Saturday, July 02, 2011

Skip's Museum

The second most frequently asked question from visitors to the museum (after "What does 'zymoglyphic' mean?") is "How long have you been doing this?" The long answer involves a tale of a childhood museum, collections of bird nests, shells, rocks, stamps; decay; changing interests; back to collecting again and eventually the resurrection of the museum. That story can be found in more detail here.

Near the outset of Kurt Vonnegut's 1959 novel The Sirens of Titan, Malachi Constant, the richest and luckiest man in America, visits Winston Niles Roomford, a similarly wealthy space traveler who is caught in a "chrono-synclastic infundibulum," spread out across space and time but on occasion materializing in his palatial home. The visit occurs during one of these materializations and includes the following vignette as part of the tour Roomford gives Constant:

[ Roomford] led the way down a back corridor and into a tiny room hardly larger than a big broom closet: It was ten feet long, six feet wide, and had a ceiling, like the rest of the rooms in the mansion, twenty feet high. The room was like a chimney. There were two wing chairs in it.
"An architectural accident —" said Rumfoord, closing the door and looking up at the ceiling.
"Pardon me?" said Constant.
"This room," said Rumfoord. With a limp right hand, he made the magical sign for spiral staircase. "It was one of the few things in life I ever really wanted with all my heart when I was a boy — this little room."
He nodded at shelves that ran six feet up the window wall. The shelves were beautifully made. Over the shelves was a driftwood plank that had written on it in blue paint: SKIP'S MUSEUM.
Skip's Museum was a museum of mortal remains — of endoskeletons and exoskeletons — of shells, coral, bone, cartilage, and chitin — of dottles and orts and residua of souls long gone. Most of the specimens were those that a child — presumably Skip — could find easily on the beaches and in the woods of Newport. Some were obviously expensive presents to a child extraordinarily interested in the science of biology.
Chief among these presents was the complete skeleton of an adult human male.
There was also the empty suit of armor of an armadillo, a stuffed dodo, and the long spiral tusk of a narwhal, playfully labeled by Skip, Unicorn Horn.
"Who is Skip?" said Constant.
"I am Skip," said Rumfoord. "Was."

"...dottles and orts and residua of souls long gone" has become a favored phrase in the museum's PR department. A dottle is the "wet and sour-smelling mass of unburned tobacco found at the bottom of a tobacco pipe." The Zymoglyphic Museum does not actually possess any known dottles in its holdings, but some of its more indefinable artifacts could plausibly be confused with them.

2 comments:

charlesjshields said...

I blog about being Vonnegut's biographer at www.writingkurtvonnegut.com, if you're interested.

If you're going there, don't dottle.

Best,

Charles J. Shields
And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt, November)

Jim Stewart said...

Charles -

Is there any evidence that Vonnegut had his own boyhood museum?