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Monday, August 11, 2003
By Paul Ford
The catsup's red glare, cabbage bursting in air.
I rode my beautiful new bicycle through Brooklyn in the light rain, and I came to the Manhattan Bridge. The bike, a large cruiser with a broad padded seat, curved frame, and white-rimmed wheels, is so archetypal, so evocative of bicycling at its essence, that as I ride it strangers yell out to me in recognition of my 7-speed essence.
I radiate pleasure and my helmet amplifies it as I autolocomote up the long slow hills of this borough, the fibers of my legs waking from their desk-life stupor—and then for every hill there is a decline, a span in which my legs do not move and I am carried along in stillness by gravity, momentum, and the wheel.
In this summer mood I pedaled past York Street subway stop, where I saw a clustering of souls, all in white painting suits, holding big water pistols and cans of catsup. A few blocks later I found others dressed the same way, and smelled mustard. A woman held a flag emblazoned with the silhouette of the country of Madagascar. Someone else had a flag with the word WAMP painted on the fabric in block letters. The air was filled with voices.
A block away I came on 100 people in white, many carrying different kinds of weapons.
“Welcome to the condiment war,” a woman shouted into a megaphone, and a cheer went up. She recited rules of engagement, but these were ignored as a bagel was shot from some sort of cannon. A cabbage flew from a rooftop, trailing its leaves, smashing into asphalt as a stream of catsup arced through the air. The crowd burst into condiment violence. I pulled out my camera and walked gingerly into the frenzy as a watermelon launched into the air and exploded. Screaming people standing on a hot dog cart fired balloons filled with chunk tomatoes from a trebuchet.
I snapped away, soon splattered with mustard and smeared in relish. Someone sprayed vinegar into my eyes from a small hose. I found someone else to give me an eyewash with a water pistol, and after that I stayed on the sidelines.