Museums That Should Exist But Don’t

Museums That Should Exist But Don’t

The Museum of Toaster Art is located on the second floor of one of two “Art House” theaters in Bellingham, Washington.  Once a month, Bellingham celebrates the arts by inviting ordinary mortals to tour the various studios and workshops thriving in this small but uncommonly interesting city.  I walked past several unexceptional studios, nodded at working artists, turned a corner and spotted the entrance to the Museum of Toaster Art, assumed it might present a few amusing portraits of tasters and walked into a wonderland of toasting mechanisms.

I thought I’d seen most varieties of toaster, but toast has clearly been the mother of invention.  Toast carousels, toast Ferris wheels, toast guillotines, toast subways, toast castles – a toasting landscape both unlikely and impressive.

The heart of the exhibit, however, is the collection of photographs covering six walls of the studio/museum.  In each photograph, the artist and collector, Eric Brown, poses with a toaster; year-by-year, Brown chronicles the growth of his collection.  Imagine the most assiduously curated set of family portraits; now, replace children and grandchildren with toasters.

Of course, each photograph also chronicles Brown’s changing affect and persona.  I found myself simultaneously fascinated and uneasy.  Brown’s fondness for toasters is displayed without apology, and yet, I felt myself a toaster voyeur.

In any case, this visit inspired a series of assignments set my students as they entered the third week of a writing intensive.  I spoke about the Museum of Toaster Art and a few other remarkable museums (The Dog Collar Museum in Kent, England, The Hair Museum in Turkey ) and asked them to describe in detail a museum that does not exist but should.  Over the years, a number of inspired nominations came forth.  My favorite?  The Museum of Broken Dreams – a gallery responsive to each visitor, flashing images of the dreams that would never come true for each individual.

My own thoughts have rolled around over the years, but several have come into being even as I began this blog.  The Museum of Broken Relationships, for example, has recently opened in Los Angeles, soliciting and receiving artifacts from brokenhearted donors around the world.   Along the same lines, and perhaps more peculiarly attached to my own regrets are The Museum of Missed Opportunities and the Museum of Unfortunate Choices.

I wonder what the impact might be of walking through a display of misguided decisions,  not only  re-living the moment of choice but seeing the possible outcomes of other, perhaps better, judgments.  Heartening?  Maddening?  Do I really want to think about things said or unsaid, injuries too easily given, friendship too selfishly left untended?

Regret is a double edged reminder.  It hurts to see our flaws in motion, but it’s been said we grow at the rate of pain.  Maybe each encounter with one of those critical junctures could be followed by a short visit with an adept professional in the field of encouragement, not the huckster version, but a spiritual guide who helps connect our capacity for facing our own past with our capacity for change in the present.

OK, the museum is now turning into a self-help Disney Ride, probably more risky than I had intended.  So, with the recognition that when in doubt, the best response to a world about us is simple gratitude, I’ll propose The Grateful Museum.

The visitor checks in, undergoes a quick psychometric resentment inventory, then walks through gallery after gallery witnessing the moments of grace in which we have received more than our share, not to discount injuries accumulated over the years, but to provide a sense of balance and room for choice.  Imagine the cumulative effect of witnessing authentic kindness and tolerance in one’s life.

As a savory corrective to the sugary architecture of my self-reflective museums, I offer a more acerbic observation that the ordinary world offers delightful examples of bad judgment in action.  Not quite as grim as The Darwin Award Hall of Fame, my collection would bring a smattering of truly bad ideas presented to those who shop for children’s toys.


OK, so a toy “designer” thought it would be great to create a “Shave The Baby Doll”.  I get that.  It’s four in the morning.  Somebody starts suggesting a competition for the most unfortunate Christmas ad campaign ever.  From the depths of some misshapen imagination comes the cry, “How about a baby that a kid can shave?”  Convulsive laughter, unbridled hilarity, exhausted panting, and a moment of clarity as one aspiring magnate flashes on the untapped market crying for babies to shave.

“Daddy Saddle”?  Again, makes sense.  As a dad I found myself rode hard and put up wet.  Did I long to feel the tug of the girth as it was cinched up a notch?  Well, not so much, but I a sure there were /are dads who hope to give Trigger and Silver a run for their money.  On the bovine front, “Milky The Cow” probably produces no more egregiously liquid than any of the “wetting” dolls of years gone by, although “Milky”‘s liquid is slightly more opaque, which is not  good thing.

The various “poo” products, I’ll confess, have never won my admiration; they seem a bit too obviously pandering to the coprophilic excesses that pop up in any constellation of children at play.  Unnecessary as well as off-putting.

Similarly, the grotesqueries of hyper-sexualized products for young girls are similarly vile, as Pole Dancing Dolly certainly proved.


Similarly, the number of truly dangerous toys continues to keep litigation America’s favorite sport.  Ballerinas/fairies?  Set to spin into flight?  Irresistible!  These twirling projectiles did leave the launch pad with satisfactory torque, but … without any mechanism allowing direction or control.  Once loosed, all bets were off.  The twirling dancers were as likely to dart into an unprotected eye or groin, causing hundreds of documented injuries. In the current era of reasonable. Seemingly benign, the Sky Dancers twirled as a child pulled the spinning string just as hard as her little fingers could manage, releasing the projectile with violent force, often into the eyes, lips, cheeks of the person closest at hand, i.e., the child.  Attorneys of record were more than pleased to photograph torn flesh and broken teeth.


Kids love dinosaurs, and dinosaurs often have talons, so what kid wouldn’t love the “Jurassic World Velociraptor Claws”?  Hasbro suggested that the claws would be suitable for children four  and up and were clear in warning parents that small parts might break off, creating choking hazards.  Apparently, the word “claws” was of less concern to Hasbro and, we assume, parents.


Any of the projectile devices were capable of equally life-changing injury, but sharp sticks and heavy objects have long been the staple of emergency room stitch-witchery.  It took a particular burst of invention, however, to combine a needle-sharp projectile with a weighted object.


The centerpiece of any exhibit I curate, however, raises a completely different set of questions,  Well, actually the same question again and again:

Who thought this was a good idea?

And so, “Mr. Bucket”.

The “game” itself is unremarkable; the name, the catchy jingle, the smile on the object’s “face”?  Hmmmm.


Here’s the descriptopn fromWikipedia-

” The object of the game is for each player to get his or her balls into Mr. Bucket before he pops them out of his mouth. Blue, green, yellow, and red plastic balls are scattered around the floor like pins, and players each choose a shovel that corresponds to the ball color they will attempt to collect. Once Mr. Bucket is turned on, players must scoop up their balls that match their shovel’s color and drop them into the top of Mr. Bucket. While players are collecting, Mr. Bucket will pop out the balls that have been placed inside him out of his mouth at regular intervals. The winner is the first player to get all three of their balls in Mr. Bucket at the same time.”

And the jingle?  I’ve included the commercial.  The tune is irresistible; try getting it out of your head.


As the music fades:

“That’s right, I’m Mr. Bucket! I’m Mr. Bucket, toss your balls in my top I’m Mr. Bucket, out of my mouth they will pop I’m Mr. Bucket! We’re all gonna run! I’m Mr. Bucket! Buckets of fun!

Announcer: The game’s Mr. Bucket! The first to get their balls into Mr. Bucket wins! But look out, ’cause the balls will pop out of his mouth!

I’m Mr. Bucket, balls pop into my mouth I’m Mr. Bucket, a ball is what I’m about I’m Mr. Bucket! We’re all gonna run! I’m Mr. Bucket! Buckets of fun!

Kid: I win, I win!

Buckets of fun!

Announcer: Mr. Bucket, from Milton Bradley”

As visitors to the museum wind their way to the gift store, a docent hands out the mp3 ring tone now yours should you choose to follow this link:

Excuse me.  My phone is ringing, and I have to answer before that song takes me away yet again.


Words We Should Use and Those We Should Not – Snoot Part III

Words We Should Use and Those We Should Not – Snoot Part III


The folk at the Merriam Webster Dictionary asked a sample group of some size and definition to come up with words they had heard as a child that seemed to have disappeared from ordinary conversation.  Ah Hah!  I thought.  Finally!  A chance to recover perfectly good words from the slag heap of time.

I enjoyed reading the list, but the words presented elicit nostalgia rather than the satisfying endorsement of usage Snoots find so endearing.

Their list?  Dungarees, Hootenanny, Britches, Gallivant, Ice Box – fading perhaps, but recognizable for the most part.  Dungarees are a variety of britches now called denims or jeans.  Hootenanny is still used at folk festivals to indicate informal jammimg in the folk mode.

They also trotted out” Ten Words You Can’t Live Without.”  It turns out that you probably can as none are unlikely to be of much use in most circumstance:.  Pulchritudinous (having beauty), Omphaolpskepis (considering your navel when meditating), Trichotillomania ( compulsive pulling out of one’s hair), Myrmecophilious (close relationship with or fondness for ants), Psychotomimetic (anything that brings on psychotic behavior), Polyphiloprogenerative (spawning many, many offspring), Tirgiversation (evading the truth), Consanguineous (descended from the same ancestor), and Milquetoast(an extremely timid person).

No, I’m interested in past participles in the present perfect tense,  those that describe in the present moment actions that have already happened.  William Safire actually wrote about issues such as this in the New York Times/ .  Here’s his elegant explanation:

“For the irregular verbs shrink and sink, the simple past tense is “He shrank the material and sank the boat.” The past participle is the form of the verb used in the present perfect tense, which shows action completed at the time of speaking: “He has shrunk and has sunk.” Thus, the natural progression is shrink-shrank-shrunk, sink-sank-sunk.

At an embarrassing moment for the prosecution in the O. J. Simpson trial, Christopher Darden gulped, “The gloves appear to have shrank somewhat.” Incorrect; the past participle is shrunk or shrunken.”

Want more?

I sneak out every day.  I have sneaked (not snuck) out every night as well.

I have drunk (not drank) all the punch in the bowl.

I have dived (not dove) into a rain barrel.

I have got (not gotten) an A in every course this year.

I have swum (not swimmed) that lake until I was ready to grow gills.


Some verbs offer more than one correct form of the past participle.  It is equally correct to say, ” I have woken at six throughout the holiday,” as it is to say, “I have awakened at six throughout the holiday.” ” I have pleaded that case/ I have pled that case.”  ” I have proven that problem/ I have proved that problem.”  “I have shaved every cat in the store/ I have shorn every cat in the store.”

Others include slink/ slunk,  sped/ speeded, spit/  spat, strewn/ strewed, striven/ strived, sweat/ sweated, swollen/ swelled, trodden/ trod, woven/ weaved.

Hung/ hanged?

Here’s a tip to know and trade:  The stockings were hung by the chimney with care/  Santa was hanged when he dropped from the air.

Now, on to egregious errors in choice of word.  These are commonly heard words used in the wrong context or with the wrong meaning.

I was nauseous when we drove to Duluth.  Since nauseous actually mans causing a state of nausea, the speaker is intimating that he/she is a toxin of some sort, a carrier of disease on the way to Duluth.  The careful speaker will say, “I was nauseated by the fumes that crept into the car on our way to Duluth.

The conversation about aliens left me completely disinterested in all other Science Fiction.  Disinterested means having having no conflict of interests, impartial, neutral by virtue of having no personal (or financial)  connection to the event.  If the speaker means she has no interest, she is uninterested.

I was bemused by the very funny comedian.  The speaker intends to declare amusement but uses a word that means a state of confusion or bewilderment.

That story is so cliche.  Cliche is a noun, not an adjective.  the adjectival form of the word is cliched.

“I was delighted that the teacher finally honed in on the real subject.”  To hone is to sharpen.  Getting greater focus is to home in on a subject.

“It was ironic that it rained on our wedding day” Inconvenient or even coincidental, sure, but not irony.  Irony conveys a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning.

He was literally destroyed by that report.  Hmmmm.  Not unless the sentient report tracked him down and carried out unspeakable acts of unkindness that forced the subject into financial and personal ruin.  Literal does not mean figurative.

OK, a few parting shots.

Verbal does not mean oral.  Things put into words are verbal.  Oral describes things that come out of or go into your mouth.  You do not take medicine verbally.

And that leads us to… Feelings, whoa, whoa, Feelings …

A careless driver can have both sympathy and empathy for the rabbit twitching on the side of the road.  If you can feel the rabbit’s pain, you are empathetic.  If you regret the rabbit’s pain, you are sympathetic.

The rabbit’s passing, however young the rabbit, charming the rabbit, attractive the rabbit, is not tragic.  The course of the rabbit’s life has been essentially unchanged throughout – until the point of impact.  Too bad / so sad, but not tragic.  Had this hypothetical rabbit had a sudden, soul altering set of insights that had only recently brought significant change, yes, the untimely death might be considered mildly tragic.  Rome and Juliet?  Tragic.  Kardashian weight gain?  You know.

Can we talk?  I know the difference but no longer care about fewer and less, among and between.  Am I a backsliding Snoot?  Now, that would be tragic.














In case we forget …

In case we forget …

This morning’s broadcast of Morning Edition on NPR included an interview with Debi Jackson, mother of an eight year old transgender daughter, Avery.

When Avery was four, Jackson recalls, she turned to her mother and said, “Mom, you think I’m a boy, but inside I’m a girl.”

It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

On one hand, there’s really no way to miss the point; Avery knew she was a girl at the age of four.  With whatever grace the universe gives to the best parents, Avery’s got it and assisted her transition at the age of four.

On the other hand, we live in a messy and occasionally mean spirited world in which universal messages go untended.  The Jacksons’ school district could not adapt, and so Avery has been home schooled.

She belongs to a Girl Scout Troop, and those friends are aware that she is transgender.  The recent public furor over who gets to use what bathroom made Avery uneasy about going to Scout meeting.  Her mother described Avery’s distress.  “Everyone knows.  And if they know this law might pass, they might go ahead and tell me I have to go into the boys’ bathroom.  And I won’t do that.”

OK, that broke my heart.  What kind of country are we that puts an eight year old girl in the position of standing up for identity and principle at the cost of friendship and community?  Avery is eight years old with a sense of self and degree of courage that few of us can muster at any point.

She is also insightful way beyond her years.  When she learned of the Executive Order establishing guidelines by which school system are to respect the gender of transgender children, Avery’s response was extraordinary.  It’s reported that she whispered, “That’s life changing, Mom.  I could actually go to a real school.”

.Just in case we lose sight of children such as Avery as angry rhetoric gets ugly, let’s remember that it’s really quite simple:  It is the business of government to go to any lengths to protect the rights of its citizens; all children are our children.



Can We Survive The Trump Candidacy?

Can We Survive The Trump Candidacy?

I am disappointed, of course, that the state of public affairs has devolved to virtual chaos, although, as one who raised a fist in protest at the end of the 1960’s, I once longed for the cleansing of the nation that would follow the fires in the streets.  Not much cleansing in the next decades, as most will recall, in part because my generation fell into self-congratulatory hedonism followed by cheerful acclimation to conspicuous consumption.

We failed and failed quickly.  Many of us were genuine in our support of the extension of Civil Rights and equally sincere in our opposition to the war in Vietnam, and yet, when we lost sight of one of the great maxims in the modern military lexicon (You can’t win a war in Afghanistan), we didn’t march.  When we entered Iraq, we didn’t march.  When the Voting Rights Act was overturned, we didn’t march.  When ordinary people lost retirement pensions and homes, when Wall Street firms  and banks gave out bonus checks subsidized by taxpayers, when Standard and Poors  and Moody’s continued to do business, when none of the hedge fund billionaires were held accountable for the looting of the nation, we didn’t march.

We watched on tv.  We listened to NPR.  We shook our heads.

So, why wallow in indignation now?  Is the candidacy of Donald Trump a more egregious blot upon the national  escutcheon than any of the earlier low points?

He’s a bully, sure; but we’ve seen our share of those.  He’s a political dunce, ignorant of the most basic elements of statecraft.  He’s arrogant, willfully ignoring the conventions of discourse.  But, why does this arrogant dunce raise my hackles as others have not?

Some of my distress undoubtedly comes in having Trump force fed to me on an hourly basis; he is quite literally on every channel from dawn to dark.  In addition, there are issues of style and language that offend me; it seems self-evident to me that a candidate who boasts he has “the best words” clearly does not.Do his shabby, gold-plated gaucheries offend my aesthetic sensibility?  They do.  The piled Trump steaks, for example, appear to argue that meat is both totem and currency.  Donald Trump delights in flaunting his wealth, pointing to the things he has built (has had built) as examples of achievement; at best, Trump’s architectural legacy is grotesque.

To make things worse, Trump is a philistine.  Not only does a philistine hold all things aesthetic, intellectual, or philosophical in contempt, he radiates smug pleasure in dismissing the accomplishments and ideas of his betters.  In leveling architectural landmarks in his own city, Trump purposefully destroyed works of art that he had promised to the Metropolitan Museum.  Perhaps I see him as vandal as much as philistine.  Looting and pillaging his way as a real estate developer, he has taken his profit at the expense of others.

But, none of these mild objections are at the heart of my distress.

Trump has not taken center stage; he has been awarded it.  The media could have given him the space accorded to other celebrities whose only grip on celebrity is in being odd enough to provoke momentary titillation.  Trump was not wrong in boasting that his presence assured the networks of consistently high ratings; his boorish domination of experienced, genuinely astute men who had given their lives top public service was bizarre, outrageous, unexpected, and compelling.  The first time.  Of course the candidates were slow to understand that neutrality and civility allowed Trump to have his way with them, almost casually dismissing each with pejorative terms not heard since the raucous battles of the Nineteenth Century.  “Lyin” Ted Cruz and “Little” Marco Rubio must have felt themselves on the playground rather than in political debate..

I deplore the lack of civility with which the Trump candidacy has progressed; the greater injury, however, has been the unleashing of the ugliest of impulses in a nation quickly falling into tribal rigidity.  Time Magazine described the intensity with which hate-mongers and racists have promoted the Trump candidacy in an article, “The Billionaire and the Bigot”.  Describing Trump’s appeal to racists as nuanced, Time suggests that bigots hear their own strong prejudices in Trump’s confident scorn for those he sees as not welcome in making America great again.  There are no accidental overtures in the Trump candidacy.  For example, he chose to deliver his New York State fulminations in the very small community of Patchogue, Long Island, a community widely known for the 2008 murder of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian dry cleaning worker.  The seven teens accused of his murder described what they called, “beaner hopping,” a regular practice of looking for Hispanics to beat.

There is no subtlety  in Trump’s turning the nation’s attention to Patchogue at that point in his campaign’ even the thickest of bigots would be hard pressed to miss the point.

Trump’s candidacy is unfortunate; he is a narcissist, a philistine, a vandal, and thoroughly unqualified for the position he seeks.  His candidacy is a  reckless act of egomaniacal puffery and vitriolic conceit.  All of which would be more than enough enough to cause me to weep, but it is the gleeful mean spirit with which his acolytes preach tribal retribution that saddens me most profoundly.

We are no strangers to meanness of spirit, and other nasty episodes have resolved themselves at some cost, but this moment may signal the sorts of fissures that cause societies to break apart.