Wednesday, December 27, 2006

in which we are "enfolded in a giant womb"

A thousand years ago, when I was in grade school, one of the left-brainy girls in my class (left-brainy meaning someone with an Albert Einstein-type brain rather than a Jackson Pollock-type brain) held her birthday party at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. This girl came from a family of Christian Scientists, and her parents used to do other incredibly cool stuff, too, like drive us girls around in their Winnebago - without seat belts! We'd sit around the Formica camp table while cruising down Highway 101 and play Telephone, that game in which you whisper something to the person sitting next to you, and they whisper it to the person next to them and so on until the (now thoroughly mangled) phrase reaches the last person, who has to say it out loud. What might have started out as as "I really like grape juice" comes out of that last person's mouth as "Smelly guy ape shoes," or something like that. Hilarity naturally ensues.

ANYWAY. Hands down and without a doubt, the coolest thing about the Exploratorium (aside from the cow's eye dissections) is the Tactile Dome. You crawl through a curtain into total darkness and have to find your way through an up-down-twisty-turny-climbing-sliding maze of textures, all without the help of any of your five senses except touch. Well, okay, you can hear someone if they're right in front of you or behind you, but the dome is fairly well soundproofed. And you can see just a smidgen when you climb up the rope passageway into the Red Room, where one red light bulb barely illuminates the amply pillowed benches attached to the curved walls. As a kid I thought of the Red Room as a gypsy hideout, and my favorite part was leaving it, because after sliding down once again into pitch blackness you landed in a little room filled with those hollow plastic balls that kids love to burrow down into.

Today, at the invitation of an old friend, I got to visit the Tactile Dome once again, this time with my own grade schooler (who clung to me like a newborn opossum when we stepped through the curtained entrance of the maze into total darkness). I've been meaning to introduce him to this peculiar childhood rite of passage since we moved to the Bay Area a year ago, so it was a relief to know I could scratch it off the To Do list three days before our move back to Arizona. The first thing I noticed was how easily I was transported more than a quarter of a century into the past. The waiting room had changed very little since the late seventies: The shoe cubbies were still there, as was a sign on the wall listing some of the things you should try to find while in the maze: keys and handcuffs; cowboy boots and a rolling pin. The textures and smells inside the maze were the same as I remembered, too: Naugahyde and feet. The second thing I noticed was how much closer I am to being a claustrophobe than I ever thought. Just past the first turn in the maze, where your eyeballs still rove futilely around in their sockets trying to locate any source of guiding light whatsoever, and where the low ceiling forces you to crawl while feeling around on the walls for an unblocked passageway, I started to feel a little panicky thumpa-thumpa in my chest.

I relaxed a little our second time through, and by the third - when the boy was ready to strike out ahead of me - I took the trip slowly and with my eyes closed, pausing often to explore every corner and crevice of whatever room or tunnel I found myself in. This was how I found the keys and the cowboy boots, and even a musical baby toy that wasn't on the waiting room list. Score! I went down the first slide headfirst, curling into a somersault at the bottom, where you land on what feels like a big inflated balloon. I paused in the Red Room to stretch out on the cushy benches like a gypsy, and when it was time to leave that little smidgen of light I took the last slide the way I like to think I entered the world as an infant: trusting and peaceful in the face of uncertainty ahead; brave despite the familiar comfort being left behind. It's the same way I like to imagine myself later this week, when I'll once again leave the place of my birth to return to the home of my heart.


  1. Jackie1:06 PM

    GOOD LORD GIRL...YOU should SOOOO be published big time already..I don't even KNOW what the heck you were just talking about, but it was *beautiful*!! And it sounded so FUN! You are the master of written language! ::bowing::

  2. Thank you, Jackie. You should be receiving your paycheck shortly.

  3. Jackie5:34 PM

    TOTALLY serious. I think you could write poetry about stinky socks..but give you an actual EVENT, and you spin a tale that makes the rest of us stand in awe. Paycheck un-needed, but a few soaps will suffice.. BY the way, are you too in shape to go have lunch when you get here? Since we no longer have babies hanging off us it may actually be possible!

  4. Lorelei4:26 PM

    OK, this is what I heard...."waa wa waaa wa MOVING BACK TO ARIZONA IN 3 DAYS"

    What the heck!? When are you going??? I must see you. You are my booboolina!

  5. We're outta here in the morning (early, early morning, if all goes as planned). I am crazy, last-ditch packing/cramming woman. Come on over and witness the madness.