Insects and Bureaucrats

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celebration of our son’s 4th birthday, my wife and I brought him
on a long-promised trip to the New
Orleans Insectarium
. It’s the least we could do for our lad,
given his penchant for insects and arachnids (he recently taught
me the word: “cephalothorax”).

But of course,
if it were that simple, it wouldn’t be a story worth telling. And
like any story, there are villains and heroes.

We purchased
our tickets online, and even though we are members of the Audubon
, a trip to the Insectarium is still not cheap. For two adults
and a child, even with the member discount, the cost is $25.

We drove the
two miles from our home in Old Gretna to park on the street at Algiers
Point, walked a few blocks to the ferry on the west bank of the
Mississippi River, and boarded just in time. After crossing to the
east bank, at the intersection of the French Quarter and the Central
Business District, we strolled up stately Canal Street the few blocks
to the Insectarium – which is housed in the antebellum Federal
Customs House
– which is still a Federal building.

We had forgotten
about that last fact, which means, although this is strictly a museum,
and although any other part of the building is not accessible from
the museum, there is a government-style
intrusive search
that is required for admission. Such items
that are banned in Federal buildings in order to keep us safe from
terrorism include things like my wife’s 2-inch long yellow Swiss
Army knife with tweezers and a toothpick, not to mention my own
version of the pocket-sized Helvetian cache of weaponry that includes
the ubiquitous corkscrew and a magnifying glass that comes in handy
for looking up words in the Oxford English Dictionary.

So, as we approached
the uniformed lady guard manning the metal detector, I asked if
we could store our two knives somewhere and get them back after
our tour. Her reply was that we had to take them back to our “vehicle.”

Now, I’m a
former law-enforcement guy myself, but I can’t help but find such
pained circumlocutions amusing: “The suspect was seen fleeing the
vehicle on foot approaching the aforementioned establishment with
an accomplice…” – which is for some reason as amusing to me as
when the weatherman, instead of just saying “rain” or “tornado”
feels compelled to tell us of a “precipitation event” or “tornadic

But unfortunately,
I was not in a position to be amused by bureaucratic lingo, for
we had a problem. Our “vehicle” was on the other side of the Mississippi
River, a walk and a ferry ride away. It was already too late to
make the round trip to bring our pocket knives to our car, and come
back. We had a four-year old whose heart was set on seeing the Insectarium,
as well as $25 worth of tickets that we may well not have been able
to use later. Meanwhile, the Lady Keeping Us Safe From Terror had
scampered away with an “it sucks to be you” look on her face and

Our wee arachnologist
was crushed and on the verge of a tantrum. We had to leave.

But not to
worry, dear reader, America is safe. No Al Qaida operative would
overthrow the mighty United States, not that day. For no nail file,
corkscrew, wire stripper or other implement of mass destruction
would enter the Insectarium in New Orleans. No sir. There was to
be no pocket knife rebellion for future historians to write their
dissertations about. The President would make no somber speeches
to the American people regarding the lapse of American intelligence
that allowed subversive tweezer-bearing dictionary-reading Lew Rockwell
types to enter the inner sanctum of one of the oldest Temples of
Democracy. No indeed! Terror had been foiled. The forces of evil
had been rebuffed and rebuked. Democracy triumphed. The American
Way of Life had won the day. Mission accomplished.

But before
heading back home in failure (though comforted by being kept safe
from the Axis of Evil and their pocket scissors, of course), I wanted
to see if we could come up with another solution. The cost of throwing
away our tickets was roughly the same as my knife. Maybe we could
hide our knives somewhere in New Orleans and retrieve them later.
There is just something bizarre about having to actually dream up
such a plot. Maybe one of the downtown hotels would let us store
our weaponry. It was worth a shot. We strolled up to one of the
upscale hotels on Canal Street (I’ll not mention the name just in
case someone broke a company rule and could get in trouble).

I explained
our plight to the patient lady desk clerk. Unlike the government
employee, she seemed to actually care what I had to say. I asked
her if we could use, or even rent, one of the hotel’s safe deposit
boxes just for a couple hours while we went to the museum – even
though we weren’t guests at the hotel. She said yes! It was that
simple. In a matter of minutes, we were taken care of, and charged
nothing (though I did leave a tip). We were able to store our implements
of mass destruction – including my wife’s nail file (which she certainly
could have used to overthrow the government), and back to the museum
we went.

Once we dumped
all of our stuff into the little plastic baskets and went through
the metal detectors, we had a nice time. The Insectarium is really
wonderful, as are the people who work inside the museum.

One of the
guards did have a sense of humor, as I told him upon entering, that
sadly, I would not be able to open a bottle of wine should the occasion
present itself, now that I had to ditch my corkscrew. He laughed.
But at least we could all rest assured that no rogue Swiss Army
officers would be using their toothpicks to skewer imported cheese
cubes on American Federal soil.

It is interesting
that during the War for Southern Independence, the evil Benjamin
“Beast” Butler
, arguably the patron demon of all bureaucrats
and petty tyrants, actually had an office in the very building now
used to house dung beetles, scurrying cockroaches, and exhibits
on how maggots become flies.

am utterly convinced that irony is God’s sense of humor.

But it is good
to know that however silly and inflexible government rules and regulations
can be, there are still folks in the private sector who are both
willing, and free, to help out their fellow citizens.

Maybe we should
privatize the Customs House and let the lady at the hotel desk use
her powers of common sense and take charge of security at the Insectarium.
At this point, I wonder if she’d do a better job in fighting the
real war on terror.

Now that would
be using the old cephalothorax!

21, 2009

Larry Beane [send him mail]
serves as associate pastor and teaches junior high Latin and Religion
classes at Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Gretna,
LA. Visit his

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