Forecast for the Future

"Every individual without exception bears a potential writer within himself. The reason is that everyone has trouble accepting the fact that he will disappear unheard of and unnoticed in an indifferent universe, and everyone wants to make himself into a universe of words before it's too late. 

Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not that far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding."

- Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Week 1, Day 7: Strangeness, en masse

Sorry for the delay but there's a lot here and I've been busy. This post covers Saturday, Day 7 and concludes Week 1.


For the final day of this first full week of Hyperliving, for a task that was embarassingly difficult for me (given its non-difficulty for so many others), I decided to, in the parlance of our times, "blow this shit up." And what better way to go all stranger hunting maximalist than to participate in the seventh annual No Pants 2k8 NYC event.

No, that's not me.

The No Pants NYC event is a group participation event put on each year by the organization "Improv Everywhere," where groups of strangers meet in a specified location and descend on the MTA in pantsless-glee.

My welcome to you

Charlie Todd, No Pants 2k8 convener

Like all of these sorts of projects, the No Pants event began as just a handful of dudes freaking people out by riding the 6 train in only underwear. Over the seven annual events, however, the gig has grown to the point where over 900 people participated. There were so many people, in fact, that the group was forced to split into 3 different subway line groups (6, R, and another one). The basic premise is that all the participants gather in one place (Foley Square) and then are assigned to separate train cars on the line they're travelling on (I was on car 6 of the R line). Each car group then heads to their car, dressed, and board the train. Then, one by one, members of the group get off at each successive stop, taking their pants off immediately before exiting. Each member than waits at the platform in that exact spot to board the next R train that comes (meaning, letting the N and W trains pass). The effect is that by the time the route reaches its turnaround destination, 59th & Lexington, all now pants-less participants have rejoined each other on that second R train. After reaching 59th & Lex, everyone gets off and then walks across the train to the downtown platform and head back for Union Square where all reconvene to rejoice in their success.

Beyond the obvious fact that there would be TONS of strangers at this event, one reason why I decided to join in is because normally this is the last kind of thing I would ever think of doing. I know that I'm both melodramatic and anal expulsive, but I'm not really an exhibitionist, and I also tend to avoid participating in activities with large crowds of strangers. A big point of hyperliving is for me to try and do things that I'm uncomfortable with and/or afraid of, as well as to try and reconsider ideas that I've previously dismissed and reconsider whether or not I may have missed some value in my previous appraisals. It also seemed important that I do it on my own so that I could really be sure I'd be putting myself out there. And what I found out is that a)meeting strangers is easy in situations like this and b) it was really fun and I had a great time and would definitely consider participating in group activities like this again.

Crowd listens intently to Charlie Dodd intro (except redhead girl looking straight at me)

So all fun and games aside, I'm happy to report that, for the sake of Week 1's task, meeting strangers at No Pants Day 2k8 was easy, even for me. When I first arrived at Foley Square, I did again feel the pangs of nervousness as I surveyed the huge crowd of people, and for a minute I stood there, thinking, "Am I really gonna talk to these people?" I even saw two people I knew (both of whom acted like they'd never seen me before). But then I just took a breath and said Hello.

Stranger #1: Becca

Becca was an easy first approach because of the hilarious/ridiculous hat on her head. She was also standing alone. After "Hey, nice hat," I introduced myself and explained to her what I'm doing and we struck up a conversation. A student in Manhattan studying art and psychology, she comes from Canada and bought her hat there (she declined to get the matching mittens, which would be “a little too much”), though she said it’s also sold at the street shops in Union Square during Christmas. She heard about No Pants Day from a friend and immediately emailed the rest of her friends to come out, but only two—both males—said they'd join in. I asked her if she was surprised and she said, "Yeah, actually. I had thought, 'Who wouldn't want to take their pants off on the subway?'" Hmm…to me, this seems a little less obvious. Hilariously enough, I found out later that Becca is actually a close friend of my upstairs neighbor, who was one of the women Becca solicited to participate in the event and declined. Hyperliving has been teaching me that the world is fucking wild at heart and weird on top.

When surveying the hundreds of people in the crowd, I wondered how we'd all fit on one train--it hadn't been announced yet that they were moving to three lines—but Becca insisted that there wouldn't be a problem as it had worked for ZombieCon just fine. [though i've linked now I had no idea then what that was.]

We talked for a while longer about crowds and weird people and then went our separate ways after being sent to the R train group (as we were divided into separate cars by the last digit of our phone number, me 6 and her 3).

Soft-spoken R Train Leader instructs; no one hears.

We had been standing around waiting at this point for about 40 minutes already, so I was glad to start moving forward. We formed into smaller groups of about 10-15 representing our individual cars and then strained to hear a short redheaded man gave instructions which were almost completely inaudible, even after I told off a gaggle of loud women like I was a 4th Grade Hall Monitor. After repeating himself about five times, we finally heard what he had to say--each group was to walk to their respective car, clothed, and board the next R train. Then, one by one we would each get off and wait at the platform for the next R; however, before exiting the train we were to take our pants off so as to hit the triple whammo of 1) taking your pants off on a subway car, 2) standing on a platform waiting for a train in only underpants, and 3) boarding a train in that same fashion.

After the red-headed man finished his instruction, I introduced myself to the Car 6 group and immediately began saying hello to people to find out their situations. Oddly enough, the first three people I said hello to were all named Brian.

Brian, Brian, and yes, Brian

Two of the Brians (the two on the ends) knew each other vaguely from past group participation events, though they realized they'd never formally met before. The Brian on the far left had most recently taken part in the Improv Everywhere Abercrombie "No Shirt" event, which seemed to make sense to me.

As I chatted with them, a girl walked over to us and tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to her and she said opened her mouth and then paused. "Oh," she said plaintively, "I thought you were a guy I went to high school with named Brian."

I swear that I am not joking. And she wasn't even standing anywhere near us when each Brian introduced themself to me!

I introduced myself to her and then to the man standing next to her. Her name was Kate and his was Aaron. We then began walking toward the City Hall subway stop together and began chatting about whatever kind of silliness we thought was going to ensue over the next few hours.

Aaron said that he was a student from RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), down for the day to have a good time and take a photo for his Photo 365 Flickr project. Like many of the others, he hadn’t been able to get any of his friends to join him, but he came down by himself to have a good time and see what the fun was all about. He reminded me of someone I’d known in a past life but I couldn’t really place my finger on where, when or who.

When we got underground we found a place on the platform where it seemed our assigned car would be stop. Everyone got in a position and we waited for the signal to get onboard. After one N train went by, we hopped on and the games began.

The train we all boarded was about half-full. Everyone sat down, many of us either looking somewhat nervous or else suppressing silly smiles that might give us away. I was to disembark at the third stop, 8th Street, and I fidgeted nervously with my bag and my magazine as I sat there waiting for the moment I would "drop trou'."

Finally, it was nearly my stop and time to drop. I hadn't been able to see first two participants from where I had been sitting so as far as I know, the sight of me then standing up non-chalantly and unbuckling my belt and pulling my pants off my legs must have been weird and ridiculous to those sitting around me not planning to do the same. Swiftly I moved and by the time I'd folded my pants neatly and placed them in my shoulder bag, the train had stopped and I got off, about to become a lone man standing on a platform in his boxer briefs.

My, Grandmother! And what white legs you have!

But I wasn't the only one. About five others from my car got off at my stop and there were others milling about further up the platform. Still, it didn't really make much difference that I wasn't the only one standing there in my underwear because, well, I was standing there in my underwear. I shifted about on the platform, waiting for the next R train to arrive. I let an N train pass and got ready to get on the next train. It pulled up a few minutes later and I got on.

Blurry camera phone shot of others waiting on 8th St platform

I boarded the mostly-filled train and sat down next to an older woman, pulling out my Moleskine to jot some notes down. I looked around to see if I could glean some reactions and was immediately reminded that New York is the brassiest place on earth: people really know how to look like they don't give a SHIT here. There were one or two faces of surprise or interest, but by and large the other 25 people in car didn't even stir. And not like they should--I guess a point that could be emphasized from this exercise is that it's cool to just let people do their thing and not worry about them, but seriously!! No pants, people!! I posit, perhaps wrongly, that it would have been different if I'd been in Dallas or Minneapolis, but what the fuck do i know.

After hastily scribbling down my thoughts on the matter a realization dawned on me: there were no other pantless riders on my train. And when we pulled away from the 14th St stop, none of the pantless riders on the platform got on the train. Which meant that... I was not on the R at all... I was on the... N?

For a second I freaked out thinking that I was suddenly Bronx bound and destined to be bare-legged and alone for the rest of the day, but then i realized that my N was in front of the correct R and all I had to do was get off at the next stop and wait til it came.

More legs

The rest of the ride was fun but uneventful--despite the excitement generated by such a playful exercise, the fact we were strongly discouraged to take photos, talk to each other, or even smile meant that anyone committed to "following the rules" was practicing an exercise in stoically-driven inward meditation. The one moment for me to cut the air was when a Caribbean woman got on at 28th St, sat down next to me and then asked me how she could get to Queensboro Plaza from there--she didn't even bat an eye that I wasn't wearing pants before speaking to me, while the look of curiosity and awkwardness on the face of another woman next to us was precious and priceless; I tried my best to speak calmly, clearly, and politely to maximize the weirdness effect.

When we finally arrived at Union Square it seemed hard to believe the trip was over already--weren't we going to transfer to Metro North to make our way to Westport or something? Everyone got off the train and milled about the platform for about 13 seconds before heading up the stairs to the sublevel above.

Taken from "Chad"--click photo for link to his Flickr

This dude had definitely been looking forward to this day.

The scene was basically a participant/tourist photo session as a reward to all the riders who'd refrained from taking pictures all night and a meat market for the tourists and bystanders who were just there for a good time. Aaron, Kate and I hung there for a few before heading up above ground to see how long we could stand being outside in the night air with bare legs.

It was mayhem--hundred of satisfied people in skivvies shouting and chanting to delight of each other and the many onlookers already in Union Square. People handed out "Pro-pants" and "No-pants" flyers and stickers, photographers and cameramen snapped photos and shot video, and a man there protesting on behalf of Dennis Kucinich submitted to the pleas of the coterie to show he believed in the notion of "No Pants for Kucinich" by dropping his own and dancing in a circle.

I asked Andrew and Kate if they wanted to get a drink to celebrate at a bar nearby, which Kate ratified but Andrew could not as he had to leave to catch a bus home. We gave him instructions to get to Port Authority and then we walked off into the sunset, pants-less and pleased, toward the Old Town Bar and Restaurant for pants-on drink to finish a great and silly day and week of strangers and strangeness.



And I'll close with some more No Pants ephemera--another video and some more photos I took (including some crappy camera phoners):

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