I spent the afternoon, you see, sitting in the Quad next to cardboard signs propped and duct-taped against a wooden pallet bearing the legends "Get the U.S. Out of Columbia, Missouri!" and "Welcome to RATIONANIA, Population IIII II" (the talley totaled about six by the time I left at 4 p.m.). A petition was also taped to the pallet, which I signed, and various pieces of pallet were torn off to mark the boundaries of our little country, Rationania (so-called because we're, uh, "rational"). We had a great sense of camaraderie in that 6-foot Absurdist-sponsored square, which I and several others resided in throughout the afternoon (it's being occupied 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, all week long), as non-Absurdists and Absurdists alike congregated to ask the meaning of our protest, why we were there, and trade B.S. Apparently we're getting a section of chicken-wire fence tomorrow, brought by Zac, the founder of Rationania.
The whole thing reminds me of The Strawberry Statement, really. I simply came up with a couple good rationalizations and started telling them to people. They were absurd, yet still sounded reasonable. "Think," I'd say, "Just think of how many U.S. citizens currently reside in Columbia, Missouri, right now. Almost the entire population of that city consists of American citizens. It's a tragesty! [sic] What about everyone else? This is an insidious, creeping form of oppression to true Columbian citizens. We need to put a stop to it right now." I told others that we were really protesting protests in general. One protester decided that tomorrow the group should find some pretense to get the dining workers to turn down our petition for jobs, then picket in front of Holmes Lounge with signs, noting what a tragesty it is that Rationanian workers are being denied jobs.
I learned that much of the point of this is to make fun of SSDP, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, of which several organizers are members—I signed one of their petitions earlier in the year, the one about eliminating the "prior drug convictions" checkbox on the FAFSA. That group has apparently been protesting U.S. occupation of Colombia—the country, not the city.
I sat around talking to Brian and Kate about psychology classes, mocking vapid psych majors, telling various people what our mission was, and convincing a few people to stop and sit in our square for awhile. We convinced others only of the banality of our non-cause. One, an Arabic student (or perhaps the other Arabic student) left his notebook behind. Lily left a newspaper behind. Kate left her Abnormal Psychology book behind to weigh down the bottom of the pallet. Another protester talked about the circus society she's starting here at the university and smoked her pipe. Brian smoked. Another protester read her gay and lesbian theory book. Brian smoked some more. Ray eventually settled down and read for his Child Development course. The square started to look rather lived-in.
D. sighed melodramatically, chain-smoked, and talked about being a privileged lower New York state JAP art student who needs desperately to be stimulated by her classes. (Another protester said that she, too, was privileged, but not the New York kind of privileged. She's from Chicago.) D. talked on, mentioning her bias towards male professors, whom she claims are genetically more inclined towards wittiness and good teaching skills. She told me she was testing my personality, giving me a scenario in which a boyfriend decided to break up with me and did it in a very grammatically incorrect manner. Which, she asked, would I be more bothered by: getting dumped, or having to hear the grammatical error? I said both.
She plunked herself down and sighed that she didn't like the people here, who she says are altogether too "fake-nice." "Like psych majors!" I chimed in. She wasn't really listening. She says that as a New Yorker, she understands not being nice, and that she doesn't really need niceness, but she'd at least like them to be honest about it, or something to that effect. She says she may either transfer or drop out if she doesn't find something to be interested in here, and that the art school is holding her back. She's decided the Absurdists may be her saving grace. We're apparently doing our job, though frankly D. seems like one of those art students who do it to be "trendy" and "rebel" while wearing their chunky black-and-pink Saucony sneakers.
I learned that the fire-breather uses a welding rod to hold the fire, like a torch, and that while no one really seems to know what the welding rod was originally for, it works just dandy for fire-breathing. Apparently her shtick is belly-dancing while breathing fire, plus accordion-playing. She and I traded stories about Chicago's El, mine simply appropriated from the collection of stories my mother told Jie at dinner the other night, hers from actual experience. She said she scares people away on the train by pretending to be crazy and rocking back and forth mumbling, though it doesn't always work.
I grinned at people and talked about random things. I had fun. When I left, Ray the PNP major grinned back at me. Perhaps he'll miss me, not that we really talked about much of anything. No matter—I'll be back there tomorrow. On the shuttle ride back home, I got in a random conversation with the guy who's always at the library when I go to pick up my books from the hold shelf. I told him about the cause, and he asked me what I thought about the actual war. I told him I wasn't sure what to think.