Between rooms 3 and 4

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dear Mr. Security Guard at MOMA,

I really don’t know how you do it, standing in a doorway between two rooms as the hordes mill by, firing off their three questions — Can I take a picture, Where are the restrooms, and Which way to the Matisse cutouts.

Sometimes you have to scold people – the food hiders, the photo sneakers, the loudmouths, the kids doing this, that or the other thing. Or, as in the case of my friend, because she was trying to get in touch with her hubby about the early lunch we were all supposed to have at the noodle place, you have to physically escort someone out. Of course, she is a person who would have nothing but admiration for a museum guard actually taking her elbow, lifting it high and moving her firmly towards the exit with the words, “No, no, no. We don’t do that here at MOMA.” But a lot of people would get miffed, huffy and red-faced and say something nasty, and you’d have to be stoic and show them a thing or two about good behavior.

I guess you’re sort of the good cop, bad cop, and yet not a cop at all. You can’t move from your spot. You have to pay attention, and be vigilant while at the same time ignoring every annoying little thing, even things that aren’t technically infractions that you can’t do anything about.

Yes, it’s true, on the one hand, yours could be viewed as some of the lightest duties on earth, especially when compared to those of the legions of less fortunate. You don’t work in the mud of a diamond mine. You’re not a flagman doing roadwork in Fairbanks in January. You’re not trying to sell something like a better phone plan over the phone to people who know there’s no such thing as a better phone plan. So.

In spite of the fact that you wear what appear to be the benchmark in sensible shoes, and your blue suit and white shirt seem comfortable enough, especially given the hyper-climate-controlled environment of a museum…. I don’t know what kind of deal you have with the cafeteria, but it would appear your baseline needs are being met. Presumably you make a decent wage. Maybe you even have benefits.

Even so.

It might be different if you were surrounded by Bonnards, say, or Van Goghs. Art history and personal taste aside, that stuff is pretty easy on the eyes. Or the big paintings from the ‘50 and ‘60s. I know I’d never tire of that stuff, I’d even want it to be the backdrop of my life.

But that’s not where you are. You, my good man, are between rooms 3 and 4 in the Robert Gober Exhibit. One is a room of wax limbs sticking out of the walls. Human hair is used quite deftly and unpleasantly, on the legs especially. One of the walls is papered entirely in tiny male body parts, which is not as shocking as it is grating. Anyway, you could probably ignore this room or simply avert your eyes from the floor where most of the dead waxen legs are, if you so chose.

But that other room. The one with the row of TVs, each one flashing a series of disturbing images that somehow go together and go with the loud, disturbing and repetitive sounds…. I’m sure you’re aware they torture people with images and sound, that sameness and loudness is an actual form of torture. I myself can hardly stand my forty seconds in the room, even given my preoccupation with other people’s outfits and accessories. I cannot wait to exit. Once I’m out, I can be irritated or amused or even curious, why, because I am gone.

But you must stay. And what kind of zen or Navy Seal mentality gets you through eight hours of it, of clashing repetitive noise pitted against bright and flashing TV screens? What are you doing in your head to retain the even-est keel, not to go completely mad and explode? Therein lies your strength and mystery.

To me, Securityman, you’re a superhero. Your superpower is steadfastness. The ability to stand firm, day after day, on sensible soles of sensible shoes. Who knows how you arrived at your post between two rooms, and who really cares.

What I know is you keep art safe for the masses to view, and I, for one, salute you for that.

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