11:45 a.m. “Can you breathe?” Peggy asked, putting a hand on my shoulder.
“Not really,” I admitted. Heh-heh. What the heck. Oh, well!
No breath = not good. Using a nail scissors, Peggy carefully made two punctures in my bandages, one beneath each nostril. “It’s like capturing a firefly and putting it in a jar,” we agreed. “You have to make holes in the lid so the bug has enough air.” There was something insect-like about the Creature. As I tested out the costume, taking my first uncertain steps across the floor, I found myself moving in slow motion, swiveling my head from side to side like a praying mantis.
“Good luck,” said Peggy, snapping a photo. Like a kid on Halloween, I put on my winter coat and hat reluctantly, sad to dilute the full effect of the costume. As I left the salon, I stared up at the open sky and made a vow to assorted T.B.D.’s, talented-but-dead people.
“I’m trying to take Aktion,” I whispered. “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here. From this moment on, I take a vow of silence. I will not speak a word until sunset.”
Off I went. Throughout the day, I took a series of Aktions to rescue books. I only have room here to report on one of them!
3:30 pm. Barnes Noble, Union Square, Manhattan
The Creature in white bandages (mummy? hospital patient? cocoon?) walked into the store, aware that the eyes of the clerks were following her. She took one step at a time, in a processional march, stately and formal: a high priestess from a lost civilization entering the temple ruins. She performed an invented ritual: the Bandaging of Injured Books. First, she stood before the big, black Stephen King Compendium and, in slow motion, bandaged it. She wound four successive layers of gauze around the book’s stiff cover, just as she had been bandaged herself, hours before. She placed the bandaged volume back on the shelf, clasped her velvet-gloved hands in prayer, and bowed. She approached a biography of Alice Neel and wrapped it tightly in lengths of gauze, purchased at considerable expense at Duane Reade (This shit costs a bundle!). She sidled over to a book by Tolkien. She began to bandage. Through her puny eye holes, she gleaned that the book was not written by Tolkien. It was a Tolkien “companion.” So… All around were books that were not books; books that were toys and games and gadgets and novelties and assorted products. Whatever it was, it got bandaged.
By 5:00 pm, I was standing in front of a stone god in the Metropolitan Museum’s Egyptian wing while a crowd of children watched the mummy. I’d covered four miles and had performed five hours worth of Aktions. My own book was the last one to be bandaged. I placed it there, at the foot of a lost deity, hoping it might get resurrected, too, along with the eternal Soul of the Book. I was thirsty, hungry and exhausted when I ran into the nearest bathroom, pulled my scissors out of my bag, and tried to cut off my bandages. They were stuck fast. Fuck. The glue! For a moment, I panicked, half-strangled, with fabric and adhesive clumping to my hair and neck. I snipped and tore; finally, I escaped. The air was cool on my skin. My face was pale and drawn. I felt a bit stronger and braver. It was only then, as the 2nd Aktion was completed, that I figured out what I wanted to become. An artist. One question, anyway, was answered. The Aktion for a Dying Book hasn’t ended; it has started.