The assignment I gave myself was to do something I’ve never done before, every day, for approximately one hundred days. And to write it down. I tried to be brief and true to myself. As the days added up an amusing and often unsettling self-portrait emerged. –Robert Leaver
November 30, 2014
I brush my teeth before bed facing the corner of our bathroom. Jammed in tight—nose a few inches from the corner. Hoping my wife will walk in and catch me. I want her to see that I am not always the same man, doing the same things, in the same way every day. But she is already in bed.
I push the elevator button with my forehead. My only child, a ten year old son, is confused.
“What the heck, Dad?”
The button is cool and round and I feel my forehead push it in and I feel the ding sound vibrate my skull.
I walk down to the north end of my subway platform. The number one train at 157th Street. I take a few steps off the platform and into the tunnel. I stand there for a little while in the dark until I can see the light of the next train coming down.
At Fairway supermarket just off the west side highway I shoplift a can of cheap sardines. Afterwards in the rain across the street I try to feed the sardines to seagulls. No takers.
On train I see the “We Can’t Breathe” headline on the cover of The Daily News . Cops got off after choking a man to death. I hold my breath in the dead man’s honor from 137th Street to 125th Street.
I run to pick up my son, from school, two miles along Hudson riverside path. I think I’m moving along okay. A woman runs by me, twice as fast, pushing a toddler in stroller.
I stand on the corner of Houston and Clinton at night and let the raindrops fall into my open eyes.
Alone in the apartment near sunset making soup. I wander down the hall into my son’s room. Purple dusky light. Batman posters and Lego. I lay down on his bed and weep.
In Guatemala visiting my mother. At a bar called Café No Se I drink homemade Mezcal shots with a young man I just met named Matt. His two shoulders were dislocated the night before during the annual Satan burning ritual.
“They burned the devil next to the gas station,” he says.
“How did your shoulders get dislocated?”
“No idea, man. None whatsoever.”
After midnight on a desolate Guatemalan street I get down on my hands and knees and crawl the last few steps to my mother’s door.
I whisper a memorized Robert Frost poem into my mother’s ear during the intermission of an outdoor Guatemalan version of Handel’s “Messiah.”
Open a bottle of Gallo, Guatemalan beer, with an ice cream scoop.
Help a Guatemalan man stack a cord of Guatemalan oak behind my mother’s house.
I tell my mother she looks beautiful.
Back in NYC after dinner I drink wine and fold laundry, alone, wearing my wife’s panties on my head.
On the way home from my son’s dentist. My son wants to know how many times he can punch me in the arm as I walk, normal speed, one city block. He gets to one hundred fifty one.
My birthday. I hug and quickly hump a tree across the street from my apartment building.
Five years ago I picked up a thumb-shaped stone from an Irish beach. We keep it on a shelf in the bathroom. Tonight I stuff the whole stone in my mouth and manage to shut my mouth. Taste a hint of salt.
Upstate in the dark I sprint barefoot from house to garden, and back through ten inches of fresh snow.
Outside by the pond with a pack of cigarettes in hand I squeeze them, make a fist, and punch a hole through the thin ice. I hold the pack underwater until it is soaked through and my hand is numb.
Go for a walk with my son in the woods behind house. We find a stranger’s footprints in the snow. We follow them. Deeper and deeper into the woods we track the stranger. We stop where the stranger took a leak. Sickly-looking yellow snow. We decide he might be armed and not want company. We turn back.
Flying with son to meet wife at her family’s in Louisiana for Christmas. At our gate in the Albany Airport an announcement that a free gift will be given to anyone who sings a Christmas carol into the loudspeaker. I raise my hand first and sing “Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer” and I’m given a handful of candy.
Watch another man smear deer blood onto my son’s cheek.
Christmas Eve go to bed before everyone else, black hole depressed, drunk and high on Guatemalan painkillers. I pretend to just be tired.
Try to get rid of constipation, due to painkillers, with some of brother-in-laws chewing tobacco. Throw up.
Drink two “Vegas Bombs” (Crown Royal and Red Bull) at a dive bar, after four or five beers while driving around with my brother-in-law in his truck in the rain.
Take a Valium on the plane and two Guatemalan Vicodin with wine when I get home. Must get a grip and clean up my act.
Fight with wife on a walk down our dead end country road. I say that if I was her I’d consider cutting me loose.
I tell a friend I love him as we give each other a hug on the sidewalk after a few hours of serious talk and drinking. His wife is dying.
At Fairway for groceries again I find and tell the manager that they forgot to charge me for a can of sardines last time I was there. Manager is confused. I pay for the sardines.
On a walk at sunset alone, bitter cold, down by the Hudson River with the dog. Pick up a handful of cold acorns from under an oak tree and throw them out across the river ice.
New Year’s Day. Lay in bed in the morning with wife, talking, both of us scared, in tears, feeling like we might not make it.
Upstate pipes frozen. Bring in buckets of water from icy creek for washing, cooking, and toilet.
High speed hit the breaks on the interstate and slide on ice for a while until a slight press on the accelerator drives me back to traction and control. Nobody in my car or on road seems to notice.
I do five very slow nude pushups on the kitchen floor in the dark on my way to bed.
Wife in bed reading before sleep. I enter, walk to end of the bed, pull the blanket and sheet back and then lift and kiss the bottom of each of her feet.
Come in at night from walking the dog and instead of hanging my coat in the closet, like always, I step into the closet with my coat on and shut the door behind me. I stand there in the closet in the dark for a minute or two and then come out. Nobody notices.
Start and ultimately complete a three-day fasting juice cleanse detox thing.
Send out an email to everyone I know telling them that my next project will be called Hole Earth and it will involve digging holes and getting down inside them.
Make a snowball, size of a tangerine, put it down the front of my shirt. I let it melt for a couple blocks against my belly skin as I walk up Broadway to pick up my son from school.
Alone driving the car north on the interstate. Cold bright morning. I witness a horrific high-speed southbound accident involving a car and an eighteen-wheeler truck.
Walking the dog at night in the city I pick up a child’s left hand glove off the sidewalk. I try to pull it on over my hand. Won’t fit. Put it in a mailbox.
Take the bathroom light switch string between my teeth and with a downward jerk of my head I yank the light off.
In the dark in the kitchen before bed I hit myself hard on the head three times with a potato masher.
On the elevated train platform at 125th Street and Broadway. I spit down onto Broadway where I once crawled.
I pretend my son is a stranger harassing me on the train platform. I tell him in a theatrically loud voice to please stop following me. Then I insist loudly that I have no money.
I am at a coffee place on 72nd Street where they take your name and call you when your coffee is ready. When the barista woman, name tag Cora, asks what my name is I say, “Derek. But it is pronounced Duh Reek.” A minute later my coffee is ready and Cora calls out “Duh Reek. “
Whistle a made up tune as I walk past Trinity graveyard in the middle of the night.
Sing a Merle Haggard song, “High On a Hilltop,” on a nearly empty subway.
Cry with wife watching Steve Earle live singing “Can’t Remember If We Said Goodbye.”
I give myself a hickey on my right bicep.
Hate what I’m writing, lean forward and bite my computer.
Walking son to school we pass an old pay phone and I suggest we call someone. He asks me who we should call. I say we should probably call me and find out how I’m doing. I put two quarters in and dial my cell number. No sound. Dead line. The phone took the money. Won’t give it back.
Waiting for a train I throw pennies at a rat down on the tracks.
Waiting for train I attempt to stuff my entire vintage flip phone into my mouth. Won’t fit.
I scream/record a vocal track for a song I wrote called “Let’s Play Dead” while my son lays on the couch with a fever.
I tell my wife about this Days Of Never Before project and some of the stranger things I’ve done. She looks troubled but maybe intrigued.
A stranger on a passing train gives me the finger as I stand on the platform. I give him the finger back.
I pick up my dog on the elevator and use his paw to press the button for our floor.
Lay down in a strip of sunlight on the kitchen floor in the middle of the day and go to sleep.
On crowded train next to a stout extremely odd looking little woman with thick red hair. I say to her, “Your hair is beautiful.”
Ten degrees below zero upstate. Walk alone back into the woods and build a fire. I get it going on the second match. In a stone wall I find the mason jar with an inch of whisky inside it that I’d hidden a year ago. Sit by the fire and sip it.
Took the day off from doing something I’ve never done before.
I find a bedbug in our king-sized bed. I immediately dismantle the bed and throw it into the street.
Got on train, had a feeling it was going to blow up, got off the train immediately and waited for the next one.
Walked across Broadway backwards.
Confess to the barista woman, Cora, at the coffee place that I lied about my name the last time and that I’m really not called Duh Reek.
Driving upstate with my son and his friend I make up a game in which each of them has to pretend I am an all-powerful destroyer alien and they each, separately, have a minute or so to tell me why I should not destroy them and/or their planet. “Why should I let you live?” I ask in a menacing robot alien voice. They mostly beg for their lives and say please don’t hurt us over and over again.
Start a band with son and his friend. Call it We Might Be White. Me on keyboards, son on violin, friend on trumpet. Record a song named after the band.
Help a woman with stroller up subway stairs. Then an old lady with a heavy load back down the stairs.
Crossing Broadway at 157th Street with my son I start barking and lunge, still barking, at a truck that is turning in front of us.
Open a small box that came in the mail from India that contains a large dead hornet and a gold-painted screw.
In bed in dark I ask my wife to knock on my head like it is a door. She does it with her sharp little knuckle, two times.
On a crowded train in a loud authoritative cop voice I tell my son he is under arrest– just as the doors open at our stop. I drag him off the train.
Yell my own name out our bathroom window, as if I am calling to myself, eight floors down on the street. In Spanish I say, “Oye!!! Roberto!!!! Hola!!!”
Watch my son turn eleven.
Burn dead mice in the woodstove, still in their traps.
Climb to the top of skeletal pine tree by the pond near the house. Kid and wife in the house. I wait up there for a while in wind and cold hoping someone inside will notice me way up in the tree. Nobody does.
Trip and fall down on purpose walking down 14th Street. Get up and keep going.
On the train I purposefully lock eyes with a tall man who looks like me. We have a staring contest and he looks away first.
Robert Leaver is a writer, musician, and performance artist. In the last few years Leaver has focused more intensely on performance art as an act of personal exploration and public protest. He writes about his experiences. Last year Leaver completed CRAWLING HOME, a piece that involved literally crawling on hands and knees from the bottom of Broadway all the way up to his home in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Leaver is now nearing the end of HOLE EARTH, a project that involves digging and occupying holes. Hole Earth has been experienced on both sides of the Atlantic in association with galleries and concerned citizens. DAYS OF NEVER BEFORE is an experimental exercise in creating a diary of a daily private “performance”. Last but not least Leaver continues to write and perform songs under the name, BIRDTHROWER. All can be read/seen/heard at www.robertoleaver.com