A to Y: Yore

Sam couldn’t believe their luck. Not only was the bagpipe set a minimal part of the museum exhibit, and not only did they have to pick it up them self, and not only were they given the whole thing in one piece in nothing but a plastic bag from a grocery store, but they missed the last bus of the night.

They collapsed on the bench and the bagpipes sighed in their lap. They knew they could call a cab, or just walk, but they decided they needed to take a break before they could bear taking another step. The expensive, giant, useless instrument was heavy and awkward to carry, and Sam just wanted to throw it on the ground and dig their heels into it. It was only going to be in the museum to show a modern set of bagpipes as compared to the ancient set in the “Instruments of Yore” exhibit. It wasn’t even important. There wasn’t even any history.

Sam closed their eyes and held their head in their hands, their elbows joining the tangle of pipes and plaid in their lap. When they finally raised their eyes they nearly screamed in surprise—a man was sitting next to them, a disheveled man with clothes that matched the bagpipes and skin nearly as black as Sam’s (though, very few people are as dark as Sam). Sam fought the urge to run. The man smiled, and his mouth smelled like the subway.

“I was wondering if you were alright, Ma’am,” the man said. “Are you alright?”

Sam nodded, not quite looking in his eyes.

“Is that a bagpipes?” he asked. He must be fifty, maybe sixty, Sam thought. Sam was barely twenty. They searched for another person, for help, but the two of them were alone on the darkening street.

“It’s for a museum,” Sam said, and their voice cracked. They tried to keep their face neutral but weren’t sure how they were doing. The man kept his hands folded in his lap, but somehow that scared Sam more.

“Mind if I play it?” the man asked. “I used to play; my mom bought me one when I was little.”

Sam handed him the bagpipes, and his grimy fingers grazed their wrist. Sam couldn’t imagine telling their boss that they let a strange homeless man play the museum’s bagpipes. They didn’t care at the moment, as long as the man didn’t try to touch them.

The man played pretty well. Better than Sam expected. Amazing, even. They played a jumpy dance tune for nearly five minutes, his hands squeezing the fabric and adjusting the pipes as he went. It seemed like he may go on forever, which Sam may not have minded, but he suddenly succumbed to a coughing attack. The coughs were wet, violent.

“Sorry,” he said, between hacks louder than gunshots. “Pneumonia, I think. Thank you, Ma’am. That took me back.” He was smiling with smelly teeth. “See you around.”

The man left. Played a beautiful song and left. Sam made it back to the museum and even had time to arrange the bagpipes behind the display glass. In the end, though it was scary, they were glad they had met the Bagpipe Man. Now, in the halls of sculptures and crowns, even the useless modern bagpipes in the “Instruments of Yore” had a bit of history to them.

A to M: Museum

As the plane lifted off the runway, James McClane latched onto the arm rest with one hand and his wife’s hand with the other. She smiled and adjusted her fingers so her wedding ring wasn’t pressing on her uncomfortably. Their son Michael reached over her lap and caught his father’s eye.

“Dad, you okay?” he asked gaily.

“Shut up, Michael,” James said through his teeth, then the plane dipped and he squeezed Betty’s hand even tighter.

Soon the plane leveled out, and James could enjoy the tops of clouds for the first time. The plane wasn’t as bad as he’d thought. Betty and Michael had both been on trips to Florida and California before, but James never had, always having to stay on the farm. Seeing the New York University was something James couldn’t pass up though, not now that his son was chosen to go. Besides, he had always wanted to see New York, especially the museum.

As James watched the clouds out his little porthole, he could see in their shapes the museum his father took him to long ago. Mary liked the little diorama people, and his mother liked the animals. James liked it all. He was looking forward to going to one again. He wondered how the New York museum would be different.

New York was like nothing James had ever seen before. His heart leapt into his chest whenever Michael left his side, even to throw a bit of paper in a trash bin. James relied on Betty to navigate, even though she swore she had only visited the place once as a little girl and didn’t remember much. The buildings were taller than James could ever imagine a building being. They saw the place they show on television during New Year’s. It looked smaller in real life. They passed flashy billboards and huge American flags and people of every shape and color, speaking languages James couldn’t even identify.

James felt small. Surrounded by his amber waves of grain he felt big, the tallest thing for miles, the ruler of his farmland kingdom. Here, in his nicest jeans, he felt like a grain of rice.

The week-long trip before school started at the university was both the shortest and longest of James’ life. Betty led them across the world, from the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building to Central Park, places James had seen on television and overheard about at the diner, places he felt a nervous star-struck feeling being near. They shelled out to see a show, why not? And all the color, sound, and music was so much James expected it to leak out of the auditorium.

Was this not America? Did the family truck not pale in comparison to brilliant yellow taxis, worming subways and double-decker tour buses? What was their ramshackle house with only one sink, compared to glimmering towers stretching higher than the sun? Was not every work song improved upon by Broadway? Was not their town comprised of less than fifty last names like a loaf of bread compared to New York’s so-called melting pot?

The longer they stayed in New York, the more cheated James felt. His mother had taught him to appreciate his amber waves of grain, but never told him the secret wonder of a city. Perhaps she was too dull to know. No…she had to have known. She was selfish, keeping him close, depriving him of shining seas and purple mountains.

The day before last was to be spent in the museum. James had been successful at keeping his mulling to himself all day, letting his family enjoy their week in paradise. At night in their hotel room he would stroke the silken curtains and look out at the city, heat tumbling in his stomach from a mixture of envy and whiskey. The lights outshone the stars. Was this not a marvel to be proud of? Was this not America?

He would then think of Michael, who would soon make a home among the starlike lights and world-famous streets. His own marvel.

The museum was wonderful, filled with sacredness and huge, quiet halls. Dinosaurs, important papers, dioramas, stuffed animals, paintings, jewelry. This place had it all.

The three of them stopped before a beautiful golden crown, propped on a red velvet pillow behind a box of glass. It was polished so it was shiny and dark, nearly black, and the gemstones shone far brighter than Betty’s wedding ring.

James, tears brimming, suddenly put one arm around Michael, his other arm around Betty. “I’m so proud of you, Michael, getting into this school,” James whispered to the crown. “God, I wish at your age I was as smart as you are.”

My Philosophical Musings over Egyptian Jewelry

Today I went to an art museum! It was free with my college ID so I went with a couple of friends. I have only gone to a few art museums in my life, but not out of my own disinterest–rather out of others’ disinterest. I was very excited, especially because of the size of the museum we were going to.

I felt entirely humbled by the age of some of the pieces there, specifically the jewelry. I don’t know much about fashion or jewelry, but some of the pieces, specifically from the ancient Egypt section (some as old as 3000 BCE), were both stunning and ordinary at the same time. Meaning, while beautiful, they seemed just like a necklace a person of today would wear. The stones were bright colors, smoothly sanded and strung on thin string. The beads were intricately carved and the rings had designs I’ve seen at Claire’s–like a snake that wraps around the finger. The necklaces and other bits of jewelry were ancient, but seemed no different from the jewelry of today.

It made me think about how similar and yet how different humans are from one another. While we have enjoyed putting strings of pretty beads around our necks for millennia, and while similar practices have been found in most if not all cultures worldwide, if an ancient Egyptian met a person of today it would be as if they were meeting an alien.

Likewise, if we were to encounter a person from fifty years ago it would be incredibly difficult to communicate. Cultures change so quickly. I am not who I was ten years ago, and in ten years I will be different still, but I will wear necklaces. And I will still like to write, and like music. Some fundamentals won’t change. But maybe I won’t like bananas anymore, and start liking tomatoes.

I think it’s both important to find out what these core values are in ourselves. If we can figure out what about us will (likely) never change, we can get closer to who we really are, beneath all the fluff and stuff. That is, if there is something deeper beneath the fluff and stuff. That is, assuming the core doesn’t change as well.

As I was looking at the beautiful necklaces and trying to imagine how the weight would feel on my shoulders, I found I spent a lot of time wondering about the necklace’s history, specifically it’s past owners. Who were they? Were they women or men? Were they rulers or peasants? And the necklace itself, did it spend years in a box, in an attic? Did it spend some years worn lovingly every day, only to be lost between couch cushions and found years later?

The only permanent things about the necklace are also the only things we know about it: its age, its origin, and the color of its beads. I wonder if the same is true for me.