Every word of this story is
true. I'm a fucking idiot. Ok, according to the psychologists, the teachers, the
counselors, I was brilliant, an "exceptional" child. Somehow I've never
come to understand this, and consequently I've done some exceptionally stupid things.
Not just the generally stupid things that so many of us do, smoking weed between
the cars of a moving #3 train, falling asleep on the SI ferry, giving some stranger
cash and watching him disappear down into the labyrinthian train tunnels in the west
50s, never to emerge with the promised bag o'buds.
In fact this was even more stupid than "the stupidest thing I did this year",
which appears to have been to slice my forehead open and allow myself to be slammed
on the skull with a steel chair (see photo). Of course, the year's not over yet.
I could still do something even stupider than that. By the way, the point of that
particular stupidity was "to see how bad it would hurt", something nearly
on the stupidity level of, say, that "Crocodile Hunter" Aussie guy on the
teevee. Minus the "doyngeruss, poyzinus snikes". But it does prove I watch
too much wrestling.
No, not that everyday crap. Get this: it's 1982, mid-September, around midnight,
and I'm right in the middle of The Stupidest Thing I Ever Did. I'm shivering. The
wind is blowing, hard. Sixty or Seventy feet below me, cars and trucks whiz by, never
noticing that I'm up here, scared to death, reflecting on the short life I've lived
so far. The sky is clear, the lights are on, the stars are out, and I'm clinging
for dear life to the small hand-hold wires that accompany the big cable I'm standing
on, about halfway up to the top of the southwest tower of the Brooklyn Fucking Bridge.
Ten or twenty yards north of me, my buddy Gary climbs the opposite cable. I've got
a fat doob in my back pocket; as usual Iím continuing my ongoing mission "to
boldly smoke where no man has smoked before". Gary was most likely riding the
crystal train, and he was barefoot, heading quickly for the top.
My personal dilemma is this: I have to take my trembling, white-knuckled hands off
the frigging guard wires so I can get turned around to head back down. I've already
decided that heading up this stupid cable was incredibly stupid, and I've given up
on my dumbass stoner mission as well. There's no way I'm letting go long enough to
get the thing lit.
Gazing across the void I see Gary scrambling like Spiderman up the opposite cable,
undaunted by the wind or the traffic below or the vibration of the swaying cable.
He's focused on his goal, he's going to make it to the top, sit up there on the tower
for as long as he likes, and be "all alone, outdoors, in New York City".
We all know how rare a thing that is. And maybe thatís the difference between speed
and weed too. Speed focuses you, you have tunnel vision, you achieve that stupid
goal. Weed, well, um, hey! A big salty pretzel would be good about now.
Ok, back to your hero, shaking like a leaf up on the cable. I'm paranoid, beginning
to believe that when I take my hands of the wires and turn my back to the tower and
Manhattan, the wind will pick up and I'll lose my balance, plummeting to my death
either on the wooden boardwalk or the roadway below that. Or maybe I'll fall through
the cracks and live long enough to break my spine when I plunge into the East River
two hundred feet below.
Aside: a tip of the hat to porn's "Streets of New York" series, which has
featured plenty of Gothamites in ridiculously dangerous outdoor sex scenes. Personally,
up on that cable, there's no way I could possibly sprout wood, for god's sake it
might throw off my already precarious balance! So forget it, Iím not doing it. Fuck
And um, if you are reading this and you know me, please don't send a copy to my mom.
She thinks I'd never do something as stupid as that. In fact, she thinks I'm a rock
star. Anyhow, before I die, I figure I'll reflect on life a bit, enjoy the view.
I look up and Gary's made it to the top. I can see him sitting up there, mesmerized
by the perspective. Even halfway up, I feel the delicious isolation that Gary talked
about. Alone, outside, in New York. My mind wanders back to the last really stupid
thing I did.
Background: at the time (the early eighties) I was in this insane electronic punk
band called Panty Raid. The leader of the band was Gary Quasar (currently on the
opposite cable), as talented and manic a musician as I've ever met. We practiced
in his basement, now it's below a hardware store, on Avenue A. Upstairs, Gary kept
his lovely wife Joan, and bunches of "pets" he'd collected in day to day
life. Gary would keep any damn thing for a pet. He adopted a shitload of rats, plus
cats, lame pigeons (filthy, disgusting birds), fish, snakes, weird bugs, you name
it. Now maybe it was the LSD, but it just didn't strike me as all that bad of an
idea when he suggested that as a publicity stunt for the band, we kidnap a baby seal
out of the pool in the Central Park Zoo.
We were well prepared, with lots of drugs, four subway tokens and a canvas US Mail
sack that Gary figured ought to be big enough for our objective. We were so hopped
up we walked all the way from 1st and A to the zoo (saving two precious tokens!).
On the park side, near where they kept the polar bear, we found a place where there
was a climbable tree to get us over the fence, and we were in! It was 5am, there
wasn't a guard in sight. Soon the sun would be up; we needed to move fast. Ignoring
the eerie nighttime zoo sounds (or was it just that pesky acid again) we headed for
the seal pool. Sure enough, there were babies, playing happily in the pre-dawn glow.
Canvas sack in hand, Gary heroically waded toward the pups. About two steps toward
'em, and then it was Here Comes Mama! Oh yeah baby, barkin' and splashin', barin'
her big scary teeth, and generally scaring the piss out of us dumbass white boys,
Mama Seal let us know in no uncertain terms how ridiculously imbecilic we were, and
we got ready to hightail it outta there. The sun was up now, and when we hit the
cobblestones of the entrance corridor there was a maintenance worker heading our
way. Somehow he'd managed not to see what we were up to, and we walked out the front
gate onto Fifth Avenue unmolested.
Now we're back to the present, on the bridge. The thing to do, I decided as the wind
howled and traffic sliced thru the air, was remain as calm as possible, wait for
a break in the wind, and turn around real slow and steady. The break was a long time
coming, but it finally arrived. The plan worked, I got myself turned around and headed
slowly, slowly, down the cable towards civilization and life. Nobody ever felt as
safe on that walkway between Brooklyn and Downtown as I did at that moment. I sat
on a bench and waited for Gary to come down. Little did I know that I was JUST NOW
about to do The Stupidest Thing I Ever Did. Yup, here it comes.
After an hour at the top, Gary begins to descend his cable. Before heading up, he'd
taken off his prized cowboy boots, and slipped his precious Big Knife into one. Then
he'd stashed them under the cable and made for the top. While we were up there, someone
had come by, snatched the boots and their contents and walked away. Gary thought
he'd seen the culprit from above, headed the Brooklyn end of the bridge. He was pissed,
worse than I'd ever seen him, and we'd been thru a few tantrums together, believe
me. I tried to talk him out of it, but he was determined to chase this guy down,
barefoot. What could I do? I went along. When we hit the pavement in Brooklyn, Gary
grabbed a 40oz bud bottle out of a trash can and broke it against the curb. There
was a housing project ahead, Gary figured that was where we needed to go. We headed
across the grass, up to the front door. There were voices inside, plenty of them.
The door opened, several men came out. They were heading for us, not looking to pleased
too see two punks in their place. Finally, clarity! We were about to die, that's
what! It was then, in that moment of clarity that we did The Smartest Thing We Ever
Did: we bravely ran the hell away. We were still running when we hit the bridge,
and halfway back to Manhattan (Gary with all kinds of stuff stuck in his feet) we
were still moving as fast as we could.
Even now, almost twenty years later, whenever I cross the bridge I wonder how sweet,
how cool it must've felt for Gary, sitting alone up there, King of New York, if only
for a little while. And also, I wonder, if you pee off the tower, will it evaporate
before it hits the roadway? Hmmm.