When the F-bomb is dropped too casually it can create the kind of discomfort one would expect from brandishing a large, non-Caucasian sex toy at a KKK rally, no matter how tolerant the room. I’ve had whole crowds leap back in terror when I pull the trigger on that verbal expression when my situational awareness is out of sync. Out of consideration for those of a more delicate nature, I reserve such expressive crescendos for close friends, relatives, medical professionals, climate change deniers, acquaintances, people I meet on the street, clergy, pets, and both drug induced and naturally occurring hallucinations. (Someday I’ll tell the story of the elk with a bicycle light in its antlers coming up the side of a cliff to get me.)
I was sure this whole eclipse thing was over-hyped and would under-deliver like Geraldo Rivera’s rifling through the safe of Al Capone. The eclipse will change your life! The Segway will change how we get around! The eclipse is something you MUST experience! Mexico WILL pay for that wall! And so on. Yet, I set my alarm for 6:00am. I run a theater for a living, which means it’s more often that I’m going to bed at 6:00am than getting up. An extra scoop in the coffee machine and not getting back into the bed with the laptop kept me upright. When the traffic was about as apocalyptic as a bucket of mewing kittens, I was convinced this was a forecast of celestial lameness. Parking was a breeze close to the field, which distanced me even farther from the notion this was worth getting up for. My camp chair was set, my hat was pulled down over my eyes, and I waited. Actually, I was watching the Port-O-Potties. There were about 300 of us in this field and there were only two little TARDIS-like blue boxes. That coffee was sayin’ howdy but the line to the appropriate place to finish the pee-pee dance wasn’t waning.
More and more people showed up. Folding chairs, backpacks, snacks, cameras—dear god, the cameras! Lenses so big, pointing at the sky in such a way that the mere sight of them would compel North Korea to lob a missile into the water—another blow in the war between Kim Jong-un and, well, judging by where his missiles end up, Neptune, God of the Sea. All of this was festive with the glitter of eclipse glasses. Looking like the iconic American movie theater photo with all the patrons sporting the most stylish of 3-D glasses, eclipse glasses masked all the faces sprouting toward the sky like Oregonians sunflowering skyward during those brief moments when the sun isn’t eclipsed by grey clouds. Abundance of safety eyewear was necessary, even if the glasses were made of paper and film obviously provided by the lowest bidder. It struck me that if someone sold bad eclipse glasses; the wearers wouldn’t be able to point out the culprits in a police lineup.
I ambled back from the Port-O-Potties, basking in the embarrassment of knowing my spent coffee was amplified by the plastic plumbing of the small shack and fell into the tank with such loudness and duration, certainly it was mistaken as a rogue water jet from the Bellagio. Judging by the way no one would look at me when I flung open the plastic door, the sound must have been spectacular. When I sat back into my seat, I was told “IT” had begun. I slapped on my spiffy eyewear and watched the sun going from a silhouette of the Death Star to becoming an orange Pac Man. I was still not thrilled, but this was kind’a cool.
Then this thing happened. It got windy. What the hell is this? A kind, smartly person spoke up and told of how the temperature drop in the shadow causes air temps to … Whatever. It was cool. The darkness crept in with a stealthy subtlety such that when I noticed it, I realized it had been happening for a while. The temperature was dropping fast and it was not hard to see why. The damn sun was being blocked.
Then the totality: the moon completely blocked the sun. This show was not overhyped. Perhaps there is in our DNA the ephemera of eclipses past. There was a familiarity to this event — to the odd changes in our world that wouldn’t happen any other time. Perhaps it’s just our brains telling us, “It’s cool. We’ve seen this before” that helps to chill out our reptilian cortex trying to fire up the adrenals. But, this was bigger than just replaying every science-fiction matinee that made us feel wonder and fear. This went deeper. This was primal. For that sliver of time when the sun was taken from us, we were left upended with only each other; digital life pixelated into nonexistence. The only thing that made sense to me at the moment was the analog world of sincere human connectedness. I heard others weeping. Some were cheering. Many, very many people joined me in a chorus of, “Fuuuuck meeee…..”
The last time I felt this kind of gratitude for the universe choosing me to experience itself, was the first time I saw Yosemite from Glacier point. I’d been on my motorcycle for a long time and my social skills were left somewhere between Vegas and Reno, along the side of the highway. I rode up to the Yosemite lookout, set my helmet teetering on the mirror of my Harley, slapped some of the dust off my leather pants, and strode up to the platform. The place was crowded and I guess my mood preceded me, since a place appeared for me at the rail. I grabbed the rail and could see why it was there; I would have fallen off the side of the cliff when I looked out into the valley. Before me was the world that dazzled Ansel Adams, a personal hero, and helped win the fight to secure our national parks. Before me was El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls. Their mere existence at that time in that place with me standing there made me feel like the luckiest person in the world. Always willing to stoop to the inarticulate, I proclaimed, “Fuuuuck meeee….” as loudly as I would again, years later, watching an eclipse. It suddenly got a little quieter along my part of the rail. I looked to my right and there was a little old lady peering up at me. If this was a movie script she’d be wearing an apron and babushka head scarf, and have flour on her hands. Instead she had on a “World’s Greatest Grandma” T-shirt and a bingo visor. “Sorry,” I muttered to her. She patted my hand and smiled at me. “I said the same thing, dear.”
I know about shows, and the eclipse was one of the best. I looked back at the people of my community during the totality. They were gaping, looking like they were about to sneeze, realizing that this was one of the best shows they’d ever see. When twilight surrounded us with a light blue halo floating above all horizons and that ring of fire hung in the sky, we were focused, emotionally focused on the thing that unified us that morning. And this too came to pass. Too soon the sun was back and the warm, still summer air returned. I can still feel the buzz of that few minutes of magic. With all that I still wonder how long it’ll take until every time I turn around, there isn’t a damn pair of eclipse glasses. They seem to multiply like AOL CDs did and Trader Joe’s environmentally responsible shopping bags do now.