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Thanks, Just Looking

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Prenatal Development @ OMSI
1945 SE Water St.

It was like those dreamy memories that you grow not to trust. Could I have really seen that? Had that really happened? Or was it lucid wanting and imagination swirled with actual recollections to produce a false memory--an imposter's thumbprint? What I remembered was a dimly lit circular room lined with human fetuses, tracing the stages of embryonic growth. Like a time-lapse educational film that had been turned to sculpture and splayed like a deck of cards, there averaged one fetus for every week of gestation. Besides feelings of intoxicating wonderment, there was something slightly sinister about the embryo-lined room with no corners. Many of the preserved fetuses were captured in mid-gesture, frozen in contorted grimaces. One of the smaller ones clasped her hands over her ears, her face crunched into a tight, painful ball. Another was a perfect image of some slightly futuristic enlightenment. Legs crossed in a relaxed full lotus, head cocked peacefully, his wrists crossed under his chin in a gentle, Patti Smith-like gesture. It wasn't an issue of when life begins, but a look at the precise moment when it ends. I thought of the casualties of Hiroshima, flash-frozen in death like the television shows where time stops, except for the protagonist who moves without time/space constrictions through a world that has been halted like a photograph. It was like slipping between the frames of a filmstrip, sneaking into a wormhole in the life/death continuum, and resting your finger on the phonograph to make the record drag.

When I called OMSI and told them that I wanted to come down and write about their incredible human fetal development room for my column, the resistance that met this idea was stronger than I have ever felt as a writer. The woman in public relations made me repeat my interest in the room several times for her, tried to steer me to corny children's projects, banned me from taking photographs of the exhibit, and even hung up on me once as I tried to figure out why it was so much trouble to see this permanent display. After several phone calls and attempts at dissuasion, I was in, but shadowed during my visit, and then waited for outside the display. As if my intentions were not pure. As if anybody's could be.

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