things out of the way.

“Yo soy un caballo. Vamanos!” I say, motioning to my back.  (I am a horse. Let’s go!)

His small eyes light up and without hesitation he gets on my back and rides me for twenty or thirty feet.  He is light– so light I wonder if he is real.  I knew someone would ride me eventually.  I just needed to find the right person.  This guy is perfect.

Turns out a little goes a long way when someone is riding you up Broadway.  It’s not long before I’m done being his horse and I pretend to buck and throw him and he understands the motion and jumps off me. Now he’s got a red rose in his hand and he’s taking out cash and waving it around. Maybe he’s trying to sell rides on the crawler’s back.  It may be good that I can’t understand all that he is saying.   I hear the words Don Quixote.

I make my way across a street and an agitated guy breaks away from a knot of maleness on the far corner and moves towards me, aggressive, angry, showing the street that he’s going to deal with me— physically.

“Get up!”

He speaks English and Spanish as he grabs my arm and tries to yank me to my feet. He smells maybe drunk or maybe cologne, and he’s compact,  biceps bulging out of short sleeves.  I resist and get up on my knees and pull my arm back towards my body as we struggle for a second.  Violence is near.  Our faces are close.

“Todos Bien!” I say hard, a few times in response to whatever he’s saying.

“Don’t bring this shit around here,” he says.

Not sure what he thinks I’m bringing but I say “Todos Bien!” again. Everything is Okay!

He can feel in my body, and see in my eyes, that I am not about to get to my feet without a fight and he gives up on me and returns to his knot of surly dudes.

The odd man in white is back and he stays with me for a few more blocks before a lady in short shorts and a skimpy top lures him away.  But wait, he’s back.  He’s putting money on the ground in front of me. Then he’s gone again. Cops appear and ask if I’m okay. I tell them yes and they go. More cops. Same thing. Friendly, open, innocent looking young people with badges and guns.

Night falls. The sky to the west has gone from fire to violet and now the afterglow.  I am sweating freely and the city pulses electric in every direction.

At 149th street I stop, collapse and roll over onto my back.  I stare up at the sky, looking for a star.  Unexpected tears in my eyes blur my vision.  When I get up we find a place to have a cold drink and talk things over.  I am reeling and thirsty.

Later, shortly after midnight, Teddy and I walk north a few blocks towards my apartment and his train home. On a dark quiet block that runs alongside Trinity cemetery we hear a bird singing.  The song is joyous, urgent, like this is it for the bird, like right now every note the bird knows must be sung and sung with feeling.  Teddy and I look at each other and nod with the understanding that we have come upon a strange and rare performance.  We can’t quite tell where the bird is.  We zero in on a scraggly twenty-five foot tall cedar tree just up ahead.  The city is quiet here and the bird is filling the night with music, hidden safely in the bushy crown of the tree.  We slow down and approach as the bird keeps continually topping itself with new variations.  When we stop beneath the cedar tree the singing cuts off mid note.   The end is sudden and startling.  We wait a second for the sound to begin again, but we can tell by the silence— the song is over.

JUNE 12/2014 THE LAST CRAWL

Dawn begins long before sunrise.  The first light comes into the sky at around 4:30 a.m. and I’m awake without an alarm at 4:25.  My limbs are sore and I’ve been tossing and turning for a few hours of restless sleep.

I quietly put the suit and boots on and pack my pads into the daypack for the last time.  My dog looks at me, confused by this much movement at an hour that is usually so still.  I promise him I will walk him when I get back.

Outside the birds are singing in the half dark. A stray person here and there hurries along on their way to a job, or maybe home to bed.  Thick cloud cover and cool muggy air.

Over on the next block a whoop and some animated laughter probably coming from people who have yet to sleep.

I walk down Broadway to 149th Street and I sit alone on a bench in the median center strip facing north, waiting for my wingmen. I wonder if wingmen are needed this morning, but it doesn’t matter.  My friends are part of this now, and I could not deprive them of a 4:30 a.m. wake up call and a trip uptown to see me home.  This morning it is all hands on deck.

Everything feels freighted with finality.  This is it.  The last time.

Larry, Teddy and Jack arrive looking fuzzy with sleep. I am surprised nobody balked at such an early start. I am restless to begin and I pace as they get ready.  After a moment alone I begin my nineteenth and final crawl.  I move along on all fours and remind myself to make special note of all the sensations, to store away everything that my senses can hold.  This affair is about to end.

At 151st Street a shopkeeper and another man stand and watch me from the door of a bodega.  One man asks me where I’m going.

“I’m going home.”

“We all got to go home sometime,” he says.

As I crawl I mull over the spirit of this experience and I recall the origins.  This whole thing started a couple years ago with a picture in my head of myself crawling, a laugh, and an overall feeling of desperation and helplessness. I wanted to crawl in protest of the destruction of our planet. I was outraged over the BP oil spill and various other man made horrors.  I was going to crawl to the White House from NYC with a picture of earth on my back and a go-pro camera strapped to my head.  I abandoned all that for many reasons, most of them logistical.   But I could not shake the picture of myself crawling.

All the way up Broadway people have asked me what I am protesting.  The impulse to protest, or to crawl, was brought on by a need to do something, to find a gesture, to take some kind of action that felt true to myself.   I wanted to find a public act that symbolized our/my collective desperation and perseverance.  As far as I can tell the way we are living is driving our world to its knees.  With all our tools for making things easier and for finding answers we as a species seem to be more lost than ever.  At least that’s how it often looks to me.

I imagine the people I’ve seen on Broadway and maybe people the world over, feeling a weight on their backs, in their hearts and souls.  Maybe this weight is the burden of modern life, the burden of being conscious in a world gone mad.  Crawling seemed like a way to maybe show compassion or solidarity, to make a living metaphor of this collective burden we all share.  Instead of crawling I could have curled up in the fetal position in perfectly chosen locations.  But this crawl was never about surrendering.  I went down and kept moving, kept pressing on as so many humans are doing every day.  The idea has always been to keep on, to get through this journey, to make it home safe and sound. As far as creating a coherent and specific form of protest, the crawl never become that, at least not as far as I can tell.

On a personal level I wanted to stir myself up, to shake things loose and shock myself.  Ultimately the whole thing may boil down to an overpowering desire to blow my own mind without blowing up my life.  In that I believe I’ve succeeded.

Anyway, forget all that analysis for now. I need to get present. I am here inside the final crawl and all else can wait.

I am here with my sweat and the gray muted dawn. I crawl strong past Trinity church and the last active graveyard in the city.  The graveyard here is on both sides of Broadway.  This land was once Audubon’s farm. The reason the graveyard is advertised as active is because there is still space available.  Call now if you want to be buried in the ground on a hill overlooking the Hudson with mighty oaks moving in the breeze above you and a hawk holding on at the top of a white pine.  Squirrels are busy on the ground. Crows are causing trouble and planning something.

I am here now alongside this burial ground, my leather clad hands sliding across great smooth slabs of blue stone.

Off to my left we have The Academy of Arts and Letters, an honor society of architects, composers, writers and artists.  They say the honor of being elected is considered the highest formal recognition of artistic merit in the United States.  I crawl past that hallowed hall, sweat dripping off my face, drops falling and splashing onto the smooth red bricks.

Now I stop and rise up onto my knees.  I can see my building. There it is, just across the street.  I’ve come home so many times, but never like this.   I’m glad it is only 6 A.M., less chance of running into neighbors. Not that I care anymore. Not that I ever did.  I am definitely not ashamed and not quite proud, not yet anyway.  I am completing the task at hand.

I round the corner and arrive at my building’s front door.  800 Riverside Drive.  Early morning, before seven, so the entrance is still locked.  I dig out keys and unlock the door, still on my knees.  I crawl in past the empty doorman booth on a long narrow rug.  Crawling on a rug is soft quiet.  I move through the courtyard across the concrete where my scraping boots echo loud.  The lobby floor is some kind of marble and I slide in near silence like I’m on ice.  I pull open the elevator door, crawl inside, and press 8.  On my knees I am rising.  I am being delivered to a higher place, the 8th floor to be exact. When the elevator dings the door slides open and off I crawl.

I am finally on my knees at my door.  This dawn arrival must be quiet.  I don’t want to wake up my loved ones.  My keys jingle as I unlock the door and crawl into my apartment, across the threshold.  I stand up and close the door as gently as I can.  Everyone is sleeping.  Dreaming.  This is the start of my life after the crawl.  Here on earth.  Wide awake.  I am home.

 

Afterword

From Robert Leaver:

It’s strange not crawling.  Being done.  What now? Not having a crawl on the horizon is a relief…almost.  But it also feels sad.  I suppose I’m a bit unmoored.  Post Traumatic Crawl Disorder? Maybe.  Letting it go is harder than I expected.  I don’t want to lose touch with the people I’ve shared the crawl with. And I think about all the strangers who engaged with me as I crawled.  Gone forever?  I even wonder about the people who did not register my presence, who ignored the crawling man.  Or maybe they didn’t. There is no way to know. They are all part of the crawl. It takes a split second to see something, a split second to look away. I imagine the happenings that I’ve missed in my life, things that passed right by me, close enough to touch.  I guess I’m still quietly reeling.

I will never forget Crawling Home, that’s for sure. So many highlights.  I’m tempted to crawl down memory lane right now, but I will restrain myself.  I’ve said my piece, and then some.  This entry makes 20– a solid even number. Thank you to all who urged me on and supported this project.

Here are some up close pictures of what crawling all the way home does to kneepads, gloves and boots.  And here are some words from my precious wingmen.  Please feel free to write me and tell me what, if anything, the crawl meant to you, or how it feels having it be over. Fear not the lowness. Be well, friends, and know that I will always remain your faithful crawler.  As ever-RL

 

From Larry Fessenden: 

Notes from a wing man

For a couple of years Robbie Leaver and I were writing scripts together, our collaboration was fruitful and robust. I dare say we wrote some fantastic scripts I’m still fighting to get made. When we allowed ourselves digressions from the work Robbie told me he wanted to crawl somewhere in protest against something, he wasn’t sure what. He might have a huge globe on his back and crawl from New York to Washington to protest environmental abuses.

None of that happened, but in the Fall of 2013 when he told me he might crawl up Manhattan in his father’s suit, I didn’t blink. It made sense and it was manageable. We talked about what it would all mean and agreed that it needed to be open to interpretation. We did set some parameters: only Broadway and maybe he was Crawling Home to his apartment in Washington Heights.

I missed the maiden voyage on Halloween 2013, so I was able to learn of the unfolding project like others on Robbie’s mailing list. At first he was just e-mailing the crawl diaries to friends, but I encouraged him to start a website—not facebook, not too public, but something you could find if you looked, a destination that could be shared, where the whole journey would be chronicled.

Robbie had two reliable wing men on the project and one of them was the writer and raconteur Teddy Jefferson who accompanied the crawler on the maiden voyage and took photos that remain iconic 19 crawls later. The other wing man was me. I relished the chance to revisit my early days as a documenter of live events; I videoed performances in the 80’s in downtown New York, and also shot weddings at that time, events that unfolded without second takes. I love that kind of high-stakes shooting.

For the early crawls I edited in-camera, setting up an additional challenge for myself. As we got deeper in, I tried different rigs, such as a pole-cam designed to float indifferently above the crowds (#5, #19) and alternative cameras to my regular Canon 5D, including s8mm (#6, #16) and a couple point-and-shoots. The first crawls, which took 45 minutes to an hour for a trek of ten blocks, would string out to about 20 minutes of footage. The video was never supposed to be the point of the piece, nor the sole record of it.

The Crawl was first and foremost a live event, and secondly, a written recollection of Robbie’s experience. Thirdly, it was documented in iconic stills that accumulated as the crawls continued. Only lastly was there the video, which depicted the time-based reality of the crawl: arduous and repetitious. The videos have a strange inexorable movement to them, in which the viewer can watch events unfold as they did on the day. There is much richness to be discovered by the careful observer: recurring characters, strange exchanges, narrative developments and so much visual irony in the vivid tapestry of the city.

Not far into the piece, some of the feedback on the web started pointing out that the presence of the camera was changing the crawl, dispelling the mystery. This was demonstrably true, as some witnesses would stare astounded at the crawler, then search for a camera to justify and contextualize the odd behavior. Once seen, the novelty of the sight was diminished: “Oh, they’re just making a movie.” From my point of view then, the crawl project became an examination of our relationship to media. If something is filmed, it is owned, controlled, demystified. If something is being videoed, it is explainable. So the presence of the camera negated the oddness of the image that we were creating. Maybe “indigenous people” are right: the camera steals the soul.

Of course at the same time, one of the most common responses to the strange Broadway Crawler by the people on the street was to video him. There must be countless hours of cell phone footage and still shots of the Crawler out there. This all lead to a discussion of what was the purest form of the crawl. Naturally we concluded that to crawl alone would be the real deal, but like a tree falling in the woods, undocumented, would then the crawl ever even have happened? It still seemed imperative that we capture images of this strange odyssey for posterity. And so we found ourselves in a fairly predictable 21st century dilemma. Defensively, I proposed rather early on that Robbie should crawl alone, at least once. There would be the written recollections after all, surely that would be enough.

It was ironic that one of the reasons Robbie didn’t crawl alone for some time is his wife and kid were afraid for him and hoped he would always have a wingman. And the other reason not clear to the web observer was the crawl was a communal experience between Robbie, the city and his wingmen. Performance art has many motivators and one in this case was a yearning to connect: with the city, with the web visitors and with the wingmen, fellow travelers in this strange ritual.

Eventually work took me out of town and eventually Robbie did crawl alone.

When we reunited in the Spring, with only a few crawls left, we started to think about shaping the raw footage more. One crawl we edited to a three-minute music video, a welcome change from the verité treatment of previous crawls. The next video employed the intimate sounds of the crawler recorded on a mic placed on Robbie’s lapel, an enhancement I’d been too lazy to employ earlier.

The final embellishment to the video portion of the project was a second cameraman, my son Jack who joined us on the penultimate crawl and got hooked. This brought in a new perspective to the shooting and by definition required a more refined edit. It so happened that this was perhaps the most boisterous, exuberant crawl of the entire project, the whole neighborhood along upper Broadway was bathed in the golden light of a summer’s eve, buzzing with activity. Without fanfare a tiny magical matador in a white suite appeared out of the crowd. That strange little man got on the crawler’s back and rode him like Don Quixote in a surrealist street play.

But neither video camera caught it—maybe we were changing batteries. There was much hemming and hawing about missing perhaps the most spectacular moment of the near-200 block performance piece, but I remained defiant: the video record was never the point of the project, only an adjunct. It captured some aspects but not all of what happened on those streets over the course of those eight months. Many web trawlers scanned the video for some confirmation of the fantastic claims that the little man rode upon our Crawler. But there was no evidence save for one lone still shot.

Perhaps because the presence of the video camera had been scrutinized by some web commentators early on, I relished that this essential image went undocumented in the video. It will exist more in the realm of mythos, more in keeping with the intangible aspect of he crawl. Let us just say that I did not want my part of the crawl to be the demystifying of it, and so my failure as a documentarian helped preserve something integral to the project. Though I love cinema, I recoil from the ubiquity of video replacing all the other means by which we memorialize and share our experiences.

The final crawl, which brings the crawler home, was a two-camera shoot edited with music and sound; a fitting end to the journey, where we finally allowed ourselves to infuse the documentation with some of the emotion we had accumulated on the way. And so, from the first crawl to the last, there was an evolution to the documentation, from cinema verité to some sort of refinement, as the narrative poignancy of the journey’s end asserted itself.

I always said to Robbie, as he sought to define what he was doing and why, the real act was in creating an image, the image of a figure crawling on hands and knees up the sidewalks of this city in this time in our political and cultural history, during these seasons of this particular year. And that image carries an emotional weight for those who encountered it in real life and for those who followed it on-line.

I’ll miss the crawl. It was a chance to support art for art’s sake. It’s been a while.

 

 

From Teddy Jefferson

The blog kept by the first crawler no longer exists.

We know what the first crawler looks like from the pseudo crawler.

The pseudo crawler, deeply affected by the sight of this man in a bruise‑blue suit plodding on all fours through the traffic and mayhem of the giant city, created a false crawl blog using photographs from the authentic blog but inserting his own observations ruminations and diatribes.

There is no way of knowing whether the pseudo crawler ever crawled himself, even once.

Why the first crawler crawled is not clear but the sight of him unleased in others pent up frustration and rage at where humanity is headed.

The first crawler apparently conceived of the crawl as a form of protest but did not elaborate precisely what he was protesting.

He is believed to have said, “The mess of the way things are just makes me want to crawl.”

The fact that there was no explanation, no theory, no name or agenda, nothing but the plain spectacle of this creature moving along the pavement, worked powerfully on the people who saw him.

He aroused what the giant sea turtle arouses making its way from the surf up the beach to lay its eggs: part wonder and part awe.

Next to the images from the original blog, the pseudocrawler presented a philosophy and a call to arms that people responded to immediately, in great numbers, and with startling intensity.

His message was partly apocalyptic and partly personal.

The essence was that the human being has betrayed nature and the solidary that exists within nature and the planet

Mankind figures as the rogue species, his mind diseased by the abstractions produced by his unprecedentedly large brain.

Ultimately the size of the cranium is the root of the problem.

The blog contains other observations:

‑Crawling is the fast of the soul.

‑Once man stood up the problems started; he was simply too far from the earth.

‑Human nature consists solely of the man’s separation from nature.

‑Among animals man distinguishes himself only in his sadism and waste and greed.

‑The human himself is the counterfeit, the bad copy.

‑Crawling is an act of submission to nature undertaken to save it.

The pseudo blog called on people to attack the bad and create the good. There was considerable leeway in the above.

The pseudo blog also featured odd diatribes against particular products of modern life: mayonnaise, teeth whiteners, and velcro.

Because he never learned about the pseudoblog, the crawler felt that he was responsible for many of the developments in the city since his departure a few months earlier: the proliferation of copycat crawlers, a mood of euphoric rebellion, the barricading of streets to recapture public space, and a wave of related vandalism and violence.

It was the “forced crawls” that troubled him most. Small bands of marauders would target people as enemies and force them onto their hands and knees with broom handles and sections of electrical cable and make them crawl.

One sight particularly disturbed him: a copycat crawler being ridden by the same highly‑animated elderly man dressed all in white who had ridden him on one of the final stretches of the original crawl. The old man behaved exactly as he had before, jabbering away like Sancho Panza and slapping his ride to make him go faster. The original crawler tried to make the old man see this copycat crawler was a fake, and was crawling in the wrong spirit, but the old man paid him no attention. Worse, he didn’t even recognize him, which  stung him deeply.

The crawler returned to the streets in the familiar suit and gloves and kneepads hoping to restore what he felt was the true vision and ethics of the crawl.

But none of the new crawlers had any interest in what he tried to tell them. Not only didn’t they recognize him; they derided him for his gloves and kneepads and his claim that he “started all this.”

None of them used kneepads or gloves; the release of their blood onto the pavement seemed to thrill them.

The original crawler was no one to them.

They howled at him, “Crawling? You started it?”

The idea that there was some intention or code of behavior they were betraying revolted and infuriated them.

After a while the original crawler fled but the bloody copycat crawlers shouted after him. Some got up to pursue him. He ran. The shouting attracted some of the marauding forced‑crawl posse which quickly circled him and pushed him to the ground and began beating him to make him crawl. He complied.

The group around him grew larger. He saw only their feet. Half were crawlers’ feet, the knuckles bleeding where they had dragged across the pavement. The knees were worn through their pants and skirts and dresses and bloody as well. They were chanting and cursing.

This is when I came across him. I was surprised by the effect the sight had. I remembered clearly the first time I’d seen him: the lone crawler, silent, unannounced, making his way up the avenues as people looked on in fascination. Now, perhaps because of the shouting and frenzy, I felt what the crowd felt, that the crawler was being punished for doing us wrong, that he was a predator and an enemy and was getting his medicine. I felt this even before I recognized him. I felt I should grab a stick and beat him as well. I felt I wanted to kick him in the ribs as he passed. And so I did. I kicked him in the ribs as he crawled along, maybe in the very path he had crawled the year before when I saw him the first time. He turned his face towards me when he felt the kick. Only then did I recognize him, and was amazed by how different he looked. Before, his face had radiated a kind of serenity and dignity and purposefulness. It had seemed that he alone was right and we, looming above him on two feet, were all wrong, blind to the essence of things. I would have gotten down and crawled too if I’d had the courage. But now in his face there was only exhaustion and pain and fear, and because of this, not despite it, I was sure he deserved it. He winced when the foot went in, but kept on going, and I realized I now understood the secret of the crowd: we were kicking him because he looked like he deserved it, and the more kicks he took the clearer it was he was getting what was coming to him.

And then he stopped moving for a moment. Supported with his left hand, he brought his right hand to his mouth and closed his teeth on the middle finger of the glove and pulled it off so he could wipe the stripes of black sweat from his forehead. The gesture was so unusual for a human, like an animal scratching its cheek with a hind leg, yet so simple, that all of us just watched in silence. Then he tipped back on his haunches like a prairie dog sniffing the wind and rocked up onto his feet and shook his head and his hair, drenched in sweat, and then just looked around. He looked at the crowd calmly and with plain amazement as if to say, “What were you kicking me for?” and seeing him suddenly up on two feet, we couldn’t remember why. The despised creature was gone. Here was just another man. He didn’t even speak. He just looked at us. The crowd around started to disperse. I tried but couldn’t remember why to despise him. I didn’t want the moment to slip away. I tried to reassemble the image that had excited me to such anger and certainly just minutes before but I couldn’t.

One of our crowd had been whacking him with an aluminum cane, and he turned to this person, a boy of around 18 with pale first whiskers at his chin and cheeks spotted with acne, and he said to him, “Can I have that?” The boy passed him the cane and the crawler took it and began to walk away, limping heavily. The beating must have hurt him.

I now saw that the steel toes of his boots had been worn through the leather and glinted as he moved away like the eyes staring up at him every step, winking. As he rounded the corner the shouting of another group of marauders exploded through the street.



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