OP-EDS

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April 7, 2009

Pillow Games

Mayor Daley has bigger things to worry about than Olympic committees and pillow fights.

Every four years, the people of Chicago overwhelmingly turn out to reelect Mayor Daley. Comical press conferences, impromptu airport demolitions, a fervent love of the city, and a striking ability to get things done, whatever the process, have become the hallmarks of his tenure as the leader of the city of broad shoulders. Pillow fights, on the other hand, have not.

But apparently there’s nothing like a shot at fleeting international glory to harden one’s stance against sacks of plumage. Two events coincided on Saturday. The first, for those who missed the choirs of angels Daley contracted to swoop in, was the formal visit of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to Chicago; the second, of course, was World Pillow Fight Day.

The Olympics are to this weekend as prom is to the long seconds between asking a date and having her friends giggle or roll their eyes. Sure, perhaps Tokyo and Madrid are dreamy and clever and Rio just keeps asking (five times!) and every one of their parents gave them bigger allowances, and okay, maybe Chicago’s car keeps breaking down—and yes, all right, the governor with the goofy hair was indicted, fine—but did you notice that there aren’t any potholes?

That is to say that there aren’t any potholes near Washington Park, anyway, since Daley wasted no time in having those ones filled in. Two years have passed since the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) tapped Chicago to lead the American grab at the 2016 Games. It’s also been exactly 20 years since Richard M. Daley became the second Mayor Daley of Chicago, meaning that for a lot of us, the only Windy City we’ve ever known has been the one under him. Since USOC’s decision, Daley has frolicked and danced and—naturally—banged his fist and hollered in the name of Chicago 2016. He was content to accept a months-long IOU from the Democratic National Convention for November’s Grant Park Obama party, when he called in every cop Chicago had to keep the 125,000 gleeful attendees in line as they strolled around hiccupping about change. The DNC didn’t pay back the $1.74 million until late March, but no matter—after all, how else would the IOC see Daley’s poise? They’re watching, the press releases seemed to say. And we have tear gas if you try anything.

So when 100 cheerful Chicagoans showed up at the Art Institute on Saturday afternoon, the second day of the IOC’s visit, with pillows and the intention to beat one another, they should have known to be afraid. Thirty minutes in, fighters kept thwacking each other, clumps of feathers lying like ivory sea anemones across the stairs of the Institute and along the side of Michigan Avenue, bobbing with the ebb and flow of traffic. Feathers blowing in the crisp Chicago wind. Feathers on the sidewalks that Daley had had power washed. Feathers that would be seen by IOC members when they came to the Art Institute for dinner on Monday. Something had to be done.

The Chicago Police Department rolled in, breaking up the battle and locking up a few fighters in a paddy wagon. If they weren’t quite threats to national security, they were at least threats to Chicago’s Olympic bid, and for that, they had to be taken out.

Perhaps Daley and the police chief had bad experiences at slumber parties back in the day, but there are, quite frankly, bigger things that Mayor Daley should be worrying about than impressing committees, charming donors, and scattering troublesome pillow fighters. There is a long list of things Daley should be worrying about—public education, public health, and the endlessly Doomsday-threatening public transportation—and the splendor of the view from new archery grounds downtown shouldn’t be at the top of it. For a city whose parking meters were just leased out to bring in cash, it shouldn’t even be on the list at all.

Sunday was planned as the day for the IOC to tour the would-be facilities around the South Side and lakefront. The powers that be seemed to use it to voice their opinion on the bid. I’m not sure how to describe Sunday’s weather except to say that my computer’s weather widget, usually confined to suns, clouds, and a few hundred iterations of ice, took the shape of something distinctly like the eye of Sauron. Three-inch-long snowflakes aren’t snowflakes; they’re a sign—grab a coat, get back to work, and quit meddling outside with things better left to the Brazilians.

Claire McNear is a second-year in the College majoring in political science.