Riding the Metro, one guy is holding his credit card out at arm’s length and loudly reading off the number by phone to a sales clerk. He’s either buying a credenza or a pizza, I missed that part. Another shall we say portly gentleman with an iPod is way too into what I guess is Blues Traveler. Bobbing head, biting lower lip, eyes closed. He sort of looks like the Blues Traveler guy. A family of four tries to squeeze in, but what, with all those bags it’s not happening and the mother is hacked. Oh she is pissed. It’s my hunch she predicted this outcome only moments earlier to a non-listening husband/father. The bespectacled kids in jeans shorts are eating Doritos. I didn’t know people still ate those.
Trying to put myself into this story, I’m shocked when someone recognizes me and says hello. It’s J. from the Archive Center. My anonymous Everyman bubble bursts. That makes me the guy who has conversations about work − going great; happy to be here; lots to do; no, I didn’t hear what Gallaghan said to Betzer − on the way home from it.
J. looks 20 years older than when I first saw him. I don’t mean that as a turn of phrase. They have you watch a video the first time you use the Archive Center. Makes sense. It explains how to request documents and make copies and what the archivists do and how they help and so on. “We like to think of ourselves as partners in the research process.” It’s the rules of the road, not too different from any first-day-on-the-job video.
Here’s what’s weird though: they haven’t updated this thing for some time, I’m thinking, well, maybe twenty years. And it’s all the same people still there. So I watch twenty-years-younger staffers on the intro tape, then turn to the door and walk on in to see, as if super-time-lapsed filming, the same twenty-years-older staffers standing right there. If I might offer an observation: they look older. As J. now does.
We’ve got a few stops still and he’s generously making small talk. I’m game, walking that line between speaking quietly in public and just mumbling. But I think maybe I’m just mumbling. It’s a Wednesday and he notes the glut of appointments in the Archives today, which is surprising since they have short hours on Wednesdays, 10 to 2. “Soon as you get going, you’ve gotta shut it down!” I venture that people sign up for that day on purpose, which, sure, strikes J. as counter-intuitive. But my theory: sometimes it’s boring in there, so if you sign up for Wednesday you can bury your nose in the documents and then blame the Center for having to leave early, muttering dam darn darn when all the while you’re probably daydreaming about possible Gallaghan-Betzer tension.
I have to say, this isn’t the case with me, which I don’t know if that’s fortunate or unfortunate; I’m actually pretty anxious that I don’t have enough time to work through the collections in the time I have. But I’ve been there, I’ve been three hours into a day in a Special Collections library deciphering horrible 19th century handwriting and bored beyond belief (I’m looking at you Library of Congress), wondering what the hell I’m doing there and why I didn’t ever send in that crackerjack Simpsons script back in the mid-90s when I had the chance to carve out a different career.
Curious then as I’m talking to J., because I can’t help but daydream about the intro video while we’re sitting there. Trying to look like I’m paying attention, instead I’m squinting to square this guy with his twenty-years-younger version. My problem is that I can’t figure out if it’s exactly what I’d expect at a museum or the opposite, the time lapse I mean. Because come on, they should have a finely tuned sense of time’s passage, spending their days documenting it.
This is a government institution, so first I’m thinking (daydreaming − we’re still on the train here) they have budget problems and can’t afford a new video. I asked someone about this and they said, not too worriedly, oh, maybe we should convert it to DVD. But if they ever get some funding, please, please don’t just copy it over to DVD and consider that an update, is what I’m thinking. You really need to re-shoot the whole thing. I’m no filmmaker, but I’ve seen loads of DVD bonus features so I think I have pretty good grasp on how it goes. Mostly, you’ll need better lighting. Always with the lighting. China balls? China lights, right? China something. Yes, the footage they currently have of Charlie Chaplin and his kids on his front sidewalk is fetching, but maybe our net-savvy society is pretty familiar with old video footage.
There’s other stuff too, that’s why I can’t settle this ‘exactly what I’d expect at a museum or the opposite’ thing. Like, behind the scenes down on LL (Don’t Call It A Comeback) the halls are lined with framed posters from old exhibits − the Bicentennial, Sound in the 19th Century!, Endangered Species − and they’re all askew. Askew art! It’s not right. It just is not right. Aren’t they the paragons not only of a finely tuned sense of time’s passage but of perfectly level paintings out there in the public part of the museums? Maybe more over at the Art museum, but still, this digs at me every day.
It’s not like I can go in and straighten them each time I walk by. I think the public demands perpendicularity and I think we insiders should too. At the end of the hall of old framed posters, for no discernible reason, there’s this Qantas Airlines poster in the mix, with a Koala bear in sunglasses sitting on one of those movie director’s chairs. Maybe he’s re-shooting the intro video. Maybe the new version will have a scene about the time this guy Betzer ordered three boxes of Thin Mints but then only paid for two.