Defiance in the VIP Room of The Children’s Museum (With Fran Lebowitz)

Fran Lebowitz

Sunday. The day before New Year’s eve.  The boy goes down for a nap and I take Evangeline to The Children’s Museum on West 83rd Street. There is a line down the block. A doorman. It’s like a nightclub for kids. It’s freezing but we wait it out. And then we are in, coats checked, and are swept up in a maelstrom of youth, mostly happy, spread out over four floors.

But after about twenty minutes and two floors Evangeline announces, “Daddy, the Children’s Museum is not as fun as I remembered.”

Its cadence reminds me of something I once said to Fran Lebowitz. We were sitting in The Left Bank, a restaurant on Madison Avenue. I had gone there a lot as a kid. It was one of those special places my mother would sometimes take me.

“I recall this restaurant being darker and more French,” I said when we took our seats.

“When you’re younger everything is darker and more French,” she said.

Now I am tempted to tell my daughter, “When you are younger, everything is darker and more French.”

But that would not have worked. So I said, “Oh, come on,”  in an irritated tone of voice, irritation being the default mode of people who are not able to summon their inner Fran Lebowitz, for whom irritation is a muse.

I was perturbed. And yet, no need to wait for the new year to begin my resolution: Do not get upset! Do not get angry! Most of all, do not negotiate!

My daughter, now only a month away from turning six, can really makes sense sometimes, if you start negotiating. It’s terrible.

I changed tone. We changed floors. I situated her at the arts and crafts spot and she got lost in thought while playing with sand. Then we gave the first floor another shot. That’s the floor where they try and educate the youth on healthy eating through a variety of fantastically interactive projects. Among them, the poop exhibit.

It was here, back on the first floor, that it ocurred to me how much this multi-floored scene reminded me of the nightclubs of my youth, Area and especially Danceteria.

This was espcially true of the digestive tract exhibit, hereby to be known as The Poop Room.  To get there you crawl into an Albanian bunker like space on your hands and knees. It’s made of red plastic,  has a red carpet carpet on the ground, and is lit with red light. It’s all red to because you are supposed to be inside a body.

Right away you are hit with an audio video presentation about how digestions works. A camera with a little miner’s pith helmet and light makes its way South.  It is not animated.  It is real. It is disgusting. Also funny.

We hear loud sounds pertinent to each space–the esophagus, the stomach, the intestines. We here a narrator explain that some people are “tickled or embarrassed” by these sounds. The little bunker fills with the sounds of farting. On the screen comes a subtitle: “Farting.”  That it is written onscreen seems to imply that if you are old enough to actually read the word you are old enough to be amused without feeling compelled to run around shouting the word.

Then you crawl through a tunnel and end up in another Albanian bunker, this one populated by soft brown stalagmites that crowd you from floor to ceiling. These are the poos. A kind of Poo Forest.

After much prodding and harassment from my daughter, I get in there, scrunched and twisted and contorted, and  find it comfortable. Even restful. The madness and din of the first floor of the Children’s Museum is now at a pleasant remove.

My daughter laughed and bounced around. I lay there, contorted but relaxed. Sometimes other kids came crawling through, feigning being grossed out but in a good mood. Some were deliriously happy. The Albanian bunker had little holes here and there through which parents could peer to see what was going on.

After a while I became aware that it might seem, from the point of view of a parent peering into the poo forest, a bit strange that a grown man was camped out there, all pretzeled up, with a phone.

Aaron appeared around the time. Maybe four years old. And another wild kid, like my daughter. He  started flopping around amidst the soft poo forest, writhing around with my daughter. Then his father’s face appeared in the skylight.

“Aaron. Aaron?” said his father. Aaron did not pay him any attention.

“Aaron! Come on out of there.”

I could see the father’s face. I watched his worried eyes pause over my presence. Now his voice became urgent.

“Aaron, come on! Get out of there!”

Aaron was now in an ecstasy of defiance. My daughter, without actually talking to him,  joined him in this.

It was funny, but also awkward. I had to take sides.

“Aaron,” I said. “Your dad wants you to get out.”

“Aaron! Aaron get out here right now!” yelled his dad. To say he was panicking would be overstating the matter. But he was agitated.

“Aaron you should listen to your father,” I said.

But there was only so much I could do. The last thing I was going to do, unasked,  was physically eject the kid from the poo room.

Meanwhile for the dad to squirm in there himself would have been a major undertaking. A humiliation. So there was a stalemate.

Aaron really played it out. In the end, he left, but a triumph had been achieved. By then I had, through some miracle of cellular connection, received a text that the wife and little boy had arrived. I knew I should get out and find them. I had been in there for something like ten minutes. But I was happy. In haste I wrote back, “I’m in the poo.”

The text did not go through. I lay there a few minutes and, surprisingly, and also not, my son found me on his own a few minutes later, drawn to the special secrets of the Poo room and its exclusive labyrinth.

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