I really don’t do well with aggression. The last time someone gave me the finger while driving, the best I could do was stick my tongue out in response. I threw the other driver off so much that they flipped me off a second time. When it comes to scenarios of conflict, I avoid them as much as I can.
Yet somehow I found myself, navy blue pillow in hand, headed toward the center of Union Square ready to engage in combat. Official pillow fights happen once a year in lots of major cities—you can even start your own—and I was on my way to the largest. As I got closer to the Square I started to notice costumes, one man even dressed as Waldo, which would have been funnier if you couldn’t spot him from very, very far away. Most people were dressed in their pajamas, about to begin one of the least relaxing activities I can think of.
Way more people were watching than participating, which made me question my decision immediately. What were all of these people in the DSW building, chomping away on Halal food straight out of the carton, so afraid of? I wondered if I would enjoy the event more from their angle, just watching the mayhem.
Before the three o’clock start, the pillow-people, myself included, weren’t exactly sure how to act. Most marched around in a small space, sizing up the competition. I kept wondering whether or not anyone had stuffed something inside their fluffed weapon—balloons filled with pudding, peanut buttered feathers, a few cement bricks. Luckily, the NYPD was in heavy attendance, probably wondering why the hell they weren’t getting paid more to do this.
The countdown began to the start of the fight, and everyone waved their pillows above their heads in strange, confused solidarity. Someone from the thick center yelled CHARGE! And the fight began. My first reaction was to squish my pillow over my face as a sort of blinding helmet. But then I felt a crash on the top of my head that made me peek out of my hiding place. My brain was throbbing, and I had no idea where my attacker was.
What the HELL was that, I thought. Don’t people know how to be civilized? Don’t they know how sensitive I am, that I’ve never done anything to them and don’t deserve to be smacked on the head? As I stood in shock, more and more people whacked me—on the back, one guy dangerously close to feeling up my bottom, and, yes, again and again on my head. I felt sad that I was being attacked by people I didn’t know. So many of them seemed to be personally against me, like they were going out of their way to make me feel really uncomfortable.
But then I remembered that this kind of behavior was exactly what was supposed to happen. I came to Union Square to get beat up by strangers. That’s what the bajillions of people in DSW had come to see. People like brutality: the idea of real, visceral contact. And this was all happening with little stakes. Unless, of course, I was right about the cement bricks.
A chain reaction was happening: I eventually got so pissed about being clobbered that I set out to make someone else miserable. So much for not being able to tap into my aggression. And everyone else was doing it too, a whole park of angry pillow-people in pain. I left after fifteen minutes, although I felt like I had been there for hours. I was sore, I was upset, and I was ready to go back to bed.
The fight lasted for four hours, though, and I wonder if the city suffered from more confrontation, more benign outbursts than usual. If you think about it, the world could have a whole new emotional coping tool on their hands. Your boss makes you mad? Bash him with the pillow from the lounge. Someone cuts you off on the way to the train? Steals your food? You get pissed at the library? We may be able to use the Pillow Room for even more unintended purposes.