By Courtney Webb

“Oh, Mom. Come over here. Get a picture with this one.”

Chelsea, Kristie’s youngest daughter, waved at her. She was standing in front of a ‘Make Love Not War’ circular poster on the glass wall entrance to the de Young Museum, San Francisco.

Kristie obliged and went over and stood by her daughter while Angela snapped a picture on her cell-phone. “That one!” Angela pointed to a “Reality is a Trip” poster in acid green. Her sister and mom scuttled over to that poster next as the camera clicked.

“My turn!” Angela cried and stuck the camera phone into Sam’s folded arms and ran to join the others. “Come on Sam. Just hit the white button.”

Sam stared hard at the screen a minute, figured out where the button was and hit it. Their picture instantly popped up on the screen. “Whoa, that was fast.” He held the camera/phone up to look at the picture. Got to admit, these gadgets get the best of me, he mused to himself.

The girls were giggling together and looking at their shots. “Gosh, Sam, you must remember all this stuff!” Angela burst out.

“Well, let’s say, some of this stuff.” Sam replied simply, not wanting to get sucked into a rehash of the good old days. He was more of a ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ kind of kind of guy.

Thankfully, the young women and Kristie were all eager to get inside to the Degas exhibit and he didn’t have to pull out war stories. They shuffled in with the crowd and were handed pamphlets for the exhibits.

“Tickets for Degas are to your left. The line forms
to the right for the Degas Millinery Exhibit,” a young woman shouted at the crowd, arms waving. “Please line up to buy your tickets.” The female guard was stuffed into a gray and white uniform complete with her name embroidered in red.

Kristie and group split off to the right to stand in a lengthy line.

“How much are the tickets?” Sam asked Kristie. She peered around.

“I don’t see a sign.”

“I’ll check on my phone. They have Wi-Fi in here,” Chelsea replied. She and her sister got busy with their phones. Their heads bent over, Sam thought again how much these twenty somethings looked like their mom.

“Looks like $28 dollars.”

“Each?” Sam looked astonished.

“Gosh, Sam. That’s really not bad,” Angela told him. “This is San Francisco after all, and these are pretty famous artists.” She arched a delicate eyebrow at him.

“Okay, okay.” He waved his hands in submission. Sam would be the very first to admit he was no art expert, modern or otherwise. He stood watching the queue move slowly to the ticket counter. He consulted the glossy brochure.

“Hum. Look Kristie, they have a bunch of other exhibits too. And these are free.” He glanced at her from under bushy eyebrows. His thrifty nature was kicking in.

“Oh, Sam,” Kristie turned to him. “This is what the girls came for. They really want to see the Expressionist paintings.” She pouted a little. “Me too.”

“Oh,” was Sam’s cautious reply. He continued to peruse the brochure. “African art, Indonesian … interesting.”

Kristie pulled Sam a little out of the line. “Look, I know how much you hate lines and this really wasn’t your idea. Would you rather go look at some of the other stuff and then meet us later?”

Sam kept his head down; still examining the pamphlet said “Well, maybe that would work.” He knew how much this little family get together meant to Kristie.

“Okay, settled then.” Kristie glanced at the primitive art photos. “We’ll go through the line and meet you in the coffee shop. How’s that?”

“Well, that would be okay, Darlin. Any idea how long this thing is going to take?” He looked at her now. His brilliant blue eyes met her lighter blue and she smiled, as always. When he smiled with perfect white teeth, his dimples would show. Kristie sighed. She ruffled his white/blond hair.

“You are such a kid.” She turned, “Guard,” Kristie waved at one of the many uniformed young people standing around. A young man sauntered over. “About how long does it take to get through the exhibit?”

The lanky guard, a teen with bad skin, considered a moment, looked at the line and his watch. “Should take you about forty-five minutes, ma’am.”

“Thank you,” Kristie nodded and the kid ambled off.

“Okay, so, forty-five minutes. Can you keep yourself entertained that long?”
“Yeah, yeah. I kin do that.” By this time Sam had the brochure rolled up into a little tube and patted her on the shoulder. “Looks like you are about to lose your girls there.” He pointed to the daughters who had continued to move up with the line, shooting their mother exasperated looks.

“Right!” Kristie gave Sam a little peck. “Coffee shop.” She turned and hurried to catch up with them.

Tapping the tube in the palm of his hand, Sam wandered across the floor of the museum, staring up. The enormous modern structure was a series of tall glass walls, chrome and steel structures that gave it a light airy feel. The grounds were covered with lush green beds, lending a feeling of privacy and repose to the place, even in the center of the city.

Sam wasn’t much for all this modern stuff, but still, he had to admit the place was pretty impressive. He worked his way through the historical art exhibit of the Americas. They went from the Northern Eskimos and their carved walrus tusks to the Central and South Americans with endless examples of pottery and baskets.

He paused at some carved tusks to wonder at the artistry that created the tiny figures. One work was a carved cribbage game. What rich man had that on his mantel a year or two? he wondered. Eventually, he worked through these exhibits and decided to try upstairs.

One floor up, Sam was mesmerized by the statutes and masks from New Guinea. Unreal; these things scare me, he admitted to himself. He stopped to stare for a long while at a face above a shaman costume.

That is a real human head, he finally concluded. It’s not carved at all. Creepy. He shook himself. His phone buzzed.

“Almost done, K.” He decided to get a little exercise and took the stairs back down to meet the girls. Back on the first floor, he looked around for a restroom.

Better go now, then eat.

Spotting the Restrooms sign he followed it. He rounded the corner and was momentarily confused. There were clearly two restrooms, but the Men/Women signs had been covered over with plain sheets of paper. A new Gender-Neutral sign was in their place on both doors.

He could see what looked to be an extensive line with a lot of women and a much shorter line with a few men. Looks like people have figured this nonsense out for themselves, he thought and followed the short line.

As expected, there were stand-up urinals in this restroom, one of which he used. He paused to wash his hands and dry them with the latest blower. As he came out, he heard the scream. The scream was promptly followed by a resounding ‘slap!’ and then a gurgling/choking sound. Sam whipped his head around and realized the sounds all emanated from the Not Women’s restroom.

There was still a line of women in the queue when he heard a shout. “He’s choking!”

In a quick flash-black, Sam remembered that going into the Not Men’s room, there was an old geezer shuffling into the other facility with the line of women. Oh no, he started to work his way into the crowd of women who were now yelling as a group.

Pushing his way through, he found the elderly man on his knees in the restroom with his hands around his own throat, turning red. Sam instantly realized the problem, grabbed the man around the back and slapped him as hard as he could. A set of false teeth flew out of the man’s mouth and landed on the foot of a chubby matron. The matron saw the teeth on her foot, screamed, reflexively tossed her foot up where the teeth flew forward striking a young woman on the forehead before falling again to the floor. This young woman also screamed and ran for the door where several patrons were already fighting to get out.

At the same time, several museum guards, of both sexes, were fighting to get in. Sam had laid the old man on the tile floor on his side and was checking him for pulse and breathing. He had to block women from stepping on the old guy in their panic to leave.

Two guards finally managed to work their way in and over to the old man. The old guy kept gesturing for his teeth that were now sitting under a sink. Sam retrieved the choppers and washed them off before giving them back. The man was now sitting up and one guard was administering a bottle of water to him by mouth.

“She said I pinched her. I never, I never. I would never …” The old man looked like he was about to cry. Sam got up and worked his way out of what was now a gawking crowd.

He found Kristie and the girls in the middle of the main floor gaping at the commotion. No less than five or six guards were milling around the area.

“Sam, what is going on?” Kristie demanded as he came up to them.

“Let’s go eat and I’ll tell you.” He shooed them to the corner of the building and through the café door. They got in line and paid for their food. Angela wanted to sit outside and Sam had an exterior door open for them when they all heard a “Boom!” sound.

“What …” Sam looked over his shoulder. “Kristie, take my coffee and sandwich. I’ll be back.”

Part II