Orgone Research

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Insect Collection

When I was in the 7th or 8th grade we had a class project; create an insect collection. It was springtime in Missoula, and it sounded like more fun than the usual dreary schoolwork. Besides, before video games, boys had to actually do things outside, like kill and maim insects. Thus the toned-down version of this, simply collecting them, sounded fairly easy.

Our teacher for this was Mr. Clements, who had earned the nickname "Mr. Sadist", as he was fond of becoming kind of rough with misbehaving boys. I believe this was called "corporal punishment" back in those days. My friends Mike and Joe called him "Luca" behind his back, a slur derived from Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather that they had both recently read. Luca Brasi was Vito Corleone's sadistic personal enforcer. Mike and Joe both grew up to be lawyers.

Mr. Clements had to provide us all with "euthanizing chambers" to kill the little bugs after we collected them and prior to display. These were simple affairs, a glass "Mason" jar with a tight fitting lid, some cotton at the bottom, and a tightly woven screen placed over the cotton to prevent the bugs from ending up in the cotton. Mr. Clements placed some sort of noxious organic chemical in the jars, intended to "euthanize" the bugs. I'm thinking it might have been dry cleaner fluid. Many jokes were made comparing Mr. Clements to a Nazi concentration camp guard, and the dry cleaner fluid to Zyklon B.

Unfortunately the toxic liquid soon evaporated away, even with the jar lids screwed down tight. We had to figure out a better way of killing the little bugs without mutilating them. About this time, a fellow student with the exotic name of Tom Jones introduced us to the wonders of the smoking pen. He modified a "clicker" style ball point pen by taking out the ink filled cartridge and manipulating the spring into a sort of "striker". The pen unscrewed in the middle, and a kitchen match was placed inside. The spring was pulled back and released, striking the head of the match. The smoke poured out the tip of the pen in a sort of James Bond or Wild Wild West production. Not surprisingly, we experimented with exterminating bugs with this smoke. It worked.

We had to buy special "insect pins" from the University of Montana student center. These were remarkable things, much finer than ordinary sewing pins, and metallurgically superior. The pins were plunged through the thorax of the bugs upon death and mounted for display. Chris Reynolds told me he found a lost pin in his shag carpet once, the hard way. As he slid his hand along the carpet, a pin pierced the webbing between his thumb and forefinger. A pre-modern-primitive piercing, perhaps.

It was inevitable that I would try this, and I did. I had to impale a still living Coleoptera to see what would happen. My experiment came to an ignominious end one day when my grandmother saw the still moving legs of little beast, flailing away in the air. An embarrassed euthanasia quickly followed.

The night before the grand unveiling of our collections at school I was over at Dave Peterman's house, trading and organizing our respective collections like baseball cards. We decided to prank the system by creating "UFI's", or Unidentified Flying Insects. We knew that all insects by definition had three segments, head, thorax, and abdomen. We used an X-Acto knife to separate segments of various insects then mixed and rejoined them with Superglue. Remember, before video games, kids really did shit like this…

Our collections were to be sorted by insect Order, and Dave and I both had several specimens of "UFI" for inspection the next day. Mr. Clements, passed by one of our sets without comment, but we were busted when he saw the second "UFI" set.
Believe it or not, I can still remember various orders of insects that I learned from that exercise. But what's really memorable about the whole experience is how smart, pent-up young minds twisted and modified the dull and ordinary circumstances that life provided. Yes, insect collecting was cool...


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