So I gave my calendar a cursory glance the other day and realized it's that time of year again...
... doing something that doesn't require them to actually interact with one another on any level.
Such activities include gawking at lethargic animals far removed from their natural habitats, sitting at a ballpark waiting for the top of the seventh inning so you can go home and do something interesting, and not catching fish.
And, of course, an event-free trip to the Milwaukee Public Museum.
Yes, for some reason, folks plan their annual sojourn to southeastern Wisconsin's premier collection of quartz in the less chilly months of the calendar year, despite the fact that all the displays are climate-controlled and decidedly indoors. I guess the rationale is that Winter (i.e. Fucking Cold) is reserved for watching such stimulating intellectual television fare as "American Idol: The Sixth or Seventh Season" and "Bachelor: Some Smug Prick Selects a Shallow Whore... in Rome!" Learning while being quietly bored is strictly a springtime activity.
The Milwaukee Public Museum is an ideal spot for anyone interested in dropping a week's pay to see dead things and exhibits that never change. It also boasts the Midwest's largest collection of dead-eyed, life-sized mannequins responsible for causing that crippling doll phobia of your youth. The following is a helpful guide for the uninitiated intended to suggest points of mild interest in this exquisite and breathtaking cabinet of curiosities.
Now, I haven't been in the building for over a year, but trust me. It's still the same. It's always. the. same.
THE STREETS OF OLDE MILWAUKEE
The Streets of Olde Milwaukee exhibit harkens back to a day when the letter "e" was inserted at the end of adjectives to make them look more affected. This happens to be one of the museum's more popular setpieces as it reminds Milwaukeeans of a time when their city was just as filthy and boring, but refreshingly free of black people.
Things to look out for:
> The bell at the apothecary's office that fails to ring or summon anyone. Push to your heart's content, little ones! The damn thing doesn't do anything!
> The nickel-and-dime movie theatre. I seem to recall that once upon a time one could go in there and see piece-of-shit nickelodeons. This is no longer the case. Boo-fucking-hoo.
> That creepy old lady rocking on her porch
> That creepy old doctor standing in his office
> That creepy old photographer whose flash goes off just as you turn away
> The pub. There's a bust of a naked lady behind the bar. Hee hee!
> The candy store, manned by actual breathing people. Because Americans love to gorge themselves on sweets whenever offered the opportunity, this is the single most annoyingly crowded space in the entire building. However, brave the obese masses and fetch yourself some rock candy on a stick, as this will offer you something to grate your teeth against while enduring the rest of the museum's pulse-relaxingly dull offerings.
> The subtle lead-in to...
THE STREETS OF OLDE EEUROPEE
Tired of traversing the cobblestone streets of "yore" hometown? Then step onto the equally cobblestoned streets of olde-ish Europe. Which is basically exactly the same as the streets of Olde Milwaukee.
Only with chickens.
Many people don't realize that across the Atlantic, every city consists of precisely one house belonging to a family representing each of Europe's different nationalities. And to assist the nosy tourist, there is a helpful placard prominently displayed in the window of each house to let you know if you're spying on a potato-peeling Irishwoman or perhaps a side-switching Italian; a cowering Frenchman or maybe even an Armenian that nobody cares about.
One thing is consistent, however: Still no black people.
Don't worry. They get their own special sub-exhibit. Tucked in an out-of-the-way corner. Somewhere. I think. I've never really looked for it.
Things to look out for:
> Around Christmas, a special evergreen tree hangs suspended, upside-down, high above the fountain in the square, as if to say, "Start another war, you oven-lovin' krauts, and you'll wish we were just dropping fir trees on your ass."
> A Spanish lass beating a rug or something on a balcony. Near a chicken. On the roof. Because this is where chickens roost as a habit in Europe, I guess. Anyway, she's kinda cute for a mannequin. If, you know, if you're into that kind of thing...
> The display of ratty ethnic dolls
What better place than a faux rainforest to look at bugs, snakes, and bats, and hear teenage future trophy wives squeal, "Eek! Look at the bugs, snakes, and bats!"? The rainforest exhibit is actually fairly tolerable in that it allows one to enjoy both the fascinating natural wonders that the Amazon has to offer coupled with the piece of mind that comes with knowing they're all thoroughly dead. After all, rodent-devouring centipedes are cool on youtube; less so when digging their venomous fangs into your three-year-old son.
Actually, that would be kind of cool, too...
Things to look out for:
> The jeep that plays "La Bamba" on a continuous loop
> The "I Spy" plant with various tiny critters scattered around it and a diagram on the wall letting you know what to look for. Effin' sweet.
> The bat cave. Not the cool one with all the superhero gadgets; just a fake cave with some fake bats in it.
> An anaconda eating a caiman
DROOLING IDIOT: Wha?
*sigh* A snake eating an alligator.
DROOLING IDIOT: Where?
> The dead bug preparation room. Complete with fake geeks.
> The howler monkey button; arguably the second best contraption in the entire museum. Push this just as old folks walk by. They hate that. Trust me.
LAND OF THE LOST, or DINOSAURS: FUCK YOU, CREATIONISTS
Ahhhh, the dinosaur exhibit: the thought alone is enough to make every child's heart leap and every Bible Belt-ers blood boil, and not in the good old-fashioned "plague of" way.
It pains me to admit that I myself hate the museum's dinosaur section on account of its keynote display: a life-size depiction of a tyrannosaurus feasting on the juicy internal (now external) organs of a recently slaughtered ceratopsian. Never mind the fact that the carnosaur in question has not a scratch on him after apparently doing one-sided battle with a monstrous, multi-horned testorene machine that outweighs him by several tons (or "tonnes," if you're English and can't spell) --
Well, actually, mind that fact. The triceratops and its kin are my favorite dinosaurs, and I have no doubt they pounded the T-Rex's overrated ass left and right across the plains of Cretaceous Montana. Goddamnit. That exhibit pisses me the fuck off every time I see it. Total mind-boggling bullshit. How was I not consulted in the creation of that diorama? Double goddamnit!
CONCERNED CYNICKITE: Have you considered therapy?
Mind your own business.
Things to look out for:
> The glaringly erroneous claim that the stegosaurus weighed in at seven tons when it was actually closer to two. I knew this in kindergarten. Milwaukee is apparently where the paleontologists from community colleges are sent.
> The little screen showing a biome that changes from desert to tundra and back again at the press of a button. This is a gripping chance to exercise one's god complex... for all of two seconds. After that, you're just pushing a button. Which seems to be the museum's key selling point, now that I think about it.
> The room of quartz. Ahhh, experience the sundry wonders a cramped cubbyhole filled with sparkly glorified rocks has to offer. Actually, you have no say in the matter, cause you have to pass through here to exit the dinosaur exhibit.
> There's a fake paddlefish in the fake stream behind the fake tyrannosaur eating the fake pentaceratops. Pretty fakin' cool.
> Touching the giant false leg bone near the reconstructed torosaurus skeleton. It's just like not touching a real dinosaur fossil!
THE PRE-EUROPEAN CONTINENT HOGS
It is impossible to celebrate the heritage of our medicore state without devoting an entire museum wing to North America's casino-establishin', bead-barterin', firewater-swillin', thunderstick-fearin', totem-polin', bull-sittin' former tenants, the [insert current tepid politically correct phrase for "Indians" here]. In this unmemorable part of the tour, you'll see Indian mannequins in native dress dancing (read: remaining stationary while sliding along a concealed track in a predetermined path) to the sounds of pre-recorded native drums... all for the pleasure of the very white men who subjugated their people and named rivers after them.
Things to look out for:
> Indians are always blabbing about how in tune they are with Mother Nature and the Great Earth Spirit and all that eco-friendly horseshit...
... so naturally the setpiece of this exhibit is a graphic, life-size depiction of a group of bloodthirsty natives slaughtering the fuck out of a group of terrified bison. If these assholes were really so gung-ho about co-exisiting harmoniously with the world around them, you'd think they'd promote more of a vegetarian, non-majestic-bison-massacring lifestyle. At least the white man shot the poor dumb brutes from a distance while they were grazing peacefully, rather than running them down like a gang of sociopaths from a lousy Stephen King movie.
> The tiny diorama showing Indians living at the same time as the mighty mammoth...
... aaaaand driving said mammoth off a cliff.
> If you take nothing else away from this blog entry -- and you won't -- remember this: There is a small rattlesnake sitting on the righthand side of the anti-bison display as you face the exhibit. Embedded within the rocks near this rattlesnake is a small button that, when pressed, causes the serpent to shake his tail and emit a low rattling sound.
THIS IS THE SOLE REASON THE MILWAUKEE COUNTY PUBLIC MUSEUM EXISTS.
Press this button, and press it often. Show it to others* and receive their undying gratitude and adulation. Enjoy it, for this will be the only part of your museum trip worth repeating to your friend (no, that is not a typo).
* For example, Laura's sister Carrie, who would never have known of its existence without the gracious tutelage of yours truly. BWA-HAHAHAHA! Suck it, Carrie!
THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL OF MARINE LIFE
This is a giant tunnel that starts with tuna and ends with glow-in-the-dark shit you can't see. Kind of a metaphor for life, really.
MUMMIES, or LARGE-SCALE GRAVEROBBING AS A SCIENCE
The movies have attempted to convince mainstream America that mummies are, indeed, cool. Archaeology has done its level best to abolish this entrancing notion, and the Egyptian exhibit in the Milwaukee Museum has put the last nail in the sarcophagus, so to speak. In real life, mummies are highly unlikely to rise up and invoke curses against you, unless it's the Curse of Blowing 18 Bucks to Look at Rotting Child-Kings.
Things to look out for:
> The Cleopatra display. She's about to get her asp on. The display marker makes a point of informing us that Cleopatra would have been considered quite ugly by modern standards. Well, no shit, Cosmo. Nobody was attractive before the 1990's. Have you ever paged through your parents' yearbooks and wedding albums? Holy crapping Christ, people, it's a wonder the human race ever got busy in the first place. And that they continued doing it through the Dark Ages and the Nixon administration? Yikes...
> A double-decker display of mummified remains. Just... lying there. Remaining quietly mummified. *sigh* Leave it to Egyptology to make Death boring.
> Row after row of priceless historical artifacts... in the center of which is a TV screen showing clips of the Mankiewicz/Taylor debacle Cleopatra in all its gaudy, eye-soring glory. Not... not quite sure just who they're trying to appeal to there...
...AND THE REST
Oh, and then there's AfricaAsiaSouthAmericaMiddleAmericaPacificIslandsThe Arctic.
Things to look out for:
> The ersatz igloo, pumped full of recirculated air -- you know, as per ancient Inuit tradition. People who enter it will invariably utter such profound statements as "It's cold in here" and "When are we going home?"
> The Eskimos stabbing at some poor seal through the ice. The curators seem to have a fetish for native americans eviscerating dumb animals.
> The hall of shrunken skulls in the South Pacific. Not to be confused with the disappointingly skull-free musical South Pacific.
> The moth-eaten collection of exotic animals in the halls of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. On the one hand: A dusty old Cape buffalo squatting in a swamp? Sure, neat, whatever. On the other: Stuffed squirrels and sparrows? Come on. I mean, was it really necessary to include an exhibit highlighting the very fauna I'm indoors trying to avoid?
> The rock garden in the Orient, land of mystery, rugs, head-scratching commercials, and footwear that can't be worn indoors. The fake rock garden. Because if there's anything more compelling than a real rock garden, it's a fake one.
> The dark alcove, also in the Asian exhibit, that houses an ostentatious display of... swords? chairs? chamberpots? I don't-- you know, I don't really know what they're showcasing in that glass case. I always check it out whenever I'm there, but I always come away as nonplussed by it as I am by all Asian culture, such as anime, paying large sums of money to eat uncooked flesh, and houses made of paper.
> There is no reason to visit the Middle or South American halls. Not unlike the regions they are modeled after.
THE IMAX-ed Out My Credit Card to Afford this Movie EXPERIENCE
Have you ever been to a movie theatre and thought to yourself, "Why isn't Harry Potter's head bigger?" Well, you're in luck! The Milwaukee Public Museum happily caters to the "bigger is better" style of living that has made Americans reviled the world over. And nowhere is this more evident than showing a documentary about sea cucumbers on a movie screen the size of an ocean liner. Evidently, this bloated excess is intended to enhance the moviegoing experience by immersing one more fully into the film. I believe this was also the prevailing theory behind 3-D movies.
And we all know what a runaway success that was.
Things to look out for:
> The screen. You-- you really have no other choice...
THE GIFT SHOPS
Here it is. The only reason any child endures a lengthy visit to Milwaukee's answer to Lunestra: the gift shops. I won't bother harping on the fact that they're criminally overpriced -- and, oh, Christ, are they -- but will instead focus on how painfully dull they've become as I've aged, perhaps in an effort to keep up with the tedium on unwavering display at the rest of the museum.
I mention this only because the museum gift shops of my youth kicked ass. Hell, I still have books, toys, and other memorabilia obtained from them after dutifully traipsing through the Hall of Human Waste*. But now-- now the shops kowtow to the pretentious, elitist artsy-historical set, people with plenty of disposable income and the erroneous yet steadfast belief that it will buy them class and intellect. It will not, but it will net them a pretty sharp mug shaped like King Rameses II's head.
* This did exist at one time. I kid you not. Had something to do with how wasteful we humans are. To drive home this monumentally obvious point, the brain trust behind this exhibit decided to add yet another garbage dump to humanity's legacy. Ironically, the exhibit has since been trashed.
Things to look out for:
> The rhinoceros viper stuffed animal. If you see this, buy it for me. It's only like $10, and I'm kicking myself figuratively for not getting it when I had the chance.
> The Exit sign
There. Now you've seen the museum this year. No need to support the furthering of human knowledge by paying to see butterflies flit about.
Yes, that's an exhibit, too.
In closing, get the blue raspberry rock candy. You will not be disappointed. Until you re-enter the museum proper.
THING I'M CURRENTLY [STILL] PISSED ABOUT
Roughly this time a month ago, I had what can only be described as the single worst audition I have ever experienced in my life, even worse than the one in which the play was cast by the effeminate director while the rejects stood onstage with the winners. Fun night, that was.
Anyway, picture in your head the stereotype of the typical stage director. Got it? Glasses, arty, vague, pretentious, affected, purposefully disorganized, spouting meaningless buzzwords like "organic"... yeah, there you go. Well, loath as I am to admit it, this is not how many directors I've worked with actually behave. In fact, I was beginning to lose hope in the posturing, hippy-dippy theatre impresario caricature...
... until the auditions for The Importance of Being Earnest, that is.
This woman-- this... homely, stork-like talent vacuum -- who bore more than a passing resemblance to a female version of Egon Spengler from Ghostbusters -- put us through the ringer of pointless, ludicrous theatre activities, almost as though she were trying to prove the fact that just because it's a stereotype doesn't mean it's not true.
We lined up like obedient little mini-fascists and shared our favorite foods. Then we walked across the stage saying our names. Then we skipped across the stage saying our names. Then we walked across the stage again, this time without saying our names ... names which we wrote down on the forms she had in front of her vacant face for the express purpose of not having to chant them while skipping across a hardwood floor, the dizzy bitch.
Then we played imaginary dodgeball. Yes, you read that correctly. We played imaginary dodgeball... with an imaginary dodgeball. Because, if you know anything about the erudite, Wildean period comedy-of-manners The Importance of Being Earnest, you are well aware that imaginary dodgeball plays a critical part in the development of the plot.
Oh, and we're not done yet.
One hour into the auditions, and we still haven't touched the script yet. But there's still plenty of time to play "Weeds and Flowers!" What is "Weeds and Flowers," you ask? "Weeds and Flowers" is a theatre exercise used to determine if your director is an incompetent hack who couldn't direct traffic on a one-way street. If she makes you play "Weeds and Flowers," she is this kind of director. The women had to "become flowers" and the men had to "become weeds."
For this reason, I shall refer to this artistically-challenged non-wit as "the weed whacko" for the remainder of her unforgivable existence.
So the weed whacko finally got around to oddly matching us up in groupings that would make it impossible to effectively determine our compatibility with one another while reading poorly-chosen selections from the script. This part was almost as insufferable as all that came before. Leave it to a theatrical type to suck the joy out of one of the most brilliant comedies in the history of mankind.
And please let's not get me started on her ambiguous miscommunication about the callback and casting process, along with the cowardly, late-night mass email rejection I received from her cohort several days later. Because, believe it or not, my person can only sustain so much unfiltered bitterness and spite.
CONCERNED CYNICKITE: Didn't get the part, huh?
However, I will not succumb to my seething rancor and place her name in the annals of this blog, not so much out of uncharacteristic graciousness as fear of being slapped with a libel suit. If you're an actor in the Milwaukee area, however, feel free to email me at the link posted on my profile page and I'll be happy to name the drip in question as part of my community [theatre] service. Apparently she's a nurse who fancies herself an artist. If she were ever my nurse, I'd gladly choose death.
CONCERNED CYNICKITE: So, about that therapy...