I had never heard of this man, this bewildering artist simply called Mikey as his nametag declared. Nevertheless, his exhibit garnered more attention than any other piece at the gallery. His space, nay, his stage, had a perpetual line of visitors awaiting their chance to experience his artistry. The curators of the event must have had the foresight to know his performance art would attract the largest crowd, for his stainless steel cart from which he created his masterpieces was located in the back, somewhat distanced from the other exhibits.
As not to appear too eager, I browsed the other pieces, half-heartedly admiring the portraits and landscapes and sculptures, occasionally commenting to a fellow fan of the arts, but it was the line to Mikey that had my true attention. After spending only a fraction of the time with the other artworks than I normally would have, I took my place amongst the other guests in line hungering for their turn with the splash out artist.
“Next,” he called, and the line moved forward slightly.
Mikey had bound his dreads into a pinned up ponytail, capped with a visor. He wore a matching apron with his nametag in the corner. He wore latex gloves and, never missing a detail, had a splotch of mustard on his forearm.
After watching many satisfied patrons leave his cart with their own original creations crafted right before their eyes, Mikey finally called “Next,” and approached the glass window separating the performer from the audience.
“How may I help you?” Mikey asked me, friendly, inviting. This was a man whose whole purpose was to share his art with others.
“Help me?” I said. “Sir, by engaging in your work you would not only help me, you would honor me.”
“Uh, right, OK.” Mikey said. “Bread?”
I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, then I noticed the placard listing multiple bread choices. My curiosity increased tenfold. Were we, the audience, to participate in the creation of these works? “Italian,” I replied, hoping it would be a choice Mikey would approve of.
He silently retrieved a loaf from beneath the counter and placed it on a sheet of parchment paper before cutting it open lengthwise. I awed at the mindfulness in which he executed the cut, clearly the hands of someone with hundreds of hours of experience.
“Meat?” Mikey said next.
I saw that placards existed for each step of the artwork’s creation. There were so many choices. I was suddenly perplexed.
“What do most people get?” I inquired, knowing I must seem amateurish to the man.
“Probably turkey,” Mikey said, with no air of judgment. “But hey man, this is for you. Not anyone else. Watchyu want?”
“I suppose I shall have the roast beef.” I replied, exalted with a rush of applying my own person onto the piece.
“Cheese?” Mikey continued.
“Oh,” I said, tapping my chin. “Pepperjack. No, American. No, pepperjack.”
I tugged at my shirt collar, uncertain with my choice. However, Mikey paid my indecisiveness no mind, and added the cheese slices.
“Veggies?” He said, sliding the parchment paper down the counter.
I leaned in closer to the glass window to examine my options, my many options. Truly, no two creations had to be the same. There was infinite potential within Mikey’s craft.
“How much can I get?” I asked.
“As much as you want,” Mikey said. “But personally, I think less is more when it comes to the toppings. You know what I mean?”
“Yes, I think I do.” I nodded, absorbing those sage words.
I reexamined my choices, carefully considering what veggies could say the most with the least embellishment.
“I’ll take black olive, red pepper, and,” feeling a bit bolder, “onion.”
Mikey assembled the last ingredients and folded the creation closed before cutting it in half at a diagonal. Then he wrapped up the piece and handed it to me.
“That will be four eighty-nine.” He said.
“Yes, of course,” I could hardly believe that such an incredible experience came at such a reasonable price. I withdrew my checkbook and wrote the artist the specified amount. Upon handing the artist his check, his eyes widened.
“Wow. Thanks, brother.”
I reveled in his usage of such familiar association. Indeed, there was a kinship between him and me. Both of us contributing to the artwork’s creation, neither knowing exactly how it would unfold.
“No, thank you,” I said. Then I looked for a place to sit, where I might further endeavor to appreciate the masterpiece in my hands.
(Fiction and Photography by Wesley Martin)