• Insects and Bureaucrats

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    In
    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
    Zoo
    , 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
    activity.”)

    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
    attitude.

    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.

    I
    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!

    January
    21, 2009

    Rev.
    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
    blog
    .

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