Granted, this is an awful lot of images for one post, but I’m hoping to simulate for people who have never been there the sensory-overload experience that City Museum offers. This place, like the Gateway Arch and the Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden, has become a unique must-see in St. Louis.
I wish that City Museum, in St. Louis, had existed when I was growing up there. It’s an unbelievably inventive, active place—both for kids and for adults who are in sufficiently good shape to climb many stories of spiral staircases, squirm through wire mesh tubes high in the air, and otherwise navigate their way through this enchanted space, created from industrial parts and tons of concrete (I presume) in the old International Shoe factory building. It’s for good reason that the museum’s website recommends that you bring a flashlight and that the gift shop sells knee pads. Some well-prepared souls wore head flashlights, like spelunkers. Doing this museum properly is, essentially, to do spelunking.
The first couple of floors contain a network of mostly hidden tunnels: you’ll notice a small opening at the side of a narrow walkway that leads to who knows where; a couple of metal steps in some inconspicuous place will lead up into a twist of metal tubes that disappear beyond the ceiling; a child will suddenly pop into view, or out of view, in a completely unforeseen place. There are long spiral slides and shorter straight slides and little bitty tunnel “slides” whose presence is indicated only by openings at the sides of pillars or staircases. For someone who must keep her eyes on her child at all times, this place would be a nightmare. And, as the museum entrance sign says, there are no maps.
Furthermore, the place is loud, thanks to a bellowing organ in the building’s core (the Caves/Spiral Staircase area) and to the constant echoing shrieks and laughter of children. Spelunking is far outside my physical capacity, but an out-of-shape older person such as myself can still walk some of the uneven, dark passageways, or climb the dimly lit spiral staircases, and marvel at the repurposed building materials there and elsewhere in the museum. I took photos despite ridiculously slow shutter speeds (measured in seconds), because it was simply impossible not to. Needless to say, tripods are not allowed; they would pose a real hazard even in spaces wide enough to set them up. Anyway, here are a few abstracts, semi-abstracts, and unclassifiables. More to come.
This 14-month-old (I heard someone ask her mother how old she was) was zipping in fourth gear all around the lobby of the tropical building at the Denver Botanic Gardens. She seemed fascinated by everything. People who can retain that enthusiasm and sense of wonder throughout their lives are blessed indeed.
I’ve had little time lately to think about this blog, but as I grow older I’ve been thinking about my deficiencies and when life started going south. Flunking childhood had a lot to do with that. Take a look at the wondrous things I never mastered:
1. Blowing bubble-gum bubbles.
4. Crossing the monkey bars.
5. Rollerskating, except for rollerskating on rough gravelly sidewalks.
6. Turning a cartwheel.
7. Standing on my head.
8. Throwing a softball.
9. Catching a softball.
10. Hitting a softball.
12. Swimming with any degree of competence.
13. Climbing trees.
14. Eating bugs.
What a dud! Even I wouldn’t have chosen me for teams in gym. (Interesting, the proportion of adults who claim the experience of being chosen last. Either their memory is impaired, or the last-chosen are very disproportionately represented among writers and actors and such.)
I could run, and I could ride a bicycle….I did love riding my bike. And I achieved one other near-mandatory childhood accomplishment: hurting yourself badly enough to require stitches. Yet even that I did in a sedentary way. Did I launch myself off the roof in a brief but glorious belief that I would fly? Sadly, no.
I was sitting on the back porch steps and somehow fell off, putting my front teeth cleanly through my….whatever the area between your chin and lower lip is called. But it hardly counts, since I did that when I was 2 and it couldn’t be chalked up to bad behavior. I had to be told some years later what happened, although I have a wispy memory—probably my earliest memory—of my mother rushing me to the doctor’s office across the street, and sitting on her lap across the desk from the doctor when all the painful stuff was over. I carry the scar to this day but can’t point to it as a badge of courage. Such a waste!
Like so many childhood duds, I found solace in books. I began reading at age 3, which led to several cringeworthy episodes, such as my mom making me read to my nursery school teacher to prove I could do it (they didn’t call it pre-school then). Yet both of my parents took a strong ethical stand against showing off or bragging in any context. It could get me or my sister into trouble, so we didn’t do it. My mother, the hypocrite! Dad wouldn’t have made me read for anyone.
Much more embarrassing was the day my kindergarten teacher sent me, alone through the echoing hallways, up up up to the eighth-grade class to read, sort of like a circus freak giving a show. This was not only humiliating, it was scary, because written on the blackboard was an equation, something like 8 + n = 14. Math with letters??! This was a truly alarming concept, and I was sure I’d never to able to comprehend it. Eighth grade would be my downfall. My struggles with performance anxiety may date to this episode.
Still, my early childhood was generally happy, especially during road-trip vacations in my family’s blue Volkswagen Beetle. But when I was 8 I learned that, like bugs and birds, I would someday die. On the instant I became terrified of death. Thus the end of Eden.
The fear of death has ruled and ruined my life. Some of my friends know this and some don’t. Medication has helped a lot over the years, but now I’m debilitated and the end isn’t somewhere beyond the horizon anymore. I don’t plan to write about it. I didn’t set out to write a confessional blog or a memoir. Bathos is pathetic (ha!). But like pitcher Nuke LaLouche in “Bull Durham,” I seem to be starting out with erratic control. You may remember this: In one game, after Nuke’s control has improved dramatically, the catcher (Kevin Costner, in what I think is his best role) instructs him to hit the team mascot with his next pitch. And so he does. Costner looks at the hitter and says, “I wouldn’t lean too far in.” He pauses as the hitter looks at him. “I don’t know where it’s going.”