In the past, people described my mother's personality as quirky. These days they would likely say she is ‘on the spectrum’. She is into puzzles, factual knowledge and has very strong opinions on many topics. Conversations with her tend to have a one way flow to them, so I’m never quite sure if what I'm saying is being heard. I will mention one thing, and then the conversation will quickly jump from topic to topic never getting back to that thing I wanted to talk about which can be frustrating.
I used to be sure I was different. A ‘normie’. I had friends in school. People said I was a good listener. But these days, around coworkers that mostly avoid me, as I work cataloging obscure details about archaeological artifacts that few people are interested in, I sometimes wonder about the old saying that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
At the office of the Director of Special Exhibits, Ann Walters stands in front of me with an open, friendly, and vaguely regal bearing. The poise of someone who has graduated from an elite Ivy League school.
We’re both quiet for a while then she asks, “How long have you worked here?”
“Four years and three months,” I say.
“Four years and three months,” she says it again, as if it’s an important fact to register, “and you are the most detailed minded curator on our team. I need you to make sure everything proceeds smoothly with the exhibit.”
“I will try my best.”
“Papakonstantinou has sent me a list of issues we need to fix by tomorrow. Find a way to make them happy,” she says in one breath, “I’ll email you the list in a minute.
She looks at her computer until I realize the meeting is over.
In anticipation of a lot of work later, I go out for a breather in front of the museum. From over the pedestal where Theodore Roosevelt’s statue once stood, I look out at Central Park and feel the chill of the first breeze of autumn. Hundreds of years of history have happened here as well.
My mobile vibrates, a notification. At first it looks like spam: You have received a $100 gift. Install the BetRio App to collect and begin gaming.
Then I see: “Merry Christmas! Love, Mom.”
My mind is too busy with the museum exhibit to process this right now, so I hit the ok button and put my mobile away.
I soon receive a list of BetRio notifications about awards and special offers, and hope this new app just goes away.
The email from Ann about the problems with the exhibit arrives.
Some backstory, Greece and Turkey have a historical beef with each other. A grudge that dates back to things such as Mehmed II’s conquest of Greek Constantinople in 1453. The sack of Athens in 1458. The Ottoman Empire's 400-year occupation. With the Greeks doing most of the losing, and the Turks the sacking, one can assume emotions run hotter on the Moussaka side of the Aegean Sea.
This explains why, when a Turkish immigrant, Emre Demirc, founded America’s largest Greek yogurt company Frobani, and then used the profits from selling Greek yogurt to Americans, to sponsor an exhibit on the glories of the Turkish Ottoman Empire at New York’s most prestigious museum, it was all too much for Spyros Papakonstantinou.
It felt like the sack of Athens all over again.
“Papakonstantinou donated $20 million for this exhibition,” Ann tells me, “and he wants us to make it an uplifting tribute to Ancient Greece’s contribution to American democracy.”
“That sounds like a very Eurocentric theme,” I say worryingly.
“Yes, that’s why we are making the centerpiece of the exhibit the Kore statues.” The Kore statues are sculptures of children, wearing clothes thankfully, and smiling. “Your label states that the Kore Statues were funeral offerings.”
“Yes,” I smile tentatively.
“That has not been proven, some researchers say they were gifts to the gods. Why didn’t you consult with me before printing the labels?”
“I went with the consensus academic stance.”
“This is the type of thing that could cause problems between us.”
“Papakonstantinou, Papakonstantinou,” she practices our patron's surname, “the Kore Statues were a gift to the gods,” she winks at me, “replace all the labels.”
I grimace. It will take hours of pleading with the printing department. On the way downstairs, I take a detour to the back garden to make a voice call.
“Mom, did you send me some type of betting app?”
“Yes, that’s from us. We thought you’d enjoy it. Your dad has us using what he calls the Martingale method, and he’s doing really well down on the strip you know.” She fills me in on their recent betting history.
I tell her, “You know, no one ever makes money gambling.”
“We’ve been keeping track, and we’re still ahead.”
“As long as you’re not spending too much, I guess it’s good entertainment,” that seems to make her happy and I say goodbye.
Honestly, I have zero interest in gambling. Maybe I can withdraw the money from the app, and pretend I enjoyed gambling it away. But I’ll need to know enough about the games to fake it. It all seems complicated, and procrastination is the easy option right now.
Back at work after a few tedious hours of updating labels, the positions of the antiquities, and expanding our social media campaign, Ann finds me again.
“You managed to spell the Spyros Papakonstantinou Foundation correct on twenty descriptions,” she says, stammering slightly on the long surname that she seems to want to keep practicing. “But now our whole exhibition hall is full of signs for the Hill of the Mouses.” She shows me a sign. “The Hill of the Mouses? Are you playing a prank on us?”
“The Hill of the Muses, it’s a possible alternate spelling,” I propose.
She gives me a frown, she clearly double-checked the spelling with one of the professors of Greek history funded by the museum. “Papakonstantinou will be arriving for the reception tonight, you can explain to him why the signs at the exhibit they’ve spent 20 million dollars on are misspelled,” she pronounces the name of the prominent Greek-American family fluently this time.
“Yes, we’ve been dealing with it.”
I work all night reprinting the signs.
The next morning we carefully uncrate the centerpiece of ‘Greek Origins of American Democracy’ the Kore Statue #673. It was buried under the Acropolis for 2,500 years after the Persians sacked the city in 480 B.C. The inhabitants of Athens buried the statues for safekeeping, or perhaps to hide the evidence of losing the battle. I’m relieved it was the Persians, and I don’t need to write anything about Turks on the object label.
As we remove the polyurethane foam packing, I see tape sticking to the statue. As we carefully peel off the tape, it leaves a sticky yellow residue on this priceless antiquity.
I look toward my coworker Adam. "It's not a big deal, there are two hundred of these statues out there," he says.
I feel dizzy. I need to be alone for a minute, and go to the bathroom.
My mobile vibrates. I see another notification: $25 bonus if you activate the BetRio app within the next 15 minutes.
This seems like a welcome distraction right now so I put in a username and accept the terms and conditions.
I send a text message. “Mom, what game do you play on BetRio?”
I soon receive a reply, “Video Poker.”
My mother used to be an avid reader, there would always be a small stack of novels in the living room, historical fiction from James Michener, and the Clan of the Cave Bear series from Jean Auel were some I remember. But being older now, her concentration and eyesight make it harder her for to focus. Perhaps she looks for simpler and more immediate gratification with gambling.
After some googling, I discover the BetRio app isn’t licensed in New York state. So it's technically illegal, even though I’ve seen people using the same app on the subway regularly. Anyway, I haven’t bet anything, so haven’t committed a crime. These things should have a way to withdraw the money, right? I click on the accounts menu, find a PayPal button, and try to withdraw the $125.
When I push the final green button, everything disappears and it brings me back to the homepage. I try it again. Same result.
"Come to my office immediately." I receive a text from Ann.
I rush upstairs.
"I've just heard about the shocking damage to the Kore Statue," Ann says as soon as I enter her office.
"Yes, it appears the statue was improperly packed..."
She interupts, "Adam says you didn't take the damage seriously."
I attempt to explain but her look of doubt doesn't change. She says she's in a rush, and asks me to prepare an official apology by the museum to the Greek Minister of Antiquities.
From others I find out Ann will appear on a BBC podcast today talking about her trip leading an archeological exacation at La Almoloya. The dig unearthed artifacts that point toward evidence of a female ruler of the El Argar culture, which thrived in South-East Spain in 2200 BC. The museum members that were involved in the project busy themselves with fact checking Ann's notes for the talk.
As I'm left out of all the activity, I have time between routine work to scan all the Las Vegas gambling guides I received in links from my mother. I'm not that confident about winning, but at least the rules of these games are easy to understand.
On Sunday, Spyros Papakonstantinou visits the museum and receives a private tour. Ann says flattering words about his interest in antiquities and the immense contributions of Greek history, along with many other diverse cultures, to the modern world. Spyros nods and smiles. After six months of preparation, I hoped for more enthuasism for all our hard work from Spyros.
At least there hasn't been a word about the damage to Kore Statue #673 mentioned today.
Afterwards, Ann holds a congratulatory meeting for museum staff. She thanks a long list of the senior members staff. A few of my colleagues give me sympathetic sideways glances as I’m not mentioned.
After I return home, I make a call.
“Mom, I tried out the app,”
“How did it go?”
“I have a question, in Jacks or better, should I hold a pair of 2’s?”
“I’m happy you asked. Always hold a low pair. Last week I held a low pair, drew two more, and won 75 dollars. The machines at the Suncoast…”
I interrupt before she drifts too far. “Mom, another question, what’s the Martingale method?”
“When you lose a hand, you bet twice as much on the next one. But if you hit your limit, for me that’s $50 dollars, you need to leave the casino and give the machines time to rest until the next day. Now, your Dad’s friend Greg has another system that he says works at the Aliente…”
I stop interrupting and let her go through a flurry of anecdotes about recent events. Somehow, I find this conversation refreshingly predictable and comfortable after everything else that has been going on recently.
“Thanks for all the info,” I say at the end of our conversation, and thank her again for the birthday gift.
Over the weekend, I end up losing the hundred twenty five dollars within a few hours. I return the small gift back to the casino. But I gain a more important gift, a new connection with my mother during the holidays, and that’s something to talk about.