Theatre'd Momentary: A Silver Gelatin Photograph of Grand Central Station, 1934
Beams of light strike the silver clock upon the information kiosk. Consider the long, long wall of ticket windows-each one of which is lit with its destinations north and south and west. You cannot ride a train very far east from Manhattan. But a train from across the Atlantic is due momently, bearing a ghostly passenger list writ on a magic slate that the wind keeps uplifting to erase the manifest. The music that is playing in 1934 in Grand Central Station must be the clop-clop-clop of the hooves of the donkeys in a movement of Ferde Grofe's pop-classic Grand Canyon Suite. And in the purse of a woman below, whose hair momentarily shines in one of those falling beams, there is a copy of La condition humane, one of the novels from that age worth mentioning, and a title that, in retrospect, seems prophetic-at least when it is translated into English as Man's Fate by Haakon Chevalier of Berkeley-whose close friend is to be the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. But this will be later, before Los Alamos, before the Spanish Civil War, but not before the ascendancy in Germany of one who is already digging beneath the feet of millions. Of those below on the floor of this station in the winter of 1934, who would believe what the next ten years must bring? They are deep in the depression. Choices are narrowing. Perhaps they cannot even imagine a future as bad as the one many are already living. But look-they are still alive, no matter what history may bring, and many of them must live dynamically-you can see it in their stride. Wouldn't we like to stop the world and keep still? Wouldn't we ever, knowing what we know now?
Knowing what we know now, all these years later, we see the future no better than the figures in the station, those going to their destinations.
Paul Dresman lives in Eugene, Oregon.
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