I received an email from Joey Boots yesterday. Roman is in a psych ward, and he wants me to call him there. He thought maybe it’d help to talk to me about whatever it is he’s got going on. He also wanted to make a public apology.
I’d heard Roman wasn’t doing well in August. He’d stopped showing up at the Square, so I started asking people he knew what was up. I was getting mixed details about his whereabouts and wellbeing. Some were saying he was doing terrible, wanting all his videos removed and in a hospital losing his mind, while others said he was all good again and planning to return to the park.
If you don’t know who Roman Shusterman is, he’s the guy who went viral writing his strange but funny sexual declarations on signs and giving detailed speeches about them at the park. He first started his exhibitionist style demonstrations in 2010 when the Free Hugs phenomenon hit the square. He hung around those Free Hugs kids carrying a FREE MASSAGES sign. And it worked!
Those soon turned into “Free Massages + Foot Worship.” Girls who took him up on his massages would then be asked if they’d mind a foot worship session as well. Much to all our surprise that worked too.
Then there was his “Peace through Face-sitting” campaign, getting girls to sit on his face for world peace. The Fart Smelling Movement, in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, and on and on and on. Roman is responsible for some of the most shocking and hilarious events I’ve ever witnessed. When asked what’s the most outrageous event I’ve ever seen at Union Square Park, I always give a detailed account of the afternoon Roman Shusterman took a lady “Out To Eat” in front of everybody there on the steps. It’s safe to say I have always adored what he brings to the Square.
I put word out that I wanted to talk to him. I wanted him to know I genuinely cared for his well-being, and if there was any way I could help I would. I thought Roman needed to be told there’s nothing wrong with what he’s done, if that’s what he was regretting. He’s not hurt anyone. In fact he’s made a lot of people laugh. It’s comedy. Shocking at times, yes. But comedy none the less.
When I got Roman’s number to call, I realized I honestly cared for the guy. He wanted me to come visit him at the hospital, but I am away from NYC this month, so the phone call would have to do. I was happy to do it. I was anxious to do it! I wanted to talk to him myself and get the full story. I also wanted to ease his worry about whatever it is he thought he needed to apologize for. So this afternoon I called him.
The phone was answered by another patient in the ward who had to go find Roman, shouting his name to a room.
He spoke to me on the pay phone there used by everyone. It was clear he wasn’t his usual self. I started right off telling him he didn’t have anything he needed to apologize for.
“I want to apologize for anything I may have said or done that made light of the Elliot Rodger’s tragedy. I don’t feel that way and I deeply regret disrupting that event. I really want to get that out there.”
The top thing on his list was he wanted to make a public apology for any comments he made about being in solidarity with Elliot Rodger. At some point last year he’d attempted to disrupt one of the protests that followed the shootings & suicide. There were a group of protestors there with signs stating that Elliot’s views on women were common among men, and Roman hassled them with his usual “I deserve hot girls” routine. It’s a sentiment similar to Elliot’s. Roman told me he deeply regrets doing this, and making light of the event in any way.
At one point, when we he was telling me about the voices in his head he’s dealing with, the phone disconnected. His time was up and I had to call him back. He explained to me he thought the phone disconnecting was a sign he probably shouldn’t be talking about the voices.
It was clear to me after our 15 minute conversation, he’s pretty medicated and having to deal with a lot of troubling thoughts, paranoia and regret, and these are all weighing on him immensely. He also regrets not having planned better for his future.
Not to diminish what he’s going through, but I also reminded him that in the dead of winter feeling depressed, secluded and hopeless in New York is something a lot of us deal with. Winter can be a nightmare in this, the loneliest city.
Presently Roman’s in a cycle of taking medication and trying to heal. He wants to get back to the Square and regrets letting these events scare him away from it.
He and I have planned to get lunch when I return in February.
One month later…