Arriving in Grand Central [excerpt from The Valeries] – Forrest Muelrath
June 12, 2021
My son was staring out onto the frozen river from the train window, his thoughts as repetitive as the sound of the slowclacking on the tracks beneath him. He traced a line from the tormented memories of the people he was leaving behind, each one whom he had loved with such abandon, and one whom at that very moment, we may imagine, might have been cuckolding him with the professor who had introduced him to the study of madness and, at least in part, had promoted his decision to depart before graduating. The rage that had so embroiled his entire being and inspired violent fantasies before he became fixed atop his mattress last fall, began to irritate old, worn-out nervous pathways as he became lost in erotic fantasies. As the train pulled into New York’s Grand Central terminal, this rage caused subtle demonstrative changes within him, making him more assertive, adjusting his posture, and landing his boots on the ground with a bit more force.
Unlike the seemingly infinite contingent of tourists gawking upwards at Grand Central Station’s astronomically erroneous celestial mural on the barrel vault ceiling, my son didn’t much care for the architecture of the city’s most photographed train station. To his purposes, Grand Central was primarily a waypoint between his former college campus and his social life in the outer boroughs, but the architecture of the station, and the hoards of sightseers who go out of their way to experience it, represented to my son evidence of a technological epoch oversaturated with images that has encrusted a simulated reality onto the human psyche en-masse, forever altering the entire human experience, in that one can now solely witness phenomena through images of events that have already occurred. During the Spring semester of his third year, my son had dedicated countless hours of research, watching parts of over fifty movies that feature scenes in Grand Central Station, in order to produce an essay on why Hollywood action filmmaker and explosion special effects master Michael Bay had chosen Grand Central Station for his epic masterpiece Armageddon as the central symbol of iconic architecture to be destroyed during the film’s opening sequence. Following the credits, Armageddon’s opening sequence is a montage that sets up the film’s premise by depicting a potentially insurmountable threat to human existence, with blazing meteors ravaging New York City. In the film, just as sweeping aerial footage of the skyline fades with the opening credits, fiery boulders come hurtling from the sky, whizzing between skyscrapers, crashing into street corners, exploding yellow taxi cabs and NYPD cruisers, knocking the top off of the Chrysler Building, before there is this tremendous instance of serenity as the viewer is transported to the harmonious interior of Grand Central’s main concourse. Glorious rays of sunlight stream through arched windows on the south wall above the ticket booth, rays of sun with such opacity that one is to wonder if this magnificent light was created using some Hollywood technique of painting over film, or if Bay, in fact, had demanded his camera operator — or perhaps with Bay himself operating the camera, given the significance of this single shot — stand on the north balcony over what was perhaps multiple afternoons, waiting for the sun to come through the windows with enough intensity so as to create this feeling of being not inside a train station, but a Cathedral of one’s chosen belief system, with only a moment to experience, for the final time, before all of human existence is terminated, the overwhelming sense of awe and wonder that the sheer ability to perceive our universe has provoked in each human being, at least at one point in his or her life, since the dawn of time. This serene image — which in the film lasts just over one second before an astroid detonates the south wall in an a fiery eruption and human terror rips through the senses as characters in generic New York City tourist garb are blown off their feet and sent flying through the air past the cameras — was created utilizing camerawork that was without a doubt influenced by the most well-known image of Grand Central’s main concourse: a 1954 black and white photo credited to the Associated Press, taken of the south and west walls by an anonymous photographer who had plainly mastered the art of capturing the sun’s rays on film and was able to depict it fully extending sixty feet from arched windows to the floor where formed a pool of light around the feet of waiting passengers. My son proposed in his paper that Bay’s shot might have, in fact, be the 1954 photograph altered with state of the art filmmaking technology, and that it was the director’s intention to destroy this image in the collective psyche by sending apocalyptic missiles from the heavens, which to my son, was indicative of an iconoclastic rage in Michael Bay. Despite his place in popular culture, Bay, my son pondered, could very well be a surprisingly gifted artist and philosopher in person, and, who much like my son before this thoughts became obsessed with the etiologies of a lovesickness, could have spent a good portion of his days deep in sadness as he mourned the loss of authentic human experience that must exist just beyond the impenetrable image reality where human beings are to this day imprisoned.
As my son schlepped his rucksack and black nylon bag full of electronics off of the train platform and up through Grand Central’s main concourse in the direction of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s subway system, he squinted up through the early afternoon rays of bright January sun and thought with admiration and envy of the iconoclastic power possessed by Michael Bay, vowing to one day go a step beyond the filmmaker, and destroy that wall with consequences greater than the mere creation of further images to add to spectacle, as Armageddon had done, and to in actuality, once and for all, tear down the simulation so that any individual could traverse to the other side and witness for the first time in one’s life, the true experience of being alive.