“I’ll go to Rome eventually”, Eric thought to himself as he dispassionately entered another gallery piece for the auction house into the computer. It was a Matisse. He wrote a short paragraph for it utilizing what he had learned in an Art History class. If not Rome, maybe Paris, or London. He was interning for more “Real World” experience, which meant working long hours without pay, while working toward his Masters. He wanted to explore an international studies course in Rome, but, reluctantly, decided that it was smarter to save money and stay in the city. Besides, now he had an extra $5,000 to put toward school expenses and books.
“I’ll just take my lunch now,” said John, Eric’s supervisor. “You want me to bring you back a coffee?” John was burdened with the same boring task as Eric, but didn’t hide his contempt as well.
Eric was startled by John’s unsolicited outburst that cracked like a whip over the faint humming of the computers. Eric’s eyes started to burn after blinking from staring at the computer screen for too long. “No, I’m fine,” he said, rubbing his eyes.
“You sure? I won’t even charge you extra for a handling fee.” John laughed.
“Alright. Suit yourself,” John said. Then, “Hey, how far are you?”
“I just finished the Matisse,” Eric said.
“You did? Damn!” John exclaimed. “I had a real funny one for the Matisse.”
To make work less boring, John would cleverly insert jokes and innuendos into his descriptions of the gallery pieces. He was particularly proud of describing the Venus de Milo’s presence as being “touching.”
“Fine,” John continued. “Since you stole the Matisse one from me, I get that weird Egyptian cookie-jar-lookin’ thing.”
“That’s a Canopic Jar,” Eric corrected him. “They used them to store vital organs that were removed during mummification.”
“Whatever. You can have that hat.”
“I don’t know anything about hats,” Eric rebutted.
“Make something up,” was John’s response. “I’ll see you in an hour.”
Lunch breaks were 30 minutes.
Eric’s eyes glared along the wall as he followed an imaginary John through the brick. Then he turned around to examine the hat.
It was made of straw and well-worn. It looked like the kind Eric had seen cowboys wear in old photographs. Around the crown, a brown leather band was strapped with three distinct round Conchos with grooves radiating from the center fastened in it on the front. Eric slid his fingers along the brim and down a piece of string to lift up the gallery tag. It said “Jack Horowitz Hat,” sloppily hand written in blue ink.
After a few moments of contemplating, Eric decided against John’s advice and typed “Jack Horowitz” into the Wikipedia search engine.
The first thing Eric noticed was a black and white photo of a man in a straw hat holding a spear and smiling next to four African tribesmen, while standing proudly over the corpse of a lion. His eyes darted from the photo to the Overview.
Jack Horowitz (1872- 1935) was an adventurer and anthropologist that led many expeditions over every continent documenting hundreds of species of wildlife and preserving historical artifacts from ancient cultures.
Eric scrolled down the screen.
Born on a ranch in what is now Montana, Jack Horowitz developed a love for nature at a very young age.
Eric had passed through Montana, once. It was on a family vacation to visit relatives in Portland. He didn’t mind long car trips. Minneapolis was a place he always wanted distance from. He remembered fogging the car window with his breath and tracing the peaks of the mountains.
In 1888, age 16, he found work as a cook’s aid on a ship. The ship was captained by Henry Morgan Stanley and destined for East Africa to map the coastline. During a storm, he fell overboard and had to tread water for two days before rescue. While being pulled aboard, Captain Stanley reportedly leaned over the side and said, “We’ll need the dishes washed before supper.”“
He was sixteen?” Eric blurted out. He scanned the room instinctively to make sure no one had witnessed his brief loss of composure. He knew he was alone, but couldn’t stop himself from checking. He confirmed his solitude and returned to reading.
By 1889, he had fallen in love with East Africa and decided to stay. He had already found a job as a safari guide for a local outfitter that catered to royalty and the wealthy elite. He enjoyed making sketches of the animals he saw and began unofficially documenting them in his notebooks. He especially loved visiting the Ngorongoro Crater because of the high concentration of wildlife.
He used to go exploring the woods behind his house with his brother when they were kids. In the summer, they’d spend all day making trails and climbing trees. He got along well with his brother back then.
In 1891, he left East Africa for England to study Biology and Archaeology at Cambridge University. He was admitted as a favor from a professor whose life he saved from a pride of lions. The pride had surrounded the professor, but Jack had brought the help of twenty or so Masai warriors who extracted him to safety. Eric was a business major. He wanted to study philosophy, but everyone told him he couldn’t make money at it.
At Cambridge, he graduated second in the Class of 1895. During his studies, he enjoyed reading “The Origin of Species,” and, upon graduating, joined an expedition to the Galapagos Islands.
He always wanted to go somewhere tropical. He had been to Daytona Beach for Spring Break once in college. It satisfied him at the moment, but frequently looked back on it as a waste. He read on about how Jack Horowitz began leading expeditions around the world funded by museums and governments and worked closely with other researchers. He even assisted Theodore Roosevelt’s expedition of East Africa in 1909.
In 1933, Jack Horowitz was one of the leading archaeologists trying to piece together the lost history of the Inca Empire. In 1935, he contracted an undocumented disease in the jungles of Peru and died while en route to compare artifacts with Hiram Bingham at Machu Picchu.
Eric stopped reading.
He picked up the hat and inspected it with new found reverence. He thought about the greatness of the man that used to wear it and felt connected to him through it. He saw the thundering herds of wildebeest and heard caws from brightly colored birds. His breathing became deeper as he began to feel the blood swirl in his chest. Then, slowly, he lifted the hat and placed it on his head.
John returned to the room with his face buried in a complicated text message. He looked up smiling, expecting to see Eric. But Eric was gone, and so was the hat. He was on his way to the airport. The hat deserved to see Macchu Picchu.
Grand Haven, Michigan