Directions

This subway system doesn't compare to New York's

I was on the downtown train to San Francisco and a man with a startling shock of gray hair stopped to ask me directions.I immediately recognized his gangly body and his unpretentious but inquisitive face.

He commented that the BART system couldn't compare to the New York Subway. I said something inane about how I had read his books and loved them and about how he probably didn't want to be recognized. We parted silently.

I think I saw him at the Magic Theater once, performing one of his books. He was a monologist first and foremost. One of his most famous pieces was about his experience acting in the film, "The Killing Fields. The book/monologue was called "Swimming to Cambodia." I remember laughing and experiencing a sense of shock that rocked my senses. Here was a man that lived his memoir.

It is the ultimate irony that he died at sea, an apparent suicide. That day had been like every other day except that he had jumped off the Staten Island Ferry and was lost in the cold Atlantic.

After I learned of his death I asked the usual question: why? I pored over articles in the news and learned that he and his wife had been in a near-fatal car crash while vacationing in Ireland. She had minor injuries but he had had head trauma and was in constant pain. He was able to walk and communicate quite fine apparently over time but the pain lingered.

I thought about what he must have thought about standing in his pain. Maybe it was a distraction from the fluid, almost palpable pantomime of his body the way it used to be. Like a crane unable to manage the marshes with it's knobby but graceful legs. What would it be like for your body to be the conveyor of one's truths, in front of an audience.Your words, the music sitting in your brain, waiting for your mouth to give them language? What would it be like to lose your sense of physicality?

I occasionally think about the mundane encounter on the subway that day and how I felt truly sad when I learned of his death. I felt that somehow I was a participant in an ordinary moment with an extraordinary person. We did not have some deep, philosophical discussion. We were two people on a train going in the same direction. He asked me where to get off and I gave him an objective answer.

Goodye, Spalding Gray, I was glad to cross your path-I'm just sorry your journey was cut short.

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