I showed up at work today armed with a pair of eclipse glasses I scored at the last minute (Niki had a spare – thank you!). About mid-morning, I found out that Pink Floyd’s song “Eclipse” was exactly the right length as the peak was supposed to be, so I downloaded it, thinking I would play it precisely when the peak hit us here in New York.
I was getting nervous about an hour before, when a bank of clouds started to roll in – right where the sun was going to be. But then at 2:30, fifteen minutes to peak, i head down to the street with glasses in hand.
Now, if you’ve never seen a pair of eclipse glasses, you don’t expect much. They’re flimsy cardboard with plastic film lenses; and if you look through them ordinarily, you can see nothing at all. I’d been playing around with them at home this morning, and it was as if I were blinkered. So I wasn’t sure what I would see when I got down to the street and put them on. There was a small cluster of people from a couple of the surrounding office buildings, trying to simultaneously shield their eyes and peer through their fingers; the residual light from the sun was just too overpowering. I put on the glasses and had a look up.
And I saw a crescent sun.
“Oh WOW.” I blurted out, making a couple people’s heads turn. A cloud obscured it almost right away, so I snuck out of the direct path of pedestrians, waiting for the cloud to pass. Knots of people were standing around me, discussing the eclipse; the group right next to me was a four-man team of young men in the starched-shirt and khakis uniform of bankers. “Where is it?” one asked, looking up.
“It would be that way,” I cut in, pointing. “Except that there’s a cloud now, so you can’t see anything.”
“And how long is it? Will it get all the way dark?”
“Nah, we’re only going to get like 70% of it. It started at like 1:30 here, and then it’s at its peak in about 15 minutes; and then after that it’ll start moving away and it’ll be all done by 4.”
“If only it wasn’t for that cloud!” another one grumbled.
“Yeah…but we got like 15 minutes until its peak.” The cloud started to pass a bit, so I took another look through the glasses again, as they talked on, unclear what they were looking for. Then turned to them. “Anyone want a look?”
“Sure, I’ll try,” one said, dubious. He put them on. “And where would I look, right up th-WHOOOOOOOOOOOA!” he gasped when he finally saw it.
“Ooh lemme try!” one of his friends excitedly asked, reaching for the glasses. “So you can really see it?…..OMIGOD!”
A pair of women behind us saw them react, and heard me laughing. “Wanna try?” I asked them.
“Uh, sure….” one reached for the glasses, and stepped over towards us, putting them on. “WHOA FUCK!” she gasped. Her friend had another similar reaction. And so did the family of Japanese tourists that was passing by at that moment when I let each of them look in turn as well.
One of the bankers asked to borrow them again, trying to figure out how to hold them in front of his camera and get a picture. “Here, I’ll hold them for you,” he offered, gesturing to my iPad, and we clumsily tried to get a picture, me fiddling with the camera on my ipad and him balancing the glasses in front of the lens. The clouds covered the sun again, and I told them to also take a look at the shadow of a tree near where we stood. “If you look at those shadows,” I said, “they’ll be all crescent-shaped too.”
“What about a pinhole like those guys over there?” someone near me was pointing at another cluster of people nearby, fiddling with a couple pieces of paper.
“Yeah, that’ll work too; it works for the same reason that the shadows look different – there, look!” and I pointed at the ground, at the dappled shadow of the tree near us. Someone else had my glasses while I got a picture of the filtered-leaved shadow, chuckling as I heard yet another person blurt out their awe. They handed the glasses back to me when I was done, and as soon as they did, another person asked for a look. And then another.
I was down on the sidewalk for about a half hour, but spent most of that time loaning my glasses out to strangers. At one point I was informally assigning numbered turns to people (“Okay, ma’am, you’re next, and then you here on my left – they asked just a couple seconds before you on my right did, guys”). But everyone thanked me profusely after a look. I even went back up to my office and grabbed one of my colleagues and dragged him down, telling him it would just be five minutes (his reaction when he put on the glasses and looked up – “whoashit, yeah“).
I came out to look at an eclipse. But I ended up being more charmed at the sight of everyone around me all being struck with awe and excitement, and all of us turning into children for a while.