The Museum of Jurassic Technology

or, What the Heck is Jurassic Tech?

If you want to get to Los Angeles from the Phoenix area, you get on the I-10 West and about five hours later (longer if you drive like a girl) you're there. I've taken this trip several times since I moved back to Arizona to visit my cousins Evelyn, John, Brett, and Danny, who all live in the area, and Partick was there most of last summer, and I love them and miss them and blah blah blah. But I'm not going to talk about them today, not when I can tell you about the museums. Here's the lowdown:

The Getty:
plan to spend the day, and be on the lookout for a well endowed Greek property marker (see left). The guards, who are all the same height and pear shape and vary only in hue, are snappish. "Six inch pointing distance," they say.

The Museum of Tolerance: a bummer, but it's good for you so go anyway.

The Huntington Library: a sort of miniature Getty. You can elude the guards for twenty to thirty minutes at closing time if you walk fast and don't flinch when they yell at you.

The Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA to its friends): I've only been to see the Van Gogh exhibit. You can find more eloquent descriptions of his work elsewhere, but I'll testify that you'd have to see the paintings in person to appreciate the intelligence with which they were created. If you do one day have the honor of seeing them, I hope you will not have had to stand for extended periods of time in three separate holding pens before being admitted into the exhibition hall with a heard of philistines. Their guards are also a pain in the neck.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology: After close to a year, I'm still mulling this one over.

I first heard about the MJT when I was in town to see Partick last July 4th weekend. He had read about it in one of the local periodicals and had heard David Bowie talk about it on TV. No other endorsement was needed for him, so Saturday afternoon we headed out to museum row and discovered the Museum of Jurassic Technology is nowhere near museum row, but in Little Pakistan. It isn't a museumesque building, either, but one of those sad houses that lost its yard to the widened road years ago, and which like every other house in Southern California, could use a fresh coat of paint. Casually driving past you wouldn't notice it al all. Casually walking past--well, whom am I trying to kid? Nobody reading this is going to casually walk past, though others seem to as we found out later. In any case, you will have to want to find it before you will, and even then it won't be easy.

We did want to see what was behind that ordinary brown door, so we pushed through it into a dark room. Cheap bookshelves with almost nothing on them demarked a sort of tiny lobby area, which was dimly illuminated by a lamp on a desk that sat just to the left of the door. Behind the desk sat a nondescript guy in a tee shirt who took our admission donation and claimed not to know anything about David Bowie's visit. Beyond him we were beckoned by a pompous make voice that said "ziggurats." The voice was narrating a slide show that did have a picture of a ziggurat in it, also pyramids and a Masonic temple or two. The theme seemed to be the history of the Museum in general, with the Museum of Jurassic Technology serving as either its apogee or punch line, depending on how you look at it I guess. The show ended with a fanfare so grotesquely at odds with what we could see of the tenebrous interior it trumpeted we felt giddy, as if looking straight down from the top of a skyscraper, and we rushed inside.

Typically, I like to move through museums at a fairly high rate of speed so I can see everything at least once and still have time to revisit my favorite spots a few times if I like. This technique works better in art museums than science types because in the latter you usually have to stop and read at least several sentences and up to a few paragraphs before you understand why a particular object has been chosen for display. In the Museum of Jurassic Technology, you can do all that reading and you will have no idea. For instance, in a room devoted to Folklore is a glass box with a man's shoe in it tipped up on a sort of easel. It's laces are undone. A card in the box explains that in some Eurasian cultures a groom's shoelaces are left undone so his virility (so to speak) will not be bound (so to speak) on his wedding night (so wait, that's right).

Now while I admit that this could be the highlight of a whole chapter in an Anthropology text, it would hardly rate as the lamest ever entry in a volume of Ripley's Believe it or Not!, and certainly wouldn't seem to merit its own glass box and neatly typed paragraph. And believe me, this was one of the more coherent entries. But before you get to thinking MJT's purpose is to make the Guinness Book of World Records in Niagara Falls look like the Smithsonian in comparison, consider some of the shoe's neighbors:

  • A diorama which depicted some guy's theories of time travel though the manipulation of certain natural harmonics, which was proceeding well enough in its own cockamaimie way until the last couple of steps--the penultimate of which was obscured by the darkness of a burned out light bulb (a common problem in the MJT), and the last of which was represented by a partially lit chamber with a plastic egg sitting on a white column, nestled in a bit of sand.

  • A box from which emanates the sound of barking. When you look through a peephole on the side of the box, you see a tiny desertscape with a coyote's head mounted on the right wall, and black and white film footage of a man tied to a straight backed chair, barking, projected against the "sky" on your left.

  • The history of trailer parks told with little tableaux and verses of scripture.

  • Three or four of those microsculptures that you have to look through a magnifying glass to see--like Snow White in the eye of a needle--plus a shrine to their creator. This part was actually pretty cool.

  • A multimedia presentation that detailed the discovery and alleged capture of a species of South American bat which emits vibrations not for echolocation, but to temporarily disrupt the solidity of objects in its path so it can fly right through them.

  • And much, much more.

Stink Ant

The museum population peaked at about ten while we were there, all with the same confounded look on their faces, all speaking in the same ardent whispers. The supercilious narration about the ziggurats was endlessly repeated, and was sometimes joined by the wharbly voice of a female singer from early in the century who had an entire room devoted to her legacy, which made the ambiance all the more uncanny. Partick and I were nonplused by what we had just seen and heard and went to the admission desk to get some satisfaction. The non-descript guy had been supplanted by an energetic young woman with blue hair who hovered over a young blond intern who wore glasses and a baffled expression, and who was later revealed to be Swedish. She was teaching him how to use the cash register.

"If you have any questions, just ask me," she told him. "And if you don't have an answer to a question, just say you don't know."

"We have questions," we said.

"Did that guy really think he could time travel or was it just some sort of a lark?" (me)
"Why do you have a box with a coyote's head and guy who barks in it?" (Partick)
"Are we supposed to buy that bat story?" (me)

"You know, I don't know!" she said merrily, then turned to her intern and pounced on this learning opportunity. "You see? Just tell them you don't know!"

The front door opened and we could see the non-descript man trying to persuade a dubious vagrant to come in and have a look around.

"'Jurassic'?" slurred the vagrant. "That's like dinosaurs, right?"
"Yes!" said the non-descript man.
"...but 'Technology' is like modern, right?"
"Yes!" said the non-descript man.

We looked again at the blue haired woman, and Partick said,

"Who made that barking box? Why was it made?"
"It is what it is," she replied.
"Were you here when David Bowie came?" said Partick.
"I heard about that just today! Somebody in back was talking about it."


Well, that cleared things up immeasurably. We bought little pins that had the museum logo on them, so the Swedish intern at least got something practical out of the exchange, and returned to the eerily normal looking museum exterior.

For the past eleven months, the Museum of Jurassic Technology has been my personal yardstick for the peculiar; but what is it? A con? A grand delusion? Performance art effortlessly, ineffably strange?

It is what it is.

From Vol. 8
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