We Bled Feathers

Charging into the fray at the Newmindspace New York City Pillow Fight.

When I was a little kid in upstate New York, I had an awesome Transformers pillow. The pillow case was covered with an image of outer space with flying Autobots and “Decepticreeps” destroying each other in a never ending war between good and evil. The metallic font of the iconic Transformers logo emblazoned the area over the battle. On the left side, taking up most of the pillow’s real estate, was the heroic Optimus Prime — watching vigilantly over me and protecting me from my nightmares like gremlins, Pennywise, and those creepy aliens from “Communion.”

That pillow was my shield. With it, I was unstoppable. The pillow granted me safe haven into my dreamworld. In the real world it allowed me exactly five good swings to my little brother’s face until my mom yelled at me to stop. Yup, with this pillow I was a complete badass at the mere age of seven.

Fast forward 21 years later. I am now a graphic designer in New York City working for a variety of corporate brands. I am no longer scared of gremlins and Pennywise, and I’m only mildly afraid of aliens abducting me during my sleep. But I definitely am not invincible like when I was seven. I am vulnerable to insurmountable financial debt, a demanding consumer culture, and a cutthroat New York dating scene. That feeling of invincibility is rare. So when I received an e-mail asking for volunteers for Newmindspace‘s 3rd Annual New York City Pillow Fight, I enlisted enthusiastically.

At 2:30 p.m. on March 22, I was on the L train and on the way to the drop zone with my trusty pillow, now in a plain, cornflower blue case. I looked down the subway car and noticed five other soldiers carrying pillows of various colors. We nodded politely to each other, but we knew we would be enemies on the battlefield. At 2:50 p.m. I exited the Union Square/14th Street subway stop and rose above ground into the sunlight. The air was cool and brisk, but unusually warm for March. I looked around — what I saw wasn’t just a crowd, it was an army.

Hundreds of people had come out for the pillow fight. More than 200 people showed up at Union Square on 14th Street, each clutching pillows of different sizes and colors. Most of us came with the standard issue 20″ x 26’, allowing average swing speed and damage. But some others thought outside the box. Several brought enormous, snake-like body pillows — or “boomers” as I called them because of the loud “boom” these slow but painful behemoths made when they pummeled me. Others brought throw pillows — one in each hand, John Woo-style — which allowed faster yet weaker attacks.

pillow1At exactly 3 p.m. the whistle blew from within the crowd. With a guttural, bloodthirsty voice someone screamed “PILLOW FIIIIIGHT!!!” And Hell was unleashed.

A flurry of pillows, arms, and laughter filled the air. Soldiers panted and yelled in not-so-serious pain. People shouted mildly-inspiring movie quotes like “This is Sparta!” and “I drink your milkshake!” I swung my pillow like I was putting out fires, and people were feeling it. For a solid five minutes that day, I was a little kid again in upstate New York with my Transformers pillow hitting my little brother. Optimus Prime was watching over me. My mom wasn’t going to tell me to stop. During those 300 seconds, I was invincible again.

Unfortunately, at the 301st second, my arms grew incredibly weak. My swings were slower and my hits were getting softer. Conversely, the hits I received were increasing in speed and pain. At the 310th second, there were at least seven people hitting me with their pillows. Granted, one pillow feels like nothing, but seven pillows at a rate of 30 hits per minute is a comedic beating. You may be laughing but it still hurts.

pillow2I eventually made it to the demilitarized zone with other exhausted combatants, plus photographers and voyeurs. As I watched the chaos unfold I noticed it was snowing — heavily. Upon further inspection I realized it wasn’t snow — it was feathers.

I looked down and I was bleeding feathers. There were feathers in my ears, mouth, and nose. I was completely covered in deceased bird hair.

I looked up at the towering apartment buildings, at the people looking down on us. I looked over at the three floors of customers at Filene’s Basement across the street, taking pictures and rooting us on. To them it seemed like hundreds of pillows were dancing and jumping on top of the crowd. I watched the feathers of more than 200 pillows ride the winds of New York City.

Then out of nowhere I was hit hard in the face — by a 7-year-old kid with a Transformers pillow.

The photographs accompanying this story were accessed through flickr; they were taken by keen.f and Randy Sukhai. Go to flickr for hundreds more images of the pillow fight.

Article © 2008 by Rob Roan