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Sunday, April 24, 2011

After the Game

It was six o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. I came out of the Starbucks at the corner of I and 7th to meet a friend outside of the Chinatown Metro station. The streets were flooded with hockey fans in red shirts, who were just getting out of the Verizon Center in which the local team, the Capitals, had played and apparently won.

A group of five or six young men walking in front of me were laughing and shoving each other. One of them turned around and began yelling into the street, "C-A-P-I," something of a chant. A few young men joined the chanting from across the street. A car blared its horn in response. Then a couple more horns blared in agreement from the street. Within seconds, the entire block was chanting rhythmically, which sent a chill down my spine. I kept my eyes on the ground as I passed the cluster of young men on the sidewalk, faces red, drunk with a collectively high.

I quickened my steps while hunching my shoulders, unconsciously trying to make myself smaller and preferably invisible. Suddenly, a bottle shattered somewhere, the splattering shards of noise caught people by surprise; for a second or two a disoriented silence hung in the air. A hoarse scream close behind me made me jump; it was echoed by someone yelling, which was far away and confused. I quickly scurried off H Street into a quieter side alley. A couple of short but piercing sirens seemed to douse any brewing trouble.

Now surrounded by shabby fronts of Chinese restaurants and shops and few people, I slowed my feet and my heart rate. My cheeks felt numb, as they always do whenever I get swept up, always by accident, in a crowd. Crowds are somewhat difficult to avoid in the city, as people from around the country often rush to the capital, especially the National Mall, to demonstrate for their various grievances against the government or against their fellow humans.

Although I was born after the national craze of the Red Guards, engineered by Mao, and never actually witnessed their destructive force, the fear had been instilled in me --- the fear of being trampled by a large number of people gathered together, their mood and emotions rapidly synchronized into a high pitch of hysteria, trembling with a blind and all-consuming passion to become one with a thousand others, to disappear into the raging mass.

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