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'Hamburglar' Artist Throws Gnawed Cheeseburgers at People From Bike

By Amy Zimmer | July 5, 2012 10:15am

YORKVILLE — Wearing an orange McDonald's cap and a striped shirt that made him look like the Hamburglar, Nate Hill rode his bicycle down East 86th Street Tuesday afternoon tossing yellow-paper wrapped cheeseburgers to surprised bystanders.

"Free Cheeseburgers!" Hill, a performance artist from Harlem, shouted as he rode down the street, chucking the puck-sized packages at confused passersby.

"I try to get people's attention, shouting 'Hey blue shirt, white shirt,'" Hill, 34, said. "Usually someone will catch it. They don't want a burger on the floor. …I don't know if people throw them away or ever open them."

The bizarre performance art"Second Deceit aka Free Cheeseburgers," as the piece is formally called — kicked off at the McDonald's on Third Avenue near East 85th Street Tuesday morning, when Hill stocked up on 20 cheeseburgers for $32.44, bit a chunk out of each one, and re-wrapped them with Scotch tape.  

Hill doesn't even swallow the bites of cheeseburger that he takes, instead spitting the burger bits into a bag.

"It upsets my stomach," he said of the burgers.

Then he loaded them up on his bike and tossed them out like a newspaper delivery boy.

James Anthony, 18, looked startled as he caught a burger on the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 86th Street.

"What was that? Throw it away!" Anthony's colleague, Justine Medina, 22, told him as he dropped the cheeseburger on a storefront windowsill.

"Nah. I'm not eating that," Anthony said. "It wasn't even hot. I don't like cheese."

"That guy was bold to throw that at me," he added.

Hill took less than 10 minutes to toss out all the burgers on a stint from 86th Street and Lexington down to 70th Street and Third Avenue, then doubled back to 86th Street.

It was Hill's fourth cheeseburger-toss this summer.

His past projects had more empathetic strains, like "Death Bear," from 2009, where he came to people's homes dressed in a bear costume and offered to cart away and stow things for them that triggered painful memories, like love letters from an ex.

This time, Hill said he wanted to "do the complete opposite and just be a villain."  He wanted his actions to be one of those "little things that messes up your whole day," he said.

He's planning to perform the piece twice a week on the Upper East Side, until he's recognized.

"Maybe I'll do it until the first person says, 'Hey, buddy. F--- you!," Hill said.

Hill said he didn't want to do the project in Harlem, where he lives, because he felt throwing burgers in a lower-income neighborhood would have different connotations than doing it on the Upper East Side, which is home to among New York City's wealthiest zip codes.  (He also tries to avoid throwing burgers to homeless people, he added.)

He also didn't want to do the project in Brooklyn, where he said he had his biggest audience from previous pieces.

"I need a new challenge," Hill said. "I need to branch out to a new audience."

He initially expected that curious passersby would be happy at the offer of free cheeseburgers, but has found that many pedestrians are skeptics. Drivers, on the other hand, whizzing by his bike, often shout for a burger.

Hill, however, is too afraid to give them anything.

"I don't want to do that because they can chase me down with their car," he said.

Nate Hill's next cheeseburger performance is expected to take place on July 5 at 8 p.m., in the area of East 72nd Street and Third Avenue.