Performance, Anxiety



Neighborhood: Central Park

Performance, Anxiety
Photo by by Young Sok Yun

The rare April sun has sucked hundreds of New Yorkers from their homes and offices, spilling them across Sheep’s Meadow in various states of undress. At the north end of the field next to the fence and a small grove of spindly trees sits an observer. Her hair is a dusty sunset of pink and orange and peach, until you get closer. The harsh sunlight betrays her, highlighting brassy shades of unnatural gold in the purportedly natural brown of her roots, revealing hints of past incarnations. She is waiting for a friend who is now fifty minutes late. She passes the time watching.

To her left, a gaggle of young women pose under clouds of petals the shade of clean cotton. They transform in front of the iPhone lens – hips at forty-five degrees, front leg cocked, front hand on hip, face tilted to one side and rotated so that one eye is directly in line with the camera. Fingers run through hair, bellies recoil, chests expand, lips purse. A memory is constructed.

Beside them, a Chinese mother and father sit on a picnic blanket underneath the popcorn kernel blossoms, tossing a small green apple and two fat oranges back and forth between them. They whoop and clap with delight as they successfully complete a coordinated three-way throw, all fruit landing unharmed in cupped palms. Then the man with a microphone on a long arm retreats and several people gather around the cameraman to play back the tape. The little boy drops his orange to the grass and runs off with a purple-covered smartphone.

Our observer is now taking notes on her phone, sneaking glances up at the large party in front of her, none of whom are making any effort to hide the three illegal wine bottles leaning precariously atop the picnic blankets. The loudest among them is a man with artistically disheveled hair curling up from a receding hairline. He wears a long-sleeved tee depicting a Hindu god, and his sunglasses sport bejeweled wings across the top of each lens and a monstrosity of rhinestones on the bridge. He flits from person to person, a wave of eyes rolling unnoticed in his wake.

A text disrupts the note-taking process. Her friend is still thirty minutes away thanks to the regular Sunday dysfunction of New York’s public transit – but she has booze and weed in tow. Great, our rosy-haired girl texts back. No problem. The sun slants across the field now, stretching shadows across the grass until they creep over her bare feet. She shoves those back into socks and sneakers, goosebumps rippling across her milky calves as the sun’s warmth cedes power to the biting wind. Circles around her begin to thin and dissipate, their members tossing out excuses – work in the morning, a dog to feed, an article to file, a call to make. No one says that their cheeks are tired of smiling, or that they’re running out of topics to discuss. No one dares voice a desire to be alone and complacent, not in the heart of this Cult of Busy-ness.

The friend arrives just over ninety minutes late, and is greeted with a smile. Under the dying sun the two of them sip passionfruit Moscato that is too sweet and eat Kashi cookies masquerading as health food. They share stories of boys who are convenient and jobs they won’t have by next month. They commiserate about the price of rent and the specter of mandatory drug testing. They dance around the discontent of youth, filled with deep questions and shallow answers. They drink and smoke and pretend their city is not suffering from an authenticity problem.

Jenny Tufts is a recent graduate of NYU with informal concentrations in David Foster Wallace, Big Gay Ice Cream, and RuPaul. She currently lives, works, writes, and consumes formidable amounts of coffee in Morningside Heights. You can contact her at , or by sending out a carrier pigeon drawn to neon hair. 

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