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Friday, December 25, 2009

Salinger at the Museum

I'm not ashamed to admit that, when I'm in a museum, I feel like a dickhead.

If I were a character in a J.D. Salinger novel, I would have written,

"I'm not ashamed to admit that, when I'm in a museum, I feel like a lousy goddamn phony." Fortunately, I'm not a character in a J.D. Salinger novel. If I was, I wouldn't be Jewish, I’d alienate everyone I ever cared about, and I'd probably have had gonorrhea and cirrhosis of the liver by age 15. If I ever write a post about how I wish I was a character in a J.D. Salinger novel, please remind me of all that, will you?


So, anyway, taking me to a museum is a pretty easy way to get me to feel like a dickhead. I’m in Rhode Island visiting with my in-laws, and a friend of theirs took my wife, my sister-in-law and I to the RISD museum, which opened its doors to the public for free, as their Christmas gift to Providence.

I’m a reasonably well-educated, liberal-arts kinda guy. I was, in fact, the only individual in the museum wearing a tie who wasn’t a security guard. And yet, though I’m sure I look the part, I find myself struggling in the museum environment, like a blind hamster who has just been thrown into a toilet. What do I do with my hands, I find myself wondering. How close to the painting am I supposed to stand? Am I supposed to talk to my companions about what I’m seeing? Does “that cloud looks like the Elephant Man‘s torso” count as a viable artistic observation?

I was looking at a table with was constructed over 7000 man hours and contained 750 pounds of ivory, sterling silver and mother-of-pearl inlay.

“That’s a nice table,” some driveling moron said. I looked up and realized he had said it to me. I laughed.

“It is,” I replied sputteringly. “It’s a nice table!”

Wow. Commentary that could easily have come from a flat-faced, slack-jawed man-child wearing headgear and a bike helmet.

My parents did not take me to museums when I was younger. We really weren’t the museum type, although I don’t really know what that means. I don’t think they found staring at paintings to be a worthwhile expenditure of time and money. My father, being Israeli, doesn’t do well in quiet, taciturn environments that encourage measured introspection and low-to-mid range decibel utterances. He’s more fun at, say, a Super Bowl party or a shooting range. My mother says she likes going to the art museum, “just not with you,” she said once. She likes to go with Paula, a friend of hers who loves museums and is a round and jolly person.

“Did Paula eat any of the paintings?” I asked at age ten when my mother returned home from one of her museum outings. It was probably the jealousy talking.

I realize that it’s very male of me to say this, but I get instantly bored the moment I set foot into a museum. I can write for days straight without so much as two hours sleep-- I can read entire books in one motionless sitting, I can listen to music twenty-four hours a day, but I can’t look at a painting for longer than seven seconds before I start to think about sex, a scene from a Three Stooges short, or my next meal. And I can’t help but look at the other people in the museum and think about what they look like while they’re having sex with each other, what they’d look like in a Three Stooges short, and I am absolutely convinced that they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing there either.

There was one woman today at RISD with terrible bleached blonde hair who looked like she was dressed up as some 1980s version of Pocahontas.

She looked like a dickhead, but no more of a dickhead than I, I’m sure. I certainly felt like less of a dickhead today, though, because I got to feel bored, uncomfortable, ill-mannered, ignorant and out-of-place for free rather than for a fee of $38.00. Of course, I ended up buying two beautiful felted pins for my wife and sister-in-law at the museum’s gift-shop, which cost more than what the entrance fee would have. But it’s amazing how good it feels to do something nice for people you love.

It even helps you feel like less of a goddamn phony bastard.

1 comment:

  1. You don't sound like a phony to me. A phony would pretend they understood everything they saw and appreciated it all, and probably stand around making pretentious remarks. I'm sure there's a lot of people there wondering what they are doing, and a thousand people whose distractions are a lot less interesting than what yours are.

    It doesn't sound to me like you pretend anything, so long as you enjoy going, that's all that counts.


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