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Internet Performance Art
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Humor Around the Net

Performance Art

If there's one thing I've learned from the Burning Man festival, it's that we need more random, crazy acts in our daily lives. So sometimes I do the unexpected, especially when there's a good comedic or ironic result to be had. Maybe some of the examples that follow will amuse you, and better yet, maybe they'll inspire you to do even more interesting things. (Here are some great example of what others have done.) You only live once, and life is what you make of it.

Most people come to this page to read the story about my getting arrested for playing the piano in the mall or for wearing a dress to a strip club, so there are the shortcut links for you.

Grandmaster vs. Bluejay

In 2006 I had the opportunity to play chess against one of my heroes, Susan Polgar, the first woman to become a chess grandmaster. It was a simultaneous exhibition, which means that she played several people at once. (In this case, 34.) I'm terrible at chess, I didn't have a chance, it was just an opportunity to play someone I liked. I'd never done one of these before, and the atmosphere was interesting: It was a big room with 50 people, but it was dead quiet, like a library. And of course I would always respect that quiet -- unless there was a really good comic effect to be had.

The format was that Polgar would go around the room in a circle, when she got to your board you'd make your move, then she'd make her move, then she'd move on to the next board. Well, after only about 23 moves I could see she was gonna have checkmate on the next move. Any normal person would have just resigned, but I don't think anyone's ever accused me of being normal. So when she got to my board I made my move, then she made hers and very quietly announced "Checkmate," at which point I grabbed my head and screamed, "NO!" Then I started banging my head on the table, screaming, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no!"

There was enough laughter in the room to validate my decision. And I'm glad to have given Grandmaster Susan Polgar an experience she likely never had before.

Internet Performance Art

The Internet is ripe for spoofing. Here's my parody of AskJeeves.com.

The master of Internet spoofs is Rob Cockerham of Cockeyed.com. His site is full of brilliant performance art in general.

Painting a Billboard

When I performed in the very first stage production of the musical Who is Jim Holt?, I painted a billboard to promote the show.  First some friends and I found a blank billboard with no ad running, and we climbed up onto the roof of the building next to it.  Then they climbed up to the billboard itself (I'm scared of heights) and took down the plastic canvas banner that had been covering it.  I painted it and they hung it back up. We especially liked the fact that most people who saw it would have no earthly idea what it meant. (On that topic, here are a bunch of other billboards on the Culture Jammer's Encyclopedia that are far cleverer than my effort.  If this inspires anybody, here are billboard-modifying guide from Urban75.)

(For those who'd like to go the legal route, billboard pricing runs about $5k to $15k per month, depending on location.  Billboard Advertising Direct has a neat calculator that will show you how many people will see your ad based on city, urban/rural location, and length of run.)

Free Nelson Mandela

For those too young to know, Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner in South Africa for decades, until he was finally released (and then became South Africa's president). During his imprisonment, people worldwide called for his release with popular "Free Nelson Mandela" t-shirts and bumper stickers. So once, I went into Wheatsville (a semi-hippie co-op grocery store) and told them I had a coupon for a Free Nelson Mandela. (The cashier said he'd have to check with the manager, but I told him not to bother.)

Live Strippers to Your Room

You can't walk down the Las Vegas strip without dozens of people trying to hand you small color fliers for private strippers to visit your hotel room. My friend Amanda and I found this kind of weird and surreal, so we decided to make art out of it. The next time we passed an ad-hawker trying to hand me an ad, I took it, and then Amanda immediately started screaming at me for taking it. Then she started hitting me, and I fell to the ground, and she started kicking me while yelling. It was beautiful.

Grammar Samaritan

I corrected the sign at the DPS parking lot that said "Employee's Only" by putting some white electrical tape over the apostrophe. It feels good to go to bed at night, knowing you made a difference.

Wanna buy some drugs?

A friend and I were walking towards a restaurant when a man offered to sell us cocaine. He held up a large bag of white powder which couldn't have possibly been cocaine, since five pounds would probably be worth a couple million dollars, I guess. I told him I didn't really care for cocaine, but asked if he had any Beanie Babies? My companion was annoyed by my engaging him and ushered me towards the restaurant.

Fun with Telemarketers

By the same token, I also "play" with telemarketers. I see how long it takes them to hang up on ME. When a telemarketer asks to speak to "Mr. or Mrs. Bluejay?", I reply in my normal voice, "This is Mrs. Bluejay!"

When people try to sell me something, it's fun to turn it around and try to sell them something. My personal triumph was selling two copies of Diet for a New America to the Greenpeace activists who came to the door.

Telemarketers are especially annoying when they start the call with a massive, mile-a-minute, three-minute speech that they immediately read to you after you've barely had time to answer the phone. For example

Me: Hel...

Them: [read rapidly] Hi, this is John Waverly from New Horizons Publishing and I'm excited to tell you that you've been selected at random to receive at absolutely no cost to you a three-month subscription to three of your favorite magazines, like TV Guide, Sports Illustrated, and Time, but these are just examples and there are hundreds of magazines to choose from again this is at absolutely no cost to you these magazines will be delivered right to your home for your enjoyment after the three-month trial period you'll be able to continue to receive the very same magazines for the low price of only $99 a year but of course you can cancel after your three free months and pay nothing so you have nothing to lose and all I need from you is which magazines you'd like to receive free today?

At this point, my favorite response is simply, "What?"

How do you interpret that one-word response, "What?" Invariably the marketer starts slowly reading the script again, then builds speed as they get going. At the end of the second recital, they get another "What?" It's hard to say "What?" with a straight face after the third recital. At this point the marketer usually asks, "What part do you not understand?", to which you can go down the path of playing dumb. ("You said something about magazines. I like magazines.") Or they may ask, "Do you speak English?", to which you can reply, "Naturally I speak English. I was educated at Oxford and actually consider my verbal abilities to be quite formidable in comparison to that of the general population of any of the English-speaking countries."

Fun AS the Telemarketer

Back when I was in high school I worked for a telemarketer myself. (I was still in high school, and hadn't yet developed an ethical base.) There were 100 of us minimum-wage losers with computer terminals and telephones. To keep myself amused, I did a small hack which caused random terminals to beep every time the worker entered the answer to a question. It was fun to watch the supervisors standing behind a frustrated worker, scratching their heads, logging the worker onto the terminal at the next cubicle while the worker carried the phone over to the next cubicle still in the middle of the survey interview, only to discover that the problem would follow them from terminal to terminal.

I was determined to find some practical use for this prank, and I did. Twice during a shift, a supervisor would randomly tap into your computer screen and phone call from his or her own cubicle, to see if you were doing your job right. I didn't really like the Big Brother approach, and it always unnerved me when, as I was hanging up the phone, a supervisor would walk up and put the Monitored Call report on my desk to show me how I did. So I would make my OWN terminal beep, and complain about it, and have the supervisor keep moving me to a new cubicle until I got a vantage point that allowed me to see HIS/HER screen, so I could tell whether I was being monitored or not while on my calls.

Fun with Solicitors

 One day my then-roommate Skip answered the door to discover a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses. They got more than they bargained for. Skip was a practicing pagan and well-versed in religious theory and history, and he started dishing what they said back at them, in a matter-of-fact and condescending way. ("If you actually look at the history and origin of the Bible and put it into context, what you discover blah blah blah...")

Soon into this I called out from my room, "Skip! Are you talking to Christians again?!" I can only imagine how the Witnesses evaluated the weird ramifications of that question. Eventually the Witnesses tried to excuse themselves, but Skip continued lecturing them. They tried to get away again, saying, "Well, we should move on, since you've said you're into witchcraft..." To which Skip hit the roof: " 'Into'? 'INTO'?! I'm not 'INTO' anything! Look, I'm a full-fledged sorcerer!" They left, and Skip followed them down the sidewalk, continuing to talk to them.

Imagined conversation with police officer
(after running a red light on my bicycle)

I have this line all ready to go in case this ever happens to me...

Cop: Hey, buddy, red lights are for bicycles, too.

Me: But the light won't turn green for bikes. The metal detector in the ground isn't sensitive enough to register that there's a bike here waiting for the light.

Cop: Well then, why didn't you just push the button on the pole?

Me: Why would I do that?

Cop: Because the button changes the light.

Me: Come on! If you could change the light by pushing that button, everyone would be doing it!

Random Bits

My friend Marianne had the idea of starting a singalong on the bus. Her idea was for she and I to get on the bus at different stops, so it wouldn't look like we were working together. One of us would start, but of course you have to have at least one more person join in so you encourage that mob mentality; with just one person doing it, nobody wants to be different by joining in.

Along these lines, it's fun to walk into the laundromat and exclaim, "Hello, neighbors! And what a fine washing day it is!"

Wearing a dress to a strip club

A few years back my friend Julia wanted to go to a strip club to see what it was like, but was surprised to find that the clubs wouldn't allow an unescorted woman to come in. (I don't know the reason, but I assume it's because they're trying to either discourage prostitutes from working the joint, or preventing wives from finding their husbands in such an establishment.) They told her she could enter if she were with a man.

She was incensed by this, and knowing that I was the political type, called me to see if I "knew any feminists or activists who would want to protest such a thing." I told her that my feeling was that if someone were going to invest the time to champion feminist issues, they'd probably pick a more obvious and worthwhile target than equal access to strip clubs for women. I just couldn't see that issue as being the one that the activists would be excited about rallying around.

So she changed her tack, and asked if I'd accompany her as her escort, in a dress. Sure, why the hell not? We went to the thrift store and she bought me the cutest pink dress. I shaved my beard, and she tied my long mohawk into pigtails. We walked into the Crazy Lady, arm in arm, but the women working the door seemed frightened and confused. She wanted to know our purpose for being here: "You want to see the ladies?" I replied, "Well, that's what you advertise that you have here, right?" She ran off to get her manager. He came to talk to us, and refused to let us in. Julia asked why, and he said because I "wasn't dressed appropriately". And I thought, Oh, of all the irony of mother-fucking ironies! You have WOMEN IN HERE DANCING AROUND NAKED and I'm not dressed APPROPRIATELY?!?

Julia then suggested that I not come in and she go in by herself, to which the manager said that an unescorted woman could not enter, to which she insisted that I was her escort, to which he said that I wasn't dressed appropriately, to which she suggested that she go in by herself, etc.

Eventually we left and headed over to Sugar's. The doorperson was stunned, and we quickly paid our cover fee and headed inside and sat down before she could figure out how to deny us admittance. We immediately ordered drinks to establish ourselves as paying customers. There was a noticable murmur among the patrons who were obviously uncomfortable about my presence. I hadn't thought about danger -- getting the crap beat out of me -- and it crossed my mind then. But somehow the presence of women in the room -- even if just on the stage -- seemed to counteract the hostile vibe somehow. I can't explain it, and I don't know if it's an accurate assumption, but it just seemed like if I were there in a dress and the only people in the room were male, that it would have been more dangerous for me.

Now, I'm not a patron of strip clubs, and I admit that I enjoyed an excuse to go, since I hadn't been there and I was curious. But I was surprised to find that it wasn't sexually exciting at all. That might have been because I had getting the crap beat out of me on my mind, or maybe it was that I didn't find any of the dancers all that attractive. They were all tall, wore high heels, had massive heads of long hair, and had ridiculously large, gravity-defying breasts -- all things I find fairly unattractive. And they all looked the same! I couldn't tell one from the other.

Anyway, I insisted on going up to the stage and handing the dancers some dollar bills, since I knew that they worked for tips. Julia made fun of me, saying that I was going because I wanted to go and not because it was my moral duty. The dancers tried to get me to insert the bills into their thongs but I preferred to just hand them over. One dancer put her arms on my shoulders, told me she loved my dress and hair (the mohawk pigtails) and asked who did it, and of course I pointed to Julia. I returned to the table and told Julia how the dancer liked my getup, but Julia informed me that she was probably just being nice to get more tips. (That possibility hadn't occurred to me. But give me a break, I was new at this.) Anyway, Julia said that the patrons breathed a sigh of relief when I went to tip the dancers, presumably because that demonstrated that I "liked girls" and so that eased their discomfort.

The novelty wore off quickly so we left. Then Julia wanted to go country-western dancing. I was adamantly opposed. I told her, "You know what they'll say: 'If ol' Bluejay hadda just known when to say Stop, he'd be alive today to tell you this story.' " She kept insisting we go and I kept refusing, but eventually she cajoled me into it. In retrospect, wearing a dress to a country-western club in Texas is a pretty stupid idea, even if it's in Austin. The vibe at the club was BAD, far worse than at the strip club. And Julia made it worse by constantly trying to ditch me at the club so she could mingle with other guys, which kind of pissed me off, since she didn't realize the danger she was putting me in by not being my escort. I kept asking her, "Okay, can we go now? Can we go now?"

At one point someone tapped my shoulder and I turned around just in time to see a waitress turning away and pretending she hadn't tapped my shoulder. So I confronted her and asked her why she'd tapped me, but she denied that she had. I kept insisting that I'd seen her, but she kept denying it, so eventually I dropped it.

So nothing major happened -- I didn't get beat up. But I still had an interesting experience. When I'm old I bet I'll be glad that I did things like this -- that I lived my life.

Getting arrested for playing the piano

One Saturday night I biked to the mall to buy a pressure cooker, because I was really getting into cooking, and hosting dinner parties after Critical Mass bike rides. I thought that was actually kind of sad -- malls are already depressing to me because I don't like consumer culture, and this was how I was spending my Saturday night, alone. (Actually, I'm typing this up on a Saturday night too, if that tells you anything.)

So while I'm at the mall, I take the opportunity to play the excellent Young Chang black baby grand piano in the food court. I know what I'm doing. I played in a restaurant when I was 15. And I wasn't playing anything obnoxious, I was playing the sweet jazz song "Just the Two of Us" by Grover Washington Jr. But a police officer came up and told me to stop playing. I was really annoyed, because there was no reason I shouldn't be playing the piano; he was telling me not to just because he could. So I ignored him. I didn't even acknowledge that he was there. He was perplexed. He tugged on my shirt sleeve a couple of times. I cut the song short, but I did make certain to at least have a closing rather than end abruptly. I stood up and was going to walk away, when the populus of the food court started applauding and cheering.

I had an audience. I couldn't let them down. So I extended my arm outward and said, "Did you like that?" Lots of cheering. I gestured to the cop, "This man doesn't want me to play -- would YOU like me to continue?" Even more cheering. "Then I will," I said. I sat back down at the piano. The cop said, "You play that piano, you're going to jail." I had the first note out -- "A", and couldn't even play a second before he was pulling my arms behind my back to cuff me. The crowd booed. I played it up, calling out, "I'm being arrested for playing the piano!"

He was a little rougher than he needed to be, of course. So I said, "There's no need to be so rough. I'm not resisting arrest." He snapped, "You're damn right you're not resisting arrest!"

He started pushing me through the mall. As we walked, I asked for his badge number. He was silent. I asked again. No response. I kept asking, but he wouldn't say. As we passed people, they looked at me with wide eyes -- I could tell they thought I must have been a shoplifter or something -- especially since my clothes were kind of shabby. Every time someone looked at me, I made it a point of cheerfully saying, "Hi! I was arrested for the playing the piano!" After about the third time, the cop grumbled, "You were arrested for not obeying a lawful order!"

He led me to a little substation they had in the mall, which I never knew existed. There wasn't anyone else there. Of course, at that point, I was scared. He was pissed, he was a cop, and I was cuffed, defenseless. In fact, he told me, "You're lucky you didn't pull this in Dallas or Houston! The cops there would have beat you senseless!" There's nothing more dangerous than a police officer with a wounded ego. It became abundantly clear that that's the real reason he arrested me.

"You didn't think I was a real cop, did you?!" he thundered at me. "You thought I was just a mall cop! You thought I was a security guard! You didn't know I was a REAL cop!"

Wow, THAT proved my point better than *I* ever could. Throughout the whole ordeal, he made it clear that what really set him off was that I didn't OBEY him. I didn't get arrested for playing the piano. I got arrested for wounding his sense of self-importance by not acknowledging him and by ignoring his demand.

He told me that anyone who did what I did (i.e., disobeyed a police officer with theatrics) must either be mentally deranged or on drugs. So I asked him to give me a drug test, since I don't do drugs. He ignored me. He kept insisting I was either on drugs or crazy, so I kept asking for a drug test, but he wouldn't acknowledge that I was asking for one.

He told me he had to call a friend of mine so they could verify that I hadn't just escaped from a mental institution. (!) So I gave him the number of my friend Neal. He dialed the phone. He said, "This is Officer So-and-so, and I'm calling for--." He looked up at me. "Neal," I said. "Neal," repeated the officer. He looked up at me and shook his head. "Uh, Christi," I offered, Neal's girlfriend. That didn't work, and when the cop looked at me for a third time, I was sure he thought I had given him a random number and that I didn't actually know anyone there. I was confused for a second, until I remembered that Mariella was staying with Neal and Christi. "Mariella," I said. Yes, it was her.

So the cop just starts angrily detailing to Mariella what happened in the food court. It was realy comical and pathetic. He wasn't asking her any questions at all, he was just highlighting over and over how I'd ignored him. He obviously was just looking for validation! It was crazy. I was embarrassed that he was screaming at Mariella, that she would be mad at me because this cop was harassing her, so I tried to interrupt by saying, "Look, please don't take it out on her. I'm the one who made the mistake." He told me to be quiet.

I could tell that she'd asked him to get to the point, because he suddenly looked for something to ask. He said, "So, uh, why would he do that? Why would he disobey a police officer?" I found out later that Mariella had gone to bed early, so he had actually woken her up with his call. (It was just before 9:00pm.) Of course, there was no good answer to his question, and Mariella sleepily answered, "I guess that's just the way he is." Then the cop was livid! "That's just the way he is?! You mean it's normal for him to not do what a police officer tells him to do?!" So she offered, "I guess he's just tired of being pushed around." So then -- I kid you not -- the cop compares that to the recently-released movie Falling Down, in which a common-man gets fed up with the world and starts killing people. Jesus.

I don't think he ever did ask her to confirm that I wasn't a mental hospital escapee. If he did, it definitely didn't seem to be the point of the call.

The call over with, he started using the cop logic on me. God, I hate cop logic, it never makes sense. First he told me that he could have charged me with attempted theft! I stifled the urge to say, "Look, it would take ten grown men just to LIFT a baby grand piano, much less get it down the ESCALATOR!" Instead I calmly replied that it would be hard for me to steal the piano while I was playing it. I also stifled the urge to add that I wasn't sure I could fit it under my coat.

Then came the cop analogies, which are just as bad: "It's just like if you came home and you saw me in your living room playing your instruments! How about that, huh?!" I replied, "Well, the piano is in the food court, which is a public place." He said, "Uh, uh, okay, well, it's a public place, but what if you went into that public place and started eating someone else's french fries! What about that, huh?" So I answered, "A piano is not a consumable item." He kept growing angrier that I had good answers to his questions. It was impossible for him to understand that I hadn't been hurting a damn thing by playing the piano, because once he arrested me it was necessary for him to believe that he'd done the right thing. So I just gave in and told him what he wanted to hear.

"Gee, you know, now that I think of it, I shouldn't have been playing the piano. I know it wasn't mine. And I should have stopped when you told me. I don't know, I guess I was in a bad mood. I've never done anything like this before. You can see that I don't have any kind of record. etc. etc." He quickly became pacified and let me go. At first he told me that he'd be issuing a peace bond, which would mean that I would be arrested if I set foot on mall property in the next year. Since he was kind of slow, I thought I'd play with that a little, while also helping him feel more self-important, so I said, "Oh, well, could that start tomorrow? Because I really wanted to buy a pressure cooker tonight." Gleefully he retorted, "No! You'll have to buy it somewhere else!" Too bad that he didn't get it, but at least I was helping him feel that he had the better of me.

I continued this. Playing dumb, I asked, "What you said earlier, about the police officers in Dallas and Houston... Was that true?" "Yeah!" he replied. "Well," I said, "I appreciate your not doing that to me." This also made him feel good about himself.

He uncuffed me and escorted me out of the mall, and said he wouldn't issue the peace bond so I'd be able to come back the next day if I wanted. He kept expressing his amazement at my actions and I kept telling him that I was sorry and that I didn't know why I did such a crazy stupid thing. We got to the exit, and I asked him, "Okay, now that it's all over, will you shake my hand?" He did. I consider that a diplomatic triumph.

Originally I thought that my Saturday night was depressing. But then I realized that I had helped a whole bunch of people lose their respect for authority when they saw the police officer unnecessarily arrest me. And I thought, by that measurement, I've had a very successful Saturday night.

(Google picks the ads, not me.)

MBJ's Humor | Michael Bluejay home | Email

Last update: September 2013.