Wednesday, June 25, 2008

He ain't heavy — well, maybe a little bit

Published in the Portland Phoenix

In the legend of Robin Hood, when Robin meets Friar Tuck, he gets Tuck to carry him across a stream. In the middle, for reasons that vary with the source of the story, Tuck drops Robin in the water, which provokes a swordfight that ends in a stalemate, after which Robin invites Tuck to join Robin's band of Merry Men.

That story, modified by artistic idealism and hope, is one of the inspirations for Armen Moradians's "100 Carry Project," in which he plans to carry 100 people — one by one, piggy-back style — along a two-mile route through downtown Portland.

His hope is that his project will be a nonviolent way to bring strangers together, by putting themselves through a physical and mental ordeal that will lead to an increased feeling of mutual understanding — without dropping anyone in water or any sort of swordfight.

Moradians, a dancer and performer who lives near Deering Oaks Park, has carried 12 people since late November — this past Sunday, I was the 12th. We met on Friday at a coffee shop, partly to talk over what we were going to do, and partly for him to size me up and determine whether he could, in fact, carry me. (I am, so far, the heaviest person he has carried; at 185 pounds, I outweigh Moradians himself by 40 pounds.)

His first point was that being carried is anything but a passive role: I would have to hang on to him with all my strength if we were to succeed. My task was to use my energy to keep us together, while most of his energy moved us from the George Cleeves memorial on the Eastern Prom to Monument Square and back. And, as he predicted, I was nearly as exhausted as he was at the end, though we were both also elated and relieved to have finished.

It is exactly the type of symbiotic relationship Moradians had in mind when he dreamed up the project — a voluntary undertaking to suffer in the search for some sort of greater learning. (What the people he has carried have learned is described, in part, in their post-carry entries on his blog. What he learns will be collected in a project-culminating performance when he's done.)

His second point, there at the coffee shop, was that he didn't know what would happen during the carry. In addition to never having hefted my weight before, the route itself bore unforeseen, and unpredictable, physical perils — weather, sidewalks, traffic, other pedestrians, that kind of thing.

But the third point was that most of the challenge was actually mental, and that it was in the psychological sphere where he was most unsure of what would transpire. Physical discomfort was a given, but how we dealt with that — in our own heads and talking to each other — would be what made the carry possible.

There was actually a lot of temptation to give up. Motorized transportation options, in particular, called to us. At the outset, a city bus drove past; later, another bus's driver waited at the stop for us to approach, and when Moradians didn't step into the bus, she shouted out a warning about back injuries. At the halfway point, in the middle of Monument Square, two gleaming white stretch limousines waited, though not for us. We persevered through the 80-minute trip — I figured that if he was crazy enough to keep carrying me, I was crazy enough to keep hanging on. And by the end, both exhausted and in pain, I cheered from his shoulder as he fast-walked toward the Cleeves obelisk marking our journey's end.

The guy has 88 more carries to go. Who's next?

On the Web
Armen Moradians's "100 Carry Project":