For the last several months, while in limbo between student life and the real life, I’ve ben working at a small museum in my hometown, a job that falls somewhere between exactly what I want to do with my life and something I’d rather just avoid. It was a fine job, and it came to me at a time I really needed it or whatever. It involved a lot of boredom though. And the pay wasn’t that great. And I felt disrespected. But whatever. I’m complaining. The museum did provide a fair amount of bizarre moments though, mostly through interactions with the museum’s odd crew of patrons.
Most of the people who came to my museum were of the older variety. As a young person I relish any opportunity to bitch about baby boomers, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I don’t know if this is common for museums in general or if this was exclusive for St. Joseph, Missouri (which I wouldn’t doubt), but I had this one lady complain that a portrait of her great-great-greatX3 grandma was not getting proper treatment. Basically, someone, maybe this lady, donated this portrait because, according to the lady, her ancestor was an early settler of the town. When the lady saw the portrait, she complained that the portrait was not given a placard to identify the woman. She complained in person and then sent a HANDWRITTEN letter expressing her disdain. Mind you, the portrait was being taken care of and was prominently displayed in the museum. The woman’s letter explained that the lady in the portrait was named Rachel Burns-Fleming, and her claim to fame was that she inherited a business after her husband died. It’s impressive that a woman owned a business in the 1850s, but at the same time, is it really that important? Because the museum’s small and needs money, it basically caters to any whim a person Â has, and we had to make sure that we knew everything we could about Rachel Fleming. Even worse, this lady CAME BACK about two months later to make sure that we had sufficiently educated ourselves. It was like theSpanish Inquisition, except slightly more brutal. If you want to know how a museums wallows in mediocrity, this is it.
Old people really like their participation trophy equivalents at that museum. Before I started working there, this ancient woman painted a portrait of Edmond Eckel, a prominent architect in St. Joseph, and donated it to the museum. “Donated” is a bit strong of a word though. Donating implies that it’s charitable and, y’know, free. The portrait itself was indeed free, but she wanted the museum director to pay for a frame. It wasn’t a cheap frame either. And much like Rachel Whatsherface, it was expected that the Eckel portrait be displayed for all eternity. Here’s the thing though; the Eckel painting sucked. Like, it was not good. He’s wearing a bow tie that’s mostly a black splotch, and his skin is Trump orange. If this were just someone’s art project it would be fine, but it wasn’t. This lady felt it was entitled to be a museum piece. And because the museum, much like an overweight kid at prom, was held captive by anyone who gave them attention, they spent the money to frame it and planned to hang it. But the artist’s demands were not done. She not only expected the museum to frame it; she wanted an event to commemorate the unveiling of the museum. Once again, the museum obliged. Except, she canceled last minute for that event. And then she didn’t want the museum to display it until she could be there. So about five years later they finally were able to get the lady and her huge family on sight to dedicate the artwork. The ceremony was the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. It was the equivalent of parents overly praising their kids’ drawings, except the drawing was in a $60 frame and was expected to be displayed in a museum.
Most memorable incidents at the museum went like this. Someone, typically over the age of 70, demanded something they donated be put on display. One time someone legitimately called with a vague threat to the museum because the museum’s executive director was not listed as a member of the museum. Old people, man. But I’m being too harsh on the seniors. Let’s pick on some young people.
September rings in the annual celebration of Free Museum Day, a tradition started by the Smithsonian. It’s a great idea that gives everyone a chance to explore museums, which can otherwise be quite costly. Museums serve as an educational tool, and quite frankly most people aren’t willing to spend money to learn. And I can’t blame them. You have $10 to either see a movie or a museum. There’s no shame in picking the former. Free Museum Day is a great way to bring people in who normally wouldn’t. My hometown is also a battleground in the opioid epidemic though, so use your imagination to guess the sorts of demographics Free Museum Day brings in. A tall, methy-looking dude and his wife/girlfriend/SO were some of my favorites. He walked around like he was an absolute expert on everything only to make statements like, “Look babe! The Fan!” He said that while pointing at a random fan on the wall, which according to him contained some history I was unaware of. He’s the expert I guess.
And then came a family that just made me sad. The parents were both pushing around 400 pounds, and their four kids were dirty and wearing torn tank tops. The dad was heavily tattooed, with special attention deserved to a fishhook that sat permanently on his face. The kids ran through the tiny museum without a hint of awareness for social norms, and I wasn’t paid enough to chase them down. Meanwhile their fat ass father stood there half aware saying, “Slow down, James,” in a gravely voice. I initially thought this was a funny sight, and since they didn’t break any priceless artifacts I guess I am more inclined to say it was funny, but when I thought about it later on it mostly just made me sad. Those poor kids were in the cycle. Lackluster parenting turns into a future where they themselves might have fishhooks on their faces. Or maybe I’m just judging people unfairly. Neither option speaks too highly about humanity.
Wow that took a turn I wasn’t expecting. Anyway, TL;DR the museum was generally boring and had a lot of annoying guests, but it did help me out when I needed it. Now let’s get back to laughing at some old folks.