Tommy Salami in Spaaaace!

The Museum of National History is one of my favorite places. I first went as a kid and remember what every kid does- the enormous dinosaur skeletons, the huge diorama of the whale and the squid, the windows upon windows looking upon the Ark’s worth of critters that Teddy Roosevelt shot. Much of it is the same today, only modernized. It is still a temple to science, as it should be.

My favorite hangout is the Hayden Planetarium, where they have a spectacular display outside to explain the incredible scales of the universe. From quarks and protons to the greatest stars, these spheres put the universe in perspective. And sometimes, you need a little perspective.

They don’t have a T. Rex, or we missed it. But they did have full skeletons of cave bears and other huge mammals like this one. I think it was a sloth.

They have a lot of other fun stuff, like an excellent exhibit of human ancestors. Yes, the dioramas may be modernized but they still feel weird, as you stare at the oddly pale hominids in unlikely states of undress. I’m unsure what that teaches us, other than that Neanderthal women had nice tits. The skulls and skeletons, and the straightforward explanation of our complicated ancestry, our knowledge of which is still evolving, was the star of the exhibit.

Between this and the Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my imagination was piqued as a child and I still love wandering these museums and drinking in history and the discoveries we have made about the universe.

And just for fun you can put yourself in different videos. Exploring the ocean, or on the sadly dust-binned space shuttle:



The Edward Gorey House

I’ve been a fan of Edward Gorey’s macabre little books since my friend Peter introduced me to the Gashlycrumb Tinies back in high school. Gorey drew twisted little figures in a creepy mirror of the bored and insulated world of New England’s idle rich. From the bizarre penguin-like creature in tennis shoes who shows up for dinner in “The Doubtful Guest,” to poor Millicent Frastley abducted in the dark of night to be sacrificed to “The Insect God,” he managed to evoke a frightening and wonderful world that seemed to spring from disturbing childhood daydreams.

He was an eccentric cat-lover who wore an ankle-length raccoon coat and tennis shoes, and is likely most famous for designing the gothic animation sequence to PBS’s “Mystery!” series and the stage design for the play of “Dracula,” starring Frank Langella. His figures have a wispy quality, as if they sprung from the infamous Puritan gravestones littering New England warning the living that all flesh is grass, and God is firing up the Toro any moment now.

His house is everything one might expect. It looks perfectly normal at first, but something is off. It is about to be devoured by an enormous Southern Magnolia tree overtaking the backyard, a plant that shouldn’t even be able to survive, much less thrive, on the deltoid of Cape Cod’s atrophied bicep. The cut-out of a plump tabby in a sweater welcomes you, and a wrought iron “Doubtful Guest” tiptoes through the back yard, strangled with vines, like a living topiary beast. Fans and friends have decorated his yard with all sorts of homages to his work, such as tombstones to the Gashlycrumb Tinies and an enormous sperm whale painted with his work.

The house itself is crammed with the odd ephemera he collected, from old cheese graters to matchbooks, with shelves and walls plastered with his work. The Tinies are immortalized in a scavenger hunt game, with all 26 of the ghastly alphabet undoings hidden around the house- from poor Basil assaulted by bears, to Nevile, who died of ennui, peering from a hidden window. The museum is run by fans and friends of the late Mr. Gorey, who keep his twee and morbid spirit alive. I purchased a few books and gifts in the gift shop, and a delightful print that I plan to hang over my bookcase, which reads “Some Things Are Scary.”

Words to live by. Some things are scary, and we delight in the thrill of seeing them from a safe distance. In Gorey’s tales, we get uncomfortably close to twisted people and banal horrors. While the Addams Family were the odd ones on the block, Gorey’s world mirrored our own in that something scary was just beneath the surface.

The Gashlycrumb Tinies

Visit The Edward Gorey House website.