This evening, walking home after a lovely dinner out with friends, I was approached by a young woman, nicely dressed, who looked to be about twenty years old.
“Can you tell me,” she asked, “how to get to the train…” at which point she doubled over and started coughing, somewhat theatrically. A moment later she straightened up and looked at me as though she were about to speak again, only to double over and begin coughing again, in an even more obviously fake and theatrical way.
I waited patiently until she was done, which seemed like the only polite thing to do. After she was finished with her coughing act, she looked at me and said “Hey, what are you looking at?”
I decided discretion was the better part of valor. After all, this was her show, and who was I to be critical? It was obvious by now that I was witnessing some kind of performance or experiment — one that was clearly still under development. “You asked how to get to the train, but you didn’t say which train,” I replied.
She looked surprised for a moment, then said, “Oh, it doesn’t matter.”
“In that case,” I said, “go one block that way,” pointing toward the nearby A train station.
“Thanks, you have a good night,” she said.
“You too,” I responded, and continued on home.
Afterward I couldn’t help wondering, what kind of performance had I just witnessed? Was it some sort of clumsily executed stealth cultural survey for an NYU class? Or just a new kind of performance art?