I have a recurring daydream. It plays out during business hours on sunstreaming afternoons. Before my Walter Mitty groove takes hold, I am firmly ensconced in a swivel chair scanning the perpetual email crawl on my monitor. I am one of those hapless urbanites who toil daily in a glass wrap around monolith.
Without warning, I am transported effortlessly by an unknown force. Perhaps it’s the flickering monitor that sets things in motion, a modern through the looking glass portal. I don’t recognize my new surroundings. As I get my bearings, I see that there are no white rabbits to chase. I’m in a shaded canyon teeming with traffic hemmed in by tall buildings that block the afternoon sun. The sidewalks are busy and everyone appears to be in a hurry, en route to somewhere.
There’s a feel to this place, a certain je ne sais quoi. Then I see the sign – “Wall St.”.
As if on some preordained cue, buildings on both sides of the concrete and glass chasm start emptying. Elevators are doing double duty delivering their charges to the ground floor. Men and women in business attire are streaming through doors. In a flash the sidewalks are congested with traders, brokers and hedgefunders.
People are being jostled into the street disrupting traffic. There are looks of puzzlement on faces throughout the crowd. Quitting time is still hours away.
Wakefulness is rippling through this flash flood of office dwellers. A spontaneous cheer rises in the air. It’s an unspoken cry to play, to abandon, to fun. Jackets are doffed, heels exchanged for more comfortable footwear and ties thrown to the winds slither like snakes on the updrafts.
I stand and watch from my vantage point and am quickly swept up in the lightness. There is a jaunty exodus along Wall St. emptying into Broadway to the west, into Water St. and beyond to the east.
In an instant I’m airborne with a bird’s eye view of Manhattan stretching out below me. A wending pilgrimage to parks, playgrounds and green spaces is transforming the city into a kinetic wonderland. Imagination Playground at Burling Slip, South Street Seaport is the first to be ‘discovered’ by some of the Wall St. crowd. A constant stream rapidly fills the space. The office dwellers begin to lose their inhibitions as they move large, blue, tinkertoy blocks and straddle the gunnels of the landlocked boat. Each imaginative gesture is an invitation to embrace the parade of play unselfconsciously.
It’s a hookah smoking caterpillar kind of moment, a suspension of norms. The early escape from offices, government buildings, academic institutions and construction sites is being replicated across the city. Echoes of the Woodstock generation, of the golden and stardust, of getting back to the garden become my internal groove. The magic lives in simple pleasures. Swings can’t stop kissing the sky and park fountains are luxurious relief from the sticky, sweat heat.
Play is a heady elixir and no playscape eludes the roving funsters. Playgrounds are alive with multiple varieties of tag, hide and seek, red rover and all forms of of make believe. Those who left play by the wayside years and decades ago are slaking their thirst, wondering why they ever stopped. There are the followers, leaders, naturals, the maladroit. On closer examination, neither gender, age, or physical conditioning seem to offer any clues as to how an individual takes to the play experience.
The invasion is rocking and rollicking throughout the city. On West 42nd St., people are going wild with their find – a reclining bronze man, an installation in anthropomorphic glory.
This is a joie de jouer sculpture and Playground hot wires the adults’ imaginations.
Further north Central Park offers a paradise of green and a series of playgrounds being put through their paces like never before. Smart phones help the uninitiated to find treasures because New York City’s playgrounds are hanging on the net for everyone to see.
TV crews have lots of digital images capturing this unprecedented orgy of play for the evening news. Wherever they show up, it’s not long before they abdicate and jump head on into the fray. Play Power seems to be having an impact. I see gleaming glistening in many eyes. Buff, peaked, or rubenesque all the clambering, scrambling, feet-to-sky swinging is bringing on the friskiness factor. Although there is no empirical evidence of amorous assignations to come, there is a libido buzz from all the big breath, good, clean fun.
Just as things are heating up, I’m yanked out of my reverie. Back in Halifax, I think of the Manhattan Miracle, adults united in play, and wonder if it’s a concept that can ever be realized. It’s certainly worth holding as an ideal – strengthening the ties to the child within, playing for play’s sake and discovering the grand adventure of simple pleasures.
There are a couple of downtown playgrounds in Halifax. To date, they have not hosted an influx of adults looking for clean fun during business hours. I fervently believe though that a group of adults could crew the wooden boat, benefit from the experience and have some fun to boot. More adults playing will ultimately mean more children playing. Surely this would boost the overall happiness quotient and in turn influence gains in more traditional metrics like GDP.
Set sail today for play. There are many resources to choose from, not least of which are memories from your own childhood. Here are three that I came across recently and have been shared on a variety of social media platforms.
It’s a vision problem that no laser surgery can cure, a hyperopia that keeps us from seeing the central source of happiness right next to us. That problem is called adulthood. Those who are afflicted with this condition have trouble focusing on nearby objects of amusement and the realm that delivers the most enjoyment per square inch: play. Adults are oblivious to what they knew as kids — that play is where you live.
Lucas Sherman and Aniyah McKenzie are building a house in Central Park. It is small, even by Manhattan standards, and the amenities leave something to be desired. But Lucas, who is 6, and Aniyah, who is 7, seem pleased with their handiwork.
The happy man is not he who seems thus to others, but who seems thus to himself.
– Publilius Syrus
I continue to have my daydream. Some afternoons I land in different cities. I’m always joyful when the buildings begin to empty and play begins an organic remembering.
Long live the trinity of play, fun and discovery!
Photo credits (top to bottom)
1. Wikipedia – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
2. Imagination Playgrounds
3. New York Times
4. A. Smith – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2011 Alex Smith.
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