Two chronicles ago I told you about a group of French surrealists. They said that taking a stroll without purpose is the ideal rebellion against consumer capitalism. Now look at me, all on my way in the sun. To be completely honest, this is not an anti-capitalist stroll as the surrealists devised it. No, I need to pass by the Jewish-Russian cobbler for my leather shoes.
This walk is done in the most ideal of circumstances. It is not raining. This is a group of two. Marianne and me. We start on the corner of second avenue and 14th street. Steam is rising up from underground. Behind us, on 121 East, the bodies of two twenty-something-year olds are being uncovered from the smoking rubble of the exploded building. Teens and other all-American cheering cheerleaders – blondes, brunettes and redheads alike – have finally found their new selfie spot. I told you the city speaks. Marianne and I head the other direction.
“I never really got my head around it”, I say. This conversation is taking a very unexpected turn.
Marianne smiles warily and walks on. This is uneasy terrain.
“People seem to live it very differently”, she says, “there’s not really one way of describing it.”
“Can you explain how it was to you?”
Marianne glimpses from behind her black curls. Her eyes are blue and her skin pale and soft.
“This is an embarrassing story. It actually started in a positive way. I noticed I had a lot of extra fantasy and imagination. Like: I would start making up this fairy tale and then I’d believe I would be able to step into it and see that new, fantasized world from within – in a practical way. As if I could step into my own story. That’s how it started.”
“I have such episodes, too, I believe.”
“Sure, but this was extreme. I couldn’t snap out of it. In the meantime, jitters were building up. I was getting so excited that I was unable to sleep and eat. Eventually I was awake for four nights in a row.”
We cross Stuyvesant Square on the way to the Jewish-Russian cobbler.
“Then what happened?”
“The morning of the fifth day I was convinced I was on a mission to save the world. I could see it clearly before my eyes, how it needed to be done, and I wanted to spread the word. So I went out onto the street, in the middle of the city, running around like a lunatic telling any passer-by all kinds of crazy stuff. Then, and I shouldn’t have, I got the idea to run to my employer’s office to go have a talk with my boss.”
“It makes sense when you want to change the world.”
“Right”, we walk into the cobbler’s shack and Marianne is unstoppable now, “but it was too early – like seven thirty in the morning – and the building was closed. But I felt there was no time to lose – I was on a mission, remember – so I pounded my fists on the glass door to get the security guy’s attention. He came near but didn’t want to open the door. To convince him, I flashed my bra at him.”
“You did what?”
“Mm. There’s no logical connection but it worked. I’m sure he instantly regretted it. What happened next almost cost me my job. When he arrived, I ran into my boss’s office and started rambling about the world’s problems. Then, as if to underline to urgency of it all, I wet myself in the chair at his office, saying that I couldn’t hold it any longer.”
“That’s quite poetic”, I say while paying.
“Isn’t it? That’s what I thought. But it was disgusting too. In hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone planning to save the world. It’s not a very effective means to achieve your goal.”
I close the door behind us, we’re back on the street. “What happened next?”
“It’s blurry. I retrieved myself in a mental hospital. I felt like I had turned crazy. I had. But at the same time I already knew that there’s a danger in doing it away as just craziness.”
“You need to know: they don’t talk to you in the hospital. There’s no listening. All they do is diagnose you and put you on medication. They try to comfort you saying that it wasn’t you, instead it was an illness taking possession of you. There lies the danger. Crazy as it all may seem – it was me pounding that glass door, it was me speaking those words and choosing my course of action. Nothing else. What I did and what I thought, it all says something about me and what I was going through. This episode made it clear to me what is important in life and what isn’t. I started feeling a readiness, some kind of deep glowing motivation that wouldn’t give way. I mean: there is a meaning behind it. If I’d go along with the professionals, I should believe it was an unfortunate incident. I might as well forget about it all.”
We’re in Tomkins Square Park now, where Jean-Michel Basquiat used to sleep in a cardboard box before he met Andy Warhol and had sex with Madonna. We cross Clinton street. It’s cold but likable to live here. There’s music.
“It accompanied me for years”, I say.
“The fear of going crazy or turning out to have been crazy all these years.”
“You seem to be a balanced you man.”
“I might seem now. But there’s been times that my behavior got judged and I didn’t get through to anyone – as if there were a wall between the world and me. I was afraid it would stay that way forever.”
“How did you get out of it?”
“Meeting intelligent people, and turning them into friends. Writing, with their support, writing as a means to define my own world.”
We walk on. This conversation makes this day even brighter and airier. The light is gold and tangible. Old Chinese men, hundreds of them, play cards in the park. There’s a Buddhist temple at the junction of Manhattan Bridge and Canal.