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Playing Spectator In a Fog-Enfolded World

By Roy Barnacle / March 28, 1996



There I was, at the top of the Empire State Building, with all of New York City below. It spread out for miles in a huge megalopolis of commerce, dwellings, roads, rail, river, and high-rises, seeming to reach out to gobble pasture and prairie that lay beyond.

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Down below, tiny cars and even tinier people moved about; up where I was, birds flew and soared from building to building. What sights to view, what vistas to espy, what distances to travel.

The only problem was that the top of the Empire State Building was completely shrouded in fog.

I must confess that I had been told this at the entrance by a very relaxed occupier of the ticket booth. I was not to be put off. I had come down from Boston on a business trip and found myself a few blocks from the tall needle-topped edifice. It was not my first visit. I looked upon this place as an old friend whom I promise to visit whenever I am in town.

I stepped out of the elevator onto the gallery that encompasses the observation floor. I thought that perhaps the fog might have settled, and I would find myself on top of a 10-story building that sat on a carpet of cloud far above the city. But no, the whole area was shrouded, and little could be seen beyond the stainless- steel wire fence that restrained adventurous children and adults.

Nevertheless, I went outside and walked around the perimeter, looking up occasionally to see the needle and its television antenna rise up into the mist. As I gazed into the fog, I was filled with such a sense of well-being. The whole field around the building was glowing. The lights that lit up the needle and TV tower were on, but instead of the sharp highway of light beams reaching to the top, the lights were diffused immediately. It was as though I was cocooned in a cotton-candy of blue and pink pastels - a flush of flavor that dispelled the gloomy haze that beleaguered the building. It was, truly, another world. But I could still hear the sounds of the city drifting up through the mist. Had I been able to see the surrounding city and its environs - those miniscule cars and people - it would have spoiled the effect.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation that we did not wish, or that has changed against our choosing. When this happens, it might be wise to take a good look at the situation and determine its beauty, ambience, or consequence and see the loveliness and radiance that may lie there.

This was a secret and self-contained world up there in the fog, one that I could not have imagined.

Had I accepted the normal consequence of view and outlook that would have been in brighter weather, I might never have experienced the wonder and spectacle of light and color that surrounded me 102 floors above New York. It was at once solid with abundance and opaque with beauty.

I was, as William Hazlitt recounted in "On Living to One's Self": "a silent spectator of the mighty scene of things.... To take a thoughtful, anxious interest or curiosity in what is passing ... but not to feel the slightest inclination to make or meddle with it."