Wishing For Her Hands To Be Bitten

, , , , , , | Right | April 19, 2018

When I was 16 years old, I worked in a children’s museum where I was in charge of the aquarium section. We had a “touch tank” where people could feel sea life. Because the animals are delicate, we had a strict policy that people could only touch animals I had put on trays at the edge of the tanks. Despite this policy, (and numerous prominent signs stating the policy) people would routinely stick their hands in the parts of the tank that were off limits.

One day, a woman came in and proceeded to repeatedly stick her hands into the tank, despite my requests. Finally, I forcefully said, “Ma’am, please don’t stick your hands into that part of the tank, as it distresses the animals.” She pulled her hands out, flicked water in my face, said, “You just need to chill,” and stomped off, cursing about “little s***s who think they know everything.”

The Wheels Of Change

, , , , , | Right | April 12, 2018

(I am a museum curator at a transport museum. I’m teaching a class of six-year-olds and have asked them to take a close look at the wheels on one of our buses. As I move around checking they can all reach one, a little girl stops me with a worried expression.)

Girl: “[Boy] says girls can’t touch wheels; he says we aren’t allowed.”

Me: “Oh, really? Where’s [Boy]?”

(The other children all turn and look at one boy.)

Me: “If girls can’t touch the buses, why do you think there is a woman running the whole place? I even drive the tractors! Don’t forget: girls can do anything. Now, everyone, have a good look at those wheels.”

Girl: “Wow!”

Liquid Science

, , , | Right | April 11, 2018

(I am in upper management at a small science center in rural Washington. A few years ago, we launched a series of monthly “Pub Science” events, a format that had seen popular success in science centers and museums across the world. Basically, you bring a local scientist to a bar to give a short talk followed by a long Q&A while people are drinking. Our location is a bar whose logo has been, since 1974, a cartoon baby holding a bottle of whiskey with a nipple on top. About six months into the program, I get a call from the front desk that there’s a woman on the line who is very angry about Pub Science. I sigh and tell them to send the call back to me.)

Me: “Hi, I heard there was a problem? What can I do to help?”

Woman: “Why are you trying to get children to drink alcohol?”

(I am completely mystified by this statement.)

Me: “I’m sorry, what?”

Woman: “I saw a picture on Facebook for this thing called ‘Pub Science’! You’re a children’s museum! Why are you trying to get kids to come to bars and get drunk?”

Me: “I’m sorry, ma’am. The Pub Science program is actually intended for adults only.”

Woman: “But you’re a children’s museum!”

Me: “Well, we do like to offer programming that is interesting and informative to people across their lifetimes. We like to say that our age range is from 8 to 108.”

Woman: “Then, why was there a picture of a baby drinking alcohol?”

(It dawns on me what she’s talking about. Being that the bar has had that logo for 40 years, nobody in our organization or theirs has thought anything of it.)

Me: “I absolutely understand your concern, ma’am, and to be honest, that hadn’t even occurred to us. The bar’s had that logo since the 70s, so I guess we just took it for granted.”

Woman: “You’re going to encourage children to drink! Drinking is a sin, and I won’t have a children’s museum pushing it on my grandkids!”

Me: “I’m really sorry that’s the impression you’re getting, ma’am. Again, Pub Science is for people 21 and over only. I will talk to the bar, though, and see if they mind us removing their logo from future advertisements.”

(She grumbles under her breath. I think we’re done, but then she gets her second wind.)

Woman: “Why are you bribing people with booze to learn science?”

Me: “Come again?”

Woman: “It’s sinful what you’re doing! You’re trying to get people to like science by bribing them with alcohol!”

Me: “Well, ma’am, we see it more as doing outreach to the types of places people already are. Instead of asking them to come to us, we’ll come to them with a free event. Many adults enjoy spending time in pubs and bars, and this model has been successful across the country, so we just thought we’d adapt it.”

(The woman splutters and grumbles for a minute before apparently finding another reason to remain angry.)

Woman: “That thing you said about teaching science to people over 21?”

Me: “Yes, it’s a core tenet of our educational mission.”

Woman: “Well, I just don’t agree with that, mister! I might just cancel the membership I have for my grandkids!”

(It was clear that she just wanted to be angry about something. We went around in a few more circles, I mentioned again removing the logo from our ads, and she seemed to be more or less placated and eventually hung up. I made the decision not to actually change anything, because we couldn’t decide programming or policy based on angry grandmas. Just as I suspected, I never heard from her again.)

There Was No Elephant In The Room

, , , , , , | Related | March 31, 2018

My family went to visit a museum devoted to the American Civil War. One of their features is a 360-degree movie reenactment of Union soldiers heading to and experiencing their first battle. The movie is entitled, “Seeing the Elephant,” after a contemporary metaphor that war, like an elephant, is something you have to see to really understand; in other words it is beyond description.

After the lights came back on, my five-year-old cried loudly, “But there was no elephant!”

Several other patrons hid their smiles and kindly agreed with her that, yes, the lack of elephants was certainly disappointing.

It Doesn’t Take A Rocket Scientist To Work Here… But It Helps

, , , , , | Working | March 26, 2018

(I, along with another new staff member, have just begun a job at the museum of a well-known institute of technology in Massachusetts that has numbered buildings. The manager is showing us how to use the POS system on the cash register, which we will need to sell admission tickets to museum visitors.)

Manager: *showing basic features* “…and when you’re ready to process the payment, you hit the ‘payment’ button. It’s a cash register, not rocket science.”

Me: “What building is rocket science in?”

Manager: *without missing a beat* “Building 17.”

Other New Hire: “How about brain surgery?”

Manager: “Neuroscience is Building 46.”

Me: “Nanotechnology?”

(This went on for a few more rounds and the manager knew the campus like the back of his hand. Working at a place that genuinely had rocket science took the old saying to a whole new level!)

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