We meant to see a movie downtown, but somehow we ended up in the middle of a war protest instead. Z and I were killing time before our movie started when we saw some picket signs, some barricades, and heard the bullhorns. If we’d watched the news the night before instead of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, we might have known to avoid the area, but we quickly got caught up in it and I had a sudden vision of Helene Hanff accidentally getting arrested in 84 Charing Cross Road in a protest.
There were all sorts of people there: old hippies, mothers of sons in Iraq, children, and even a little beagle who proudly wore a dog-sized sandwich board outlining this administration's sins. The downtown square was packed full of people with anti-war T-shirts and signs. There were a few anti-protestors (surely there’s a better term) on the fringes, but even so, it was a very civilized gathering. The police outlined the group on motorcycles and horses, but they didn’t look too worried that violence was going to break out. One of my favorites was a grizzled old guy in a tie-dyed shirt who was doing some sort of spinning scarf dance for peace.
Z and I are both observers—he’s a bit more scientific about it than I am because all I’m looking for is good story material whereas he has en eye peeled for crimes against reason and sound rhetoric. Another difference between us is that Z easily moves from observer to engager, so when he went up to a woman holding a banner that read “Give Peace a Chance” I skittered off to the sidelines with the homeless people and street musicians and, I’ll admit it, pretended I didn’t know him all that well. I could say it was because I felt it was wrong to harass someone who had strong political convictions—stronger than mine since my main concern was would this dalliance with the politically active make me late for the 2:00 showing of Wild Hogs, but truthfully, it was just that I like for everyone to get along and I don’t think it’s nice to add to someone’s distress by pointing out to them that peace isn’t really on the table. Troops out now, sure, Try Bush and Cheney for war crimes, why not, but it will be a long, long time before peace is an option.
Mostly though I didn’t want Z engaging the protestors because I feared a scene. You can put a Midwestern WASP in the middle of the apocalypse and her primary concern will be fretting about whether someone is causing a scene just because the rivers are running with blood. This isn’t really a characteristic about myself that I like, but it has its advantages. For instance, I’ve never had a black eye for provoking a war protestor.
Do you have any idea how difficult it is to look oblivious to a person and simultaneously watch him out of the corner of your eye because you want to make sure he doesn’t get strangled with a bed sheet spray painted with Quaker slogans? I was relieved when he finished his debate and suggested I go buy a disposable camera and snap some photos. And I was even more relieved when Quaker Bed Sheet Lady stopped during the parade so we could take her photo—an indication that whatever Z had said to her, she had no hard feelings. I shouldn’t have doubted him. He is not without charm, not without compassion, and of course he wouldn’t have caused a scene. I should have had a little faith.
My favorite part of the day, post protest and post movie, was when we stopped in a little park and sat amongst the daffodils and tulips while eating $6 cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. So peaceful. No confrontation. Delicious.