72nd and Broadway Subway Station, June 20, 2008
On Friday the 20th I was descending into the 72nd and Broadway subway station when my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a man shouting broken words from the platform below. It was not until I reached the end of the stairs that I noticed two other sounds—a high-pitched squeak, like an amplified rat’s call, and a stuttering, vowel-rich intonation of gasps and yelps with no lingual equivalent. This was not, as I first suspected, a single schizophrenic’s daily discourse, but, as I was about to find out, a small group from the Asplundher Syndicate: Fast Sedan Nelson, Sir Chad Niral-Nelson, and Two-Shed’s Nelson.
Seeing no one on my side of the platform, I began walking to the other end. The trio of noises reverberated off the walls, making it difficult to place their source. Were they emanating from the tunnel, the platform across the way, from hidden vents and speakers in the ceiling? The clamor grew louder, the noises responding to each other as if in a conversation, but at the same time mimicking and multiplying their shrillness and fractured structure. “Having said such thi–or a Clinton supp–eal thing we’re do,” yelled the first voice; “Zweewee zwee zu zu–zu zu ZWEEEN zu–zu ZEA ZE-ze Zu,” squealed the rat-sound; and “Waawaa Yay Suuu titi–yay wha COO-BOO–ya YAY titi TI!” crooned the third. The additional element of laughter finally led me to a small group of people over whose shoulders I could see a bobbing bowler hat.
I elbowed my way to the second rank and found a small group of men arrayed in a semi-circle. First in line was Fast Sedan Nelson in a t-shirt emblazoned with an image of Wordsworth; he was ripping bits of the New York Post and reading them to the second man, Sir Chad Niral-Nelson. Sir Chad, in his bowler hat and tweed jacket, played an antique, whistle-enhanced, foot-operated, air pump called the Foot-Bastard, which was pointed towards the third member, Two-Sheds Nelson, who, crouching, transcribed the squeaks onto his clipboard, while simultaneously yawping them at the assembled onlookers.
The chain of translation started with Fast Sedan who, playing up a pompous British accent, recoiled at what he was reading. The Foot-Bastard drew laughs as Sir Chad listened attentively to Fast Sedan’s cut-up oratory, mimicking the words with vigorous pumps. At one point he ripped the Foot-Bastard’s whistle-tube off, smiled, and began blowing the tube itself. Two-Sheds kept eye contact with the viewers between glancing down to read his markings, grimacing through every syllable. The performance drew as much from British comedy as from Dada actions and Fluxus event scores. Two-Sheds borrows his name from a Monty Python sketch, and Fast Sedan’s affectations hearken back to Punch. Upon the arrival of the subway, the three-man team ceremoniously packed up the newspaper, clipboard and broken Foot-Bastard into a purple bag, smiled, shook hands, and one after the other marched stiffly onto the train.
The Asplundher Syndicate hails from England, where Sir Chad writes essays that question the historical existence of Picasso and Fast Sedan translates Wordsworth into “Even-More-Boring-and-Trite.” Each member of the Asplundher Syndicate assumes the pseudonymous surname Nelson to display the fraternal ties within the collective, and to advertise the presence of the group whenever a member signs his/her name. Masks usually figure heavily in their performance work, although they were curiously missing this time. The action’s translation of news into agit-comedy and sound-poetry allowed room for personal embellishments while inserting itself anonymously into a public site with a captive audience. At no time did the Syndicate announce its name, and I might have been the only one lured there, however mysteriously, by a puzzling text message I received from a friend, “72nd and Broadway Station—9:00pm—Tomorrow—A Nelson Loses Three Heads…apparently.”