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Museum Madness

2 Aug

 

 

Last week we received a call from our daughter, who seemed to be getting cabin fever from being confined indoors with her four young children, due to the heat and air-quality alerts. Noticing the desperation she heard in her voice,  my wife Diane, who  is still recovering from surgery, agreed that we would  go with her and the children on a three-day visit  of Indianapolis area  museums.  Our daughter lives near Cincinnati and after seeing all their  local attractions, in a outburst  of Hoosier hubris, we had bragged about the wonderful  Indianapolis museums.  Little did we know it would come back to bite us.

 

Our first foray was to the Indiana State Museum on Friday morning. Before it heated up the children and their mother went on a paddle boat ride on  the White River Canal.  Diane and I opted out and found a shady bench overlooking the canal. Next to us was an older  Japanese  gentleman, playing some instrument that resembled a gourd.   This  impromptu  concert was entertaining for the first 40 minutes or so,  but after that it required a couple  of Tylenol.

Inside the museum proper,  the kids weren’t all that  interested in the  “Birth of the Earth” or the “The Ancient Seas” .   These exhibits consisted  mostly of   of rocks, and fossils that  looked like rocks.   It’s probably for the best that they didn’t pay much attention to the overhead  models of a gigantic  primitive squid, an enormous pincher-wielding trilobite,  and  a fearsome prehistoric shark. These things could be the stuff of nightmares. The kids did spent a lot of time looking at the exhibits in the Naturalist’s Lab, where they  imitated animal sounds, something at which they excelled.

On another floor we learned all about famous people from Indiana (they weren’t impressed)    and  how the television evolved  from primordial radio sets.  It was depressing to see many of the things from my childhood on display in the pop culture section. From the  kids’ perspective record players and Easy Bake Ovens were in the same class as  tyrannosaurus  bones and ancient Egyptian mummies.

For lunch we  ate  at one of Diane’s favorite restaurants, the  Ayres Tea Room, which has been re-created  on the third  floor of the museum.  This team room   operated in a large department store in downtown Indianapolis from 1905 to 1990 and was famous for its “hobo lunches” for kids, which were wrapped in bandannas. Our preteen  granddaughter insisted that she have a pot of tea. like the adults and then complained constantly  about how bad it tasted. Although none of them were on their best behavior,  the children all got  small wrapped prizes  from a large treasure chest by the entrance to the restaurant.

I was   hoping the top floor exhibit  would be impressive enough to pull our  fat out of the fire and  justify our bragging. The Abraham Lincoln exhibit, however,  was gone and had been replaced by “Amazing Maize”. It may have been   stereotypical for Indiana, but to paraphrase David Barry,  it was the best corn-related exhibit I’ve ever seen.  The kids barely glanced at the stuff, but they fought over who got to sit behind the wheel of the big tractor.

 

Undaunted we set out the next morning for the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the world’s largest children’s museum.  Besides dinosaurs busting through the side of building, the first thing I noticed was the incredibly loud  noise level. I can believe that this is an international attraction, since I must have heard tantrums in at least six different languages

.  Our  five year-old grandson was duly  impressed by the gigantic Bumblebee Transformer  robot, displayed in the entrance hall,  as well as the Spiderman figure perched on the wall.  All them  enjoyed the Treasures of the Earth Exhibit,  where they got to  pretend to   scuba dive and search for pirate artifacts;  scan a mummy for clues to its identity, and help excavate ancient Chinese terra cotta warrior statues.  The Lego and Hot Wheels exhibits featured familiar toys, so they were especially popular, crowed, and noisy. My favorite activity was the “How I Became a Pirate” show, based on a children’s book.  It was a professionally produced musical in a nice comfortable,  cool, and snoozable theater.

The Power of Children Exhibit lent  an unexpected  serious note to the Children’s Museum. It featured the   stories of trio of heroic  children: Anne Frank,  Ruby Bridges, and  Ryan White. It was difficult to explain the Nazis, bigotry,  and discrimination to preschoolers, so we didn’t spend a lot of time  there. It reminded me of   the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. in terms of style and the  solemn tone.

Since it was 91o  and the humidity was approaching 100%,   we decided  to spend our last day in Indianapolis  outdoors at the Conner Prairie Interactive History Park. Due to the heat, the hot air balloon ride was  cancelled,  along with   the candle dipping (they kept  melting).

We first visited  a rather dusty Indian village, where the kids sat in a dugout canoe  and  crawled in and out of wigwams. The interpreter was a little concerned that kids were being too rough with the antique wood shaving tool, which Diane had told  them was a spanking machine.

The kids did a  basket weaving activity,  which turned out pretty well, but caused them to just  miss the guided tour of the Conner House.  Conner Prairie  is a stickler when it comes to punctuality.

We spent a lot of time in the 1836 Prairietown part of the park. This re-creation of a pioneer village had a lot of enactors, all of who stayed in character, whenever you spoke to them. I don’t how they tolerated the heavy clothing in the stifling heat. Children were given roles to act out. Many of them did chores of the era like sweeping floors and carrying around heavy buckets of water.

Our last stop was the 1863 Civil War village where we saw an army encampment and some of the damage done to the town of Dupont  by General Morgan’s Confederate raiders. A recruitment center for militia volunteers was  set up in one of the houses.    The children especially enjoyed   the River Crossing Play Area  that include civil war costumes, water play and a kid-sized model of the Alice Dean, the  Howard built steamship   Morgan used to cross the Ohio River and then burned.

Thankfully we rode a tram back to the  Visitors’ Center, with just enough time to  purchase some souvenirs. Our grandson had decided on a coonskin cap and canteen until he caught sight of  some older boys playing with a wooden rifle.   It seemed unwise to provide him with a club-like object he could use on his three sisters. Diane put her surgery at risk wrestling him down as we left the gift shop.

We were all exhausted and more than a little dehydrated when our daughter buckled the kids in her van. One child was saying she had to throw up and the boy was still crying,  as we left them. In the grand scheme of things; a pretty good trip.

Orginally appearing in the Southern Indiana News Journal.

 

 

The Hungary Lorax

11 Apr

                       

 

 

                         Last weekend was the premiere of The Hunger Games,  the movie version  of  the best-selling young adult novel. My daughter and oldest granddaughter read this novel  at  a mother/daughter book club and when they   finished,  they  gave the book to my wife, Diane.   I haven’t exactly read it myself, although I’ve overheard a lot of conversations about it.  I gather it is a rather depressing and intense sci-fi story, a bit like Steven King’s Running Man, except instead of Schwarzenegger, it features a couple  dozen post-apocalyptic teenagers maiming and killing each other with sharp objects in some sort of competition.

            After reading the book all three of them wanted to see the movie, which left me and the younger three grandchildren,  ages 3, 5, and 8,  at loose ends, since The Hunger Games  was rated PG13.  It was thus decided that us, peanut gallery folk, should see the Dr. Seuss movie, The Lorax.

The Lorax is the movie   that Fox Business host Lou Dobbs claimed was an attempt to “indoctrinate our children.” He said it was “The President’s liberal friends in Hollywood   targeting a younger demographic, using animated movies to sell their agenda…”

Despite my vocal concerns, including the dangers of inciting class warfare,  I was assigned to take the three younger children to see that orange eco-socialistic Lorax.  As soon as we arrived at the theater the  Hunger Games contingent of our party, abandoned the rest of us to make sure they could find a seat.  

My strategy was that I would ply my charges with refreshments,  hoping to slow them down by inducing a stupor of sorts. I bought each of them a 16 oz. cherry ICEE  and  purchased two large popcorns. Our five-year-old grandson said that he couldn’t hold his drink  because it was too cold,  so I got a cardboard drink holders and tried to balance the  drinks and the popcorn. I didn’t make it out of the lobby. One of the cherry  ICEEs  immediately fell and  exploded as it hit the tile floor,   spraying a bit  of the frozen cherry concoction on  a couple of  teenage girls standing in line on the other side of the lobbby. Fortunately they were not armed with bows and arrows, so they had to settle for giving me a dirty look.

The grandchildren, for their part, were highly amused by this and   just couldn’t wait to tell mommy and grandma on me. I began to wonder if it was all these unpatriotic animated movies they had seen, that had made them so willing to thrown me under the bus. Later I told Diane that if we have lived in Nazi Germany, I was certain they would, have turned me over to the Gestapo without a second thought.

The stadium theater was completely empty when we arrived, so we scooted into the good seats where you can put your feet up on the metal railing.  To kill time we started in on the      refreshments. The theater slowly filled up, mostly with kids and grandparents.  The children all seemed to know the Lorax story by heart,  either from the book or from watching a video of  some earlier version. My eight-year-old granddaughter informed me that the Lorax “Speaks for  the trees. ” and her three-year-old sister chimed in repeating, “Yeah, he speaks for the trees.”   making sure I understood, dense as I am.

The movie was visually stunning,  but  kind of  preachy. One of the characters is a young man called the Once-ler who invents the Thneed—  a Slanket-like  pair  of long johns, that becomes so popular,  that everyone has to buy one.  To make the  Thneeds, all of the truffula trees are chopped down,  turning the world into a wasteland. 

Years later a boy name Ted  helps bring back the trees  by planting the last truffula seed,  that the Once-ler has been saving. It’s true that business people don’t come off too well in this movie. As the Once-ler destroys the environment, he says things like,  I’m  just trying to grow the economy.  

I suppose  Dr.  Seuss could have   explained the difference between   “good rich people” and “evil rich people”.  Although this fine of a distinction  would have probably been lost on my party,  preoccupied as they were with  ICEEs and popcorn. My three-year-old granddaughter spent most of her time battling the folding theater seat,  which kept threatening to swallow her. She also kept banging her shoes on the metal railing. I eventually got her to stop, only to notice that some other kid picked up where she had left off. 

Except for making a horrible mess of spilled popcorn and sticky ICEE residue, the children were pretty well behaved. They seemed a little upset during the climatic chase scene towards the end of the movie,  but they were more than satisfied with the ending. Personally I was disappointed in how powerless the Lorax appeared. Despite descending, from what evidently was heaven,  to speak for the trees, the Lorax’s only  power apparently was his moral authority. I suppose the point that Seuss was hamfistedly trying to make is that “The  kind of world we have  is really up to us”.     

Never-the-less,  we all left the theater in a  good mood with cherry colored lips and oily fingers. We still had 30 minutes to go before The Hunger Games was over, so after a much needed trip to the rest room, we retired to the lounge area.  The eight-year-old immediately discovered that slowly rubbing the vinyl covered couch  made a loud flatulent sound, which kept everyone happily occupied for the next 15 minutes. By this time the sugar from the drinks finally kicked in full throttle and the wild running and crawling on the floor commenced in earnest. I killed another ten minutes, and about ten bucks, by letting the children take a variety of  pictures in a photo booth creating a nice mugging and  grimacing memento  for their mother.     

Finally we were reunited with the family members who saw The Hunger Games. They said their theater was packed.  I read where the film set records, making more than  155 million dollars last  weekend. When I asked what she thought  about The Hunger Games movie, my oldest  granddaughter pronounced  it “Epic!”, which I think is just a cut above “awesome”.

Diane wasn’t impressed by some of the casting, costumes,  or goofy campiness, but she said it was still about 75% acceptable.  On Flixster’s Rotten Tomatoes Website, The Hunger  Games got a rating of 85% fresh, while The Lorax only got a 57% fresh rating on the tomatometer.

These two movies are now indelibly linked in my mind.  I suspect in the future,  if  I   think about the Lorax movie, I will remember it  the way I thought it should’ve been—  featuring  a bright orange creature with a  bushy moustache, happily  skewering  greedy  industrialists with  his  lethal bow and arrow.

 

Original published inthe Southern Indiana News Tribune

Grandpa’s Image

13 Jan

 

 

Grandpas

For the most part being a grandfather is a good gig.   Parents and grandmothers shoulder the real responsibilities like civilizing the  little darlings and  changing dirty   diapers.  That pretty much leaves the good stuff like  playing games, reading stories, or generally goofing off. My only complaint about the job is that collectively we have such a  lousy   image.

Whenever my granddaughters draw a picture of me a few things stand out. First of all grandma rules. I am always much smaller than my wife Diane and my hands and arms are drawn stunted and ineffectual  compared to hers.  While my actual wardrobe may leave much  to be desired, they seem  to think  I exclusively wear primary colors of the clown persuasion. However, the unkindest cut of all  is that my hair is symbolized by a  white vertical line slashed above each ear— nothing on top. There is a certain elegance that even Picasso could admire in  being  able  to so thoroughly insult both the color and quantity of my hair in two simple strokes. I can live with this visual image but what deeper meaning does it represent?

Let’s face it, the media has not been very kind to grandparents  in general and grandfathers in particular. For us baby boomers, the grandpa archetype was firmly established by actor Walter Brennan as Grandpa Amos McCoy on the television series The Real McCoys. Bib overall wearing and politically incorrect Grandpa McCoy was crotchety and interfering and if he wasn’t insulting his long suffering  daughter-in-law, Kate,  he was racially insenstive and verbally abusing the hired help– Pepino.

 Real McCoy’s writer Paul Henning, who should be on the AARP’s hit list, is also single-handedly responsible  for the rowdy  grandfather on the Bob Cumming’s Show,  Granny from the  Beverly Hillbillies and  worse of all “That’s Uncle Joe, he’s a moving kinda slow” from Petticoat Junction. Thanks a lot Paul.

Grandpa McCoy was  just one in a long line of curmudgeon grandfatherly types whose gruff exterior usually melts in the presence of some curly-haired waif. This  theme is repeatedly seen in  works of literature like  Heidi, Silas Marner, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Little Colonel,  and a host of  others.

I suppose I prefer the curmudgeon grandparent  to the comically incompetent or mildly brain damaged one  we sometimes see in characters like the senile Grandpa Simpson the or the impulsive Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls.  Charlie Buckett’s Grandpa Joe from Roald Dahl’s  Charlie and the  Chocolate  Factory is a slight improvement. Although feeble and somewhat feckless,  he is at least affectionate, supportive,  and apparently slightly more sane than Willie Wonka.

Even better, however,  are the suave pipe-smoking grandfathers dressed in tweeds in movies like Disney’s The Parent Trap. At one point  in the original version the granddaughter says “Grandfathers smell like  tobacco and mints”. I have to admit that would be an improvement  over most grandfather’s I have  actually smelled, including myself.   Realistically   the best case scenarios  is  beer, brats,  and  perhaps 30 weight motor oil.

In the newspapers, grandfather’s have a positive but vulnerable image.   Bill Keane’s Family Circus featured a ghostly grandfather   and worried for month’s when  Lynn Johnson was  fixing  to kill off Grandpa Jim in her For Better or Worse  comic strip.  Jim was  an admirable  and resilient character who loves to dance,  played in  a band,  and was a respected war veteran, but the last strips he was in   focused  mostly on his  deteriorating health.  It was looking for  a long time that  Grandpa Jim would soon be meeting Farley, the family dog that Johnson previously dispatched to such great effect.    

Some where in the middle of all this is Donald Crisp’s sympathetic  portrayal of Grandpa Spencer in the  popular 1963 family film Spencer’s Mountain.  I can only remember one scene from the movie, and that is where Grandpa Spencer finds his old piggy bank laying on the ground and he starts shaking it,  trying to see if it still contains money. While he’s doing this,  he is crushed  by a large falling tree. Evidently his hearing was so poor he did not hear the tree or the warnings shouted by his son (Henry Fonda).  It may just be me, but I don’t think this movie was very grandfather friendly. It was written by Earl Hamner, Jr.   and became the basis for the saccharine  television series  The Waltons.   

Of course we baby boomers have to take some of the responsibility for the current image of grandparents since we invented the culture  of youth and took perverse pride in not trusting anyone over thirty.  The chickens have come home to roost. We also cling to the  belief that we are perpetually young and reject many traditional beliefs including how we approach grandparenting.  This  was aptly demonstrated by the character portrayed by Dyan  Cannon  in the 2001 sitcom Three Sisters.   She insisted that her grandchildren call her “goddess” instead of “grandma”. 

Perhaps  now is the time to reconstruct the image  of  grandfathers and make them more positive than just curmudgeonly  hillbillies, incorporeal ghosts,  or self-absorbed yuppies. Maybe grandfathers could even change a few diapers now and then. Just remember to be alert for falling trees,  somewhere out there is a sycamore  with your name on it.

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