When I teach at Watkins, I throw some Lorrie Moore at my students, from “Self-Help.” She’s a brilliant writer; this book is all second person. So, I give them the option of freewriting in second person. It’s pretty difficult, really, and I never tried it myself, until…a friend’s zine was calling for submissions based (loosely) on the theme “Performance Art”. So, I ran with it, as an exercise, to see what would happen. It’s no Lorrie Moore, but it has moments, moving in and out of focus, fiction and non-fiction, in the way only second person can. Unfortunately, the zine is on permanent hold, so first appearance is right here….
Performance Art (February 2012)
Take a shower. Shave. Lean in close to the mirror. You notice lines you’ve never seen before. You turn down the dimmer. Stand back. Dry your hair and get dressed. Your keys are exactly where you left them, in the basket that sits next to the piano. You turn off the lights and lock the door on the way out. You check it to be sure. You jiggle the lock. It remains shut. When you walk to your car, you look up at the sky to see if you can find the Big Dipper.
You get to her house early and so you circle the block, just like you remember Joe Leaphorn, Navajo Detective, doing in all those great Tony Hillerman mysteries. You stand up straight as you knock. You walk just a little behind her and open the door when she gets to the car. She may think you’re a gentleman, but really, it’s force of habit. On your way to the restaurant, you drive through Music Row, because it takes longer. There are signs on every other building, “Congratulations to Us.” You pass Chet Akins Place and out of the corner of your eye you notice the tiny apartment you shared with your girlfriend who became your ex-wife, the place where the stray tabby came to your door crying one morning. She brought him in and you gave in immediately as he cuddled on your chest. ‘Okay, we’ll keep him, let’s call him Zeke.” Five years later she was gone and you found yourself giving him shots of fluid to keep him going before his kidneys failed altogether. “He’s not my cat,” she said after she left. “I’m allergic to cats.” You cried at the vet’s.
Someone else lives there now. So, you put the thought out of your mind and listen harder. You hear something knocking in the engine and wonder how much it’ll cost to fix. You come to the roundabout, slow down and look both ways, because people aren’t supposed to stop. She’s wearing horn-rimmed glasses with flowers over the hinges. Her knee bobs up and down, and she’s strokes her jeans with one hand, and you see the bruises, all up and down her arm. She fell off her bike, she says. And, the patch is so she can stop smoking because this guy she likes told her he’ll take her out to dinner on a nice date, if she quits first. She taps you lightly on the thigh as she says the word guy. You wonder how old she is. You think you know. You do the math. She rolls down the window and coughs. “Boy, I wish I had a cigarette,” she says. You pop in a Modest Mouse CD. Float on Float on. She starts singing along, octaves. She’s a pretty good singer.
You pull up at the restaurant and get out first. You open the door…again. An ambulance flies by, sirens blaring, and you stand there waiting. She makes the sign of the cross. “Everything happens for a reason,” she says. The busker on the corner is doing Hank Williams.. Senior. You make the sign of the cross and thank God he isn’t doing Bocephus. Exhaust fumes settle over the couples sitting on the patio. You ask to be seated inside, where it’s darker and cooler and you can breathe again. She doesn’t look at the menu. “I’ll have that, too,” she says after you order. The food comes quickly. The portions are large. Marlon Brando once said he didn’t care how fat he was, he got paid the same no matter what. Marlon Brando also once said he was a good actor because he had eyes like a dead pig. You wonder what he meant. Her eyes are nothing like a dead pig. They are alive, shimmering in the shadows, pupils open wide. You talk about things that you think matter. She laughs at everything. Halfway through dinner, she excuses herself to go to the bathroom. Half her plate is empty, but the food is still there, rearranged and piled high into a sculpture of pasta and sauce.
Light flickers off the blade of your butter knife and you remember Kat’s birthday in Ireland, Clonakilty Cork, down the block from the hotel with no hot water, at the end of your long tour together, when you’d finally made peace. And, Samantha riding her bike to meet you at the little invite only French restaurant run by her friend in Brixton, telling you stories of her childhood in South Africa, making plans to go to the cinema together the next night. And, Ingrid, pulling you out of the green room to walk you through the streets of Bergen under the starriest of skies, to see an up and coming band at Café Opera because “you’re not like most Americans.” You remember reading somewhere that psychologists say when people meet, they decide within 7 and 17 seconds whether or not they will like each other. You wonder about the 10 seconds in between. You look at your watch and realize your time is up. But you still wonder.
(photo by Jude Hoekstra, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, December 2011)