I used to frequent a wax museum. It was nothing like that gigantic chain museum with wax sculptures of Oprah Winfrey, Ronald Reagan and various other famous folks. This one was located in a tiny South Carolina town called Moncks Corner, and was itself quite small. It’s not there anymore. It melted away in a mirage one night that escaped me when I rehydrated somewhere in the desert of my frontal lobe, or maybe my earlobe. I’m wearing clip-on earrings now after all. The holes grew back just as the foliage did where the wax museum once stood.
A tall but bent-over, unusually spunky and eccentric old man ran the place (go figure). He was deaf as a doorknob. Only he could hear perfectly well, but preferred for people to think he couldn’t hear a damn thing. He even wore a big, archaic hearing aide whose little green light was never illuminated. Maybe at one point that particular aide was in vogue with the elderly and he just couldn’t let go of an era lost. His face had grown smaller over the years due to it caving in a significant bit around the mouth as more and more teeth fell out and were not replaced with dentures. The bottom of his glasses’ frames nearly reached the corners of his curled-in lips. He was emaciated looking everywhere except his belly. There he maintained a small gut that sank with the curvature of his spine.
This old man wrote notes to visitors on a small wooden-framed chalkboard that looked as if it were meant for a 19th century schoolboy. He had it strung around his neck with a surprisingly modern piece of multi-colored nylon rope. I often wondered where he got that rope, because it seemed as though he hadn’t left his museum in decades. It was as if he, himself were a permanent installation.
He wrote the notes by holding the board angled slightly upward and away from his chest with the palm of his non-dominant hand (I can’t remember which hand he wrote with, but he was an archetypal leftie). When he let it dangle again the notes were always upside down.
If a child visited the museum of a reasonably literate age, the old man would write her a note and then pick her up off one of the many worn out oriental rugs and turn her upside down so that she could read the message, instead of simply flipping the board. He’d usually write something like “Want a lollipop?” and once he flipped the kid back onto her feet, the old man would offer her a wax lollipop that looked perfectly real. It was almost an evil trick. Once the child bit into it and discovered the charade, the old man would mimic her perplexed and saddened facial expression like a mime. After a bit of a starring contest occurred, the child began to tear-up and feel frightened by him, and the old man would hand her a real lollipop.
His museum contained sculptures that were simply layers upon layers of dripped wax. There seemed to be no pattern to the dripping, just random drops stacked high (although there’s always a pattern to everything, now isn’t there?). I suppose whoever created them just sat around for hours upon hours dripping wax. Every sculpture had a humorous and/or poetic title like “Ghangis Khan Parting the Mississipi” or “The Rose Petals that are Your Tuckus, So Soft”.
I’d try to figure out the ways in which the titles related to the wax formations, and never figured out a single one. The educated guesses were the worst of all I think. Maybe randomness was the artist’s point, maybe the title didn’t mean anything nor did the sculptures themselves. The sculptor must have had a wild sense of humor.
Now that I say that, I feel as though I’m wrong. That the artist was a genius. He fooled me into thinking meaninglessness was the point, but that doesn’t make one bit of sense, other than being an utterly perfect and amusing existential contradiction.
The old man never confessed to being the creator of the pieces. To this day I question whether he was or not. He just didn’t have the arrogant demeanor of someone manning his own exhibition. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if a family member or acquaintance made them and he somehow inherited all of them. Or a complete stranger made them and the old man was an obsessive collector.
Most of the pieces were made entirely out of an ugly olive green wax. Like the color of kitchen appliances in the sixties. When I saw them I imagined a pre-electricity game show like a 1700’s version of “The Price is Right”. Maybe someone won a generous lifetime supply of stove-green candles and they were passed down for generations until a black-sheep eccentric inherited them and used them for something other than their intended utility. Artists are always doing that.
Well it seems as though he went straight through the life-time supply after who knows how many hours and days and weeks and years. Later pieces were made out of an Easter candle purple instead. Globs and globs of holy wax were mounted on plywood stands. I wonder how Christ would’ve felt about that. Certainly he wouldn’t think it was art after having his portrait done by people like Caravaggio and Da Vinci. Or maybe, since people like to talk so much about how Jesus was the first hippy, some would be of the opinion that Christ would have loved those. After all they were pretty far out.
I wonder if the artist reached some level of catharsis while dripping holy wax for hours. That experience would’ve made good subject matter for a Dali painting.
There were also shelves and shelves of small pamphlets. They were little cheaply assembled paper back “how-to” instructionals from the early twentieth century. They had titles like “How to Schmooze with the Big Dogs” or “How to Throw a Lavish Party on a Budget”. That’s all that was in the museum, just shelves upon shelves of obsolete “how-to’s” and those odd mounds of wax droppings. I read a good tenth of the pamphlets over the course of the three years I visited that place. They weren’t often informative in the intended sense, but were enlightening nonetheless. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for romanticizing unusual experiences. Like sitting in a musty corner of an esoteric Southern wax museum reading antiquated leaflets about anything and everything.
Regardless, it’s gone now. Everything. It’s gone, done, dead, finni. The old man died just a few weeks after the 60 Minutes reporter, Mike Wallace passed away. He admitted to me upside-down on his chalk board necklace once that he was very much infatuated with that man. He even invited me into his living quarters in the back of the museum to watch the broadcast with him a few times. We watched the program and split some bourbon out of a silver flask with the initials “GWC” engraved in it. That’s all I know in the way of the old man’s name, and just like the sculptures, I’m not positive it was originally his flask anyhow. After the sixties minutes passed, the old man proceeded to recite several of Lord Byron’s poems from heart. It was the only time I ever heard him speak. Then he wrote on his chalkboard that it was time for me to go home.
That was a few years before he died. I moved away shortly after. I came back to Moncks Corner for a visit and discovered that the museum was gone. A cashier at a nearby gas station told me the old man passed away and that his museum got bull-dozed down and that everything in it was either sold-off or thrown away. The clerk told me that the old man’s last words on his chalk board were “My heart is broken and I’m tired.” He died in his sleep though, there were no signs of suicide.
I remember there was a wax sculpture of Mike Wallace, or at least that was its title. Somewhat to my surprise, it did not resemble a circumcised phallus. It looked more like a melting stegosaurus. I wish I had known the old man died. I would’ve bought that particular one as a sort of commemorative piece. RIP Anonymous.