When I was a kid, I thought this was just about the scariest thing I'd ever seen.
It's the squid and the whale exhibit in the Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History. Of course, back then it was kind of scary in there, not the well-lit wedding reception-ready hall it is today. The lighting in the hall was dim. The exhibits had a creepy expectant feel to them. And the squid and the whale exhibit was positively predatory in its effect. From a distance, it looked like nothing--maybe a dark, empty display case that they'd forgot to fill, or perhaps were renovating. You'd lean in closer for a look. And then, out of the sepulchral gloom, you'd see a giant eye, a tentacle, a row of teeth, all barely lit in an eerie navy blue, just as you'd expect in the deepest deep dark of the ocean. Suddenly you'd forget there was glass. It would feel like you were falling into the exhibit. Into the ocean. And then you'd run away in delicious terror, back to find you parents, who were calmly reading something incredibly boring, the the captions under the mollusk exhibit or something like that.
It's not like that anymore. The museum has been significantly renovated since I was a kid, and I do have to admit that most of it it looks beautiful. But something was lost in the renovation of the Hall of Ocean Life. Everything's just so obvious now. It's so bright. You can see everything. There's a cafe in there, so you can sip lattes and eat egg salad sandwiches under the whale. It's nice, but it's just not creepy anymore.
Look, I'm not Holden Caulfield, I'm not a proponent of things that are crappy and old just for the fact that they are crappy and old. Renovation is necessary. Change is usually good. But I can't scare myself at the whale exhibit anymore, and that was always the most fun part. And more importantly, I can't scare Cal at the whale exhibit anymore, which takes the fun out of everything.
Cal and I are taking a trip to New York this weekend. It's just to be a special trip, just he and I spending a long weekend in the greatest city on earth. (Unfortunately, Joe and Mack will be staying in Atlanta, taking care of each other, and I will miss them like stink.) Cal and I are staying with my parents. We're going to ride bikes in Central Park. We're going to eat out. We're going to see some folks. And we're going to the museum.
I don't know why I have this determination to recreate the indelible memories of my childhood for my kids, or even if these experiences will be ultimately meaningful for them in the long run, versus lost in the jumble of Things I Kind of Recall From When I Was Five. But I so remember that cold creeping dread of peering into that whale diorama, the snaking tentacles of that giant squid which, under that dim light, you could almost convince yourself were moving--that even in this latter-day bright-lighted, sanitized version, I can't wait to show him.
(Above: Joe and Cal, waiting for the C train, March 2008.)