Way back in October, on the opening day of our elephant exhibit, a couple came in with their two-year-old son. To honor the pachyderms, the little boy was wearing a miniature elephant costume, complete with ears and trunk. It was so cute that visitors and employees alike were actually taking pictures next to the little boy, as if he were part of the exhibit itself. When college-age female staffers looked at the elephant boy, you could actually hear their biological clocks begin to tick. Though I am no elephant, I will not soon forget the boy and his cuteness.
Sunday was the very last day for our museum's exhibit on elephants. On Saturday, a middle-aged elephant enthusiast came in. He was also dressed in a handmade elephant garment. He had a floppy hat with elephant ears, a gray jacket with attached tail, and stuffed elephants dangling from his belt. Gray greasepaint covered his face and arms.
Probably, this guy was 40, 45 years old. He came in at 11:30 am, and had to be shooed out ten minutes after the museum closed, at 5 pm. He asked about what museums the elephant exhibit was moving to next, in hopes of following it, like some kind of perverse pachyderm verison of a Deadhead.
Our museum often hires experts in a field to come into the museum. Costumed adults are not an uncommon sight, given the frequency of guest lectures and small theatrical events. Just in the past month, we have had jugglers on stilts, dancers in traditional South Asian costumes, and clowns in full makeup. Still, by some primitive instinct, even the smallest children knew that this man was not to be approached. Nobody took pictures of him. No one even made eye contact.
I wonder what dark path led this man to become what he is today. I imagine long rides on the school bus, sitting alone reading Kipling, the Just So Stories his only comfort from the other children's disdain. Home alone after school, eating peanuts and watching "Dumbo" over and over, weeping uncontrollably during the "Baby of Mine" song. Later in life, lonely strolls around the zoo, alternately frightening and confusing female visitors with awkward double entendres about trunks. Finally one day deciding to sew a tail on his favorite gray jacket, "just to see how it would look in the mirror."
He's had sex in that elephant outfit. You know, I know it, and Gunther Gebel-Williams probably knew it, too.
There's an elementary school right down the road from where I coached this past summer. Inevitably, when the school makes field trips the the museum, I see some of my kids. "Adair" was a little girl who had a mild speech impediment and a habit of winking her left eye constantly. I called her "Popeye," which usually led to her tugging my arm and saying, "No, my name is Aday-oh!" One day, I winked at her when I said hello, which resulted in her slowly and painstakingly winking her right eye before replying.
She started the swim season as a "guppy," the group of kids that are interested in the swim team, but not really good enough to hang at the 6 & Under practice. Adair was pretty fast for a young'un, so she got promoted midseason. Once this happened, she ran around the pool asking complete strangers, "Do I look like a Mudskip-oh, oh a Six-and-Undoh?" Usually, she would even let them reply before exclaiming, "I'm a Six-and-Undoh now!!!"
Wednesday, Adair's class came in for a field trip. Right as my shift began, Adair came to the desk, needing a band-aid. At first, she froze speechlessly, which is a common phenomenon for children seeing adults in unfamiliar environments. I have seen kids become nearly catatonic upon meeting my mother, a preschool teacher, at Safeway. I think her students believe she lives at school, much like many of my swimmers think I live at the pool. It's the equivalent of seeing a dolphin walking down the street, or seeing Christian Slater in an art film; surprising, disorienting, and slightly scary.
So Adair stood there silently until I put the bandage on. She ignored my questions until I asked if she was still swimming. Then she exclaimed, "I didn't know you woked hee-oh, Sean!" and ran outside. A few minutes later she ran back to inform me that it was too cold to swim right now, and to remind me that she would indeed be a 6 & Undoh next summer as well. And, of course, to give me a hug.