Monday, October 20, 2003
Everyone Will Be Calling Their Coverage "Out of the Box," So Why Shouldn't I?
David Blaine has my nose. He sits across from me in his London hospital room, withered from his heroic, forty-four day stay in a plexiglass box suspended over the Thames during which he survived on nothing but an intravenous supply of water, my nose clenched firmly between the index and middle fingers on his right hand.
"It all just got me thinking, you know? About life and what the human body can endure," he says, and lightly tugs at the tube still attached to his nose with his left hand. My attention immediately shift back to his other hand, which still clutches my nose.
"The human body is like, you know, the most incredible machine God ever made. And what do machines need to run? Fuel. And what's the fuel that covers the earth? Water. So I thought that I could, you know, like reduce everything to machine and fuel, and just live like that. You know?" His eyes meet mine; they've often been described as bedroom eyes, penetrating, truth-seeking. But I think they're more like a drunken night crashing on your friend's fold-out couch in the living room, the metal support bar disallowing any attempts at comfort and protracted rest. I break their pull and watch as he takes my nose and pushes it halfway through a quarter, his gaze never leaving me.
"It was just me and the box, you know? And all those people watching me, but I was alone, doing my thing, testing myself and being alone high above a crowd," he says, absently conjuring a deck of playing cards from somewhere in his hospital gown. "There was nothing but love, man, you know? All those people watching me be alone, and I felt nothing but love radiating up toward me." He fans the cards across the tray in front of him, and I reflexively pick one and turn it over. It's my nose on the one-eyed jack. I just nod and return the card with my nose to the deck. I notice somehow my nose has jumped back into his right hand.
"And forty-four days, man. I calculated that's how long I could do this for. I'd be dead at forty-five, you know? And you know what else?" I shake my head. A nurse enters the room and changes the bag for his IV drip. He points a finger at her. She unbuttons her blouse. I barely notice her lacey bra, as there's my nose, etched onto her ivory stomach in charcoal. She buttons up her blouse, straightens a few items at his bedside, and stands by the window. "People don't know this, but Jesus was actually out in the desert for forty-four days before the Devil tempted him. The translation everyone reads is wrong, man, you know? That guy with the cheeseburger in the little helicopter? That was the Devil on a bun, man, the devil hanging out on a little whirligig, tempting me. And I said no, I have to do my time. Just me and the box, you know?"
I nod. I realize that I'm breathing a bit heavier than normal, more deeply and with a slight wheeze, because it's all through my mouth. I look to his right hand for the nose. It's not there. He nods knowingly and weakly gestures to the nurse. Sec draws back the curtain. A nose is painted onto the side of the building across from us.
It's not mine.
I tell him so. He looks sad, just for an instant, disappointment flickering across his face like the shadow of a telephone pole inside a fast-moving car. He coughs. Then coughs again. And again, the rattling in his chest getting louder, wetter. I signal for the nurse, but she doesn't move. His coughing fit continues to intensify. I expect his tray to be covered in blood, his test of the boundaries of human endurance to end tragically a few feet from my astonished eyes, my noseless face.
There is one final cough. There is no blood. Something lands with a wet plop on the tray. He picks it up.
"Is this your nose?" he asks.
It is, I tell him.
"It's a beautiful thing, man, the human body, you know?"
I can only nod, knowing with every fiber of my being how beautiful as I push my nose back onto my face.
How beautiful indeed.