By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Aside from fame, fortune and talent, Ben Stiller has nothing on me. That’s because I recently spent a day at the museum.
Yes, it was the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the site of Stiller’s 2006 box office hit, "Night at the Museum." I didn’t spend a night at the museum for two good reasons: It closed at 5:45 p.m. and I am not, for better or for worse, Ben Stiller.
Still, my wife, Sue, and I decided to spend an afternoon at this famous institution, which we hadn’t visited since our daughters were kids about 20 years ago, to see if anything would come alive.
"Oh, wow, things come alive all the time," said Abiba Ouattara, a guard who has been working at the museum for four years. "Especially at night."
Ouattara should know because she sometimes works the night shift. "The dinosaurs are more interesting than Ben Stiller," she said.
"Maybe I could be in an exhibit," I told her. "I’m a fossil."
"No, you’re not," replied Ouattara, whose love of her job and delightful sense of humor make her a great ambassador for the museum. "But you could be in the human origin section. That’s where we all belong."
Sue and I decided to start with an even older exhibit, in the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing, which is oddly named because dinosaurs didn’t have wings, unless you believe, as do many paleontologists, that they were closely related to birds, especially on their mother’s side.
We saw all the biggies, including T-rex (my, what big teeth you have!) and apatosaurus, formerly known as brontosaurus, a name it must have used as an alias to escape meat eaters such as allosaurus, who was there, too.
We also saw stegosaurus, a huge armored creature that had a brain the size of a walnut, making it the congressman of dinosaurs.
"No wonder it’s extinct," Sue commented.
"I have a small brain and I’m not extinct," I said.
"No," Sue noted, "not yet."
All the dinosaurs died out tens of millions of years ago from one of three causes: climate change, a comet that hit Earth or, as cartoonist Gary Larson theorized in a famous "Far Side" strip, smoking.
Even though the skeleton crew didn’t come alive, it was great to see them again. But an even bigger thrill awaited in a new exhibit called "Extreme Mammals," of which I, of course, am one.
Just as I knew the names of all the dinosaurs when I was a kid because I was, and still am, an encyclopedia of useless information, I also was familiar with the prehistoric mammals, including the woolly mammoth, the saber-toothed tiger (not really a tiger, but it’s dead, so why quibble?) and the giant ground sloth. All of them were here, as was a gigantic hornless rhinoceros named Indricotherium, the largest land mammal that ever lived. It was even bigger than Orson Welles before he, too, became extinct.
Sue and I also made it to the human origin section, where I spotted many of my ancestors, who could easily be distinguished from me because none of them, even the women, had a mustache.
The museum is so large and so fascinating that no one could possibly see it all in one day. Or even one night, as Martin Hollander, a volunteer at the information desk, told me. There is, indeed, a "Night at the Museum" program, but it’s for kids 8-12 years old.
"You’d have to bring a brat," Hollander said.
"I’m a brat. And intellectually, I’m about 8," I said. "Could my wife bring me?"
"Yes," Hollander replied. "You could be Benjamin Button."
Unfortunately, I couldn’t be Ben Stiller. But if he doesn’t want to star in another "Night at the Museum" movie, I’ll gladly take his place.
Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima