Thursday, July 22, 2010

Part Four: What I did on My Summer Vacation . . . The Wolves

So I get to the Hall of Indigenous Peoples Done Wrong By Manifest Destiny or whatever you call it and there they all are leading perfectly quiet lives, hardly impacting their environment whatsoever, you know killing some buffalo, smoking tobacco, growing corn, telling stories of their fathers, occasionally magically morphing into bears or eagles or wolverines or stream trout and they are so quiet and at-one with their world that I immediately feel all this White Girl guilt. So I look for the dugout canoe, the one that Jarret wants me to find, and I wonder, if I find it, do I take a photo of it and text it to him? Or does he just want to know if its still here? But all I find is the dugout canoe and there are no Indians in it. Its hanging in the brightly lit hallway just outside one of the myriad of entrances to the Hall of Exterminated Native Peoples and its empty of its Indians. So I text Jarret, I tell him this: I found the dugout canoe, but the Indians are no longer in the boat. I think they are hunting moose in the Hall of Mammals, which is where I am headed now. If I see the Indians, I will ask them to get back to their canoe directly and wait there for you and Max.

I left the Hall of The Red Man and I veered down this hallway that seemed to be on the edge of Amphibians and Primates and I followed three boys. They were headed for the Hall of Mammals, I was sure of it, there was just something in their lanky 14 year old strides that told me they were on the trail of bear and prong horn and arctic fox. There was something else about the boys, they were from Connecticut, it was the way their shoulders were square and the way their hair fell over their ears -- it was the cut of their jeans . . . moneyed but not moneyed, I knew these boys from way back, and I knew they would get me to the Halls of Furry Animals Possessing Mammary Glands. But before they led me there, they made me laugh. The museum was hot, very hot, obviously the old air conditioning systems for the building are no longer able to keep up with the city heat, and so distributed throughout the halls were large stand-up propeller fans. As I followed the boys, one of them stopped and like a girl on a game show, he stood next to the fan and stretched his arms in presentation mode and declared to the other two boys, as though he were a tour guide, "This is a fan, a very large fan. It blows at 50 miles per hour. It is nearly extinct, but not quite, and it can be found throughout North America." The boys burst out laughing and so did I. The fan as museum piece, good one, boy. The boys turned and saw me. They had no idea I had hitched my wagon to their trail to the Hall of Mammals, and they didn’t expect some old girl to be laughing along with them, but they realized it was funny, and we all laughed and turned and left the nearly extinct fan to forge on.

FINALLY, as I expected the boys came to the entrance to the Hall of Mammals . . . I stopped following them, I let them veer off in search of Elk and I sat on a bench, and observed the Grizzly Bears. A woman came and sat next to me and her little dog jumped up on the bench and sat between us. Yes, she had a dog, he was all of twenty-five pounds and he wore a vest, a smart little black and red job proclaiming his status, Service Dog. He looked to be a cross between a corgi and a chihuahua, something in his eyes reeked of chihuahua. He sat quietly and observed the bears with me. The woman was out of breath. I stared at her, rudely, for a moment, trying to figure out what her ailment was. Why did she need a Service Dog? Was it Anxiety Disorder? If that was the case, I thought, I can make a case for taking my dog with me to all public places if she can. And then her son arrived and I realized that he was the afflicted one and he sat on the floor in front the bears, and I could hear him breathing from where I sat, yes, he was afflicted. With what? I don’t know. But he was afflicted all the same and I was sure that this dog gave him, or at least his mother, great peace of mind. I wanted to pat the dog, but I knew that was wrong. You never give pats to Service Dogs, it might distract them from their good work, not that this dog was particularly busy at the moment, but for all I knew he was sending psychic messages to his Boy Master, so I refrained and honored the Grizzly with my gaze and thought about my own very current affliction: my ever so carefully packed messenger bag was now far too heavy with my mother’s book on Mongolia. Its camels and oxen and lovely high colored Mongolian peoples were weighing me down and I was going to have to trek the rest of the city and the day with them. I stood up and watched the Hall of Mammals begin to overflow with what seemed like thousands of school children, all wearing name tags, some wearing uniforms, and none, absolutely none attended by Teacher Types.

I slung the offending bag over my shoulder and closed my ears to the noise -- I felt more pity for the Mammals, they couldn’t leave, I at least had a choice. It occurred to me that perhaps the Museum Shoppe could ship my mother’s book, yes, yes, I would inquire after this one task, my hunt for the wolves was almost over. I rounded a corner and found the Ivory Snow Mountain Goats -- their white goat hair astonishingly immune to yellowing over the years, they told me to keep walking, to pass the desert fox and turn left at the Wolverines and down a narrow dark corridor I would find night and my wolves. And the goats were right, I made a wide left giving the Wolverine plenty of room, they are so cantankerous and smell funny, and I told them, I wasn’t looking for them and they seemed to say, oh, of course not, you’re looking for those Timber Wolves, all the girls come back to see those Wolves.

When I found them, they were just as I had left them twenty-five years ago, that was the occasion I took my husband to see them. It was his first trip to the City, he was all of 22 and we flew up from North Carolina and it was winter and it was close to New Year’s and the wind about froze his Southern Soul, but I got him to the Museum and he was charmed.

The hallway was barely passable with all the school kids. I pressed against the wall facing the wolves and let the kids crush by. I watched them watch the wolves. Some of the kids were truly afraid . . . maybe it was the darkness, maybe the wolves pursuit of prey just hit a a primeval nerve with the kids, just like it did for me all those years ago. And then the narrow arctic nocturnal hall cleared of all the kids, and I had a minute with the wolves, a minute to tell them how much I had missed them and how glad I was that they were still around, still chasing that rabbit. And when I was finishing up my prayer to the wolves, a small family came down the hall . . . mother, father, daughter and son. The son, who was probably thirteen or so, was in the lead and he held his father’s hand, he was practically dragging his father, ”Dad, dad, you have to see this one, this is my favorite one!“ And they stopped in front of the wolves and me. I stood back as the family gathered in front of the bluish moonlit wolves. And the boy piped up again, ”Isn’t that the most fantastic thing you’ve ever seen?“ And the father nodded, he didn’t say a word, he just nodded. And mother nodded and the daughter nodded. They were silenced by the wolves.

I had done it, I had seen the wolves and now it was time to find the Museum Shoppe. I was in the thick of the Field Trip press now and my head was banging with hunger and the little hairs on the inside of my ears had laid down and given up, like I had been at a heavy metal concert all morning, I was half deaf from the school kid cacophony. I needed to get to the shop and unload that book. Funny, there are plenty of signs to get you to the Museum Shoppe. And when I got there, of course, I walk in and turn to see another book, better than the book I had already bought my mother in the small exhibit shop and I think, ”okay, buy her this one too, and ship it!“ So I go to the counter and the nice Museum Shoppe Girl comes and I ask her, ”Can you ship my gifts?“

”Oh yes.“

”Great. I have this book I bought upstairs at the Silk Road Exhibit shop and I want to add this book.“

”Oh dear.“ she says and starts looking around.

”Oh dear, what?“

”Well, I can’t ship something you bought in another shop. You will have to go back to that store to ship that book. But I can ship the one you haven’t bought yet.“

”Oh no, don’t send me back in there. Please. . . “ and with that the floodgates opened and about two hundred kids from P.S. 593 ran into the store. They were all hopped up on dinosaur eggs and wolverine fangs, I think they were brandishing the tusks of Wooly Mammoths. They pushed, they shoved, they pressed me against the counter, they shouted questions to the Shoppe Girl, How Much is this? Do you have those shiny pencils? Last year I got the shiny pencils! Do you have gummy dinosaurs? The Shoppe Girl rolled her eyes and looked at me and then looked to a room upstairs, a woman wearing a beautiful turquoise blue silk scarf looked down and mouthed something, something like, I’ll be right there.

”Can’t you do something like a return on the book I bought upstairs and then re-sell it to me and then ship it?“ I begged.

”Oh, oh, I don’t know. I think you would have to return it to the other shop. My manager is coming downstairs to help us.“ The kids were everywhere. We heard a crash.

”Wow, how do you stand this?“ I asked her.

”They’re animals, really, they’re animals.“ and with that her manager arrived looking completely unfrazzled despite having swum through the sea of animals, and having picked up whatever crashed to the floor earlier. She looked at the Shoppe Girl and then looked at me. She asked what seemed to be the problem, and just as I was about the answer her, a boy kicked me in the ankle. I turned, he looked up at me and he was holding what seemed to be a rubber chicken, but it wasn’t a chicken, it was a crocodile. He said, ”Excuse me M'am.“ and I told him, ”No problem kiddo.“ and then I explained to the manager that I wanted to ship the book and pleaded with her to not send me back into the bowels of the Museum to find the Silk Road again. She agreed that would be a bad idea, she said, ”You know this is the worst time of year here, with all the Field Trips. Okay, let’s see what we can do.“ And next thing you know we were in a flurry of receipts, return this, sign this, re-purchase that, sign that, fill out this credit form, fill out this shipping form...all while the Shoppe Girl is trying to keep the kids at bay, they are all around me, sticking out their fists with one dollar bills trying to buy gummy pterodactyls and pencils with miniature rock collections contained inside of them (I always loved those). And I gave her the Chinese horse too, I told her to ship the horse, so we had to return him and repurchase him and my credit card was swiping this way and that way, money out, money in, and I didn’t care if she overcharged me at that point, I just wanted to ship the books and the little horse to my mother and get out of there.

And then, I was carried, right out of the museum, as though I were in a mosh pit, and I landed outside in the sun on the sidewalk facing Central Park. The kids were on a different current entirely, the one that took them to the Big Yellow Buses. And me? I found myself standing in front of another street vendor ordering yet another Coca-Cola and a cheeseburger. My legs were buckling from hunger. The pretty Asian girl behind the counter of the food stand smiled and asked me if I wanted ketchup? Yes!

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