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The Museum of Admirable Suffering

The Museum of Admirable Suffering is right where you’d figure, in the alleyway between the back of the furniture repair shop and the immigration/tax services office. The rectangular brick building is purpose-built industrial, its mortar flaking off like thickened dandruff. You’ll probably drive right past it the first time. The entryway is down several cement steps, beyond the red metal exterior door with a bronze, octopus-shaped handle. Proceed with caution, the stair railing is just a rickety lead pipe (but better than nothing). There is a freight elevator located to the left of the railing for the disabled. Once inside, you may notice the graffiti dating back to the early 1940s, with phrases and pictorials scored right into the wooden walls and louvered metal gate. Proof that people generally remain the same.

The Museum is open twenty-four hours, but not consecutively. Wednesdays through Fridays from noon to six and Saturdays from six to midnight. You may want to become a member. By the end of your visit, you may even become an exhibit.

Admission is by personal admission. Use one of the clipboards located at the entrance and complete the form by addressing yourself. Think about what you’ve done. What suffering you’ve caused. What pains you’ve endured. Take the admission home or slip it through the bronze slot in the tall wooden box next to the exit after visiting the gift shop. The forms are mulched to a fine paste, mixed with molding agents, and used for spray insulation in the ceiling between the Museum and the repair shop to cut down complaints of moaning and shouting. On that note, we ask that visitors keep chitchat to a minimum. It’s distracting, as is arguing with exhibitors about what constitutes admirable suffering. Review questions one through four on your form if clarity is needed.

For your convenience, there are two restrooms. One bathroom also functions as the supply closet for the upstairs warehouse, but it’s clean.

At present, the Museum is offering a spectacular exhibition divided into three categories: Mental, Physical, and Spiritual. Each section takes you on a journey through a recreation of the lower intestine—a complex system instinctively tuned to the presence of danger. The tubular papier-mâché and fiberglass walls (hand molded with the help of past exhibitors) are plastered with nylon strips: pinks, reds, and grays like threads of fatty sinew. Visitors walk through a spiral coil, the ribbed walls becoming increasingly smaller in size as the journey progresses toward the gift shop. Do take care to step over random items, like the beach ball with “unprocessed childhood trauma” scrawled across it in black letters, kicked back and forth between exhibits. Mind the brick with the rubber banded note on it, often found in the Mental arena.

At the mouth of the exhibition, you’ll find Veronica M. She’s declined to give her last name, but her plaque says she is originally from Grand Rapids, Iowa, which is pretty far away, and that her term of suffering is 1984–1990. We think she’s about fifty.

Veronica is on full-time loan and represents all three categories. She sits on a three-legged stool until a visitor arrives. Then she stands up in her plexiglass tube, displaying faint bruises to her shoulders, shins, and kneecaps which she’s applied with makeup. Press the intercom button on the box behind the magenta velvet rope, and Veronica will describe her suffering at the hands of her school bandmate, Bradley Montgomery. “Brad,” as he’s known throughout her story, was her constant tormentor, his reign of terror impossible to escape due to the alphabetical confluence of their surnames.

Think about what you’ve done. What suffering you’ve caused. What pains you’ve endured.

Her suffering comprises years of passive-aggressive or unmitigated aggressive behavior, as suggested by the mangled French horn beside her, backlit with purple light. Veronica’s story can be overwhelming, so if you need to step away, she understands. She’s had years of rapid eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, art therapy involving the use of colored spiral macaroni, rebirthing and reattachment therapy, multiple visits to a sensory deprivation tank, and one seriously helpful Ayahuasca trip with a shaman in the jungles of Ecuador. She’s accepted the trauma that comes with having her front two teeth caved in—shown in a passionate reenactment. But Veronica’s a Buddhist now. You’ll see.

On the hour, Veronica blows a disturbing baritone blast through what’s left of her instrument. Many like to stay for the whole six; some come back the next day to see if the stories remain the same or shift in the retelling. They often do.

Highlights of the current exhibition include:

·The Floating Speck and Other Recurring Vision Ailments Afforded to Kenneth

·The Great Malcontent of Recently Middle-Aged Louise

·Wayland’s Explanation of Quantum Superposition Which No One Understands (a loaner from St. John’s psychiatric hospital, available on Saturday nights)

·Bethany’s Undeserved but Debilitating Shingles (w/slideshow, be forewarned)

·The Ascension and Subsequent Abasement of Margaret the Lapsed Catholic

The line-up is but a smattering of the talent on display.

The first stop on your journey is the Mental realm. It’s the most cavernous of the exhibition spaces, the gray-cast ceiling littered with pink stalactites, each engraved in gilded script. Everything from the banal “dwindling hope” or “long workday” to the inspired “daily arguments between Augustus and Gabriella, courtesy of dissociative identity disorder.”

If Wayland, a staff favorite, is unavailable, there are several other exhibitors, all complete with the usual misunderstandings, gaslighting, and unrequited loves. Louise will explain the grating, nightly uncertainty brought on by the hamster wheel of doom. A replica wheel is available to spin, the plastic hamster tail slapping its way through the brightly colored triangles. The golden triangle jackpot? Three interconnected tales of female friendship (Tufi, Violet, and Louise) gone sour. This trifecta exposes depths of abandonment trauma. You may want to bring tissues.

Before leaving the Mental space, note the bulbous door shaped like a polyp near the floor. Lie down and pop the handle. The shadow box inside correlates to your deepest sufferings, scenes swaying round like a drunkard, the wafting pong reminiscent of decaying leaves. This might be a good time to take a few notes. The scenes are the same for everyone.

Moving carefully past any supine visitor, you’ll venture into the Physical arena, the lush pink walls shifting to shattered geometric shapes cast about in mauves and reds. It’s like being inside a fleshy geode. If you are over 5’6” you will need to crouch. For those with chronic neck and back pain, who already understand the debilitating nature of physical suffering, we’re sorry for the fresh reminder.

If it’s Wednesday, you’ll encounter Pablo or Kenneth. But most likely Pablo. He’ll open his trench coat to display his metal wares, extracted from the many surgeries he endured after his wife ran him over in their shared Ford Escalade. He will remove each item from its elastic holster, musing upon its correlating scar. He’ll tell you how long each pin, screw, and bolt took to heal and his reasons for removing each at the cost of his well-being. Some do not like foreign objects in their bodies, not for extended lengths of time anyway, and Pablo is one of them.

Bethany’s slideshow is off to the left. Follow the gasping noises to a cramped sliver of a room that smells faintly of sweat, the walls scored with faux plasticine blisters. Venture in if you don’t mind the gruesome—not everyone has ordinary suffering. What is ordinary about suffering? Because Bethany’s space captures a herpes outbreak poised at the threshold of imaginability, the tubed wall veers sharply to the right: the helix you’ve entered is more wonky Ouroboros than Fibonacci. Perfection is overrated. We think you’ll agree.

Past Kenneth/Pablo, and the other three exhibitors, you will see a human hand extended from within the curved wall, painted yellow. The hand points toward the last exhibit, the Spiritual, but also serves as talent scout. Is the hand pointing you on? Go ahead, be our guest. Is the hand signaling you to stop? You’ve been chosen to exhibit. Try to slide past the hand, and it will grab you and hang on until you take a tin pull-tab from the cloth bag tied to its wrist. Fold the red tag over your collar—you’ll trade it in at the gift shop. Don’t worry. This is what you’ve always wanted.

You’ll have to crawl on hands and knees or use the mechanized pully system to make your way through the crimson, wet-looking walls of the Spiritual tube, threaded with tiny white LED lights like veins of pulsing hope. There are resting spaces to pull your body inside if you tire, the pods imbued with soothing lavender oils. Take a few deep breaths. Insight and enlightenment can be quite overwhelming. Persevere. You’re almost at the end.

The first exhibitors in the domain of the Spiritual are a rotating cast of ex-couples: fully nude, prone, head-to-head to preclude the need for eye contact. They each get a raw Russet potato and fork to give their hands something to do while relating their tales of woe. Warning: those with epilepsy may want to skip this display due to the flashing strobe lights. The exhibitors share a barrage of recriminations at times escalating to yelling. Or they just cry and emit a few soft moans, aerating their vegetables four holes at a time.

You’ll come across Margaret recounting her fall from faith and how she found a new community in the Half-Atheists Who Half-Believe. It does not feel to her like settling. Margaret lays on a bed of prickly burrs—her idea, not the Museum’s—a flagellation she finds useful. Like her tattooed stigmata, it is a token of the wholeness of her belief (at that time). She is in the process of tattooing Bordeaux lilies over her hands and is open to recommendations for covering her feet. Skulls or flames are not her preference. Margaret offers many insights as she lies still, hands folded over a dusty-rose pantsuit with matching pumps. It is her best Sunday outfit. You can take a burr as a souvenir. Margaret always knows where to find more.

Slowly inching past the other exhibitors, find your way to Celeste. Try to resist the urge to scurry into the puckered star of bright light, to the gift shop with its lure of trinkets. You may be feeling claustrophobic. Panic rising to bile. The tunnel is very small. It’s not your imagination. It’s barely enough for one body to squeeze through. But you’ll want to regard Celeste, lying on her side on a yoga mat. She’ll shift aside her careworn terrycloth robe to display the tiny dioramas surgically implanted under her skin. The subdermal polymer windows depict miniature scenes of her life, the ticker tape of her thoughts spooling around her forehead in a dot matrix type. You’ve never seen anything like it. You’ve never felt the pull of your heart so keenly. We assure you.

Grab the folds of fabric strips around the exit hole. Take care not to bash Celeste with your elbows. Only then will you be free. You’ll roll onto a foam pad on the other side, where any wheelchairs, walkers, or canes you’ve left behind are waiting. Our staff is ready to assist you.

That’s it. You’ve found the gift shop! A plethora of takeaway sufferings await your choosing: Mangled French Horn keychains, Wayland’s Theory (written on toilet paper tubes and smuggled in each Saturday), resin-composite Brian’s Black Hearts (from last year’s exhibit, now 70 percent off). There’s a freezer full of Stalactite Sufferings, reusable and useful for chilling white wine. Try Louise’s Doom Wheels™ or Tim’s Barely Visible Metal Threads (for insertion under the fingernail) in packs of ten. Margaret’s cherry stigmata jellies come handmade in a jar, but these usually sell out. There are, of course, free potatoes.

Leave your admission in the wooden box if you choose or use it to apply for full membership (the last page of the form is available at the till). Membership includes unlimited access and one-off shows every other Thursday for one hour after closing, where you’ll brandish a fire extinguisher in case LeCretia’s spontaneous combustion finally manifests. She’s convinced it will, as a matter of karma, but that story is hers to tell.

Perfection is overrated. We think you’ll agree.

If you received a red tab, hand it over to the cashier. A staff member will take you past the break room to a closet-like space, where you’ll find a comfortable, overstuffed chair. Here you must consider your fate. Are you a Veronica? Perhaps a Brad? The hand knows, and so do you. Who says your sufferings are any less important than the next person’s? Or are they? Are you the most virtuous sufferer the Museum has ever had the pleasure to exhibit? Perhaps. Maybe.

Of course, you want to feel validated. You want to know you have not suffered for nothing. The only way to know for sure is to exhibit. Make a case for yourself. But are the predictable horrors of junior high enough to qualify? The crushing resignation after the shotgun wedding? We call upon the board to decide.

When you’re ready to acknowledge the truth, feel around in the dark until you find a large button on the wall. Press the button and a staff member will collect you. If you qualify, they will call your work and family to explain your absence. Don’t panic. Your placement is an honor.

Alternately, you may lie to yourself and face immediate rejection. You’ll be escorted out through the basement, underneath the street, exiting from up the stairs and out of the kitchen of Babb’s Chicken and Chips. If you don’t qualify, say the admirability of your suffering is in question because you feel you were “unduly” fired (although you were the one to give the go-ahead when the product was obviously faulty, resulting in all the maiming), exiting will be the same. But this way you get basket meal out of it. Better luck next time.

If you are chosen to participate, Veronica will debrief you. Veronica always recognizes future exhibits by their murky eyes, the tainted hue of their aura. She knew it was you from the moment you arrived.