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Adventures of a new museum director

An acquaintance writes from the American midwest:

You ask how is my new life as a science museum director?

Let me pitch you an idea for a sitcom. It’s about a guy who’s hired to become director of a museum that’s already peopled with a cast of cartoonish characters. In the sitcom, the museum director can’t fire anyone because they’re all connected to a board member somehow.

There’s the visitor service director—a 30-somethingish bleached-blond trailer park trashy sort who wears miniskirts and low-cut blouses, and who acts like a devotee of the Marquis de Sade. She scares the children who visit and sleeps with the young boy-toys she hires as museum guides.

We have the sexy 40-year old South American former waitress who was hired to be the education outreach director to the Hispanic community solely because she speaks Spanish and is attractive. She knows nothing about education or outreach. She happens to dislike Spanish speakers from countries other than her own. This is a special problem because many of the people in our city are Spanish speakers—and almost none of them comes from this woman’s country. Her solution to attract more of them to the museum is to keep throwing wild parties and giving away free food and drinks.

Then there is the large 68-year-old grandmotherly office manager with an IQ equal to a good football score. She calls people ethnic names that were insulting even fifty years ago—and she answers the phones! She’s also the director’s personal secretary—and she takes it upon herself to sign binding contracts for the museum without consulting with her boss!

Next we have the insane manic depressive (yes, both insane AND manic depressive) building manager who erupts into intense outbursts of either mania or rage. Every time he does any work around the place he manages to break something. He is constantly covered with paint specks. He refuses to take his meds.

Then there’s the 84-year-old shop manager who started an octogenarian club in the shop, and peopled it with his old drinking buddies, who “help him” build and fix the exhibits. He never does what he is told to do, always thinking that he knows better than the museum director. Everything he builds looks like it was cobbled together by a 12-year-old; it either doesn’t work, or it breaks quickly. He’s always sporting a new bandage that covers his most recent shop injury.

Then we have the narcissistic and incompetent bookkeeper who was also stealing tens of thousands of dollars a year while insisting the organization had no money every to meet its basic obligations. (The model for this character confessed, and is in the court system now.) She tries to hide her incompetence by being hyper-aggressive and ordering people around.

Next we have the woman who is in charge exhibit display space and who doubles as the safety manager. When the museum director points out that the shop is WAY out of legal safety standards (no one raised an eyebrow when one of the old men used a router while it was clamped into a vice) she explains that her safety protocol is to keep plastic baggies at the ready in case one of the old men slices off a finger.  (Imagine her on the witness stand!)

The cast of characters is large—I’ve given you just a sampling. The difference between the sitcom and the real museum is that I could fire my people… and did. We trimmed several hundred thousand dollars from the payroll.

I am glad to tell you that I am no longer living in a sitcom. But the first few months were crazy crazy crazy!

Improbable Research