The Transcendental Eyeball (2008)

looking at new york as it looks right through you

You became a transcendental eyeball," she said. "Oh, God." I was telling a friend how I went to Grand Central Terminal one night because of that left-behind feeling when the whole world runs off to a house, a beach, a moon—and all the work projects in the world become like small, dusty objects in an old science museum that hardly anyone comes to see and then also my apartment turns into a stranger and I don't trust it. And even my neighbor Joe across the hall has his son to go visit.

So I went to Grand Central—I don't know why. And though it may seem perverse for the abandoned to go where more people are going away than just about anywhere, I did. I went into the cool terminal with the blue green ceiling sky and the twinkling stars and sat in a chair at Cipriani Dolci, which is raised up at the end of the room. And after drinking the Trebbiano di Romagna, eating the complimentary olives, and staring down at the crowd, who looked like fish moving left and right, back and forth like they were in an aquarium—I didn't know a one, which was restful in itself—I started to get this cold feeling. It was so cold, it was exciting.

First, at the other table, there was the woman with long, chubby arms in a thick multicolor sleeveless sweater. She was in cozy conversation with a man in a small-checked shirt with his stomach resting over his belt. As he reached for more cocktail sauce for the calamari, he gave her this devilish look. Then, behind them, at a table of eight, Mindy arrived in a white pantsuit. I knew because they all said, "Mindy!" though she looked more like a Tabbitha. Some squealed. Later she had a pale pink watery drink in a martini glass. It was getting so good. A guttural howl like an animal's came up from below. The couple on the lower level looked startled, but then they calmed down. By the way, they were wearing wedding rings but not each other's. I could just tell. Now not much was happening or at least nothing with a plot.

Later, I was telling my friend about how happy I got, and she said, "Read Emerson." I looked at his "Nature" essay (it's "transparent," not "transcendental eye-ball," by the way, she got mixed up). He writes: "Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me." Emerson was talking about his highest moment in the woods, contemplating nature, not the artificial (though Grand Central is my woods), but anyway my friend said, "See, you became invisible—you could see everybody and nobody could see you and gravity could not cling to you and . . ."

True, I was no longer opaque. I was see-through. Though, unlike my friend, my joy was not about being able to hide—I thought I looked mysterious eating the olives and would have been happy to be part of another's contemplation. It was more that, as I became the eyeball, and all images passed through me, I entered that blissful state of detachment when life becomes strictly a paradise of visual spectacle. And because it is Grand Central, the spectacle is eternal—nobody stops saying goodbye.

But why only Grand Central? The Port Authority has coming and going, but there is no marble, no splendor (Grand Central, by the way, was a place of great solace and hope during the Depression). The big museums, the Metropolitan, have strangers and marble, but the crowds dawdle and do not have the forward movement that adds dramatic action, and—art can stir up the emotions. Ferry terminals are mysterious in the fog, but the action is only on the hour. LaGuardia is out of the question—everyone is under surveillance and has to be the object, not the subject. Then there are those children chewing on plastic toys and solving math problems with their parents. The light is too bright. But Grand Central is sepia and . . . Oh, wait, there goes a woman in a pale gray suit, alligator pumps. She is walking across the terminal with a ticket in her handbag. Is she going to Poughkeepsie to be in a con game or Greenwich to see her fiancé who writes songs for Broadway? In the dining car, she will order a gimlet and lobster bisque. A man will sit down, open his cigarette case, and . . .

So wait, now I'm not only an eyeball, I'm a camera! I'm making a movie in my eye, adding fiction to the mix, cutting back and forth between her, a man with a Duane Reade bag, and the woman eating a slice of Junior's cheesecake as she walks—me—I got hungry after all this.


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