Barry Smith: Irrelativity
November 14, 2010
Lately the papers have been full of updates on the veritable Christmas morning of ancient bones being pulled from the ground in Snowmass Village – mastodons, bison, mammoths, a giant sloth and a Mountain Dew can (not officially a bone, nor as old as initially believed.) Front-page pictures have shown us humongous tusks and giant, perfectly preserved heads embedded in the muck, heads of creatures that are obviously no longer part of the neighborhood. It’s being hailed as the most significant archeological find in Colorado. And it’s right up the road from me!
I was SO into fossils as a kid. I used to spend hours sitting in my grandparents’ gravel driveway picking through each pebble, hoping to find some fossilized shark tooth or miniature skull. So when it was announced that these newfound bones would be on public display over the weekend, well … let’s go! Giant creature heads await!
I was emotionally unprepared for what followed. And by that I mean I didn’t bring snacks. The hallway outside the “Snowmastodon” display room was packed with people. Packed! I took my place in line as it began to move at a glacial pace – AWAY from the bone room. It snaked down the loooong corridor, around a pool table, then back again. Sheesh. Forty-five minutes later I was standing 6 inches from where I’d started, though now headed the other way.
I was just planning on popping by, getting a quick gander at some humongous, terrifying bones, then heading back home for a nap. But, OK, I had all that fossil patience as a child, surely I’m more patient as an adult, right? Still, the first 43,000 years are easy – it’s that last hour that really gets you. After several epochs we were finally in “the room!” The one with the bones in it. Whew …
But there were as many people crammed into the room as there were in the hallway. Hundreds and hundreds of people. Do this many people really care this much about bones? Really? ‘Cause I’m doing a comedy show at the Wheeler soon and I’ll be lucky if even a fraction of this number turns out. Maybe I need to rethink my marketing strategy.
Oh, and the actual bones are in the far corner of this room – still another half-hour of serpentine line-waiting away! It’s like an airport security line, only without the promise of a groping at the end.
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Finally, the moment arrives. An hour and a half of up and down and back and forth and there they are – the bones! They’re on two 6-foot tables placed end to end. The line splits in two so people can walk down either side – like a buffet line. Like a buffet line of disappointment.
There’s a shin bone, and a jaw bone, some ribs, a femur, a few vertebrae. I don’t want to seem ungrateful – these would have been thrilling finds in the gravel driveway – but, but … where’s the giant tusk? And the gargantuan skull? I just stood in line for 90 minutes and I don’t get to see the jumbo skull? Where’s the good stuff!? I’ve seen more impressive bone collections after an all-you-can-eat BBQ.
And I know I’m not the only one who was thinking this. But we’re all civilized, polite, socialized creatures who want to appear educated and cultured. Plus, we’ve spent all this time in line, so we have to at least pretend to be excited. Funny thing is, if I had the sensibility of a human living at the same time as these mastodons, things would have gone down differently. More like, “What the …? Thag wait in line for THIS!? Never get that hour of life back! Where keep BIG bones?! Must smash!”
But no, I do exactly what everyone else does – I lean in close to the bones, make the appropriate faces to prove that I’m suitably impressed, ask the cute scientist girl a generic question, take a bunch of pictures, then leave.
You know those people who go to the East Coast in the fall specifically to see the changing leaves? The locals call them “leafers.” So what would you call the people who flock to see a collection of bones?
Hmmm … nothing comes to mind. But whatever you’d call them, I’m clearly one of them.
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