On the subway to see the lecture yesterday I was part of the captive audience in the train car. The goofy looking homeless guy was pulling a small kid’s wagon. He seemed to be speaking in tongues, but then a moment later, he started singing in tongues. Sweetly, insanely. He was an angel after all. I knew that only later. I knew that only after he had left the train.
If only I could find his performance again. I would attend the second time with more attention. If only that homeless alien of human society from the A-Train could schedule himself to a certain time and place as Guillermo Gómez-Peña does. I would learn from just his presence in our shared close room.
I would learn why that cruel god has put flesh on these wandering souls and commissioned them to speak and sing to us.
Have you come just to witness my mind at work?
His friends seem to call him GP.
GP walks on stage. He is wearing a Mexican woman’s black dress, a high heel shoe on his right foot, a macho trucker boot with a silver buckle on his left foot.
The only difference between a madman and a performance artist is the audience.
We are his captive audience. The small room at NYU is as crowded as the rush hour train car that brought me here.
My life now is walking the border between enlightenment and illness. I explain to a nurse who is charged with my care what I do for a living. She only half believes me, the other half of her knows for certain that I am insane.
I became a poet instead of a criminal or a shaman. Those were the three paths offered to me. Art has allowed me to act out my anti-social tendencies.
I cross the border without documents just to make a point.
I think back at the homeless angel on the subway train. He had stopped speaking in tongues when he reached my section of the train. I was in the center of the train, where the conductor operates the doors and such from that little cubicle. The cart the alien was pulling was full of little packages. The sign on it read Free Gifts for the Homeless. He was an angry angel now. Fuming. The wagon was suddenly too heavy for him to pull.
“No! No! You can’t have any of it! It’s all mine!”
The wagon weighed a ton now. But he had to keep pulling it.
“It’s all mine! None for you!”
The conductor was calling the authorities now. But it was too late. The alien had already exited with his wagon of gifts.
How many performance artists does it take to screw in a light bulb? I have no idea. I left after the third hour.
The art world is full of compromise. No one really believes it was your choice to be inconsequential. I am the existential wolf that went to sleep one night and woke up the next morning atop a New York skyscraper. I live in a community of difference, temporary retreats with howling outsiders. I long for my peers. I am the lone wolf howling at the moon, longing for his kindred pack. I would run with you. I would lick your wounds at night while you licked mine. We each have 45 scars from our art. Let’s count them again. We have no health insurance but we have each other. We are old soldiers in an eternal war, abandoned on the field, alien to all but our own.
Testing. Testing. Testing. This is the sound of my voice rehearsing. Blah. Blah. Blah.
Yet I would learn to speak not as performance artist but as that angel who spoke in the subway. He was a fellow traveler on the pilgrimage. We each cross borders, the three of us. GP, the subway angel, and me. We are the poet, criminal, shaman. I would follow him, the leader, the spirit, as audience and participant, but they have replaced our imaginations with fear.
Since Nine Eleven I have been obsessed with hope. Today one third of mankind lives away from their homeland.
No human beings are illegal.
I carry this heavy wagon of gifts. The audience is a captive one. They stare at me. I am obsessed with hope. I believe there is a place for everyone.