February 24, 2006

Skinless Bodies

I am sure that everyone has seen the ads for the museum exhibit Body Worlds. It is two German doctors who have come up with a way to preserve body parts so that they can just sit there in the open air. It is called Plastination. They started doing this (back in the 1980s and 90s, I believe) so that they could have body parts to show to medical students. Another doctor told him that these things were too good to be held with the medical community only, and that the should put them in museums.

So they did.

These things have been seen by 18 million people (we are told) and have traveled around the world. The one that is opening in Houston this weekend in Body World 3, and is all BRAND NEW DEAD BODIES! Never before seen in any museum anywhere.

I had been seeing the ads for this exhibit for a while, and I mentioned to my sweet ever-lovin that I wanted to see it. She said, “Really?” (add a tinge of incredulity into that voice) and said that she had tickets to the press opening. (remember that the Houston Museum of Natural Science is in Hermann Park) She had not said anything earlier because she had not really wanted to see the exhibit, and I usually just want to stay home, if I have my choice. But we had tickets, and we were on our way.

I got to the park right around 6:00 PM, when the show opened. Doreen met me and we walked over to the Museum. The queue was pretty long to get your nametag (not quite sure how they defined “press”. Of course, we were there, so I guess that gives you some idea of the breadth of definition.) and Doreen was in a different line than I was in. (different last names, different parts of the alphabet). They had a bit of trouble finding my name (me: “Piette” them “how do you spell that?” me “Pea. Eye. Eee” Them “Nope, not here” (they were looking AFTER the name “Phillips”. Me: “No, look back here. Ah, there I am” Them “but you said PEA EYE EE. This is PEA EYE EE TEA TEA EE”. Me “ok”) but once that was done I was able to wait for Doreen. (her line was longer than mine). Our entry time was 6:15, and it was about 6:05.

We walked into the reception and it was rather crowded. There was an open bar, and I wanted Doreen to have at least one glass of wine, as she was still reluctant to think about the skinless bodies. We each had a small glass of wine (Hers: white. Mine: red) and ate two deep fried snap beans each. Then it was time to walk to the bodies.

The HMNS is a nice museum for a city our size. It was a good collection of dinosaur bones, a great gemstone collection, some cool dioramas (lions eating zebra parts, for example) and a big butterfly room. There is also a multi screen IMAX, and a big permanent exhibit on oil and gas (as you would expect). We got to walk through parts of the museum on the way to the Body World 3, and enjoyed the fuzzy dinosaurs and the recreated raptors. Made me feel as if I was in a Michael Creighton novel. .

We got to the exhibit floor and area, and gently made our way inside. There were not too many people there yet, so we had a pretty good view of everything that we wanted to see.

The very first thing you saw was a skinless may praying. It was sort of an introduction to the exhibit, as well as an acknowledgement that these were real human beings. (All bodies were donated specifically for this exhibit. The Drs knew all the folks. They now have a waiting list of something like 6,000 people who are willing to be plastinated) It also pointed out that during the middle ages, the plague was the first time that there were plenty of dead bodies around, and that this was when skeletons and anatomy first became familiar to most people. (the death in the middle ages theme comes up later, when they show a body as if it is coming out of the grave, and throwing off its shroud. The comment was that in the Middle Ages that people thought that corpses got up and danced at night…)

The kneeling body was a trifle disturbing, but they had some reassuring stuff around there as well. Bones, for example. We all know what bones look like, so seeing an arm bone is not so bad. Hands. Feet. (The feet look just like pig trotters). Then they start to assemble the bodies into more recognizable entities.

The first really disturbing fellow was the guy who had his skin in one hand – sort of like a jacket. (it reminded me of Bragadino. You remember him, the guy who was flayed alive by the turks? Read about him here. Scroll down, and you will see his picture). The disconcerting thing was that he still had hair on his skin. Yipes! It was something. He was also naked (of course. He had no skin!!!) and his genitalia was exposed to the world. Skinned. I told Doreen not to look. (But I think she did)

From there on it got weirder and weirder. There were bodies with the innards coming our. There were bodies with only the digestive track in place. There were limbs that only show the vascular system! (That was some thing. They inject red plastic into the veins and arteries, let it harder, and the get rid of the flesh). There were chicken vascular systems. There were lungs (heathly and otherwise) prostates (healthy and otherwise) Kidneys, livers, islets of langerhans and medulla oblongatas.

There was a man riding a horse. He was exploded, and the horse was exploded. He was holding his own brain in one hand, and the horse’s brain in the other! (This fellow was apparently a good friend of the Drs. He was diagnosed with cancer and ask the doc to “make him spectacular”. He did)

We finally made our way to the end. In the last room, along with a ballerina (there were fewer female bodies than male bodies) there was a gymnast, and, best of all, a recreation of the “Dogs Playing Poker” painting (actually called “A Friend in Need”) doen with human bodies, complete with one of the guys giving another guy an ace with his toes. And to cap it all off, his had was Aces and Eights – that’s right: Dean Man’s Hand.

February 23, 2006

Katrina “victim”

I ran into an acquaintance at a Digital Oil and Gas conference this week. He is from New Orleans (he lives in Mandeville – across the lake from New Orleans, actually). I asked him if he was back in his house, and how things were going. He told me that things were going fine.

Now, keep in mind that this is a college educated professional (Petroleum Engineer by degree). He said that he had no damage at all to his house. He did have to evacuate for the hurricane, and he said that traffic is real back right now.

I asked (jokingly) if he got one of the $2,000 cash cards from FEMA. He said no, that they put the money directly in his account. I asked why, and he said that it was because he had to evacuate. He then told me that FEMA also paid for the chain saw he used to cut up some trees that fell on his property, and that a month or so after the hurricane he got ANOTHER $2,300 deposited in his account.

I had to walk away.

February 22, 2006

and THIS is the thanks I get?

There really is someone for everyone in this world. Friends. Lovers. Bosses. Yes, I think that the fact is that everyone in the US is capable of calling up at least one person and saying: “Let’s go have a beer!” without being turned down. And yes, I think that everyone in this country, no matter how unappealing to you or me, has a soul mate somewhere nearby. Someone who will say “yes” when asked, will carry their water, and will stand by them through think and thin. And finally, I really do think that almost everyone in this country is employable. They may not end up being Donald Trump, or even Leona Helmsley, but I think that most people can get, and keep, a job.

I was thinking about this because I was thinking back on the folks I have fired in my day. Some of these people I still have an almost day to day dealing with. What I am always amazed at is that these jokers, some of whom I felt were not worth the spit it would take to put them out if they were on fire, are working! And, by all accounts, getting paid and not fired.

Now, let me say that some of the people that I have fired I had to be let go out of economic necessity rather than performance. These people, almost uniformly, are much better off than they were before. Some even come to me and thank me for making them change their ways. I accept the gratitude. But I notice that there is never cash associated with those cries of thanks.

Ungrateful punks.

February 4, 2006

This is the view of the Houston Downtown skyline from the new townhouses that are being built across the street from our house. Posted by Picasa


One of the reasons that I am sitting on the porch writing today is that my lovely bride is off with a group of women friends to Fredericksburg in the Hill Country. She abandons me like this once a year, and leaves me to my own devices. Or rather, she pretends to leave me to my own devices. You see, if I was really left to my own devices I would never leave the house. But she makes sure that someone calls me and makes be go out to dinner or something foolish like that.

Thoughts from The Porch

It is a beautiful afternoon in Houston. I am sitting on my front porch, the sun warming my legs and the dog guarding the perimeter of the yard.

The dog (I have pictures of her posted below somewhere) is rather protectived of the yard. She really barks at some people, and tolerates others walking by. But there are two people that she really, really hates. One is a poor kid who looks like he is doing the “thorazine Shuffle” and is always talking to himself.

The other is an older, short fellow named Peter McDonald, and he YELLS at the dog, kicks the fence, and throws rocks at her if nobody is around.

I confronted Mr McDonald last week. It was not a pretty thing to see, but I did come to an almost amiable arrangement that I will make sure that the dog is inside between 2:00 and 3:00 pm daily, as he never, ever, ever changes his walk. He also told me that he talks the same path within a two foot boundary. I say OCD.

But I guess that is why we love this neighborhood. Nuts abound.

Earlier this week I had to call 911 at 3:00 AM. The construction site across the street was being robbed of building materials. Two guys were just loading up sheets of plywood and rolls of tar paper. The cops arrived not five minutes after I called, and yet the thieves were already gone. That is too bad. I wanted to see them go down.

Anyway, it is a beautiful afternoon here today.