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In name of art, California man dines with strangers (Reuters 5.4.05)

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  • Paul Paz
    In name of art, California man dines with strangers By Sarah Tippit Reuters 5.4.05 LOS ANGELES - Attention citizens of the world: Would you like to have
    Message 1 of 1 , May 6, 2005
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      In name of art, California man dines with strangers
      By Sarah Tippit
      Reuters 5.4.05

      LOS ANGELES - Attention citizens of the world: Would you like to
      have dinner with a total stranger?

      If so please call Marc Horowitz at 1-510-872-7326. The 28-year-old
      conceptual artist from the San Francisco area not only wants to meet
      you, he wants you to become part of his newest art project.

      Horowitz began his "National Dinner Tour" last year as a way to
      explore the idea of community among strangers. Since then he has
      driven a leaky 1984 Toyota RV from the organic chicken farms of
      southern California to the hallowed halls of Yale University, in
      search of food and conversation -- which he documents on his Web
      site, www.ineedtostopsoon.com.

      He'll eat anything in the name of art from burned burritos to fine
      foie gras, although he told Reuters he is allergic to strawberries,
      and that burned onions and "Hawaiian chili" have recently caused him
      embarrassing gastric distress.

      The project began when Horowitz, a former freelance photographer's
      assistant for furniture chain Crate & Barrel, got bored while
      setting up a shoot for the autumn 2004 catalog. A computer armoire
      with a dry erase board attached to its door just begged to be
      written on -- to make it look as if somebody really used the thing.

      In a fateful burst of creativity, Horowitz scribbled a note: "dinner
      w/marc" and he added his own phone number.

      "I wanted to take people away from that commercial experience of
      looking at something that wasn't real ... and offer them an
      alternative," he said.

      Horowitz's dinner invite slipped past company proofreaders and
      appeared near the back of the catalog which was distributed
      nationally. Then his phone began ringing.

      "The calls started in the Midwest with a guy named Jake from Kansas
      and fanned east and west from there. It has been such a bizarre
      thing," he said.

      Two weeks later Horowitz said he had logged about 300 messages. Due
      to media exposure and word of mouth, the phone still rings and
      Horowitz has stopped counting the calls that have poured in from
      around the world. "The phone rings so much it's ridiculous. For a
      while it was ringing four times a minute."

      When his mailbox jammed up, he added his e-mail address. He
      estimates the number of phone and e-mail messages from as far away
      as Japan and Australia so far to be more than 16,000.

      The armoire still can be seen in the catalog, but the phone number
      has been etched out and no longer appears on the company's Web site.
      A Crate & Barrel spokeswoman declined to comment.

      HIS CUP OF TEA

      University-level art training emboldened Horowitz to embark on a
      series of conceptual art projects in San Francisco years ago. He has
      run errands for strangers and shared lunch with strangers at his
      favorite burrito stand. He also wheeled a coffee cart and a 1,300-
      foot-long (396-meter-long) extension cord from his San Francisco
      apartment down a hill to a public park, where he served cups of
      coffee to strangers.

      Although it happened by accident, the dinner project seemed a
      natural extension of his earlier artistic work.

      Surprisingly so far, nobody has had any objections to meeting him
      for dinner. There have been no requests for references or criminal
      background checks. Although he never stipulated that people were
      required to feed him, all but one (Gino, an injured wrestler in
      Bangor, Maine, who is down on his luck) have offered to provide a
      meal.

      "People do put an enormous amount of trust in me, a stranger, which
      is promising in this country I think," he said.

      There have been many interesting meals so far.

      A group of Hispanic residents of San Juan Battista, California, not
      only prepared a home-cooked Mexican feast, they put on a show for
      him afterwards.

      He spent the night on an organic chicken farm in Los Lomos,
      California. "The whole meal was organic. The salad was traded for at
      the farmer's market that day. The whole thing was created with their
      own hands. It was just excellent. I felt so healthy."

      A motivational speaker in Santa Rosa, California, sent him on a
      ropes course 60 feet in the air before serving him a meal of
      linguine with scallops and shrimps. Horowitz said he was able to
      conquer his fear of heights.

      The conversations have been eclectic. In a Michigan bar, a man of
      few words told Horowitz: "One man's landscaping is another man's
      crime scene. I paused and said, 'Hey, that's great' ... and then we
      had to go."

      In San Diego, Horowitz, temporarily joined on his travels by two
      male friends, was confronted by skinheads who accused the group of
      being gay and proceeded to beat them up.

      Horowitz, who escaped harm, ended up spending the night in hospital,
      making sure his friends would recover. Afterwards the two men
      returned home, leaving him to travel mostly alone.

      Through phone, e-mail and his Web site, dinner invitations continue
      pouring in from thousands of people, including nurses on late-night
      shifts, a retired clam digger, lonely old women, and people
      recovering from grave illnesses. Others include a minister who wants
      to introduce Horowitz to Jesus Christ, a group of women who call
      themselves "winches," and a woman who, after much soul searching
      decided to scoop dog excrement for a living.

      "I asked her if it was making her any money and she said no, not
      really. To me, it seems like contemporary art in a way but who
      knows," he said.
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