Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Museum of Curiosities

Today I'd like to welcome you to the Museum of Curiosities. It used to be a Cabinet of Curiosities, then a Closet of Curiosities, but the collection kept growing and growing.

Here we have the original closet. It smells a bit musty inside, I know. Of old wool suits worn too long and never washed. You can't, you know. Not without shrinking them. Which is okay if you have midgets or children around the house.

Here we have the costume collection. We specialize in fur coats.

This one's my grandmother's. It's made of weasels. Not pelts. That would be cruel. The weasels themselves, each carefully trained to hold onto the weasel next to it with its paws. Bite the tail of the weasel in front, below. As you can see, they all hang head down. It's a nice, warm coat, but it does smell a bit weasely. And it tends to writhe.

Here we have the Moebius Scarf, endless loop with only one side. You stick your head through it, and it comes out somewhere else. I think it's China. Hard to tell, because it's crowded, and all you see is people's feet. I'm not sure what they see. Maybe just your head sticking up out of the sidewalk. Best not to wear this one, lest you be mistaken for a soccer ball.

What's that, Ma'am? Yes, the costumes do get worn. Once a year at our Grand Fundraising Ball. There's information about it on our Web site. But there's a years-long waiting list for the weasel coat.

This is the most valuable item in the original Closet of Curiosities. A coat made entirely of hummingbird feathers. Originally belonged to the Aztec emperor Moctezuma. That's right, the one with the revenge.

The coat uses only the third primary feather from the left wing of a single species of hummingbird. The artisans caught thousands of the little buggers. Yanked out the single feather. Even a tiny modification like that messed up their ability to fly, so they could only fly around in counterclockwise circles. This single coat made the species extinct.

Notice how shimmery and blue it is. If you put your ear close—just there—you can hear it humming. They say the coat got its revenge on Moctezuma when Cort├ęs and his Spaniards arrived. Things went badly for the Aztecs. Moctezuma—they don't tell you this in the history books—Moctezuma was trying to escape by hiding inside an empty planter. The Spaniards were just walking by, ready to move on in their search, when the hummingbird coat started humming. The note was just right, just matched the resonant frequency of the inside of the planter, so the whole thing sounded like a foghorn. Moctezuma was discovered and captured, and you know the rest.

We'll move on now to the first room. This is our rotating exhibit hall. It does rotate. The crank is over there. But we also bring in a new exhibit every month.

Please don't touch that, Sir. You're right, it is crooked. Nevertheless.

That's really the secret of this exhibit. It's not an exhibit of paintings, it's an exhibit of the people looking at the paintings. The audience observes them from the other side of the two-way mirror along the wall, there.

Each and every painting in the exhibit is hung just a little bit crookedly. And another secret—even if we let you straighten them, you wouldn't be able to. Not a single picture, not a single frame is made of right angles. They're all non-equilateral rhombuses.

So we sit in the observation room and watch all the people fidget and twitch. Like that guy there—he keeps half-reaching out, arms starting up from his sides, fingers twitching. He's had to stuff his hands in his pockets, and he's dancing around as if he needs to take a pee.

Next week we're going to change this one out for an exhibit of Dutch Maters. They'll all be hung three feet off the floor, so you have to crouch down to look at them.

Now, if you'll follow me, please…

This is the Hall of Bears. Bears of all sorts, as you can see. No, Ma'am, they're not stuffed. We hire these bears to stand around in poses. They're quite good at it.

Here, as you can see, is our grizzly bear, posing as a rug in front of the fireplace. He has practiced for years to perfect the ability of flattening himself out like that. Mind your feet, please. Sometimes he snaps.

At five o'clock the bears help us clear visitors out of the museum. You don't want to be slow when we give the closing announcement.

Now if you'll follow me…

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