Mar 232004

We spent the weekend in Philadelphia to meet some folks from online at the Mütter Museum. Now here’s a fun place everyone should see. Forget Constitution Hall or the Liberty Bell; this place has people parts!

Now, to clarify, the Mütter isn’t a freakshow or anything. It’s a resource for medical students so that they can study symptoms of diseases and abnormalities that are rare or otherwise difficult to find examples of. Naturally the curators of the Mütter take this responsibility very seriously; we couldn’t find a single fetus-in-a-jar keychain in the gift shop. The exhibits are presented tastefully and factually, with no tabloid-style headlines to jazz them up.

I, however, am not a medical student, so I didn’t need to feel like I had to be all sombre and discreet about ogling the oddities. I goggled at the model tuberculosis-covered penis, went “ewwww” over the carbuncle that made an open sore an inch deep into another model’s back, and asked my mate if a frostbitten hand would really go all black and rotten from severe frostbite.

There were wonders galore to ooh and ahh over. A wall o’ skulls, demonstrating practically every shape, size, and configuration of crania imaginable. The Soap Lady, whose body fat after death turned into soap-like adipocere. Tiny fetal skeletons of conjoined twins that weren’t viable—and with some of ’em all you had to do was look at them to see why. Skeletons contrasting the tallest and the shortest: one over seven feet tall, one only three feet. Apparently the short one was the skeleton of a prostitute; one of my companions wondered aloud whether she had been the cheapest one in the brothel, or the most expensive.

And of course, there was the giant colon. This overachieving intestine simply grew to an abnormally large size, a situation which caused its uncomfortable owner to look like a cartoon caricature. Photos of the victim while alive showed a man with stick-thin arms and legs and a huge, distended abdomen—as well it might be, in order to house that monstrosity. The poor fellow suffered constipation all his life, an effect of the over-large bowel which was ultimately the end of him. As someone whose colon is often irritable, I sympathized deeply with this man’s plight.

Far too much fun stuff to be listed. After the museum trip we all piled into cars to search out more activities.

At this point a strange thing happened, or rather continued to happen. It seems that in my dotage I’m developing a bit of claustrophobia; I spent most of the flight up with my nose pressed to the window of the plane so I wouldn’t feel so penned in. (This made me a less-than-stellar travelling companion for my mate.) And I had an exciting rerun of the feeling while we were driving through downtown Philadelphia; something about the narrow streets and the stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper traffic got me increasingly freaked out until I was compelled to climb out of the car at a stop light. My mate got out with me, and while our friend drove the car on to find a parking place we headed for what we believed to be the rendezvous point.

Alas, it was not to be. We wandered around within the area we had understood to be the rendezvous, but were unable to find the rest of our party. Unfortunately I had lacked the foresight to give or get cell phone numbers, so we had no way to contact them and play warmer/colder. Eventually we decided that wherever the original meeting point was, they
had undoubtedly moved on by now, so we went to a sushi bar for lunch and wandered around Rittenhouse Square gawking at the sights.

Our last day in Philadelphia, we decided to go visit the Liberty Bell. We stood in line for about twenty minutes to get through the security checkpoint, speculating that if a terrorist wanted a target that packed a great number of people into one place, he could pick few better than a
security checkpoint. Finally we got to go wander through the exhibit, reading the plaques and ringing tiny scale-model bells. I had my mate attempt a photograph of me next to the bell with the disposable camera that has been in my purse since time began.

Just before we left, a well-dressed Chinese gentleman intercepted us and managed to convey that he wanted to pose before the bell next to my mate. He handed me his super-nice camera and pantomimed which button to press; after the first attempt he had to coach me a bit in mime until I understood that I had to hold the button down for a moment to engage the shutter. Eventually we were successful, he thanked us and we all went on our way. I don’t know why he wanted a picture with my husband, unless it was just the novelty of a tall, red-headed man that appealed to him. The camera he handed me was probably worth several thousand dollars. I thought that was sweetly trusting of him, to hand his expensive camera over to a strange foreign chick like that. Particularly one who had to be shown how to push the damn button right.

It’s strange to think that somewhere in China, there will soon be a family I will never meet looking at pictures of my husband.

 Posted by at 4:42 pm

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