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NEW YORK - Protesters took on the might of Bank of America and New York's police force Friday -- with ping-pong balls.
The bizarre scene was the brainchild of artist and provocateur Zefrey Throwell, who says he wanted to demonstrate the "back and forth power struggle between the public and Bank of America" and to "reclaim" legally public space from corporate hands.
To that end, Throwell and two dozen friends gathered discreetly across from the gleaming tower in Midtown Manhattan, then launched their operation, dubbed "the Midtown Games."
They were hardly secretive.
Two women in the group were in tennis mini dresses. One man came in a red bathrobe, dancing around like a boxer. Everyone clutched a paddle and ping-pong ball.
But they were swift.
Within seconds, Throwell had stuck a long line of tape about waist high along the side of Bank of America. Then the players, in pairs on the sidewalk, began to take it in turns to hit balls against the glass wall.
Suddenly the humdrum drone of Friday lunchtime in New York's crowded business district gave way to a cacophony of ping-pong, laughter and, soon enough, shouting security guards.
Throwell, whose events are in the spirit of Occupy Wall Street, has previously persuaded friends to strip nude on Wall Street and to compete in a swim race in a fountain. He knew what to expect.
"The Midtown Games are about aggressive reclamation of public space," he told AFP. "This space is public and (Bank of America) and the police treat it as private."
The first security guard, a heavy set man in a dark suit, ripped the tape from the see-through wall of the bank. "I swear to God, if one of those balls hits me, someone's going to fly," he said, as little white balls pinged all around him, just missing, like bullets in an action movie.
Another tense guard appeared. "You're going to break this window!" he yelled.
"What? With a ping-pong ball?" mocked one of the players.
Finally a police officer came.
"Let's go, you're blocking the sidewalk."
"No, it's a public space," Throwell argued back.
Within a few minutes the Midtown Games were over.
Two local office workers in the small crowd surveying the chaos said they were not won over.
"They didn't make any point because we watched and didn't have a clue what the point was," Dean, who refused to give his last name, said.
"I don't have time to be in the street playing ping-pong," his friend Harry said. "I work for a living."
Seeing one of the policemen involved in the incident walk past later, Dean offered his congratulations: "I thought you showed a great deal of restraint, sir."
Throwell's pranksters felt differently.
"Banks and their policemen are really itchy about any activity that they haven't scheduled," said Nathan Eckenrode, 42, an artist.
Eckenrode, a veteran of Throwell happenings, said if nothing else at least the rebel ping-pong "put some joy back in life."
Dean couldn't think of anything good at all to say about the artistic brigade -- certainly not about their skills with ball and bat.
"Not one of these guys could beat me in a game of ping-pong," he said.