The Centralist's Walk

The following is an extract from The Revelations of Dr Modesto (1955) by Alan Harrington (1918–1997). Full text at

It was a lovely blue noon. I will never forget that day. The sun seemed to bathe the sidewalk and all the people with a bright godly balm. God seemed to have relented and forgiven me (and everyone) all sins that could possibly be committed. I imagined a healing power in the soft sunlight. Desperation left me. I gazed at my fellow men and women passing by and suddenly I wasn't afraid of them.

I thought: ‘Here I am, a lonely and unattractive man on a street corner. Why is this? What is it that prevents me from becoming everybody's comrade?’ I didn't ask the question resentfully. I was in a dreamy mood. I said to myself: ‘If I could only be in the middle of them all, looking the same,
feeling the same,
and believing the same
things they do — if I could be just like everybody else, no more harm and suffering would ever come to me!’ It had started as a reverie, but now the idea took violent hold of me.

I longed to be able, by an act of will, to disappear into that crowd, and emerge after a while with an absolutely common face, a new presence, a new soul even — to be not myself any more, but somebody else. Or everybody else, the average person!

All my misery and ‘apartness’ was a result of wandering about the edges of life, of being different from others. If it were possible to find out what people were in the average — and place myself in the exact center of the crowd and become The Average Fellow…

Oh, heaven! I was laughing. If I could! If a rejected man could reject himself, abandon the self that others despised, and simply melt into them all! What was stopping me? Why couldn't I step out of my self and walk away from ‘it’ — just begin to walk?

I heard a rushing sound like wings and thought I was swooning away.

I remember. I was in the exact center of town. I was staring at a brick wall, particularly at the central brick on my eye level. This brick. It blocked up the corners of my mind. Six inches from my eyes, it was rough, red and porous, slashed by a nail someone had dragged across the surface. And I was thinking: ‘We're all particles, the same.’ In sameness there was strength, what held us together…I felt vaguely that my mind was losing me, that I was separating from myself, drifting off. My identity was disappearing into this rock. What was I? Clay. An extension of dust, accidentally assembled, soon to fall apart. A form among infinite forms mingling together and vanishing. Drawing my anonymity about me like a cloak, I started to walk.

All that day I walked about the city. I was (although I didn't know it then) taking the Centralist's Walk — nearly asleep, yet alive as no normal man has ever been. I was not exactly directing myself. Better say I gravitated here and there, overhearing voices, spying gestures, turning my look on the faces of everybody else. I loitered in cafeterias, idled through parks, in office buildings and hotel lobbies. I stalked the rich and poor sections. I went everywhere, listening, watching… Nothing escaped me. Nor did anyone notice me. They never guessed that a human calculating–machine was loose among them totaling up their composite state of mind, and that I was forming my new character from the average of theirs.

I had to take the Centralist's Walk to do this. I had to be nearly asleep. The way I was, I saw them in slow motion. They came drifting towards me. I could see into everything that was going on in their minds, and I could divine the hidden meanings behind what they said to each other, I entered into the spirit of each person who walked by. I lost my self in the mass, and joined it forever.

I fell into an ecstasy of mediocrity. Whatever the others did, I did. Whatever they thought and wanted, I thought and wanted. Casually, I batted the breeze with strangers and found that my trivialities were welcome. I was rocked by waves of happiness as I realized and realized that I (or the identity I had taken on) was no different than anyone. ‘But who am I? What am I?’ I cried out, suddenly panic–stricken by the thought that it was getting dark. I would soon have to go to sleep, and perhaps I would wake up my old self. My escape from that wretched condition had been accidental. I had somehow gone to sleep on a street corner and become new. Would I be able to do it again?