Bitter Cold and Crazy Hot St Louis: Sunday

Sunday morning, I woke up early and had some cake for breakfast. Then I proofread Bryan's article about paper folding. I was pretty impressed by the research he'd done; there were plenty of things in there I hadn't known about. That must have taken some searching.

But part of Bryan's research for this article wasn't turning anything up. Strange Horizons is mostly a science fiction website--the recreational math articles are a bonus. Bryan hoped to conclude his article with a passage from a science fiction novel in which someone pulls a small wad of silver foil out of a bag and then unfolds it into a large tent. He couldn't remember which book he'd read it in. He'd been skimming through a bunch of William Gibson, Greg Bear, Dan Simmons, and others trying to track this passage down with no luck. I couldn't help him with that. I suggested that he concentrate on the Greg Bear stuff: I hadn't read any Bear, and I didn't remember anything about a gum wrapper turning into a tent. Occam's Razor suggested Bear; but Bryan's reading suggested that it wasn't there, either.

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the cake I'd been eating lately. As Bryan and Elissa woke up and got their collective act together, I had some toast to try and restore some balance to my metabolism.

We went to the City Museum. From the name, I was expecting a museum of the history of the city, and there was a little of that. Maybe you've read about the museum collection of St Louis doorknobs: that's in this City Museum. But that's not really what the City Museum is about.

Bryan said that it was sort of like the Exploratorium, if the Exploratorium had been about art instead of about science. It's hands-on. It's fun for kids. And even the adults may learn something.

From the description I got from Bryan and Elissa, I was pretty sure that I was going to be most interested in the stuff on the third floor. But it wasn't so easy to get up to the third floor if you didn't know what you were doing, and I didn't. The "first floor" can fool you, because it has many levels. Actually, I shouldn't say that it has many levels. It's not like it's laid out on a grid. The first floor is a sort of a maze and a fountain and a play structure and an art project and an aquarium. I tried to take a jigsaw-panoramic photo of part of it so I could point out, between that stairway and that passage and that pathway in that cement tree thing, that the hole in amongst the "tree's" roots was actually the mouth of another small passage. The panoramic photo didn't turn out--I got too confused while trying to take the individual photo-pieces.

This thing was tunneled with twisty little passages only passable to little kids. In various areas, you could look into the aquarium. There was a metal tank that would fill up with water and then swivel down to dump its contents into a pool. There was a coil of pipe which formed a crawlspace through the air. I got bruised trying to crawl around in some of these places. I found myself trying to twist in ways I wasn't constructed for. It was perhaps like spelunking, but better lit. I stumbled around in there for a while, heading up, and heading down. But I wasn't finding the collection of doorknobs, no matter how high up I got.

Because you don't reach the higher floors by climbing up the maze/play structure/whatever. You reach the higher floors by means of the elevator which you might not notice if you're distracted by the maze/play structure/whatever. But Bryan and Elissa eventually pointed me at it.

The second floor had hands-on arts and crafts. Actually, the first thing visible at the head of the stairs wasn't hands-on. It was a bunch of machines that were weaving shoelaces. Each machine had about 16 big spools of thread on 16 spindles. The machine would spin the spools around so that they danced about one another, all the while paying out a bit of thread. As I watched this movement, I was filled with joy: after centuries, science and technology had finally come up with a machine to free humanity from the drudgery of dancing around the maypole.

One area was blocked off--the museum people seemed to be installing the fixtures from the lobby of "The Loop Building"--whatever that was--here into the second floor of this building.

But the rest of the floor was taken up with areas where kids could do weaving, painting, make pottery. We sat and watched a glass-blowing demonstration. The glass-blowing was interesting, and the blower's presentation style was either interesting or monotonous, depending on your point of view. I found it interesting. The whole time the guy was talking, he was rotating his blowpipe. I think that part of his mind was always busy making sure that he kept that rotation going. He wasn't all there as he talked to the audience. His intonation would go up and down, but always in the same pattern. Things weren't just hot, they were "crazy hot". Things didn't want to fall off of the blowpipe, they "totally" wanted to.

Sometimes I'm in the middle of a computer problem and someone walks up and starts talking to me. And then part of my brain is desperately at work at my fingers, trying to type out...whatever it was I was thinking about. And part of my brain is trying to take in what this person is saying, so that when I finish typing in a few seconds, I can analyze what they're saying and figure out what it is that we're talking about. But I only have the vaguest idea of what I act like while I'm in that split state. When I'm done typing, I often find that I'm staring at this person with my mouth hanging open. They're coming to me because they want to talk about something, and they find themselves facing Slackjaw, king of the Zombie Men. Anyhow, I think that this guy gave me a clue about how I act when my mind's on other things.

Up on the third floor, there were some exhibits that dealt with St Louis culture. There was one room that celebrated the city's shoe manufacturing. The room was decorated to look like a shoe store, stocked with many shoe boxes. I remembered that Heather Hanly, had designed some shoe boxes when she was a graphic designer in St Louis. But these shoe boxes were pretty generic, not as interesting as the ones she'd had in her portfolio. I didn't let that stop me from taking a photo, though:

[Photo: Shoeboxes at the City Museum]

Wow, look at all of those shoeboxes.

Probably the best part of the third floor was the exhibit showing the architectural ornamentation of St Louis' buildings. The museum had a bunch of beautiful parts which had been salvaged from old buildings.

[Photo: Architectural Ornaments at the City Museum]

In the foreground, some nice stonework. On those shelves in the background, more stonework and fancy bricks and gargoyles and other things which I was too ignorant to classify.

[Photo: Doorknobs at the City Museum]

I took this photo (and other photos) of the famous doorknob exhibit so that Bryan could use the doorknob designs illustrate different kinds of symmetry to a seminar about M.C. Escher which he was leading. But there was a brochure nearby with information from some national doorknob fanciers' society (the Antique Doorknob Collectors of America, later research reminds me), so I think Bryan was going to get designs from them instead. Anyhow, in this photo, you can see my reflection in the display case's glass.

[Photo: Masonic Doorknob at the City Museum]

I was disappointed that this doorknob was circular. Looking at the symbol, I figure it came from a Masonic Temple. As such, I expected... I don't know. An ellipse with proportions based on the golden mean? A recreation of the doorknobs of Solomon's temple? (Does that even make sense?)

There was an area where little kids were learning circus skills, but we didn't linger there. There was yet another area with a few old pinball machines, but we didn't linger there, either. We were getting hungry, and... well, judging from those machines, I'm thinking that pinball must have improved a lot in the last 30 years. Anyhow, we left the museum.

We went shopping at Schnuck's. Nothing especially interesting happened there, but I like to say "Schnuck's." Schnuck's Schnuck's Schnuck's Schnuck's. Thank you for your patience in this regard.

Back at the house, it was rally cold. It had been really cold outside, too. We'd only been outside while in parking lots, and we'd hurried through those. The house wasn't so well insulated, and the heater was having a tough time keeping up with the cold. I had more cake and toast for lunch, then sat around under some blankets and read for a while. Elissa failed to take a nap and Bryan failed to come up with a lesson plan.

Then we made squash soup for dinner. We served it into bowls, then got some biscuits out of the oven, then got spoons, and by the time we got around to eating the soup, it had cooled off. Elissa sensibly heated hers up in the microwave. Have I made it clear to you that the weather was cold?

Our plan for the night was to go see the band Bush at a hall called the Pageant in the U-District. It had been a new hall on my first trip to St Louis, just about to open. If I hadn't bought tickets in advance, I think I would have begged out of the plan.

I didn't know much about Bush, they just happened to be playing the most conveniently-timed concert for me to attend that weekend. I'd bought one of their CDs to make sure I could stand them before I'd bought their tickets. At the time I'd planned this, it had all seemed quite fun and spontaneous. But that cold wind out there, blowing the snow off of the ground--suddenly that fun spontaneous plan seemed like a bad idea.

But really, it wasn't. The Pageant, packed with bodies, was warmer than the house. And though Elissa nearly froze while dropping off a rented movie on the way to the show, and though we all ended up jogging from the car to the Pageant, we did survive to reach its warm space.

We caught the last few songs by Default, the opening band. I wasn't into the first few, and then there was this great song: they were playing fast and tight. I would have yelled, "Play some more like that!" but that was their last song, so never mind.

And then Bush played. The performance didn't really seem like a good introduction to their music: there was so much distortion that everything else got lost. If I'd already memorized their canon, maybe I could have figured out what was going on. Since I wasn't so familiar with the music, I mostly amused myself by watching the band's dynamic. The singer seemed like a caricature of the egotistical jerk frontman, but maybe I was misreading the situation. (Of course, not every singer/songwriter is an egotistical jerk. But I think you know what I mean.)

There were some songs where it was just him singing, without the band. Those songs stank. Maybe he just wanted to give the rest of the band a rest, but it seemed pretty gratuitous at the time.

And he wandered out into the audience. That's not necessarily an obnoxious move. But the band just kept on repeating the same line while he wandered around, and he wandered around for a long time. It wasn't much fun. It seemed kind of presumptious of him: Did he really think he had that many fans that wanted to get that close to him? But maybe I wouldn't have thought that way if I'd been a big fan of the band.

When I wasn't observing the band dynamic, I checked out the crowd. The crowd seemed old and white and drunk compared to San Francisco shows. On the other hand, I wasn't sure if that was St Louis' fault. If the crowd was old and/or drunk, maybe that was because we were up in the balcony.. (There was an usher at the entrance to the ground floor who asked us not to go in because it was "too full". He asked politely, so there would have been no joy in sneaking past. Fortunately, the view from the balcony was pretty good.) I had a hunch that the balcony crowd was older than the floor crowd, people shy of the pit. We were standing close to the bar, no doubt an area favored by those who had come to drink. And if the crowd seemed white, maybe that was because we were listening to an Alternative Rock band, and from Britain.

Bryan also noticed that the crowd was old. At one point, he said, "It's kind of an old crowd--and we're not helping."

Really, the main difference between this St Louis audience and a San Francisco audience is that the St Louis audience was allowed to smoke. And smoke they did. At the time, it seemed kind of cute and nostalgic. But in the days that followed, I wished that I'd packed a second pair of pants for the trip: I was stinkified.

After the show, we ran to the car through the cold. My teeth chattered. Back at the house, I washed the smoke out of my hair and then raced to get myself clothed and under the blankets before my head froze. I succeeded.

The Dental Health Theatre[>>]

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