For a massive ball of fire that’s bigger than the planet it’s surprisingly hard to find a way to get a few minutes of a glimpse at it every day. Especially when I’m traveling. I am currently in NYC for a few days visiting some friends. I didn’t really think this all through because even though I am on the east coast (which I thought meant I was set for easy sunrise gazing) I am actually surrounded by very tall buildings that make it hard to see the sun when its low on the horizon, exactly the time when I need to gaze. I arrived to New York City’s JFK airport at 4:45 am. Sunrise was to be at 6:03 so I figured I had an hour and 15 minutes to get myself set up on the beach, relaxed and barefoot, and ready to gaze. I needed to be sure to gaze today because I only got 40 bullshit seconds of gazing yesterday on my way to the airport, through a mobile gas station, in my socks and shoes and in Summer (my convertible). All against the rules, but I thought, better than nothing.
I didn’t want to take any chances of missing the morning show so I dropped $50 on a taxi and arrived at Brighton Beach/Cony Island at 5:30am, with plenty of time to spare before the sun was to appear. I squandered 20 minutes of that time away walking to a pavilion that I thought could shield me from the bitter whipping wind as I waited for the sun to shine. The pavilion didn’t help one bit, but it did have benches, so gratefully I sat down, plopped my luggage on the bench beside me, caught my breath and relaxed. I had been awake for 25 straight hours at this point (except for the hour of pot induced slumber I got on the plane) so I was a little pooped. I had plenty of time now and the sand was just right here in front of me for when the moment came. I wasn’t going to take my shoes and socks off any earlier than I had to because it’s ice cold out in these quiet pre-dawn hours. As the time ticked closer and close to 6:03 I noticed something strange about the sky. It was still dark, I mean the whole sky was lighter but the source of that light didn’t appear to be over yonder on the horizon. It appeared to be coming from my left, over the line of very tall buildings hemming me in. So for the first time in 5 years of having an iPhone I hurriedly opened my compass app to find that i was on a south facing beach and indeed I would not be seeing the sun rise over the water on the beach where I was standing anytime soon. Why don’t they tell you in school that even on the east coast you might not be on a beach that is actually facing east? I bet that’s a very common mistake and should be covered in third grade instead of teaching us cursive. I mean who uses that? I could have actually used the little tidbit about the beaches. Just my two cents.
So I contemplated running in my pajamas, with my luggage and without my dignity, to see if I could catch the sun from the streets, or make it all the way beyond the buildings, or if only I could already fly, then I could just float up and see it all easy like. Instead I gave up. As I moped all the way to the subway I cursed how it still proved difficult to see the sunrise even when you were on the eastern goddamn coast of the country. I made my way to Ben’s neighborhood, got myself a sugar rush in the form of a vanilla chai tea latte and a donut and since I’d been awake for 26 hours at this point I promptly fell deeply asleep with my face pressed firmly into the hot pink and orange table top. I won’t confirm this for certain, but there may have been some drooling. The Dunkin’ Donuts pink and orange color scheme was the closest thing to a sunrise I was going to get today. So sunset became my only hope if I didn’t want to fall seriously behind.
I spent the day relaxing in my friend Ben’s Prospect Park Brooklyn apartment, feeling at peace because I had formed a fool proof plan for catching the sunset today. I was going to Sunset Park, so named for it’s hills that put you high above most of the buildings and give you a good view of the western shore of Brooklyn as the sun sets over the water. Or so I thought. Sunset was to be at 7:54, so I left Ben’s place at 5:30, dropped $20 more on a taxi so I could relax with a slice of NY pizza in the neighborhood of the park while waiting for the right moment to gaze.
The taxi driver acted like he was doing me a favor by not turning on the meter because I had agreed to pay cash, so he was only going to charge me $20. I was thrilled. I am being blessed in my endeavor by the universe because of my single-minded passion to follow through and getting a cheaper cab ride than the masses of “sheeple” who don’t pursue their passions the same way because of that fact, I thought. I congratulated myself for currying the favor of the universe yet again, and pitied the world around me for being so lost in their own drama that they couldn’t see what was plain to me, that life is trying to support us at every turn. On the return trip however, which was exactly the same distance, the cabbie clicked on his meter and my total ended up at only $12.00 by the time we returned to Ben’s apartment. So my theory about universal support may have a few holes.
I enjoyed my slice of pizza, not yet knowing I’d been hoodwinked out of $8, and walked through another bitter windstorm to the top of sunset park holding my baseball cap on my head. I’m not into sports so my baseball cap had the logo from the Cheers TV show on it instead of an actual team logo. After a particularly big gust my Cheers hat flew off my head and as I chased it down in a city where nobody knows my name I felt more self-conscious than I do when I kick my shoes off in public and stare, teary-eyed at the sun in my own city. I marveled at the incongruity of that fact as my hat caught another gust and rolled further down the street. I chased it a good twenty feet before finally catching up to it, grabbing it, and putting it back on my head. I cleared my throat just before triumphantly dawning the cap to add a garnish of needed decorum to the main course of my wild flailing insanity.
When I finally did find a place in the park the sun was sinking from behind one band of clouds into a clear slit in the sky that I knew would be just enough time for my gaze before it would begin it’s decent behind the final band of clouds that met the horizon. I was in a small patch or dirt worn away amidst the grass by, I imagined, years of children playing and family bbq’s. It could have just as easily been a favorite spot for homeless people to pee on preventing grass from growing. Or perhaps a big memorial of someone or something we no longer celebrate used to be here, like George Bush or a large marble representation of the US Constitution or something, so this could just be the exposed dead earth underneath it. But I digress, at that moment for me it was the tiny feet of playful children that wore away the green and left me a perfect patch of exposed ground to connect myself to the earth for my gaze. The patch of park was cold and sharp, a layer of frozen mud and jagged pebbles pressed up into my soles as I set the time and gazed. There was no time to waste getting comfortable.
I usually get wrapped up in the sun once the staring is underway. Today was different. The chilly wind whirled right through me as if my hoody had been made of rice paper. My feet were being attacked by fragments of rock that all had a point to make. My toes were almost frost-bitten. And I really had to pee. So for the first time since the gazing began I didn’t get lost in the bliss of the blaze. I didn’t get mesmerized by the golden glow of twilight. I grunted, peed a little in my pants, and check the time. One more minute to go. Since when did it take so long to do something for less than three minutes. I let what must have been five more minutes go by and then checked the time again. Fourteen more seconds! What? I couldn’t believe this. I don’t usually check the time during my gaze, I am usually pulled in deep and don’t wan to stop. Today instead I counted down from fourteen Mississippi, and when that bell went off I waddled to the nearest bench, dusted off my cold antagonized feet, socked up, shoed up, and got the hell back inside. You had to be crazy to be out here barefoot at this time of day. And I’m not crazy.
When I exited the cab at Ben’s apartment I realized I’d been conned by the first taxi driver and I decided resentfully that the universe really didn’t have my back. That sun-gazing session was hard and cold and sharp and so all those fears I thought I’d conquered over the past few weeks were proved true! Life had it in for me! Aha! I knew it! That was a quick turn around, I thought to myself with surprise. But the proof was in the pudding. I had been robbed! As the elevator made it’s slow crawl up to the fifth floor perspective began to seep in like the sunlight through cracked blinds, and I realized that one cabbie does not indicate the motives of the entire universe. I was ashamed at myself for losing all my faith over one small incident. I decided in the scheme of things that $8 was a small price to pay in the service of following ones own highest excitement. The throngs of folks I know trapped in careers they regret with co-workers they also regret cut through me like a cat of nine tails cuts through flesh and the self-pity poured out of me, onto the elevator floor and down the empty shaft. The depth of gratitude I thought I had been cultivating became activated in me in a way the sunlight couldn’t do today. I took stock of my life, my blessings, my schedule, my family and friends, and my freedom, and I began again to relax, even to smile. As the elevator door dinged open, I stepped into the hallway, felt that familiar wave of giddiness that the sun usually brings and thought to myself that was the best $8 bucks I’d ever spent.
SIDE EFFECTS: If you are serious about catching a sunrise or a sunset every single day, you may drop $85 on taxi’s just to catch your glimpse.
BENEFITS: It only cost me $85 to follow my dreams today. When Jesus followed his dreams he was crucified. Galileo was imprisoned. Martin Luther King was shot. Now maybe my dreams aren’t quite as controversial as theirs were, but I’m grateful to the likes of these brave men for paving the way for me to conduct my foo-foo new age cosmic experiment without being chased by the King’s Men or the FBI. Because of them and others like them, the gays can gaze in peace.