weird-ass visitors to the lawrence hall of science, january edition


1. Elephants and Continents

Last Sunday, December 29, I was working at the Front Desk of a local science museum. As has become the custom here at our museum, a guy didn't show up for work monitoring the Elephant exhibit, so I went back to relieve his co-worker for her lunch break. I told one story, and then hung around for questions. Normally there are some children, particularly boys aged 4-6, that have a lot to get off their chests about elephants, or lions, or that they really did know there was a giraffe in the bag but they just didn't say it and they knew it in their minds. Today, however, an adult had a burning question.

He came up to me with a worried expression. "Hey, do you work here?" he asked. When I told him I did, he got right down to business.

"OK. I heard this from someone, and I want to know if it's true. I heard that African elephants have ears shaped like Africa, and Indian elephants have ears shaped like India. You know, because of where they're from. Is that true?"

No, I told him.

"They kinda look like the continent."

I said it didn't seem to make sense, this idea that the ear shape was due to the continent the elephants lived on.

"Well, OK, maybe not. Hey, are Asian elephants smarter than African elephants?"

I was tempted to tell him that Asian elephants were better at math, but that the SAT was specially biased against African elephants. I refrained. Then he told me about a circus elephant that went mad. And another elephant in a zoo that attacked a zookeeper once.

I was telling him about how much food elephants consumed on an average day when the man's young son approached. "OK, OK, you told us enough!" he shouted, pulling at his father's arm. It actually hurt my feelings a little.

2. Sweatpants and peanut butter cups

A few weeks ago, one of our many employees named Sally approached me and asked if we had information on volunteering at the Hall. A few minutes later, she returned, this time requesting employment information on behalf of a visitor.

I thought little of it until half an hour later, when I went to check the doors at closing time. I found Sally looking vaguely terrified, trapped in conversation with an enormous woman clutching a can of root beer and a bag of Reese's peanut butter cups. The woman's eye twitched as she rambled on about her love of elephants and children, and her desire to get a job where she could have kids do arts and crafts. Every 45 seconds or so, she unwrapped another peanut butter cup and tossed it into her mouth, without a pause.

I tried to explain the hiring process for museum employment, and gently guide her towards the exit, but she would have none of that. She became very agitated when I told her that many jobs were designated for Cal students, spraying root beer and flecks of chocolate out of the side of her mouth. The rage faded quickly, and she spent the next few minutes outlining her plan for a storytelling station in the shape of an elephant that she would build and maintain near the lobby. Repeatedly, she affirmed her fervent love for elephants, and her dismay that the exhibit would close in early January.

After ten minutes, and 15-20 peanut butter cups, she was nearly out the door. I had turned to resume my sweep, when she let out a cry.

"Hey! Hey!"

I spun back to face her.

She pointed to my khaki pants. "Do you have to wear those to work here? Because, I have a little bit of a tummy," she said, chuckling. "It'd be ok if I wore sweatpants sometimes, right?"

I nodded weakly, and ushered her through the door. According to my co-worker, she waved at the wooly mammoth in the lobby for a few minutes before finally shuffling away.

3. Thaumatropes for Christ

At the Idea Lab , visitors are given the opportunity to try out a variety of science-related activities, from making tops out of plastic lids, to using tangrams, to making tiny helicopters out of paper. One such activity, called thaumatropes, involves drawing on two index cards, then taping them together with a straw in between. When spun, the two pictures seem to combine and become one image. For example, one display model has a goldish on one side, and an empty fishbowl on the other. Spin it, and the fish is inside the bowl. It works due to a phenomenon called "persistence of vision" where your brain retains an after-image temporarily - basically the same effect that make flip books work.

On Wednesday, there was a group visit from the Valley Christian School. At the Ideal Lab, one instructor made a thaumatrope that had "I God" on one side, and a large heart on the other. She was showing her creation to whoever would pay attention, and loudly exclaiming that she'd found the perfect low-cost Sunday School activity. When the school group was leaving, the teacher was clutching another one which appeared at a glance to have Jesus on one side, and a cross on the other. Spin the thaumatrope and see the crucifixion! The only way that could be topped is if Jonathan Edwards himself came to the museum, drew sinners on one card, and the open hand of an angry God on the other.


you really should have been sitting next to her as she was crucifying her god, and you could be peacefully drawing a penis on one card and...

elipses due to the fact that I am willing to write "penis" on your page but not, for some reason, "vagina." unless it's in quotes.

What about a thaumatrope with the words "What would Jesus drive?" at the bottom of one side and a happy-go-lucky depiction of Jesus in a Ford Expedition on the other? Dammit, I thought I was gonna get the first comment!

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This page contains a single entry by Sean Keane published on January 9, 2003 3:33 PM.

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