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The day I got sick at the museum

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
 

Simple gray rule


The day I got sick and found another me at the museum
 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1990, The Syracuse Newspapers

The Smithsonian made me sick.

I was in the Air & Space Museum. I had stood in line for an hour to be able to see a film on the Smithsonian's giant screen.

It's seven stories wide and five stories high. I'd sat up close so I could see everything.

The films change now and then. They're all Imax moves—taken with a super-resolution camera with a very wide angle of view—and they're all related to the technology of flight. The one I saw was "To Fly,'' the original Smithsonian Imax film. It dates back to the '70s.

As soon as the show started, something else started—a dizzy feeling in my head. It quickly turned into a queasy feeling in my stomach. I don't want to be indelicate, but I have to tell you that I was about to throw up.

It wasn't something I ate. It wasn't even something that was happening to my body.

It was something that was happening to my mind.

I was immobile in my chair, seated in a motionless theater, knowing exactly where I was—in a museum, in Washington, near the mall, where it was raining like Noah was coming, in a cushy seat in that museum, watching a movie, just a movie. I knew all that.

But the "I'' that knew these simple facts couldn't get a neuron in edgewise with the "I'' that was watching that movie. On the screen, the second "I'' was soaring and diving and pulling up just before hitting the rocks. On that giant canvas, the second "I'' was going willy-nilly, up and down and over and through.

Not since the real "I'' had hopped a roller-coaster ride on a Caribou transport plane with a drunken pilot in Vietnam had any of my identities been so scared.

The second "I'' took command with an authoritative utterance: "BURP!''

The seats are close together in the Smithsonian's theater. A tour group of teen-agers all wearing shiny jackets that said "Blue Mountain High School'' filled the front of the auditorium.

I was about to apologize to these hapless souls when the second "I'' sent me a message: "Up periscope! Up contents! UP CHUCK!''

You do not know what embarrassment is until you discover that you are about to soil the high-school student in front of you.

This was no time for alter egos. I tried closing my eyes so I couldn't see the screen, but that only made me dizzier. I opened my eyes and went off to battle.

Let go, other "I''! This is a movie! A flick! Not real!

My stomach heaved and gurgled.

Let go! Give me back my body!

The struggle lasted two or three minutes. By force of will, the first "I'' won. I didn't toss my cookies. I even stopped gasping and burping.

I watched the rest of the movie in a detached manner, as if I were a quarter-mile from the screen. I felt like I was floating.

Perhaps that was the price one "I'' was paying to keep the other one away. Or maybe it was just that I was still a little dizzy. I'll never know.

All I really learned was that there is a time to say "no'' to another part of myself when it's fooled by technology. That's not a big lesson. It won't solve the energy crisis and it won't feed the starving in Africa.

But it brought me closer to a balance with modern times. And sometimes that's all you can expect.


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