I used to be the Great Swanzini. Now look at me. My cape has bird shit all over it. My top hat is curled open at the top, like a sardine tin. My magic wand, when I wave it in the air, doesn’t even make a magic wand sound. It’s just–silent.
It seems funny to say, but I live in a piece of paper. It seems funny to say–but not so funny to live. It’s an enormous square of paper, twelve feet square, that I dragged into an alley between one art gallery and another art gallery. Every night, or in the daytime, even, when it’s cold, I roll up in it, like tobacco in a gigantic cigarette.
At first I didn’t even have paper. I lay in the alley all night, freezing. Then one morning, in my alley, staring out at the square of light that represents the world, I saw two girls go by, struggling to carry the biggest piece of paper I have ever seen. I asked them what they were doing. We’re from the gallery, the first girl said. Which gallery? I asked them. The one on your right, said the second girl. Oh, I said. And then I said, What is it? It’s one of Giancarlo’s discarded drawings, said the first girl, rolling her green eyes. We’re taking it to the recycling unit. The proper thing to do is to recycle it. Can I have it? I asked them. The proper thing to do, repeated the girl with the green eyes, for our green Earth, is to recycle it. So I hid behind a street light and watched them drag the enormous piece of paper across the street, lift the lid of the green recycling unit, and toss it in. I watched them re-cross the busy street, and disappear inside the gallery. Then I stepped up to the unit, opened the door, and fished out the paper. On one side of the paper was a drawing of a man’s face. The other side was blank. I rolled the sheet up, tucked it under my arm, and walked home. To my alley.
Even with paper, the nights can be very long. Sometimes, reaching into a pocket for something, I’ll feel a bit of rabbit fur, or a misplaced card, and I’ll remember. Those nights are the longest of all.
I found a pencil in The Grecian Isle, a night cafe, before the man with the crisp collar grabbed me by the collar and lay me flat out on the sidewalk. I took the pencil back to my alley and tested it on the paper, on the blank side. I drew a rabbit and several smaller birds. Then I drew a man’s face. I’ve never been the artist. But I thought, flipping it over and over, that it was a lot like Giancarlo’s face. I tried writing a story. If it wasn’t very good, I don’t think, at least … it made me feel better. Just a little bit better.
During the day, I write on paper. I’m writing this, now, between the eyes of Giancarlo’s face. At night, I sleep in paper. When I wake up and stick my head out the end of the scrolled-up paper, into the street, to see whether it’s day or night, the people walking past look at me with more disdain than you could ever imagine. And I feel so degraded. Someone once told me … when you feel like shit, and you’ve long since reached a point of shame, a rung from which one can step no lower, you can feel no worse, not about anything. But … I feel so degraded. I feel more and more degraded every day. If I were any more degraded, I’d be dead.
But I used to be the Great Swanzini.