By Mary Kerr
When I lived in New York I spent more nights walking the streets than I’d have liked. I lost count of the number of times I locked myself out of my apartment. I was at Film school but as the only girl in my class out of a group of stinky teenage boys who lived in pretty shady areas of Brooklyn (2006), I’d happily choose to stay in the East Village and see where the night took me. If you’re forced to wander the streets at night, doing it in the city that doesn’t sleep is a good start.
There were nights that when 1am rolled around I would slope into a 24 hour gym for a quick kip. A gym at 2am is a bizarre place but great for people watching. Men in their work suits pumping iron in a frantic display of masculinity. Frighteningly pumped women in designer athletic gear. Why were they up at his time? Maybe they’d been on bad dates, maybe they were workaholics taking a break from a night at the office or maybe they were just like me but more productive with their predicament. I took a more horizontal position downstairs on the yoga mats but when I said I slept, so nervous about being thrown out for not exercising I spent most of the night in a feeble attempt at a sit up.
My favourite night on the street was the night I bumped into Te’Devan. Te’Devan was a 6ft 7in Jewish freestyle rapper who carried a huge sign around his neck reading ‘6ft 7in Jew that will rap for you.’ He had long dreadlocks and usually looked like he’d just stepped out of an Ashram. He was also a ‘spiritually intuitive shamanic healer’ who I’d first met a few months earlier when he approached me in the park and told me to breathe more for a deep happy life. This very evening Te’Devan was with a comparatively short guy called Doug, a struggling law student from Illinois. They explained that they were on their way to heal David Blaine who was suffering from liver damage having been submerged in a giant ball of water outside the Lincoln Centre for a week. He’d completed 6 out of 7 days of a stunt called ‘Drowned Alive.’ I didn’t have better plans and so I joined them on their merry way to see this great magician.
It was 12am and we set off on foot from the East Village, up through the 30s, 40s and passed Times Square. We stopped for a coffee in a deli in the 50s and struck up a conversation with a young cop who seemed to be hiding in the pasta sauce aisle. It turned out it was his first night on duty and he wasn’t really feeling that confident in his new role. He said he would join our little adventure and scour the streets at the same time. So with one new member in our gang we continued our journey up 6th Ave.
Separately we were a bunch of disorganised misfits, together we were a modern day Wizard of Oz cast. I was Dorothy who by 1.30am was now pretty desperate to go home. The young cop was the cowardly lion. Fred was the scarecrow who needed a brain and Te’Devan, who was always desperate to connect with people and their emotions, was the Tin Man. If you’d seen us from afar you’d have thought that we were some kind of sideshow act being escorted away by a friendly policeman.
It was 2am when we finally reached the Lincoln Centre and there our wizard was, in all his water. It was quiet by this time and we walked straight up to the giant plastic ball where David was asleep, bobbing up and down. He didn’t look very peaceful. Although he was asleep I read the expression on his face as one of regret. Te’Devan put both his hands out towards the ball and closed his eyes. We fell silent. After about ten minutes of hoping our wizard would start glowing or spinning in the water… one hand moved.
‘Did you see that?!’ Te’Devan gasped with excitement. We were in awe. It may have been a natural twitch or the liver damage attacking the rest of his body but to us our work was done. Maybe it was Te’Devan who was the wizard after all. The next day it was reported that as the 7th day drew to a close, the stunt had come to an end. Blaine’s final trick had been an attempt to beat the World Record for holding his breath under water. In 2006 the record stood at 8 mins, 58 seconds (it’s now 22 minutes, 22 seconds.) At 7 minutes, 8 seconds Blaine turned blue, blacked out and had to be rescued by two divers. His great feat of endurance was labelled a failure.
At 3am that night we all went our separate ways. I went back down to the East Village and spent the rest of the night in an all night cafe with an alcoholic guitar player who had just come off stage having supported Gavin Degraw. At 7am I made it to the locksmith who had a copy of my key waiting on hold for me. At 7.30am I finally made it home. I showered and went back to school, keys loosely in pocket, awaiting the next adventure.