New York is a tough place to feel important. It’s a bit like Twitter—it’s a place where people come to be heard, where not many people are listening, and everyone is trying to make a statement. If you’re lucky, you rub and you rub and you rub and you spark some sort of local fire, in the Village perhaps, or maybe Brooklyn. The aim is to make enough smoke so that the media machine will take notice, package you up, and ship you to cornfields and suburbs where people have a bit more time and longer attention spans. But like I said, it’s tough. Because everybody here is trying to start fires and everybody here is trying to get noticed.
So it helps–and I mean really helps– if you are delusional. The nuttier the better. As long as you can still function and create, it helps to be completely batshit. It takes an inhuman amount of effort to make it to the top, and this sort of effort is best sustained by some form of megalomania. You really, really have to think that you’re great. You have to scream into a crowd of people who aren’t listening, and keep screaming, keep your voice loud and constant, until you convince the crowd that you were sane all along, and everyone else was delusional.
Of course, there is one more option. You can skip being good altogether, and just be delusional. And I’m going to quit being jokey here because I think this is poetic, and human, and a bit sad. It’s really not all that funny. Because we all need to feel important. Not New York important, necessarily, but important. We all need to know that there’s a place in this world that only we can fill. Some people need bigger places than others, but everyone needs a place—a hole in the universe that only they can fill. This need is so deep and food-like and so human that we will do anything to fill it. We’ll go crazy to feel important. A protective, evolutionary sort of crazy. When the body has no food, it will break down muscle to feed itself. When the ego has no food, it will break down the mind to feed itself. If we have no place in this world, we’ll withdraw from this world, and inhabit one where we have a place.
I met Richard twice before I met Blackwolf. The first time was one day last summer, not long after I came to New York, and he was sitting on a bench outside of Central Park. I remember noticing his inventively repaired reading glasses. These interested me, so I asked him for a photograph.
“You know who I am, don’t you?” he asked.
“I am BLACKWOLF the DRAGONMASTER. I am the unofficial wizard of New York.”
It was an interesting thing to say, but I didn’t think much of it. Because people in New York are always saying crazy shit like that. Earlier in the day, a man on the subway was trying to convince a terrified old woman that he could fly airplanes with his mind. So when Richard told me that he was Blackwolf the Dragonmaster, it didn’t even register, and I had forgotten the name entirely by the time I got home. But later that night, when I uploaded the photo to Facebook, my friend John sent me a message: “Is that Blackwolf?” he asked.
A quick trip to Google solved the mystery. Several years earlier, Blackwolf the Dragonmaster had appeared in a wildly popular skit on the Conan O’Brien show. The skit featured a character named Triumph the Insult Dog, who spent an afternoon insulting costumed fans outside the opening of a Star Wars movie. Blackwolf became the unintentional star of the video, which quickly became a YouTube sensation. He appears at the 4 minute mark.
The second time I met Richard was this winter. He was in a subway station, rummaging through a trash can. He appeared to have found something worth saving. It was a half eaten something-or-other. Like so many other people in the city, it appeared that New York’s unofficial wizard had fallen on tough times.
“Blackwolf!” I said. “How’s it going?”
“Very well good sir,” he said. “Say now, could you spare a fiver?”
I told him “no.” Maybe I didn’t have a five. Maybe I was just tired of being asked for money twenty times a day. But looking back, it was pretty heartless of me. But Richard didn’t seem too affected by it. He hopped on the next train that pulled into the station. As the doors closed behind him, I heard him regally announcing his entrance: “Good citizens of New York! It is ME! Blackwolf!” The good citizens of New York no doubt let out a collective sigh, and stared at their shoelaces.
After encountering Richard twice, I met Blackwolf the first time last weekend. He was in full regalia. He had a dragon with him, which unless you looked very closely, could easily be mistaken for a hand puppet. I was happy to see him. It was a sunny day. And I may have just smoked some weed.
“Hello, good sir.”
Blackwolf always talked as if he was casting a spell. Or speaking from a stage. Everything was very dramatic, drawn-out, timed. I asked if I could take a photo. He readily agreed.
When the photo was finished, Blackwolf didn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave, so I asked if he wanted to walk with me around Central Park. He consulted with his dragon– the one resembling a hand puppet– and they both agreed to follow me. “Let’s try those sweet rocks, over there,” I said.
“That sounds like a right mighty swell idea” said Blackwolf.
Blackwolf was very agreeable. He participated in all of my photo ideas.
He only balked when my suggestions ran up against his very unwizardly fear of heights.
“Why don’t you stand way up there on the edge, it will be epic,” I said.
“Oh no no no no no no. “
“C’mon it will be a great picture.”
“Are you mad?” Blackwolf began speaking to his puppet. “He has gone completely mad, Aragon.”
“This is a funny one we have found,” answered Aragon. “He is very peculiar.”
Aragon sounded exactly like Blackwolf. I only knew that Aragon was talking because his mouth was moving.
“He may make a good apprentice one day,” said Blackwolf. “But he has much to learn.”
“Much to learn,” said Aragon.
“C’mon guys,” I said. “We’ll go slow.”
“I cannot because of my two left feet,” said Blackwolf.
“Let us stand here and watch over the townspeople instead,” said Aragon
The best part about hanging out with Blackwolf is that you are hanging out with an actual wizard. Blackwolf is not some guy dressing up and posing for photographs. He is a wizard. He lives in a wizard world, with his dragon. He has wizard philosophies and wizard thoughts and he follows wizard laws. He has a website with pages and pages of wizardry: “When that evil troll Rupert Murdoch shut down the Kingdom of Myspace,” he explains, “I was forced to move my dark chambers to the Kingdom of Facebook.”
“When did Blackwolf first appear?” I asked him.
“In 1996,” said Blackwolf. “That was when my number was called.”
“Your number was called?”
“Yes. Every 10,000 years, all of the greatest wizards in the realm are given one chance to be Dragonmaster. My chance came in 1996. And I did such a good job, they asked me to stay on.”
“And what are the responsibilities of the Dragonmaster?” I asked.
“He must keep the hexagonal balance of the universe. He must keep the balance between lawful good, lawful bad, unlawful good, unlawful bad, and [something else I can’t remember.] Of course there is one more important responsibility, of course.”
“And what is that?”
“To have a spectacular bit of fun!” He looked at Aragon. “He is a slow one, isn’t he Aragon?”
“He will learn,” said Aragon.
Blackwolf had an answer for every question. His wizard world was fully formed and complete. I walked around Central Park with him for two hours. With each additional question I asked, I came to further appreciate the coherency of Blackwolf’s world. I could sense the years of imaginative thought behind Richard’s improvised reality. And here, in Central Park, he could inhabit this reality without much intrusion from the human world.
“Here we have a fiddle player of the finest caliber,” said Richard. “Fair maidens flock from surrounding kingdoms to dance to his melodies.”
After an hour or so, Blackwolf’s reality was so unbending and unrelenting that I too began to inhabit his world. His delusions were so constant that they assumed a body, a depth, a form. They were imposed upon reality so consistently, they became reality. We were in the Kingdom of New York. Strange humans were passing who did not understand Blackwolf, but being a benevolent wizard, he took pity on their ignorance. Even when they insulted him.
“Look! It’s Mother Goose,” said one human woman. Blackwolf was incensed, in his own friendly way:
“Mother Goose!” yelped Blackwolf, “Does Mother Goose have a beard? Does Mother Goose have a dragon? I am BLACKWOLF the DRAGONMASTER.” The mortals started laughing.
“Does that happen often,” I asked?
“Normally they think I’m Jesus or Moses,” said Blackwolf. “New York is a tough city. It deserves a tough wizard.”
“Has Richard ever had a girlfriend?”
“Do you mean a human girlfriend?”
“No, not a human girlfriend. But that is not to say that he has not consorted with many a dream girl. He has many dream girls.”
“Who is one of Richard’s dream girls?”
“ Elizabeth the First, for example, ruler of the English kingdoms.” We came across a tree covered in flowers. The tree was in the late stages of bloom, and the surrounding grass was covered in pink petals.
“Stand right there,” I told Blackwolf, “I’m going to climb up in those branches.”
“There are rules against that,” he said. “The rulers of this park do not treat tree climbers gently.”
“Those are human rules,” I said.
“Well do hurry then.”
“Where are Richard’s parents?”
“Richard’s father died when he was nine. His mother died in 1990, and Richard was left an orphan.”
“Was Richard close to his mother?”
“He loved her dearly, despite the fact that she was a chain smoker.”
“What did Richard’s mother do?”
“She worked in a psychiatric ward.”
“Did she think that Richard needed to see a psychiatrist?”
“Sometimes. But every man is his own psychiatrist, that’s what I say.”
“I like that.”
“Richard’s mother wanted him to be a janitor. To work all night in a school, pushing a broom. This was not for Richard.”
“How long after Richard’s mother died did Blackwolf appear?”
“And what did Richard do those six years?”
“He kept to himself, and he thought about his life. It’s hard to be an orphan, you know.”
“Did Richard have any friends?”
“So why did Richard decide to become Blackwolf?”
“You don’t know?”
“Blackwolf came to stop the suicide of Richard.”
“Is Blackwolf real or imaginary?”
“That’s a stupid question. Did you hear that question, Aragon?”
“Well if it’s a stupid question, it should have an easy answer.”
“Aragon,” said Blackwolf, “Tell him the question he should have asked.”
Richard moved his hand,
Aragon moved his mouth,
Blackwolf spoke: “Ask if Blackwolf is real to Richard.”