@

I love natural history museums—especially dinosaur exhibits. The one in my hometown played such an integral role in my educational development as a child it’s a genuine curiosity I didn’t grow up to be a paleontologist. Dinosaur names like Parasaurolophus and Deinonychus rolled off my tongue before I had any idea what a multiplication table was. I’ve maintained a membership since moving back to California, and visit frequently; it’s one of those few places that both stimulates my imagination and grants me a measure of peace. I feel at most myself among the bones of the ancient dead.

It’s where I recently met famed paleontologist Jack Horner, one of my childhood heroes, who was giving a lecture as promotion for his new book. Inside my copy he wrote, “The bones tell us stories. We just have to how learn to read them.”

The museum has expanded and grown magnificently in the last decade, but if I close my eyes I can follow my boyhood steps through the facility of my youth, wandering from the whale skeleton mounted over the front entrance through the displays of southwestern mammals and marine life downstairs, before finally reaching the main dinosaur display, where a complete Allosaurus skeleton towers over me from the centerpiece. I can see every vertebra in the tail, every chasm in the skull, every curving tooth and claw.

These “thunder lizards” should terrify me, but they don’t. Terror is nothing but wonder without the awe. And there is awe aplenty for me inside this building.

A few years ago I participated in a neurological study and learned that I possess what the researchers defined as a “low-grade eidetic memory,” or what is commonly referred to as a photographic memory. Eidetic individuals are known for their extremely accurate recall when it comes to visual images, memories summoned up like still images or filmstrips.

This explains why I was able to describe the geographic orientation of the furniture in my best friend’s new house after five minutes spent walking through it for the first time; why I never got lost exploring town on my bike as teenager, even though I’m terrible at memorizing street placement; why I can remember, in uncomfortable detail, what every girl I’ve gone out with wore on our first date—and what they looked like in later, less-dressed states.

Why I can’t seem to forget dozens of sights from my experiences in Hurricane Katrina that would best be left unremembered.

The term photographic memory is a flawed one though, I think. The word “photograph” implies someone making a conscious decision to capture and preserve those images, and that’s not how the human mind—or at least not mine—works. I’m not speaking of the basic mnemonic devices of memorization, but rather the active choice that this image, this particular set of visual information will be stored. While there’s a fair amount of coherence among things from, say, my preteen years forward, anything beyond that is really just a meaningless shuffle of disordered images, odd fragments of things remembered but not necessarily known.

These memories are not photographs; they are fossils, their bones extruding from the sedimentary rock of the mind. And like true fossils, some of them have to be studied closely before their stories reveal themselves.

One in particular has surfaced recently, provoked in part by recent tour I took through the museum’s off-exhibit areas during Horner’s presentation. It’s an old one; Triassic period, if we wanted to stretch the metaphor a bit further. In it I’m very young, five or six at the oldest, attending one of the museum’s weeklong parent/child classes, where we’re learning about paleontology by building paper-mache models of prehistoric creatures. A half-formed Pteranodon, one of the largest of the non-dinosaur flying pterosaurs, sits on the plastic painter’s tarp in front of my mother and me, a wet coat of chalky gray paint just applied to its newspaper skin.

Sharing the workspace and craft supplies with us are G., my mother’s partner in adultery and the man who would become my stepfather, and his daughter, my eventual stepsister. They’re building a generic long-necked sauropod dinosaur. This is the first time I’ve met them.

This isn’t some sort of revelation or epiphany; the extraction of this memory doesn’t send cathartic earthquakes rumbling through my psyche or sully my love of the museum. This class was one of a dozen or so I attended at the various scientific institutes around town over the years, and the memory of it has always been there to some degree of clarity or another. But it’s only now, when I look at it in the light of adulthood, that I understand it.

And what I understand is that those two cheaters were on an extended date. Enrolling us children in this class allowed them the opportunity to spend the week together, hiding in plain sight under the noses of their spouses. While my would-be stepsister and I were learning how to reconstruct prehistoric life, our parents were in engaging in behavior that would destroy our present ones.

It isn’t a happy memory, for certain, but neither is it a sad one. Ultimately it’s more of a curiosity, another roll-your-eyes tale of how some parents will use their children to leverage their own happiness. But out of this I got a nifty model and a lifelong fascination with the natural sciences; all they got was a couple of divorces and a legacy of pain given and received. Fair to say I came out on the winning end of that deal.

My Pteranodon was an ungainly thing, ready to take wing but far, far too heavy in the torso for any creature hoping to take flight. I loved it. It occupied a place on honor on my bedside shelf for years. I’ve no idea what’s become of it. It’s possible, I suppose, that it’s in a box somewhere, locked up in storage with my few remaining childhood things. More likely it’s succumbed to the ravages of time, the paint and paper of its body crumbled to dust, existing now only as another fossilized fragment of memory.

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Matthew Baldwin MATTHEW BALDWIN is a writer, martial artist and all-around misanthrope living in San Diego, California. He's published fiction and poetry in several small literary journals, most of which went out of business soon after. Make of that what you will. He currently holds a fourth-degree black belt in karate, a B.A. from the University of California and an M.F.A. from the University of New Orleans. In his free time he serves as a professional martial arts instructor, working mostly with teenagers. He's currently at work on both a first and second novel, and can be followed/harrassed on Twitter. And please, call him Matt.

77 Responses to “The Pteranodons of Memory”

  1. Jude says:

    No 1 Matt!

    Seems like a photographic memory can be both a blessing and a curse! Me… I can hardly remember yesterday!

    From dinosaurs to adultery – nice weaving there Matt…

    • Matt says:

      You’re always #1 in my book, Jude!

      It’s weird, having a photographic memory. I creeped the shit out of my best friend a few years ago when I described the exact outfit he had on the moment we met, including the design on his t-shirt, his shoes, hairstyle, and what glasses frames he was using. Keep in mind, this was after knowing him for maybe five seconds.

  2. Zara Potts says:

    I too like the way you weave your past and present together through these old bones.
    Nicely done, Matt.

    • Matt says:

      Thank you!

      I tried to write a post on having a photographic memory about six months or so ago, but wound up tossing it. It just wasn’t pulling together. Then I went back to the museum recently, and got to thinking about all the memories and associations that place both stirs up and quiets down–and bang! there it was.

  3. Cool inscription!

    I used to love dinosaurs, but I’m now realising that my students all know more than me. Somewhere along the line I forgot most of the names.

    • Irene Zion says:

      It’s not that you lost all the names, David, it’s that they keep changing their names. Also they keep finding new ones that we didn’t know about way back when.

      • I didn’t realise they changed the names. Do dinosaurs have corporate sponsors now? I don’t recall there being an Samsungsaurus, or a Pepsidon, but they sound plausible.

        In Korean natural history textbooks they have Korean dinosaurs and Japanese dinosaurs. Predictably, the Korean dinosaurs are always a little nicer… They also are found in places that didn’t exist 70 million years ago, but which Koreans now claim Japan has stolen…

      • Matt says:

        That’s actually something Dr. Horner dealt with pretty extensively in his lecture.

        There are about 1,257 described genera of dinosaurs, but at least 500 or so of those are false: incomplete fossils or poorly examinded fossils, or just ones named too quickly by overeager paleontologists looking to distinguish themselves. A big problem is juvenile specimens labeled as different species from their adult counterparts. Part of his work over the last ten years has been to examine fossils for evidence of spongy bone (juvenile bone that’s still growing) vs. the solidified adult bone, and in doing so, has discovered several “false” dinosaurs.

        My favorite new discovery is that many of the smaller ones–especially the predators–had feathers, and are the direct ancestors of living birds. The connection is so close, in fact, that birds are now being classified as “avian dinosaurs.”

      • Matt says:

        Fossils are the earth’s way of remembering.

  4. James D. Irwin says:

    I used to love the Natural History Museum in London. I’d go every year with my dad and my brother whilst my mum and her friend would go to some sort of Home Exhibition.

    In the main hall was a huge t-rex (y’know, as opposed to those small ones) and in another exhibit they had a blue wale skeleton hanging from the ceiling. It was amazing.

    I don’t really remember much else, because I have an absolutely awful memory and I’m really quite envious of those with excellent recall— although I total understand it having it’s downsides.

    I read recently about a woman who has a condition that means she can remember every single moment of her life perfectly. You can give her a date and a time and she can tell you what she was doing.

    It sounds brilliant, but she’s severely depressed. Because she didn’t have the happiest time growing up it’s not too great that she can remember every painful moment…

    • Matt says:

      The London Museum of Natural History is very near the top of my list of places to visit if I ever make it across the pond. I mean, c’mon: a whole blue whale skeleton? That’s AWESOME.

      My recall is by no means perfect, and pretty strongly geared towards visuals. I have just as much difficulty recalling written facts as the next person. I remember faces pretty well but I can be downright horrid with names.

      If you were to, say, show me a complicated electrical diagram, I would probably remember what it looked like, but since I don’t have an engineering background, I’d have no way to interpret or recreate the information it contained.

      New discoveries have shown that juvenile T-Rexes very likely had down, just like a bird, which they shed as they got older.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        If you ever make it across the pond I’d love to join you. It’s been almost a decade since my last visit, and I only live an hour away from London…

        • Matt says:

          As If I’d stopover in England without popping by. You, me, and Sparshott would hit the museum, and then the pub, where I’d use my charming American accent to pick up on some hot British girls.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Naturally. The pubs in London are damn expensive though— like, £6 a pint expensive. I can just about handle the fact that the average pint now is £3 (I no longer drink Guinness, not at £3.50 a pint!) but over a fiver for a pint of ordinary ale… bloody pirates.

          What we should do is go to the museum, then hop on a train back to Winchester which is a much nicer town, has far better pubs and reasonably priced ale. And more British girls. Probably.

  5. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    I have a tendency to distort the memories I study or relive the most. Maybe a photoshop memory. But I always like to hear how the past resurfaces for others, so thanks for this.

    • Matt says:

      Oh, I do that too. Like a real photograph, the color of some of these memories fades over time. Maybe “Polaroid Memory” might be the best term for it.

  6. Irene Zion says:

    Matt,

    You wrote this very well, mixing the childhood activities memories with the emotionally charged memories.
    I hate your stepfather.
    I don’t like your mother much, either.
    (But, I hate your stepfather.)

    • Matt says:

      Thanks, Irene. These are two subjects–dinosaurs and memory–that I’d previously tried to write about seperately, and abandoned because it just wasn’t working. They function so much stronger together, I think.

      My stepfather has burned so many bridges in his life we’ll all probably have a party when he dies. Though for me, this particular memory serves as a reminder that the brightest lights in our life cast the deepest shadows…that is, our joys and our sorrows are fundamentally intertwined. It’s just a matter of keeping the right proportions.

  7. Joe Daly says:

    One of the highlights here is that you have not “outgrown” your appreciation of paleontology. I can’t think of any childhood passions that I had (the Civil War and penguins come to mind), that still hold any interest for me. For some reason I really like knowing that someone has stayed the course.

    @David- Maybe Apatosauras Regis Carni?

    • Matt says:

      Plenty of my childhood passions—robotics, skateboarding, medieval history, mythology, Ninja Turtles–have faded, but this one (natural sciences in general, really) has not only stuck with me, it’s grown pretty extensively. I wonder if maybe it’s because my appreciation for it formed such a fundamental part of my core identity at such a young age that it’s become permanently intertwined with my sense of self.

  8. Jen Violi says:

    Lovely, Mr. Baldwin . . . so nice to start my day with some good and gently thought-provoking writing. Thank you.

  9. This would have been a tasty read even if it was just about the museum, but there’s so much more going on. Like James, I went to the Natural History in London as a kid, and it was awesome, in the most literal sense. I went back last year and it still rocks.

    Don’t laugh – or do, I don’t mind – have you seen Johnny MnemonicNight at the Museum? It’s a pretty damn good kids’ film, with a T-Rex skeleton running around. Rainy afternoon viewing.

    • Joe Daly says:

      >>Don’t laugh – or do, I don’t mind – have you seen Johnny MnemonicNight at the Museum? <<

      Well played, sir.

    • Matt says:

      Okay, after that endorsement, the London Museum of Natural History is officially now top of the List of Things To Do If I Ever Make It To the U.K. Screw you, Buckingham Palace! In your FACE, Big Ben!

      I thought Night At the Museum was indeed quite an enjoyable kid’s film. The American Museum of Natural History–the one in New York–got quite a bump in visitors after it came out. The sequel was, well…..less than quality.

    • Matt says:

      Oh, and re:Johnny Mnemonic: it says something deeply unflattering about your film if the strongest performance in it is Dolph Lundgren’s, and the runner-up is an animatronic cyborg dolphin.

  10. Don Mitchell says:

    Matt, I admire the way you navigated around what you unearthed from your own memory. You could have just let it add to your anger and disgust, but instead you labeled it as a curiosity.

    That made me wonder about eidetic memory — it’s there, it stays there, and you have to come to terms with it. The rest of us somehow often manage to forget, whatever that really means.

    And the whale — I’ve never seen that one, but in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu there was a blue whale hanging high in the main gallery. One side was “normal,” and in the other, the skeleton was exposed. You had to walk up to the high gallery to see inside. I just loved it.

    So, as another commenter said, excellent weaving here.

    • Matt says:

      Well, the only conclusion I can come to is that, of the people involved in that scenario, I won! Or at least came out on top. And really, in terms of the adult behavior…well it’s just pathetic, using your kids like that. But I wasn’t harmed by the experience, so hey, whatever.

      I never realized I might be an eideticker until 2006 or so, when I was out with a group of friends from college and they were all astounded at how much visual detail I could recall. Until then I didn’t realize there was anything different about the way I remembered things versus everyone else.

      The museum here has a right whale skull, and it’s almost large enough to be my living room. I cannot imagine what a complete blue whale skeletion looks like.

      Which means, of course, that I must now seek it out.

  11. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    A few months ago, I was searching for a word in my dictionary (hard copy, unabridged) and ran across “eidetic.” Something about it connected to my second novel, although I haven’t figured out what yet. So the word and its definition is posted on my corkboard.

    I hope you can find the middle way with your Katrina memories. You know, an observer mode. Too much pain and sadness with all that.

    You did a great job, as others have mentioned, weaving together the fossil image with your memory of that class with your mom. It works on a deep level, far deeper than the craft of writing itself.

    • Matt says:

      After reading this comment I realized I’d never actually read the dictionary definition of eideticism, only the one used terms of the scientific phenomenon. So of course, what do you think I immediately had to do?

      The Katrina stuff isn’t too terrible, for the most part. Or I guess I should say, it is, but it’s not overwhelming. The images of Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake really screwed with me, but that’s about it. It’s kind of like keeping a wedding album even after a divorce, I suppose; you know it’s there, you know what it contains, but you choose to go look at something else.

  12. Lorna says:

    My brain sort of does this too. It’s as if it’s finally found a missing piece to the puzzle. It’s really cool when a piece pops up that I wasn’t really looking for. I enjoyed the journey through your mind and the museum, Matt.

    • Matt says:

      Isn’t it? Like finding a photo in the back of a drawer, all crumpled and worn, and having to ask yourself, “Wait, when was this?” and then having all the blanks fill themselves in.

      My head is full of photos found in the backs of drawers.

  13. Simon Smithson says:

    “But out of this I got a nifty model and a lifelong fascination with the natural sciences; all they got was a couple of divorces and a legacy of pain given and received. Fair to say I came out on the winning end of that deal.”

    I think that’s a very important point to get to – and a difficult one, sometimes. Kudos on the work you’ve done in quartering your memory, Matt.

    • Matt says:

      Sometimes being used isn’t such a bad thing–a short term setback leading to a long-term reward. I can live with that.

      Looking at it now, I can see it as sort of a parallel to your last piece on forgiveness: the ability to see that the good you’ve gained out of a tough situation far outweighs the bad, even if it’s far less conspicuous.

  14. Erika Rae says:

    Nicely done, Matt. It scares me to death what fragments my children may remember about me. I’m fascinated by your recall ability.

    • Matt says:

      I think your kids will be okay. The people who raised me were severely fucked-up psychologically by anyone’s definition, and completely lacking in any sense of self-awareness (see my last post for more info on this), so they left me a bevy of material to work from. Large chunks of which I can remember in well-preserved detail.

      Until a couple of years ago, I had no idea my memory process was working differently than other people’s; I just thought EVERYONE remembered stuff that way. Once I found out, I realized how it had manifested itself over the years. For instance, I was always a pretty miserable history student in high school when it came to memorizing the information out of the textbook—but I would always pass the tests. Not because I knew the right answers, but because I was memorizing the shape of the information on the page, and choosing the test answer that best corresponded to it. I passed two AP history exams like this.

  15. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Well done in all regards – the writing style, the shift between topics and especially the way you have processed this and taken…. I’m fishing for a word and none seem to fit with appropriate feeling. Not detached, not clinical but… perhaps pragmatic. It occurred around you but is not part of you.

    Bah. I am toast tonight so forgive my blathering and leave it at “well done”.

    • Matt says:

      Hmmm…..”objective” perhaps?

      In all honestly, I just don’t see the point in getting all bent out of shape about it. Something mildly untowed once happened at one of my Happy Places (okay that sounds wrong but you know what I mean)—whoopdee shit. Karma paid back those involved in spades, and in the long run of things, I won. Big time.

      Suck on that, you bastards.

  16. jmblaine says:

    When the other kids were into dinosaurs
    I more about pyramids and Biblical archeology.
    I really wanted to find Noah’s ark.
    (Found?)
    I wonder if they’ll find dinosaur bones on Noah’s ark.

    • Matt says:

      According to the people at the Creationist Museum: no. Dinos weren’t given a pass on the Great Flood.

      • jmblaine says:

        Exactly~
        I love those creationist museum people.
        If bones tell stories
        then everybody has the right to their
        own interpretation.
        Like when the truth is revealed we won’t all
        slap our foreheads and go,
        Oh……..

  17. Tawni says:

    Great writing. I loved the way you moved around dinosaurs and memories in this piece. The bones from your past, dug up for us to see. The memory of your mom and soon-to-be stepfather reminded me of a similar episode in my childhood. So odd, the moment you put the “friendly meetings” together later on, and realize they were cheating on your other parent. Kind of gross, taking one’s kids along for that ride.

    On a happier note: I want to go to that museum! It looks so cool. I totally geeked out at the LaBrea tar pits in Los Angeles. I think the place you write about here would probably blow my mind. (:

    • Matt says:

      And kind of skeevy, using your kids as the camoflauge for your cheating.

      It’s so weird. I was thinking about that meeting recently, thought about it in regards to the timeline of my life, and had that “hey….wait just a damn minute here!” moment.

      I haven’t been to the La Brea tar pits since I was roughly the age I write about being in this essay. I meant to go the last time I was in L.A., but there just wasn’t time.

      The museum here in San Diego opened a permanent exhibit called “Fossil Mysteries,” dedicated entirely to the dinosaurs and prehistoric animals indigenous to the region. And right now they have a brand-new dino-specific one, which will be here until September. That photo of the T-Rex skeleton is from it, but they also had some nifty life models, ceratopsian skulls, the works.

  18. Becky says:

    I can identify with a love of ancient, crumbling things.

    Though I tend to prefer ancient humans and their ancient material and cultural detritus, I am completely aware of the calming effect of historical museums….that is, as opposed to art museums. Art museums make me a little uncomfortable, honestly. They’re always super bright and tangy and have sharp edges. They smell fucking horrible.

    I can grasp the remains of living, I guess. Get my head around it. Art is something else. Something else going on there. I mean, I like art…but really only very specific kinds of art. Shit. Maybe I don’t like art.

    Anyway, I for sure don’t like the smell of art. What did Proust say about smell and memory? I wonder what latent memory lurks behind my aversion to that smell…

    • Matt says:

      Funny that you mention the smell factor–I had a line in here about the smell of this particular museum, and how comforting it was, but it was a little prosaic and I cut it. The place always smelled vaguely of sawdust and plaster and things I couldn’t put a name to, and it was always a positive association.

      We’ve got an anthroplogical museum here as well, which I visit relatively frequently. It just took me longer to develop an appreciation of what it contained–the cultural detritus, as you put it–than it did for natural history.

      I love art, too, but I’m with you on art museums. So many of them feel so…unwelcoming. Clinical. Experiencing art should be like experiencing sex: intimate.

      • Becky says:

        Well, to be fair, some art just isn’t intimate. With some art, the whole point is to be off-putting and a bit nasty.

        I mean, how do you get intimate with a spiny, twisted metal sculpture titled “uterus and bloody death?” (I know of no such sculpture. This is merely an illustration.)

        If we have to do the fertility-worship sculpture thing, I’ll take the prehistoric, chubby little ivory figurine ladies with the pendulous tits and no face.

        Even then, I’m not sure I’m totally interested. But at least the little chubby ladies don’t seem contrived.

        Yeah. Art museums turn me off in a major way. I can’t put my finger on why, but they fill me with all kinds of loathing.

  19. Mary says:

    Matt, I really hope you find that Pteranodon. It probably is in storage somewhere.

    • Matt says:

      It was getting pretty fragile the last time I saw it, which would now be something like 18 years ago. I don’t reckon the chances or survival were high. But then, learning the impermanence of things is an important lesson, too.

  20. reno says:

    matt-

    ah. this was and is a great way to stat off the day. i love dinosaurs and it blows me away to think that these huge fuckers roamed the land once. i mean: can you imagine? think about it. you wake up, go get some coffee and in your rearview mirror t-rex is rounding the corner? oh, shit…

    thanks for this matt. brings back kid memories and such. next post write about evel knievel. cheers.

    • Matt says:

      That T.Rex skeleton in the photo above is FUCKING HUGE in real life….I think I stood there and stared at for at least a half an hour. And right next to it, they had a display of one of the smallest, which was about the size of a sparrow. Blows my mind every damn time.

  21. I kind of feel like we all have photographic memories to one extent or another. I sure wish I had more of one though. I think it’d help me as a writer. I can remember my feelings and sensations, but often can’t remember much detail about my surroundings. I’m sure that’s in part because I don’t notice my surroundings half the time. My friends are always pointing out strange goings-on around me and I’ve been completely oblivious to all of it.

    Anyway, even though the reasons behind you first discovering dinosaurs have tainted your memory a bit, I’m glad you can still have an appreciation for the things you learned. :)

    • Matt says:

      I’m awesome with remembering the details, and terrible with remembering the information–especially when it comes to numbers. I was, and am, a horrid student of mathematics. Language is a little different: my brain pretty actively conjures up images like a movie playing out while I’m reading something. And I have to be careful when I’m writing, as my work tends to get too heavily imagistic if I don’t watch what I’m doing.

      • Heh. That’s where my memory comes in handy. I’m a veritable fountain of useful facts and information. I was always great at math (until I got my hands on one of those nifty calculators that do everything for you). Probably also why I can learn new languages fairly easily compared to most people. Ask me what I wore yesterday though and I couldn’t tell you. No clue. Also, I get lost anywhere, including the mall and my own neighborhood.

        • Matt says:

          If we teamed up, we’d be unstoppable.

          I memorize mostly useless information very easily. Mozarella cheese was originally made with the milk from a water buffalo. Who the hell needs to know that? But when it came time in school to memorize the state capitals…well, that sure was a pain in my ass.

          I’m pretty good with languages, and have a decent ear for accents, too. I did very well in Spanish, and would probably be a fluent speaker if I handn’t tested out in college and never took a class again.

  22. New Orleans Lady says:

    While I do find dinosaurs interesting, they don’t cause me to rush over and read a piece of writing, on one of my favorite websites, by one of my favorite writers. If it weren’t for the shameless plug by said writer and my love for him, I probably would have skipped right over this one.

    What I’m trying to say is that it would have been my loss. Great writing, Matt. You really are great at story telling and I’m so happy that you are shameless.

    Until next time…*hugs*

    • Matt says:

      My man-whoredom knows recognized no boundary or border.

      You’re raising a boy child. Fair chance dinosaurs are going to play a pretty huge part of his life at some point soon…if they don’t already.

  23. I was intrigued by this line “Terror is nothing but wonder without the awe” as it immediately seemed to me that terror was awe and adrenaline without the wonder….a minor point, admittedly.

  24. Slade Ham says:

    I wonder if I’ve mentioned it before, but while we’re hammering through things we have in common, dinosaurs are certainly one of them. I can rattle through them all. Literally all of them. My childhood was filled with books on dinosaurs. Ankylosaurus. Dimetrodon. Ichthyosaurus. The wicked cool ones. I used to draw them. Color them. I wouldn’t shut up about them.

    I wanted to study dinosaurs for a living, and nothing else. That faded as I grew up, mainly because of lack of exposure. Despite my rabid fascination with them as a kid – and even though I still am in awe of them – I have… are you ready for this? I have never been to a museum to see the fossils.

    That was a valid excuse when I lived in a shitty little town, but I live in Houston now. We have a Natural History Museum. A good one.

    I saw a few skeletal remains of some African mammals and reptiles when I was in Ethiopia, but nothing that really counts. I’m glad you wrote this, because it has sparked that childhood sense of wonder that I had apparently let go of when it came to these creatures. I’m going to finally go see some dinosaur bones.

    • Matt says:

      Dude, go for it. I’ve heard very good things about Houston’s natural history museum. It’ll so be worth it.

      I had a small collection of fossils when I was a little kid, all stuff I had personally found. Fragments, mostly, nothing major. But the prize of my collection was a doozy: a complete, fossilized whale vertebra I found washed up on a beach in Mexico.

      I realize now I probably actually broke international law bringing it back across the border.

  25. Judy Prince says:

    Matt, this was a real “pauser” for me, starting with “I feel at most myself among the bones of the ancient dead.”

    Your excellent figurative explanation that your memories are not like photographs but like fossils with “their bones extruding from the sedimentary rock of the mind” jumped me right back to my frequent staring at various museum dinosaur skeletons. The analogy also caused me to unearth some recent memory fossils with fascinating success.

    Most vivid to me in this piece was the little Matt with his mom and her lover and his daughter. Little unsuspecting Matt. Adults—-married, partnered or single—-conduct their most passionate sex lives in the years soon after they’ve had kids, and those kids’ lives are earthquaked by the effects. So many fossils to reconstruct.

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece.

    • Matt says:

      It’s a really subversive and unsettling mental image, isn’t it? Something that should have been just an innocent, enjoyable experience being used as a fascilitator for illicit activities.

  26. angela says:

    i can’t remember geography to save my life, but i know exactly where all my boyfriend’s stuff is (and mine) when he thinks he has “lost” something.

    once when i visited the NYC natural history museum as a kid, i was telling my brother that when they can’t find all the bones for a dinosaur, they make fake ones to fill in the gaps, when this kid got really mad and said, “no, they don’t!” geez, dude, relax.

    i second the london natural history museum. i went there last june and it has an animatronic T-Rex.

    • Matt says:

      I’d kill for that skill. A couple of weeks ago I spent twenty minuted tearing my apartment to pieces looking for my glasses before realizing they were on my face.

      I’m sure it says something about me that my principal, top-of-the-list goal for visiting New York is to go to the AMNH. Even more than hitting the usual landmarks and sites….and even more, I’m ashamed to admit, that meeting our various treasured NY TNB family.

  27. Slade Ham says:

    So a few soldiers were talking to my buddy Sam yesterday about the size of his head, and he was telling them about how he used to win headbutting contests because it was so hard (a weird conversation for sure, but he does have a big, lumpy head).

    I, without missing a beat, said, “He’s like a Pachycephalosaurus.”

    SERIOUS fucking nerd move on my part. Thank God I’m funny, or they’d eat me for breakfast over here.

    Totally thought of this post though, the second I said it.

  28. kristen says:

    This is lovely, Matt.

    “The museum has expanded and grown magnificently in the last decade, but if I close my eyes I can follow my boyhood steps through the facility of my youth, wandering from the whale skeleton mounted over the front entrance through the displays of southwestern mammals and marine life downstairs, before finally reaching the main dinosaur display, where a complete Allosaurus skeleton towers over me from the centerpiece. I can see every vertebra in the tail, every chasm in the skull, every curving tooth and claw.”

    The way you worded that makes me sigh, as though I were the one w/ the exquisitely preserved recollection. Nice work.

  29. Carl D'Agostino says:

    Photographic memory: Had to memorize a lot of prose from time to time. Some times I could imprint the page so completely on my mind’s tape that I could re read the words from the picture of the page in my mind instead of memorizing. I wished I had developed the skill more. But I am 60 now and can’t remember where I put the remote, my car keys or if I have taken my pills in the morning. When I was young I was also accused of being unable to remember I was married. Oh you like the flying dinosaurs. I can’t remember the name but there was one that rivaled the size of the giant herbivores that flew the Atlantic or Pacific non stop to migrate for egg laying. The flight would leave an older female so depleted she would die upon egg laying. And I read that T-Rex was like a buzzard in the sense of liking dead things. Although it did have great running potential. Huge jaws for cutting through bone to eat in big chunks and needed to eat its own weight in food each day. I save fossils here in Miami. Collect at construction site or road construction. In the gravel they use, there are 3 to four inch clams turned to stone. But that is all they have here.

  30. Carl D'Agostino says:

    Katrina did a job here in Miami and Wilma came too, just two weeks apart. Been here 55 of my 60 years. Experienced Betsy, Cleo, Donna, Charley, Irene, and Andrew too. The were some others not too bad. One year when I was maybe 11, I pictured myself at Ft McHeny being bombarded all night. It was grape fruit and coconuts bouncing off the house. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll do a Francis Scott Key thing about that, huh!

  31. [...] old fascinated by creatures thirty-one million years old (and even [...]

  32. paleoplanet says:

    paleo snacks…

    The Nervous Breakdown…

  33. Jessica Orfeo says:

    Can any one tell me the lifespan of a pteranodon?

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