People love the Sun. It’s understandable. It’s etched into their DNA. The earth started as a primordial jambalaya of disparate molecules. Then the Sun started kicking those molecules into one another until the simplest little lifeforms poofed into blissfully unconscious existence. The flora still rely on the Sun for their sustenance. Which means the fauna rely on the Sun for their sustenance. Which means humans rely on It for theirs. Maybe that’s why they keep farting into the mouth of the ozone. Their eyes are bigger than their stomachs. I guess you could argue that I should feel a particular devotion to that great incandescent teat in the sky too. If you can draw a straight line from the Sun to the plants to the beasts to Man, then you can certainly slot me into that next leg of the relay.
But I’m the City. The Sun doesn’t agree with me.
I was created for large swaths of the population to live together in one centralized location. That’s a big word, “together.” It’s tethered inexorably to that weird vestigial reflex of humans’ to amalgamate into a community. That’s another big word. I’m community writ large. Literally. In me the community’s become so gargantuan it now defeats its own purpose, like some gluttonous mastodon that’s gorged itself stupid and lies prone on the ground paralyzed under its own weight. You hear about it all the time, stories about people crushed lonely amidst the teeming masses. It’s all about the affects of energy, and what’s the Sun but a whole lot of concentrated energy? Some of it spills onto the earth, and the affects are not always positive. I’m sure that far, far away from me, wherever agriculture still happens, the positive affects are more obvious. But within me, the City, they’re evasive to the point of doubtful.
People order their civilizations around the Sun. Each morning it punctures the horizon like a newborn chick punching through the shell of its egg and life springs to life. Slowly the streets fill with each man and woman’s conveyance of choice until they’re enmeshed in a swamp of gridlock. Each car, bus, truck, train, and trolley belches its gaseous affront to the olfactory with arrogant impunity. Their fumes collaborate with the ascending heat of the rising Giver of Life to thicken the air and fan the tempers of the ones who breathe it. The bleats and barks of those machines echo through my steel and concrete extremities. Computers and cell phones spit invisible waves so enigmatic their users don’t even understand how they’re poisoning themselves. But even if they did, they would still have trapped themselves in the sepulchral society of their own making. That’s the tempo, tone, and timbre they’ve defined for themselves. They set out every day as the morning’s rays first fall upon the backs of their heads and make their way to their places of employment, each one of them with the best of intentions. The ones who drive try to obscure the surrounding vicissitudes and ignore the omnipresent threat of reckless motorists with the becalming soundtrack of their choice, whatever they feel will best ready them for the gauntlet they’ve committed themselves to running. But there’s a logjam ahead, and if they’re late for work their immediate supervisor will be only too happy to exorcise his own tortures at their expense. The pedestrians are forced to keep pace in a veritable Pomplona of slaves to the market place. They know at any second they could plant their expensive new shoes into a thoughtlessly discarded puddle of freshly chewed gum, gong their already taxed knees into a fire hydrant unseen in the throng, or unwittingly walk into a rising wall of rainwater spewed onto their trousers by a passing taxi. All they can do is blot out their conscious mind. They lose themselves in either unattainable fantasy or the labyrinths of their very real miseries. Their eyes cloud over and soon they resemble livestock more than they’d care to admit. Overworked, underpaid, and completely devalued throughout the course of their day, they find momentary respite only in the toxic embrace of the occasional cigarette or an inflated sojourn to the lavatory. But the only hope they dare entertain is that once they’ve clocked out and made their barely navigable trek in reverse, they’ll have the liberty of dropping their guard within the familiar and customized confines of hearth and home. Is it any wonder I’m so often loathed and derided by the poor people who trudge through my streets, enduring the judging eye of the Unconquerable Sun?
But the City at night – that’s a horse of a different color.
I’m still the same City, still the same collection of fears and desires, ambitions and vices. It’s not so shallow as a change in cosmetics. It’s the Sun. The earth, abundant with existence, knows the Sun can’t shine ceaselessly. That the life It bestows would be maddeningly short-lived under It’s unblinking glare. So the earth wisely turns away to shield us, hide us, and grants us a view of the pastoral Moon.
If the City under the Sun is an electric guitar rippling with distortion, the City beneath the Moon is a tenor saxophone, a plaintive mating call across an anesthetic ocean. At night my pulse drops to an adagio lullaby. The Sun requires a shielding of the eyes, averting them from the great wrathful god. But the Moon, closest to us of all the heavenly bodies, beckons us to look upon it and lose ourselves in Its coolly defined contours.
My streets don’t choke on vehicles at night. Cars still litter the streets. They still erode my asphalt skin. But the air swirls between their steel heads and tails. I can breathe. I’m wrapped within a plain black canvas. Only the sweeping headlights of the passing cars and the gentle peck of the street lamps cast away the pervading darkness. We lose ourselves in those ensorcelling pools. Suddenly those pockets of urban squalor take on the mien of man’s glory illuminated. The glowing windows of our skyscrapers draw our eyes heavenward, the whole being a spire of slumbering fireflies. The worker bees may be buzzing behind those windows, but they beat their wings at their own speed, humming the tune of their choice. On the streets below, men and women young and old drape themselves in their most inspiring finery and set out to meet that certain soul whose madness can match their own. Every one calls out in prayer with each clack of heel on cobblestone, each clink of ice against glass. Every hour of our daylit lives are manacled to the apparatus of our own devising. Gears, motors, wires, and coils hobble our instincts and reflexes, our unconscious wisps of omniscience. Like beasts of burden worn raw and then discarded, we’re flogged ever forward through an endless storm of circuitry, driven on without pause or variation. We pray with every jest, every compliment, every show of gratitude, to find someone with whom we can share our defeats and our victories. Someone with whom we can vanquish the clocks and computers and conquer our addictive modernity.
It’s a prayer the City can answer at night.
But that prayer, however timely it’s answered, however fortuitous its answer may be, is little more than cold comfort. We know the Sun will always rise to coldly brush aside the blanket of night. Every morning the Sun will crest over the horizon, a border rendered porous beneath the unifying Moon. Waves of Hunnish light will sweep over us and mercilessly exterminate the wills of pauper, princeps, and all of us in between. Our hearts, once vibrant and fecund, will shrivel and expire in the inferno of day. Our carcasses will shuffle from point to point like the re-animated dead. We’ll drink in a Sun-scarred world through empty uncomprehending eyes without passion or purpose. We’ll never pray again. Then, only after several billion more years, will Sol Invictus, like a scientist who’s gleamed all he can from his cruel experiment, gorge himself on everything in sight, finally granting us the deliverance we’d prayed for.