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Now reading Performance Art in a Burger King

Performance Art in a Burger King

Reminisces of Suburban Dada at Burger King.

BK-COL

As the only child of a slightly wayward mother, I spent a lot of my adolescence being carted around from town to town, changing school systems every other year. It was pretty tough to make new friends with every move, and infiltrating established cliques was especially difficult in high school.

In the middle of tenth grade, we moved from the somewhat affluent Strongsville, Ohio, to the slightly less so Lakewood, Ohio (right next to rough and tumble Cleveland), and, one day, while wearing a Butthole Surfers T-shirt, I was fortunate to fall in with a gang of maniacs. One had just gotten back from a yearlong suspension after throwing a chair at a teacher, another was selling acid by the sheet, another was going to juvie for car theft. They were total fuckups, but also smart, funny as fuck, and wild in the head.

I was closest with a kid named Brent, a weed-smoking, sex-addicted, classical-guitar virtuoso in a hard-core band called One Beat Off. A few years later, after high school, Brent got a job at Burger King, then made flyers that said BURGER KING WORKER GOES BERSERK and put them up on telephone poles all over Lakewood. Under that was a crudely copied photo collage of Brent eating burgers, clothed and naked. Twenty years later, I checked in with Brent, to see how that performance affects his life today.

Derek: Remember that thing you did at the Burger King?

Brent: It had more to do with stupidity than food. It was summer 1997. I got the job especially for the performance. I think I worked about three weeks—they only let me work the fryer.

Derek: How many people were in the restaurant when you did the performance? Is it safe to call it a performance? Did any of the employees know?

Brent: I would say about every available seat was taken—it was the downtown Lakewood location that had a decent-size dining room. And, yeah, it was a performance, planned and executed. My reason for it is kind of vague. The original plan was for me to be working behind the counter—the idea was that it was a spontaneous freak-out—but an unknown person brought management a flyer.

Derek: And the dining room was filled with people to see it? People you knew and people that you didn’t?

Brent: Yeah, I promoted it like you would a band show. I printed up a bunch of flyers and dropped them off at record stores and stuff. The good thing about being found out was that it gave me a reason to have an entrance, as opposed to being behind the counter slowly watching the place fill up. The weird thing is that no one confronted me on it, they just took me off the schedule, which is a nice thing when you’re working from seven to close on a Friday night.

I got dropped off down the street and had my getaway car wait. I had three different shirts on and was wearing a wig. I walked in the front doors and made my way to the counter. It was like fifteen minutes past the stated start time, so all the audience was already in their seats. Just seemed like a bunch of sneaky grins waiting for the big event. I walked to the counter. All the employees were on the other side, also looking around wondering what the hell was going to happen. I remember looking at each of them and saying, “I am doing this for you guys,” or something like that, and then I tore off my wig and my top shirt to reveal my Burger King uniform. I ended up jumping on the counter and started throwing a barrage of insults and shit to the patrons.

Derek: It was the point of no return. Were you nervous? Energized by the anxiety?

Brent: I don’t remember much of it. I didn’t want anything planned, more a spontaneous release. I do remember a guy front and center with a video camera, but I assumed he was a friend of the owner to document any damage. I was nervous beforehand when it kind of hit me exactly what I was about to do.

Derek: What did you yell to the patrons?

Brent: I remember trying to defend workers’ rights—defend my “fellow workers” behind the counter. Calling the customers useless. It was all kind of a blur, until one of the managers appeared and was screaming, “Brent, please stop,” stuff like that. It was actually right on cue because I needed to get out of there—I was certain the cops had been called. So I wrapped it up by saying something like, “Fuck this job and fuck all of you,” and I ripped open my Burger King uniform (I had perforated it like Hulk Hogan) to reveal a white shirt that said “Get your burger’s worth”; shouted, “I quit!”; and made my way out. I made it down the side street to the getaway car and jumped in the trunk while the driver took off. That might have been overkill.

Derek: Was there applause? Did you hear anything more from management?

Brent: There was applause and yelling. I remember seeing a milkshake thrown across the dining room. I did hear from management a week later when I went to collect my paycheck. They took out all these deductions: ruined uniform, blah, blah, blah. I remember countering with, “What the hell are you talking about? I packed this place!”

It wasn’t a political thing—I think I really just wanted to scream at people. It was self-promotion too. I was kind of bored with music then. So I decided that maybe I should just do stupid things.

Derek: Has working at Burger King ever come up when applying for other jobs later in life?

Brent: No, I leave that off of my résumé. That summer seemed to have a lot strange happenings in Cleveland. I think the spectacle of going to a fast-food place for “dinner theater” was a draw, plus the flyer. A good cheap thrill.