Expensive Evil - The Museum of Failure, or Clown Therapy
Issue Two of Expensive Evil, my nonfiction gift to supporters. This time, the harmless half is free. The spice is after the paywall. Throw in for crime and catharsis.
Rated T for Teen. Comic mischief, community love dolls, and sleep deprivation.
Security guards have changed.
It’s not just fitness, or the death of the Segway. The spark is gone. We used to have something, and now they just shuffle through the motions.
The Koch Theater gendarme didn’t even give chase, or flail a flashlight. He just watched me pass by, like a childhood dream.
Blame the Museum of Failure. Three minutes into my visit, I realized I’d forgotten my field notes.
You may have noticed tiny notebooks in the wild. They open like flip phones, and are equally obsolete. Reporters, comedians, and others more interested in describing life than living carry them around. They serve two purposes: portable navel-gazing, and warning potential suitors. They’re like spots on a frog, or skulls outside a pirate’s lair.
Without mine, I was nude. Unmoored. A Texan without a rocket launcher. I’d never make it into the boring part of The New Yorker now.
“Don’t sweat it. That’s perfect,” said Octavian. “It’s the Museum of Failure. Stuff should go wrong.”
His name isn’t Octavian, he just has a real job. While I’ve given my life to the black altar of public opinion, I’d rather not get any friends fired. Especially the eight or so I like.
Octavian shares the same school, state, island background, and anime fandom. Which makes it unfair that he’s better adjusted. Not even one secret marriage or public divorce. I think he does it to spite me. If he starts writing, I’ll have him poisoned.
Hold that thought.
I stopped fretting about notes, and started rationalizing. These were arch exhibits, with arch write-ups, in a museum pitched as a rib. Only an idiot would write comedy about them. Better to just enjoy the museum like a human being, and find another strip show for the column.
“We encourage experimentation,” said the greeter. Genuinely affable, implying either passion or edible use. “There’s no set route.”
Then he set us loose in the Museum of Failure. The Dayle family’s ancestral homeland.
That only goes back to triangle trade. Historically recent, despite the Florida curriculum. Now failure? The first Dayle stumbled into the forest, tested the wrong mushrooms, and lost an arm to a sabretooth. Dayles try things, and one in twenty work. And if I can say one good thing about my father, it’s…uh…
I’ve got this.
Give me a bit.
Anyway, our reach often exceeds our grasp. The museum’s a natural fit.
The Museum of Failure isn’t new. Like most American culture, it’s been airlifted from Europe and stuffed with Big Macs. From Sweden, specifically. The current tour includes Industry City, a Brooklyn mall that pretends it’s not a mall. Which is ideal, since I like malls. There’s even a manga store, where I degrade the word “professor” weekly.
The concept’s simple: preserving and honoring human failure. Narrowing it down sounds like a challenge, but that challenge lets curators retire early. Or earn their own exhibit.
“Cool setup here,” noted Octavian, enjoying life like a nerd. He pointed out the Wall of Failure, which sounded like a new chamber of Congress. Instead, multicolored sticky notes described visitors’ greatest failures. Golf pencils sat beside blank pads, inviting the brave.
“Out of the box idea,” added Octavian. “And they don’t have to worry about it going wrong. Any flaws fit the premise.”
“They could get away with anything,” I admitted. “A cave-in would be on theme.”
No one checked the ceiling. But it’s fun to imagine.
I brainstormed my contribution. I had a few too many options: A record-breaking sprint through marriage. A dozen dead manuscripts. Breakdancing my way to tendinitis. My abortive podcast. My entire Princeton run. Comic collabs that died before they could fail publicly.
Then my inner writer, the demon that’s haunted me since birth, piped up. I could have field notes after all. I just had to hoard two field trips’ worth of sticky notes.
“What’d you write?” asked Octavian. I stuffed four pads into my pockets.
“A bit of intro dialogue, and a title.”
“On the wall.”
I hadn’t put anything. I tapped the golf pencil against my forehead, saw a flash of pure satanic red, and scrawled two words. I stuck them between a student’s GPA and a parent’s failed business.
Hold that thought too.
The museum was a genuine joy. I’m a tough comedic customer, and the exhibits delivered. A barrage of high-profile brain farts is easy to love. Take the monoski:
You see the problem. If you can’t, look down at your favorite kneecap. Now imagine it backwards.
I’m reaching–monoskis aren’t (much) more dangerous than other extreme sports. But the aesthetic appeal is gone. It’s the same problem as the segway–which had its own exhibit. But the monoski burned more calories.
Of course, you don’t have to go outside to fail. Homebodies invented the “Shared Girlfriend:”
Rentable love dolls lasted about a heartbeat before Beijing shut the company down. Just long enough for every tabloid on Earth to get their licks in.
That’s the thing about Information Age screwups. You can’t face-plant in private anymore. Multiple conglomerates depend on footage of your worst day. Live, if possible. It’d be a crisis, if we weren’t born with a vampiric thirst for fame.
Aspiring conglomerates have a tougher road:
While the private sector entertained, I had a soft spot for military failures. Global stakes elevated prosaic fuckups into true clusterfucks. Take Project Habakkuk:
If you’re a fellow public school graduate, this might be your first time seeing it too. Project Habakkuk had a simple concept: “Ice hard. “Hard boat strong. Ice boat strongest there is!” Half-ice aircraft carriers could save the British Empire from the fate it imposed on others.
I have sympathy for the engineers. They joined to design better sedan chairs for well-dressed warlords. After the blitz, they were in charge of fighting younger, spryer imperialists with superior amphetamines. That’s like learning about your dissertation a week after it’s due. I imagine similar tension at DARPA today.
That said, I didn’t agree with every exhibit.
MoviePass wasn’t a failure. It was a gift to a dying world. Mugging venture capitalists by watching B-movies was heaven. I’ll watch every rom-com ever made if Peter Thiel pays. I know this after seeing every rom-com released while Peter Thiel paid.
Speaking of the wannabe Wehrmacht, there’s an entire section dedicated to presidential cockups. Not all of them. Just one.
I exhausted my last Apprentice joke in 2019 or so, but this wall’s worth highlighting. It’s the only one Trump built. For some forces of nature, failure doesn’t take vision or hardship. It’s enough to simply be.
After the spray-on condoms and Elon Musk infographic, I’d absorbed enough failure. It was time to nod through a Hinge stranger’s life story while thinking of Project Habakkuk. For me, at least. Octavian’s into those stable relationships from the movies.
On the way out, I eyed the Wall of Failure. It’s satire in miniature. Disappointments, pratfalls, humblebrags, resentments, accidents, vendettas, and dreams, collected in digestible jokes. My handwriting didn’t stand out, but I could spy my entry from another state. Two simple words:
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