Sunset-Off

by Theodore Ward Barrow

Allow me, if you please, to paint a picture for you.  This picture will be painted in the pinkest of hues, and the mintiest of greens.  These colors will burn brightly and they will burn shortly, and their breath-taking incandescence will be a momentary flicker of exalted heavenly light, before it passes into the drab nothingness of urban spleen.

A colleague of mine, who for the moment shall go un-named, and I were leaving the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that veritable and glorious hallowed Upper West Side institution.  It was about 4:30, and the sun was cozying itself down into the furrowed covers and verdant hills of our great land.  This associate and I looked across the drab and bustling traffic of 5th Avenue (one of the most unpleasant avenues out there, if you ask me: 4 lanes of screaming homicidal cab drivers and loud buses packed with gaggling tourists like a sardine can.  Nothing like my beloved CPW on the fairer side of my park) and we saw the pink-marshmallow glow rising of the setting sun rising above the green copper cornices of a taste-less mansion which looked not unlike the frosting on a superfluously saccharine birthday cake for some spoiled-rotten Upper East Side brat.

Yes, the sunlight was pink against the limestone canyon of over-priced apartment dwellings, and yes, it was indeed glorious, but this, to me as an Upper West Sider, was nothing new.  I merely pointed it out to my awe-struck and morally-impoverished friend and moved on. I continued a couple leisurely paces when I realized that my companion was at my side no more. I looked back to find her feverishly fumbling with her photographic apparatus, un-screwing the cap, and aiming the vulgar device at the gorgeous but ever so common sunlight on the building.  It was charmingly pathetic, and I would be stretching the truth egregiously if I did not mention that I garnered a small, condescending but imperceptible chortle at my poor friends struggle.

It’s not that I did not recognize the beauty in the setting sun. On the contrary, I am an aesthete through and through, and it was, in fact, I who pointed the sunset out to her for that matter.  Make no mistake, I do love the sun, and I love it and celebrate it most in its last heroic throes of incandescent luminosity, just before it hides itself playfully and sleepily behind the rocky bluffs of Jersey each night. It is, however, something that I have grown accustomed to, living where I do, which at this point would be redundant to mention.  I love the sun un-selfishly, perhaps because I am nearly spoiled myself with it’s daily displays of radiant beauty.  The sun does indeed set in the Upper West Side.  My associate, on the other hand, who happens to be unfortunately stuck on the other side of the isle of Manhattan, is not often treated to such displays of celestial beauty.  I wouldn’t really know, as I hardly go over there, but I can only fain to imagine that, for most of the annual cycle, the lush thickness of my front yard, what some people call Central Park, would block the sun from setting for easterners. I should mention that this sunset was witnessed in early December.  The trees, bereft of their plentiful foliage, acted as a thin lattice and allowed the sun to run across the park, like a babe at play with pink ribbons in her hair and a rose balloon, only to smack, briefly, on the cold hard facade of a 5th Avenue apartment domicile utterly lacking poetry or zest. This temporal glitch that God has permitted, this sunset that I noticed with an air ennuyeuse, lifted for one fleeting moment my colleagues spirits, and for that I pity her.

I pity her for her attachment to the material world, so tragically endemic to her oriental (Eastern) neighbors.  I pity her for the state of rapture that she easily fell into when I pointed out that piecemeal effect of warm light on cold stone. I pity her above all for the sad fact that she is consigned to carry out her dreary days in the canyons of affected gentility, all pomp and no pleasure, all gold and no glory, with too much swank and not enough sunlight, as so many of her upper east side ilk do, ignorant the whole time of the beauty freely available across the park.

It would be the very act of cynical crudity for me to participate in this half-cocked “sunset-off” challenge that has been flung at me from across the park.  As an occidental gentleman, I appreciate the beauty around me by total immersion, but distant remove.  I bathe in its rosy-fingered beauty from morn ’til eve, I dip my head in the warm perfumed waters of sunlight, but I do not dare to take a sip. It’s mine to keep, so why take a photo? Were I to do that, it would be cheapened.  A photo is a commodity belonging to the exchange of the marketplace, the same marketplace that built the vulgar and ostentatious stone buildings of 5th avenue, and I am blessed not to fetishize that which is abundant and free to all of us blessed to call bloomingdale home.  No, I respectfully, and not without a smidgeon of smugness to which I am entitled, decline this challenge. Tant pis. I need not prove the glorious beauty of an Upper West Side sunset to anyone that does not live here. The manifold glories are self-evident, and to elaborate any further would detract. Suffice to say that from where I hang my chapeau, the light is pink, rosy, and warm. If, from time to time, a fortuitous ray of sunlight makes its way through the noble castles of CPW, runs along the tops of the trees of Central Park, and happens to illuminate, for one precious moment, an otherwise drab bit of architectural pretense of 5th Avenue, cherish it, celebrate it, do with it what ever your degraded soul requires; but doubt not that this small moment of joy which disappears into the thin air from which it was formed, came from the west, and thus the west is the source of that momentary beauty.  For it is not the sun itself that is beautiful, but the light which hits the Hudson, reflects off of the gleaming buildings of the Upper West Side, and illuminates the world for one glorious moment, never to return again.

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