It’s A Flag; Or A Guy

S.A.Leys Photography

It’s such an embarrassing story that it just needs to be shared in a “Don’t ever let this happen to you” sort of way.

Let me start by saying how much I love (LOVE!) looking at pictures of clipper ships. This is something I have loved since I was really little. I loved looking at the designs, the sails, all of the lines on the ship, the flags and my favorite part, the bowsprit.

I am so passionate about clipper ships that several years ago, when I was in Graduate school and attending a Student Personnel Conference in Washington DC, I asked my graduate school advisor (we had an extra day) to go to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum so I could look at everything related to American History as well as… yes, the Clipper Ships.

I didn’t realize I had been looking at all of the ships for an extended period of time – my professor, Dr. Champagne, came up to me and asked: “so how are you doing?” When I looked at my watch, I was astounded because it had been almost two hours that I had been in the same area, looking at all of the ships. Thankfully, she was an amazing and very patient professor. I loved (and still love..) clipper ships as well as old classic yachts. It’s a thing – when you grow up in Newport, RI, this is just a thing….

Fast forward to ten years ago. It’s my birthday and my partner and I are now living in the Washington DC metro area and are headed to the National Gallery of Art. – I am just so excited because.. whelp… two words – “clipper ships”.

As we walk through the gallery I see a beautiful, very majestic picture of a magnificent clipper ship. The intricate lines of the ship are beautiful, as are the sails and the waves around the ship. I move forward to look at the bowsprit where there looks to be a flag..or a guy..I couldn’t really tell because it was so small and delicately painted..that I had to move closer. Guy or flag? I leaned in a little closer…

That’s when all hell broke loose.

A loud voice from behind me “Ma’am!! YOU STEPPED OVER THE LINE!!”

I turned to see him glaring at me. He picked up his radio, pressed the button and responded: “yes, it’s me, I see her”.  Now vigilant of my every move. People in the gallery all stopped and watched. There was drama, intrigue … he said, “You touched the picture!!”

“No, I didn’t,” I said.

“Yes, you did!” he responded, “and you stepped over the line!”

“No… I didn’t,” I said. Like the flag above says, when you’re passionate about something and being wrongfully accused, you don’t give up the ship…EVER!

I watched as more security guards entered the gallery area which included his supervisor. He pointed at me and told him “she stepped over the line and she touched the painting!”

“Why would I do that?” I asked, “I was just trying to see if it was a flag or a guy?”

They looked at me; puzzled.

At that point, I felt a hand grabbing my shoulder. “Come on, let’s go.” It was my partner who had been a few galleries ahead of me because.. yup… again, I had spent too much time looking at the clipper ships.

“But…” I answered. I felt this strong need to remain and guard my honor (as any yachtsman would do if they were EVER questioned in this manner).

“No, let’s go.” my partner said, leading me to the exit.

At least two security guards were following us and one of them clicked the button to his walkie-talkie and said: “they’re headed towards the east exit!”

“Okay, we got ’em”. My partner and I had just rounded the corner to head for the door and saw the other two security guards glaring at us, ready to pounce..or um.. whatever the heck it is they do at the National Gallery of Art.

“Come on”, my partner said. And we exited the museum and headed out to walk along the mall to Legal Seafoods where we had reservations for dinner (and yeah, because that’s where you go when you’re a yachtie who has just been kicked out of the National Gallery).

I was flummoxed and defiant and just really very sad.

The baked stuffed lobster almost made all of my frustration go away. Seriously – who gets kicked out of the National Gallery on their birthday? And – I didn’t touch the painting or step over the line and sadly, I will never know if it that small thing at the end of the bowsprit of the beautifully and intricately painted clipper ship was a flag or a guy.

Not my best birthday, but definitely one of the most memorable.

Don’t ever let this happen to you.

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