Saturday, September 22, 2007

Modern Jackass

My favorite radio show is This American Life; my favorite episode of TAL, of all time, is a segment called "Modern Jackass." You can listen to it on your own -- it is the opening segment of the July 2005 show linked here. Listen to the whole thing if you want, especially if you have never heard TAL before.

Once you have an understanding of Modern Jackass, you can appreciate the week I just spent trolling through museums unfortunately close to people who visit museums in order to spew jackass at docents.

Come with us to Fruitlands (I fondly refer to it as the Museum of Failed Utopias). The collections are displayed in a neighborhood of outbuildings on some beautiful property in Shirley, MA. To protect the collections, a series of Yankee ladies are also installed, and they delight (delight!) in telling the visitors what they know.

Unfortunately, so do the visitors.

So let's call this couple David and Randall. I have made the names up entirely. David looks exactly like this cartoon except his sunglasses are AMBER and have that Centerfielder aerodynamic shape to them. If you are picturing Ali G, you are almost there. Randall is arm candy, and a foreigner, who is learning America history the Modern Jackass way.

We first encountered them in the Shaker House, where David interrupts our guide several times to demonstrate various ways he does not know the Bible or the basics of christianity. Real transcript:

Sarah the docent: "I just love the man's name: Shadrach Ireland."
David: Shadrach Abednego?
Sarah: No, Shadrach Ireland
David: What is that from? Shadrach Abednego?
My Sister and I: the Bible. (ok, we sort of italicized it, so "You Ass" could be heard.)
David: Where is that in the Bible?
We: Daniel. (we refuse to look at him, and just smile at the docent, who has now completely lost her train of thought)

Fast forward through several other asinine moments of David naming other towns in New York he has heard of because he has not heard of Niskayuna. ("Is that near Albany? Utica? Syracuse?")

Sarah begins talking about the Shakers' precept of celibacy, which is easy to understand if you let her explain the life of Ann Lee, but hard to understand if you are saying, "But that's basic Old Testament, be fruitful and multiply. Isn't that what fruitlands was all about?"

No, but thanking you for reading up to Chapter 8.

Later, we could hear him pointing out to his companion, "This is a Shaker chair" and reading him a map of New England. We went over to a computer and blasted some Shaker music just to drown him out.

They were everywhere we went. It was so drastic my sister ducked into an off-limits room just to escape them. Apparently, some wicker baskets were in danger, based on the way we were shoo'd away.

They were in front of us on the route. Behind us was a larger party -- 2 middle-aged couples and someone's miserable teenage children. One of the couples had recently purchased an old home, and were using this opportunity to find out how one treated wide-plank floors, and what would "authentically" line a chimney. The woman in the other couple recognized someone else on the tour who didn't recognize her, and that was just awkward for everyone. In the art gallery, the man with the floors (who had already smacked his too-tall forehead on the door of the Shaker House) read the name of the paintings and agreed with them, like this: "Mt Lafayette. Yep, yep, that's Lafayette."

I pulled out my "things to do in retirement" list and scratched off "volunteer at museums."

1 comment:

  1. I loved Modern Jackass on TAL. I had my parents and sister listen to it each time I could when it was on KCLU, KPCC, KCRW in the LA area.