When you come into the main concourse of Grand Central Station, you may note that on the vast, vaulted ceiling of this space is a giant mural of the entire night sky. The sky is in blue. The stars and other heavenly bodies are in gold. It’s an amazing sight. And all you have to do is look up.
Now here’s something you don’t know about that mural. When they were building Grand Central Station in the early 1900s, the designers went to a prominent astronomer and asked him to make a sketch of the stars in the sky so the painters doing the job would have a guide to work with. When the sketch was made, the astronomer apparently figured the painters would tape the sketch to the ceiling so they could work from it that way. In the event, however, the painters placed the sketch on a plank below them so they could look down at it. The result is, they painted the stars backwards. Looked at from underneath today, they appear as they would if you were outside of the universe looking at it from the other side. It’s God’s view.
I mention this because there was a news item I read the day before Barack Obama’s inauguration speech which said that that up in the sky that night Jupiter would be just adjacent to the moon and so close to it that it would be brighter in the night sky than at any time in this upcoming generation. So look at it. It was overcast in the Hamptons that night, so I didn’t get to see it, but it did seem to me that this was very, very inaccurate information. It was a matter of failed depth perception. Jupiter is far, far away from the moon. It’s just that we don’t see the night sky in 3D. Our eyes protect us from ourselves. I suspect if we did see it in 3D it would make us crazy.
The next morning was the inauguration speech. My wife, Chris, and I had wanted to watch the speech together, but it was not to be. On this cold and cloudy morning, as it happened, my wife was at our apartment in Manhattan while I was in our house in East Hampton. So I got this neat idea. Each of us should get one of our portable house phones, she in the apartment and I in East Hampton, and at the appropriate moment when the speech was about to begin, I would call her. We’d watch the speech together, each able to make an appropriate comment as it went along.
At 11:40 a.m., I phoned her and she picked up.
“Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens…,” Obama began.
At least that’s how hebegan the speech on my wife’s TV. He was moving along in his speech, saying, “I have taken an oath, not to any particular faction or political party, but to the Constitution of the United States” on her TV when on mine, he said, “Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens….”
I did not notice this at first. At first I thought it was some kind of echo that was making what Obama said on the New York TV slightly different than what was on mine, but then, at one point, he was making this very powerful and uplifting remark, and I whispered to my wife, “Wow, listen to that,” just as, over the telephone, I heard him making some saber-rattling statement to the Republicans who oppose him.
“What?” my wife said.
Soon after that I had figured it out. The delay was 12 seconds. I told my wife and she didn’t believe me. I told her we should both shut up and listen. And sure enough, there it was. He was making a joke in Manhattan, but was saying something sad about Afghanistan in East Hampton.
What the hell was this? How could this be? It occurred to me that she has Time Warner Cable in New York while I have DIRECTV in East Hampton. Was that it? Maybe I was under surveillance or something, or they wanted me to know things in a delay. I wondered if I ever got a call about the end of a football game where our team won and I hadn’t known it yet. I couldn’t recall such a thing. How much was the delay from Washington to New York City? It did put me in mind of how TV censors work when there are words going to be spoken that were not meant for children’s ears and they do the delay to bleep them out.
Was somebody in the TV standing by with a button to bleep out something our President might say at his own inauguration?
And then I remembered something I had seen happen during a football game I watched last week. A pass had been ruled completed on the field, but a flag had been thrown challenging the ruling.
“No way that ruling is going to stand,” one of the commentators said. “He stepped out of bounds before he caught the ball.”
“You are right, Tim,” said the second commentator. “Not one of our referees’ best calls.”
There was another slow-motion replay. “There it is, right there.”
At that point, we headed off to three minutes of commercials. There was a very good one for Budweiser, as a matter of fact. And then there was another good one from Lincoln. There were quite a few commercials. And now we were back to the game. The referees still hadn’t made a decision. But now the commentators were seeing this a whole different way.
“You know, if you look at it another way,” one of them said, “his hand did touch the ball. That could do it. But it’s just a possibility.”
“It was hard to notice the hand touching the ball on any of the replays, Tim. And I’m not even sure if that’s in the rulebook. But maybe so.”
Now the referee was ready to make the decision. He pressed the little button on his microphone battery strapped to his belt and he spread his arms.
“After further review,” he said, “the ruling on the field stands.”
And the crowd went wild.
And I thought, is my entire life just a recorded announcement? Einstein, where are you when I need you?