21. Go to Holi Day in Washington Square Park, NY
I was incredibly outgoing when I was a kid and yearned to be different from everyone else. More importantly, I remember thinking how pathetic the other kids were as they stood still during recess watching in disgust as I ran circles around them before crashing into the ground, and getting up and doing it again. Thankful that I was raised in the 80s, if I grew up any later, I would easily have fallen under the attention deficit disorder cohort. I think my biggest disappointment was that good behavior meant acting like an adult, so all the “good” kids stood near mom, being reserved, while I went exploring and recruiting my close friends back into kid-dom. I soon met my demise as studying and conformity became the only means of middle school survival. But before that, my life was simply about immunity from any injury and insult: attempting to get the swing around the top bar with me still on it, riding my bike down a bumpy hill without holding the handlebars, climbing trees, climbing brick walls, and climbing the crown molding inside my house, doing flips off the bunkbed, trying to land on my head. It's a lot harder than it looks.
My most exhilarating experiences as a child involved completely letting go of all inhibitions to truly enjoy the moment. When a friend taught me how to ride a bike without the handlebars, she really couldn’t explain in detail what to do. “Just let go and be free,” she would say. And it wasn’t until my hands were flying through the air down a car-free hill that I knew what she meant.
I knew there had to be an event somewhere that celebrated this kind of freedom—an event that defined who I was and what my youth stood for.
Then sometime in college, the rumors started to spread about this Hindu holiday called Holi. To commemorate the coming of spring and the lively colors that go with it, people of all ages would gather and throw colored powder at each other. This always became an opportunity missed, as year after year, I would seldom approach what looked like a care bear mass murder scene—a myriad of bright hue powders scattered across a vast flat area. One day, this powder would hit me instead of the ground, I thought.
Sunday March 7th. I went to American Apparel and bought white pants and a white sweatshirt. If I was going to partake in this, I was going full-force as a blank canvas. Washington Square Park is being renovated this year, so my new destination was Richmond Hill in Queens, NY.
I began my journey strutting down the Lower East Side, and surprised that I was being gawked at by the tourists for my all-white wardrobe. I didn’t mind. I wanted to say, "wait until I come back."
I took the long A train ride into Queens. I was hoping to see some evidence that I was heading in the right direction, maybe a blue smear on someone’s face, but it wasn’t until the last stop at Ozone Park, where I saw red blotches of color on the ground of the station. Someone just couldn’t wait any longer to unleash a youthful red blow, an impatient feeling I could identify with.
I followed traces of color on the ground and on the people as I made my way towards the park. Unscathed, I was warned by strangers that I might get my sparkling clothes dirty. “I know,” I responded smugly.
I walked head first into the crowd, and was flawless for about 30 seconds before two brothers and their super soakers filled with blue and red dye sprayed me in the face. “Are you alright?” said someone in the crowd. Still with my eyes closed, I nodded. I opened my eyes, and a young man said with confidence, “That’s good,” as he painted a pink smudge down my sleeve. With two packages of purple ready to go, at first, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. That was until an old lady rubbed orange on my cheek without verbal permission, and I quickly patted her shoulder with purple. I spent the next hour patting peoples’ shoulders with purple. Then, they would turn around, thinking I had just tapped them on the shoulder, and I had to make the awkward gesture that their shoulder was now purple. Eventually, I emerged into conscious coloring, acknowledging that everyone in the park wanted to be colored and a sly tap on the shoulder was lame. I sought out colors that I felt I was lacking, on a mission to become entirely covered. Between flights, I wandered around, enjoying the music and the playground occupied by toddlers who had no idea they had green and blue faces.
Then I saw a photographer asking teens if he could take their photo, unaware that the exchange involved him getting colored afterwards. He summoned me over to his camera, and I then realized my mission was complete.
Photo taken by Gerald Holubowicz
The subway ride home was fun as I shared my coloring encounters with other Holi participants while others simply shrugged at our disposition. I’m sure they’ve seen worse. I emerged out of the subway, looking like Rainbow Brite after a car accident. I couldn’t pretend that I was no different from everyone else on the street, so I held my head high and nodded at passersby. I stopped into Sugar Café on the lower east side, deciding that I deserved a piece of cheesecake after my event, and I’m happy to say that I had the best service with all smiles. The only real judgment I received was from the bums on my block. This old man looked at me in confusion while the woman beside him said, “You’re not hallucinating this time. She’s real,” and they both had a good laugh over nips and a metal bench that was getting colder as nightfall approached.