On Saturday I took a cab downtown. The village is crawling with young people who are a little too old to believe in things like Santa Claus, but they still write poems about him and smoke grass. They want to be told that they are special, that work is for other people and, more than anything, to be constantly entertained. They probably all voted for Kennedy.
I was looking for a distraction, preferably a blond one. Something about the smell of violets from the park set me on an edge that will soon be rounded by a cascade of Canadian Club. I stop on the corner of MacDougal and Waverly to light a cigarette. There is a man playing “Goodnight” by the Beatles on an upright piano. I recognize the melody, even though I live in 1966 and it was written in 1968, because I am Don F-cking Draper.
The music draws me into the park, and I see what looks like a few hundred kids hitting each other with bed pillows. It’s somewhat perverse, but devoid of any true sexuality; it’s as if they’re acting out a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Some of them are wearing masks or costumes, like my 12-year-old daughter did on Halloween when she was a child. I don’t understand these people.
I get closer and feathers float in the air like we’re all trapped inside a giant snow globe. I light another cigarette, and some girl harps to me that “This is a non-smoking park.” I loosen my tie and look over at this lunatic. “That’s fine,” I say, “Because the park isn’t smoking, I am.” I think everybody here is on drugs.
A man next to me hits another man in the head with sofa cushion. The other man is laughing like he’s watching Jack Benny. Studying this bizarre display of human behavior, I notice the ages of the crowd ranges more widely than I initially thought. Some of them are 18, but I see a few who are at least 25, if not 30. Way too old for birthdays. Where the hell do their wives think they are?
Maybe they’re just trying to hold onto something, something that doesn’t exist. If what they call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons, then maybe they’re holding onto those nylons — and stuffing them full of feathers to beat their friends senseless. Maybe they’ve realized that they’re born alone and they’ll die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of them to make them forget those facts. Multiple blows to the head are another method of forgetting.
But I never forget. And maybe they don’t either. They’re living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one. And if there is one, it’s going to be filled with a lot of broke adults stuck in some kind of protracted childhood, smoking hash, watching television and playing with toys that beep and light up to make themselves feel happy. Who’s got the time?
I hail a cab. We drive north while I light another cigarette. Images of what I’ve just seen flash through my mind, as if I’d been able to snap photos of today and then immediately reminisce over it. It’s just as well that I think it over now while I’m alone, because I don’t know how I could possibly explain this to anyone else. I guess there’s just no way to share an experience with people who weren’t there at the time.
I know that change is neither good nor bad. It simply is. I’ve told people that it can be greeted with terror or joy, but this isn’t change. Change goes forward and this was devolution. In the next few hours, the better of those men will return to their homes and go forward again like this never happened. You know why? This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.