Holding Forth

Published on August 12th, 2015 | by Richard Black

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The Pseudoseum

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Someone please tell me what in the hell these things have to do with science?

Last week I had the displeasure of visiting a local play area with my daughter. It wasn’t a park or a Monkey Joes or the local Science Center but some sort of poorly conceived amalgam of all three I refer to as the Pseudoseum. The experience was billed as a fun filled interactive way to introduce children to science and, to be fair, there was a lot of science in the building particularly if one happens to be interested in epidemiology.

Perhaps that last statement was just a tad unfair. I tend to look at any location that young snot nosed children infest to be riddled with disease but that’s my baggage, my particular cross to bear and then my wife’s when I inevitably come down with some form of strep for the third time in any given year.

Darcy, my daughter, like any five year old loves these places and I used to love them too when I was her age. I can’t say that bouncing up and down in an inflatable castle or pounding away on a xylophone made of carbon fiber did much to spark my interest or inherent understanding of scientific principals but my thirst for knowledge wasn’t hindered by the experience. I generally had a good time running around with other children my age at least until someone barfed in the bouncy house and I later came down with the flu.

Darcy runs through the exhibits as I did so many years ago, hurling the end of a pendulum with all of her might without understanding the interaction between the instrument and the motion of the earth or searching for “artifacts” through a pile of sand so filthy that a cat wouldn’t use it as a litter box. She has a good time but in the intervening thirty five years since I lasted visited a place like the Pseudoseum almost astounded that the old stalwart exhibits of my youth haven’t been replaced.

I’m not asking to see a small working fission reactor but an exhibit on electromagnets shouldn’t be too hard to create. In its stead was a magnetic table chock full or nuts and bolts and, if I wasn’t mistaken, a giant wrench the presence of which that implied the establishment had a rather large liability insurance policy.

Certain things have changed of course. These days the pendulum now has a glowing tip so one can trace its arc across a light sensitive piece of material and, occasionally, into a child’s head. The sand of the dinosaur pit has been replaced with rubber “mulch” that still harbors vast amounts of microbes but is much better at making the scent of vomit and, occasionally, urine.

There are really only two ways in which the experience I had as a child and my daughter’s differ. The first being that I don’t hover over her and attempt to explain the scientific principals at work as my father did some thirty plus years ago and that is because I am stupid. Don’t get me wrong I was all for trying to explain to my daughter about the principal of magnetism and got about as far as “the earth has a liquid metal core than might spin around or maybe stays still while the rest of the earth spins around it…and uhhh well that creates a lot of…umm magnetism. For pride’s sake I decided not to answer any more questions in any sort of depth.

The second major difference between our experiences is that after visiting places like this for the better part of three years my daughter has yet to contract a virulent illness and for that I am thankful. Yours truly however is still in possession of an immune system that isn’t  is up to the challenge.

Case in point. Despite practically bathing in Purell every fifteen minutes at the Pseudoseum I have caught a nifty little bug that doctors have yet to identify. I’m currently writing this post from a hospital bed in a clean room as a currently await another round of aggressive enemas. Isn’t that something!

Without further ado I’ll attempt as best as I can to document the experience. The doctors in hazmat suits tell me I don’t have much time left.

IMG_1300Off to the left is a picture of a slide and one of the first exhibits to greet visitors. Please notice the cage like device to the left, somewhat reminiscent of Thunderdome, that guided children children from the age of about four to a rather brutish 12 year old to the top of the slide.

Upon finally battling to the top of the cage the surviving children rocketed down the slide, their forward momentum halted abruptly in a pile of little arms and legs that was composed of a few dozen other children who were too slow to disentangle themselves from the first three children to go down the slide some four hours prior.

A radar gun mounted at the other end of the slide provided the kiddies with the speed they achieved before slamming into a large pile of small bodies. Small cloth sacks were provided to allow the children to race down the slide at faster speeds in order to encourage more significant injury in the pursuit of science.

IMG_1298We approached the dreaded bouncy house next because nothing screams “SCIENCE” like a bouncy house. Unless of course a child lands on his or her head and one takes the opportunity as a “learning experience” to teach the children about gravity and the definition of the term “quadriplegic”.

For better or worse that particular lesson was saved for another time.

I did however have the pleasure of given the aforementioned brutish 12 year old a lesson in measurement and exclusion. According to the creepy poster of the officer with a color coded ruler the little shit was too tall to thump on the other children in the bouncy house. I brought his height to the attention of the fourteen year old employee in charge of monitoring the “exhibit” who quickly banished the boy to the radar slide where he spent the next four hours navigating the Gordian Knot of arms and legs at the bottom of the exhibit.

IMG_1285After a few bounces Darcy quickly proceeded to an area called the Seaweed Swamp, a place that would be more correctly known as the Den of Disease. The exhibit was presumably created to teach youngsters about what it would feel like to be a child whom was tossed into a bunch of styrofoam pool noodles with a bunch of other children who then ran through them screaming and shrieking while pinwheeling their arms.

Darcy endured the ordeal for about two minutes and I say “about” because that was the amount of time I finally heard her wails. It could have been longer. Time ceases to have any meaning inside the Seaweed Swamp and apparently styrofoam makes for a pretty good insulator. By the time I found my daughter she was curled up in a ball and rocking back and forth on the southern end of the “swamp.

I shepherded my sobbing child out the man made pool noodle hell at which point Darcy decided that she wanted to go back in providing me a moment to consider the amazing resilience of children as well as their utter stupidity.

IMG_1283Not more than three minutes later I heard Darcy’s cries, waded in, and spent the next fifteen minutes tracking down my daughter who now thought we were playing a game of Marco Polo. Isn’t that great!

It’s difficult to see the grime that a few hundred thousand little hands have left on the “seaweed” from this picture but I promise it’s there. If I had to make my guess as to where I became patient zero for the coming plague this would be it.

I waded through a few hundred acres of the most filthy environment I’d ever experienced since I first heard the phrase “THE ARISOTCRATS!” When I finally found my way out of the “Swamp” I discovered my daughter, happy as a clam, sitting on a bench and making friends with another girl about her age.

“Let’s go look for bones,” the girl said.

IMG_1302Darcy agreed and I watched the two girls forgo using tools to rummage around the rubber mulch with their bare hands for the odd bit of archeological bric-a-brac and the occasional Band-Aid.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of having your daughter present you with a clay fossil of a trilobite and used medical waste with equal enthusiasm I highly encourage you to forgo the experience.

A few other kids showed up and began throwing mulch, brushes, shovels and really anything that wasn’t screwed down at each other with wild abandon. Their parents smiled, as tranquil as victims of icepick lobotomies, or continued their conversations about whatever it is that these people talk about when not attending to their children who began making shivs out of trowels at which point I “encouraged” my daughter to leave the area.

IMG_1295Darcy and her new friend left for the last exhibit I could tolerate. I sounded the five minute warning and we entered a giant inflatable flying saucer. I’m not sure what the scientific value a giant UFO provides to children but, whatever principal it was intended to illustrate, I can say that it failed spectacularly.

Darcy grabbed my hand and hauled me into the construction’s alien depths before the two of us realized that we couldn’t see anything. Apparently aliens rely upon infrared vision rather than the more typical spectrum of visible light. They also seem to be big fans of mazes and entry/egress points that look something, but not exactly, like a hippo’s ass before it shits out its intestines.

In the span of thirty seconds Darcy lost it and I spent a few hundred years stumbling through the monstrosity while my daughter screamed “I just want to see the light” before I finally found an exit to the outside.

We were greeted by a troupe of born again Christians who had misinterpreted my daughter’s announcement as a metaphysical dilemma rather than one that was of a more mundane nature. I’m kidding of course. I made that last part up. It was actually a group of hard core creationists who met us outside the Pseudoseum. They were protesting the the institution’s spread of “science” and were picketing to have the Garden of Eden added as an exhibit.

The experience was, I thought to myself, as I drove my daughter home and felt the first rumblings of a truly magnificent disease begin to make itself known, a truly epic failure for everyone involved.

You’ll have to excuse me now. My doctor is prepping me for yet another colonoscopy and I’d like to keep what little dignity I have left.

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