I’ve been reading Transmetropolitan again. It’s about a cynical bastard named Spider Jerusalem who also happens to be an a cutthroat gonzo journalist. He tried to retreat into hermitage in the mountains but the city keeps drawing him back. He loathes it, but he loves to loathe it. It is the seething hatred for all that is fucked up with America that inspires him. The way it’s on display here, ungracefully strewn about the city streets and exposed for all to step around on their daily commutes fuels his pursuits — that and the loads of futuristic uppers he inhales.
On Friday I had drinks underneath Grand Central with a man who is something of a real life Spider Jerusalem. He collects knives and has the best fake “go fuck yourself” smile I have ever seen — a necessary adaptation for people who are acutely sensitized to bullshit. We sat amongst the oyster-sucking white-collar commuters, talking about fear, throwing back martinis and refilling them with the sidecars. He told me he was glad I’ve been taking on the fear that used to hold me back from writing. “It’s like Oz,” he said, “you had the power all along, my dear. You could have gone home whenever you wanted.” He warned me though, that I need to keep chipping away at the fear every day, lest I become one of the could’ve-beens. There are not many people who could tell me that without me telling them to go fuck themselves, but coming from him I appreciated it.
I thought about this all night, mourning all the could’ve-beens I know, and woke up this morning with my brow furrowed. It’s been that way ever since, save a few hours of solace I found at the Met this evening. I wrote in my head all day long, formulating the phrases that I would later find the time to transcribe, trying to sear them into my mind. I was being beckoned in three different directions but I went to see Side Effects by myself instead. Twenty minutes into the feature, a man stood up and vomited in the aisle right next to me, repeatedly. I moved up a few rows, thinking that there would have to be something in the movie to top the everyday crazy I witness in New York, but the vomiting was the highlight of the movie.
Afterward, I ducked into the subway at Union Square looking forward to waiting for the L train since I had Transmetropolitan with me to read. On the platform, a man was standing in one of the typical performance art spaces with his back against the stairwell. He had two balloons, a pink one above his head and a purple one between his knees, and was slowly releasing the air out of them both, along with two high-pitched squeals.
“Is this guy seriously doing this?” a plain-looking guy said near me to no one in particular.
“You must be new here,” I said back in his general direction.
I leaned against a pillar and watched this performance art. He looked about my age, and was skinny enough that you could see the outline of his ribcage through his grey shirt. Beside him there was a cardboard sign with “fuck the police” scrawled over and over in black marker and a box with various dirty objects sticking out. I wondered if he was crazy or just an artist, then reminded myself there’s really no difference and instead tried to tell if he was on drugs or suffering. When the balloons ran out of air, he placed a harmonica in his mouth and began breathing through it in a repetitive tune. He placed a mask over his head that made him look like a neon pink fly, and removed various baby doll parts. The head rolled out into the middle of the platform, and he dove onto the filthy floor to get it, crawling like an alien or the little girl from The Ring as she climbs out of the well.
Then, obviously, he crawled over to me. For a split second I thought he might be an alien because his hand looked twisted in an inhuman way, but I realized he just had a baby doll foot stuck akimbo on his thumb. He was at my feet, crawling his dirty baby doll hand towards my shoe. The woman next to me ran away, but I didn’t move. It was then I noticed his hands were rubbed raw at some parts, bright pink inner layers of skin exposed. I considered the possibility that perhaps this was his first and last act of performance art, and that he his goal was actually to select one lucky observer to hurl onto the subway tracks a few feet behind me. He touched the top of my shoe, and I stepped back. He looked at me through his fly eyes. Spider Jerusalem would have kicked him in the face. I just shook my head to indicate there was no consent on my behalf. He did a back somersault across the dirty platform, baby head in ragged hand. He rolled around to other people that way for a while. When the train came, I wanted to give him a dollar for disturbing me more than anyone else on the subway ever has, but I didn’t have one, so I got on the train and resumed reading Transmetropolitan.