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.
THE MUSEUM OF MISCONCEIVED 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.