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austin_dern

July 2017

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Jan. 11th, 2017

After the retirement celebration broke up we went back to the campus museum. This was in retrospect a mistake: it turned out there wasn't much scheduled for Sunday besides the museum being open, so we were cheating ourselves of the chance to do more stuff on campus. No guessing that at the time, though.

Earlham's Joseph Moore Museum isn't a large one. Much of its collection was inherited from Moore, one of the school's first teachers. He had your classic Victorian curios collection and left it to the school and the school has never been perfectly sure what to do with it past lose as little of it in a disastrous fire back in the 20s. Its most iconic piece is a giant beaver's skeleton, recovered from the time when giant beavers roamed what became Indiana. (The news report about the fire put the saving of the giant beaver in the subhead.) The museum's got other impressive fossils, but that's the one that captures people's imaginations.

In the museum I looked up, and up, and up further at a giant creature standing even taller than the mammoth skeleton and thinking of how ``giant'' seems like an understatement for this giant beaver. And then realized that I was looking at the wrong thing. This was the giant sloth. The giant beaver was gigantic, mind you, probably around the size of an ocelot. I just spoiled myself by looking at the wrong thing first. Also, good grief but giant sloths! You know?

Also an eccentric piece of the museum's collection is the Egyptian Mummy. It was purchased by the college's then-president in 1889. He believed it to be the mummy of an ancient Egyptian king, found in a tomb in ``the Fayum'' about 75 miles south of Cairo. Studies using X-ray technologies in 1979 revealed that the mummy was actually that of a 20-to-22-year-old woman. Also the hieroglyphs on her coffin said her name was Ta'an, meaning ``beautiful one'', and that she was the daughter of a priest. Possibly nobody thought to check the label before 1979.

Small place. Quirky place. Place with inexplicable bits. It feels like the school, so far as I understood it.

The museum closed and we wandered around campus a while, taking in the late afternoon. And then went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. That would be in a restaurant somewhere downtown and it took some luck for us to find it.

Finding the lot was easy enough. The restaurant was in the warehouse district, which is going through that transition from ``warehouse district'' to ``trendy restaurants in warehouse spaces district''. In particular the classes having their 10-year and 20-year reunions were having their event in a bar/restaurant housed in the fourth floor of a really huge warehouse. one that you could get, from the parking lot, by walking up the fire escape. It feels terribly precarious walking up, even when you're not particularly afraid of heights. Also the restaurant occupied a tiny part of the floor, and we were on the far side from that, so we had a long walk through the slender marked space and past abandoned or under-renovation floor space.

We settled at a table with people we didn't know, but who thought they kind of recognized [livejournal.com profile] bunny_hugger's name, possibly from the newspaper. Some of them seemed vaguely familiar, possibly from the student radio. One person at our table, a charming fellow, turned out to be an actor whom we'd learn later had a pretty solid reputation and a string of respectable performances and high expectations for his career. He died about two weeks after. I think it was a heart attack.

That wasn't anything we could have suspected then. We had plenty of time to talk, and eat (though the organizers forgot that it's possible to have non-boring vegetarian options). The actual alumni gathered for a group photograph, my chance to stand up and tug the tablecloth a foot to the side and send half-empty glasses of water to the floor. It wasn't my smoothest moment.

At the night's end we decided not to take the fire escape back down. That was just too crazy. We would take the elevator instead. That was crazy. It was a warehouse, industrial elevator. The kind without doors. The shaft had collapsible gates but you could just peer over the end and signal for the operator to bring the cab to your level. Just like you'd see in, like, a silent movie where the likeable star ends up dangling six storeys above traffic. Wild.

We did get to peer into the windows of other trendy-warehouse-district-restaurants and what we supposed were other classes yet getting their dinners. They seemed busier and more crowded, but they might have started later, and even if they hadn't, isn't that how other group's parties always seem?

Trivia: The Massachusetts towns of West Boylston and Clinton were sunk under the Wachusett Reservoir to provide water for Boston in the early 20th century. Source: Down To Earth: Nature's Role In American History, Ted Steinberg.

Currently Reading: Giants In The Mist, Chad Oliver. Set a bunch of conditioned amnesiacs on an alien but colonizable world in the hope of growing a new society free of the mistakes of the old? There's no way that plan can go atrociously wrong! (Well, the experimenters were looking for novelty and accepted their new society would be screwed up, they just hoped in different ways. Still.)

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