Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Jagged Little Pillow

At ten to six yesterday, a crowd waited in Justin Herman Plaza. As the last few minutes ticked away, a nervous anticipation built, as if we were waiting for the New Year. Some people had pillows hidden in bags and backpacks, but others were whirling their pillows in circles as if warming up for what was to come. A mass pillow fight had been announced on Craig's List and on Laughing Squid. The news had spread rapidly and hundreds had gathered. I watched as one group posed for a picture holding aloft identical lime-green couch cushions. A woman slipped by holding a pillow embroidered with a skull. (In San Francisco, of course, a city dedicated to the pursuit of whimsy, it’s not enough to show up to a mass pillow fight, you have to have a creative pillow.)

When six o’clock struck, everyone rushed together and whacked each other with savage joy. I plunged into the melee and blows rained on my head. I quickly understood why some people were wearing crash helmets. When my friend Regan and I decided to go to the pillow fight, we’d imagined that it would be sexy and fun. But a pillow fight with sleepover guests in a soft bed is very different from a pillow fight with a thousand anonymous strangers in a dark concrete plaza. This was more of a pillow war. I’d thought that the pillow fight might attract those looking for a Valentine. Now it seemed that single people had come here to vent their anger at not having one. A poet once called San Francisco “the cool, gray city of love” but last night it seemed like the cool, gray city of sexual frustration.

Soon, drifts of feathers obscured the battle scene and people paused to observe the miracle—snow in San Francisco. Afterwards, there was no pillow talk. One by one, people staggered off, looking stunned and sated. On the way home, I passed one or two people who like me had feathers in their hair and eyelashes, and we looked at each other and exchanged a small, sly smile.


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