ADV. #14: How Soft the Blow

I’m jealous of jackasses.

Those who choose to seize the day via public spectacle and go against the grain of acceptable adult behavior.  Because now that I’ve grown I am expected to act a certain way.  I should be polite and respectful; give up my seat on the bus for seniors and less able-bodied.  I should iron my clothes and be able to discern between multiple forks on a table.  I should drink good wine and talk politics.  This is what might be expected of a professional woman.

Of course this is not a hard and fast rule.  Nor, is it a bad standard.

When I was young all I wanted was to be older and now that I am, I’d give anything to be eight again.  If only for a day.

I read that very sentiment in an old journal of mine the other day and I found myself repeating it to Jane.

“I just want to be eight again.”To be fair, I’ve taken something of a break from serious adulthood- what with the trapeze swinging and adventure dating and hair in the hands of strangers.  But I still have night school and a full time job and bills and meetings and calendars to sync and make work.  It feels overwhelming and it’s inevitable: we all have to assume the role of being an adult at some point in our lives.  And with all the freedom and privileges it affords, it only becomes more complicated.

I was trying to recall what was so great about being eight when Jane referenced an underground event being held in Cambridge.  It was a covert mass pillow fight in honor of National Pillow Fighting Day.

My reaction was different than I thought it would be.  I asked a lot of questions.

Where?  When?  How?  Why?  I wanted to know who the organizers were.  How many people were expected.  Would I know anyone there?  Why was it the location wouldn’t be posted until 12 hours prior to the event?  What was the average age of the participants?

Really, I was embarrassed of looking foolish.

It felt foolish to try and relive the glory days of my youth with a bunch of other adults facing the same existential crisis.  So, I started to talk myself out of it.  I mean, what could I really even gain out of the experience?  And with that I thought of all the other useful things I could do with the time it would take to mass pillow fight.  Useful things like laundry, or unearthing my summer clothes.  The idea of allotting time for these mundane tasks excited me more than a whimsical reversion to childhood antics.  But, this pragmatism concerned me.  I wanted so badly to be a kid again, for a brief reprieve, right?  However, when given the option I deferred to my adult sensibilities – valuing car payments over carnivals.  Some things just seem so sensible and it felt to me a waste of time to exhaust free time on frivolous things.

And because of this damn year of adventure, I had to pay attention to that assertion.  And deconstruct it.

Why was I so scared of spectacle?

Jane was prepared to participate, without reservation.  And I almost grew resentful of her lacksidasical alignment.  She appeared to me, at that moment, one of the fold – of the aforementioned carefree who act like children in publicv and really make a show of enjoying life.

My ex-boyfriend was like that and I recoiled in embarrassment every time he ran through the streets singing a song or playing instruments, loudly, in music shops or picking flowers and giving them to strangers or playing hide and seek in grocery store aisles.

I know this now, as I write, and it’s hard for me to admit, but I wasn’t really irritated with his juvenile behavior or his slap-happy operating procedures.  I was jealous.  Just as I am of Jane’s ability to take part in whimsical reenactments because I cannot.  It’s not that I physically can’t – it’s more a matter of relaxing, desisting and abandoning control.  If I have learned anything from what’s come of this year it’s that I rely on self-imposed control.  And I’ve been like this for years and years.

Then it occurred to me that Jane is also an adult who exhibits adult-like behaviors.  She seems to delicately coordinate her days spent as a rule-bound librarian with those of rule-less childhood fantasy.  And she wasn’t annoying or self-righteous.  She just allowed herself sometime to feel like a kid.

I agreed to meet her there ten minutes til and packed a squat throw pillow into a reusable shopping bag.  The point was to look indiscrete; for a crowd to amass, unaware to everyone around.  I would then siphon an unexpected pillow from a run of the mill shopping bag and reek havoc on the scene for a few minutes.  This was the plan.

It was billed as improv action, but as the best laid plans oft go awry, it seems fitting that the people who chose to forgo being grown-up for a moment would also chose to ignore instruction.  Things didn’t go according to plan.  The subway was a mess of wound up 20 somethings cradling fully visible pillows and totally betraying their cover.  People spoke loudly of an upcoming pillow fight.  They were amped and ready to worry less.  The subway was full of overgrown children talking loudly and making a mess and I started to lose my patience.

But the ride in wasn’t long and I met Jane outside the Harvard stop in Cambridge.  And this was well executed – the location.  Scores of excited adults in converse shoes and ratty t-shirts flooded the streets of Harvard.  Harvard!  It almost seemed combative, as though this were a demonstration against sound professionalism.  I had worn casual clothing – my own converse shoes and a light shirt thinking I’d fit in.  I didn’t know it would be a sanctioned costume.

So we followed a crowd to a green parkway.  It was only two minutes to and Jane and I gripped our pillows, hidden away in our bags.  I can’t recall any preface to what ensued.  Somehow, intuitively, everyone knew to start.  And…. it was a shit show.

Pillows were everywhere.  Even more, people were everywhere.  Strangers were jumping about sacking their nearest neighbor with some serious intensity.  Waify hipsters were body rushing clean shaven men in polos were taking trick shots on soccer moms.  I was hit in the head, hard, and twice in the first five seconds.

Ok, ok, so people are laughing and charging and acting a fool.  And I suppose I was too.  For about a minute I swung my understuffed and undersized throw pillow in any given direction.  I made eye contact to really root myself and take in my surroundings but whenever I caught someone’s line of sight I discovered that no one was trying to discern the meaning of all of this.  People were just caught in a moment.  They let down their guard.  They were having fun.

I punked out after two minutes.  Running around with flailing arms was taxing and I grew tired.  I slinked to the outskirts of the park to observe.  Jane was still at it and I tried to track her course and take pictures like a proud pageant mom.  And I wasn’t the only one.  There were others who had dove in only to jump out quickly thereafter.  They didn’t look to me like uptight professionals who failed at whimsy.  They looked well-fed, standing there satiated with a gigantic grin on their faces, perhaps knowing they have the best of both worlds: a want to sometimes relent and push a pillow and an acceptance and pride in all they’ve come to achieve.

I stood a little taller, being one of this sideline crew.  I liked the company I was keeping.  It was then that I was accidentally pushed in the chest by an all-in participant. Instinctively I checked my pocket to make certain I hadn’t been burgled.  I hadn’t, but I had received a text.

It was from my friend Kara who asked if I was pillow fighting.  She said she was in the same park, reading and assumed I had taken part.

So I left the chaos of a now ten minute long pillow fight.  Trails of feathers and stuffing lined the grass and I had to push through throngs of more endurance based fighters to find Kara on the more docile path of park.

Quiet, thoughtful Kara sat under a tree reading.  She looked like an adult.  And while she may have been having fun acting her age I was charged with a swelling pride for misbehaving for two minutes.  I saw her and ran, sloppily, with an air of certain madness.  She had assumed I belonged; that I was one of the carefree many I was secretly envious of.  Upon reaching her, giddy and out of breath I suppose I can admit to myself that I am, one of them.

Walking away I threw my pillow into the herd that was still at it.  At 3 p.m. there was still so much more I could do with my day.