At the Rally

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Protesters were waterboarding someone near Charlie Palmer’s. Really. They were pretending to interrogate a guy in an orange jumpsuit, but the rest wasn’t for pretend. They poured water through a cloth held over on his face as he lay on a steep incline, his head near the ground. He was screaming.

About five or six people were taking pictures; some of the photographers were press, some appeared to be with the protest, at least one could have been a tourist.

I told the next policeman I saw: “You know, they’re waterboarding someone over there.”

He said: “What’s waterboarding?”

Me: “We’ll, they’re doing a demonstration if you want to find out. You know, when they have the guy upside down? And they pour water on his face?”

Policeman: “Oh, yeah. But if it’s voluntary — ” he shrugged ” — there’s not a law against it.”

Me: “I think that’s the point. But it looks pretty dangerous. You might just want to make sure no one gets hurt accidentally?”

Him: “Sure. Once these people get out of the way, I’ll check it out.”

I went back myself a few minutes later. The demonstration was over. The man in the jumpsuit was hanging onto a lamppost, soaking wet, retching. People were still taking pictures, but the crowd had moved on.

As I walked across the street toward home, I stood with a man and his daughter. A protester dressed like a fairy or a good witch pranced toward us. “Look honey, she has bells on!” the dad said.

“Ring a bell for peace!” trilled the fairy, who jingled as she walked. It was a less depressing note to leave on.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter JJ, who points to an un-fire-walled version of my friend Tom’s spectacular New Republic piece on the building at 101 Capitol Ave. And to Stanley W. Rogouski, for finding pictures of the demonstration.