This was a Performance – Teddy Burnette
October 18, 2021
T became more genuine, more inclined to consider other people’s opinions and questions, the later in the day it was. This was in direct contrast to how he actually felt throughout the day in his head. Inside, T was regressing away from anything, everything. Outwardly he conveyed the opposite. He did not know why. Though he thought it might be tied to what he viewed himself as when he was out of bed. People spoke about how who they were outside of their homes, or their immediate friend groups or family, but he thought it was more specific. When he left bed the changes began. And then sleep and dreams returned him to stasis. He liked himself later in the day more. Not that this mattered.
T walked down the steps at the Broadway-Lafayette station and stopped when he made eye contact with a woman moving towards him. She stopped. They stared at each other for a little, an acknowledgement maybe, of…staring at each other instead of continuing their momentum through the city. Easier to stay with the momentum, ride along with it as if it’s a clearly definable force you can feel rather than something that conjures out of thin air. He had been trying to will momentum into his life for weeks now.
They moved closer. He said: I would like to see you sometime.
She said: Me too.
He said: Can I have your phone number?
She said: I don’t like that idea. I will tell you the bars and restaurants I frequent and you may frequent them as you like. Maybe we will run into each other again.
He said: Okay.
She lists the places she goes. He writes them in his notes app. She also mentions the places she does not go to and asks him if he has ever been to those places because she would like to know up front.
He said: I haven’t heard of those places.
She said: Good.
He said: I’ll see you around.
She said: That’s the point.
T had meant to keep walking to a bookstore a couple blocks away before he had seen the stairs and descended and found himself here, moving now away from the woman. Or he had been feeling sweaty and uncomfortable in the heat and he was tired of wading through it. All hyperbole. He was a walking nomad with no clear destination going up and down stairs leading him to nowhere, somewhere. He liked, in a deeply held, rarely shared way, the smell of subways. He didn’t know the history of them, or the surrounding area above ground, and preferred to tell himself this is what the world used to smell like, and he did not want to risk someone telling him this belief was wrong. It might have smelled worse. Or better. He liked this specific level of odor. Of entrenched, historical smells. They make him believe in souls.
T thought he would do his best work in this smell. With this smell around him. He would eventually get used to it and have to switch stations. He wouldn’t bring a canvas, he would paint on himself or on benches or on other people even as they fought back and it’d be live art, combative art. He would most likely produce very little. The effort to produce it however, would be immense, existential.
He wondered if the woman he met, whose name he had not asked for and now wished he had, though he doubts she would have supplied it, would want to participate in that sort of swap. She did not know his name.
He went to one of the bars or restaurants she had listed every Friday night for two months. He stuck to a strict schedule. One place of business a week. He did not dislike how long this was taking. How reasonable it seemed that he would spot her on the other side of a room eventually given enough time.
He liked the smell of the 50th street station on 8th avenue.
She wasn’t in the bar he went to that Friday.
The restaurant he went to the following Friday served vegan French cuisine. He could see from the outside that she wasn’t there when he arrived. He steadily drank four pitchers of water and two bottles of wine, used the bathroom twice, and ate assorted appetizers over three hours, from nine to twelve, before going home.
His friend N came over and asked what he had done that day.
N: I saw you walking down the street earlier. You looked focused. I didn’t interrupt.
T: I asked every old man, rather, beseeched them, and said Donny! Is that you? Donald DeLillo, Donny Boy! Don! Is that you? As if this beloved writer of mine, one of my favorites, was a dog. I lost my mind asking, in case it was him, then I’d have conducted a proper response, reaction. I didn’t find him. One of these old men might know him, one day, and pass along my genuine glee at getting to meet him in the flesh, even if it’s just an idea I hold onto before inevitable failure.
N: He’s somewhere out there.
T: Do you want to get food?
They walked down the street, commenting on what they saw. Forgetting what they said. They hadn’t chosen somewhere to eat yet.
T: I’d like to play in one of the major sports leagues. Sign a contract with a team for a large amount of money and then deposit the check in my own bank account. I would write between games, between innings, if I opt for Major League Baseball. This could be good for my career, earnings, other areas I could need help in.
N: Do you think that’s practical?
T: Very little feels practical.
They stopped at a dumpling shop and bought ten each and ate them on benches near a playground.
N: Have you worked on anything?
T: I’m going to paint myself and others in subway stations. And see if I can find this girl I met, on a Friday, eventually.
N: Both of those seem important.
T: They are.
She ran into a man in the subway today, she told her friend this over coffee.
They liked the café, they enjoyed speaking with each other in this specific atmosphere. A café. They talked and enjoyed. And other people did this around them.
She told her friend she had stopped and the man and her held eye contact for a moment before having a short conversation. She had declined to give her phone number, why would she?
Her friend said: The Online. Both capitalized.
She said: Those words sound ancient. I told him four restaurants and three bars and two small eateries I have heard of but never been to, this felt correct. Maybe I’ll run into him, forget one of the places I had said, and go for the first time and there he’ll be. He’s hoping to run into me. I’m waiting for my memory to run out so I can run into him. I have not seen him.
Her friend nodded and laughed. She was texting someone.
She said: I still go to the same places. Where else can I go?
They drifted through the city and read magazines and drank alcohol and did drugs. T painted himself a dark green and stood against the support beam in the subway station on West 4th and closed his eyes. He painted himself white and wore black shorts and sat and watched as people stared at him and then disappeared on their trains. He painted a subway bench gold and sat on it like a king. He painted it blue and threw up from seasickness. He painted it red and applied aloe to his burns.
He never painted anyone else. He was not immense. He was not existential.
He smelled the subway. He painted the subway. Eventually these became the same. He sat in the subway and did nothing, only smelling and painting.
She went to the same places and asked her friends if they had heard of anywhere new and they mentioned a bar that she hadn’t heard of and they went that night and they had fun, and drank, and did drugs, and saw a man in a subway station sitting on the tracks, a train honking for him to move, he painting a small green leaf on the train and watching the roots reach toward the ground.
She moved along with her group, and disappeared on the train.