Dave Barry: Exploring human life through the eyes of a cockroach

08/07/2012 12:01 AM

09/08/2014 5:59 PM

-- I’ll get to the Olympics in a moment, but first a few words about humanity, which is doomed.

I found out about this from a woman who was dressed as a giant cockroach. For the record, at the time I was also dressed as a giant cockroach. This happened in the London Science Museum, which offers an activity called the Cockroach Tour, in which you tour the museum wearing a cockroach costume consisting of a big black headpiece with antennae sticking out of it, and a large shell with legs sticking out, which you wear on your back. When you put on this costume, from behind you really do look like an enormous cockroach. From the front you just look like an idiot.

I took this tour with my 12-year-old daughter, Sophie. She was embarrassed about wearing the costume, but I insisted. I once picked up Sophie’s brother at middle school in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, so I was not about to let her get out of dressing as a cockroach in a crowded museum. That is the kind of strict parent I am.

There were eight of us on the tour. It was led by a woman named Kate Hart, who is trained in the theater. She assembled us by yelling, "Any more tickets for the two o’clock cockroach? LAST CALL FOR THE TWO O’CLOCK COCKROACH!"

When we all had on our costumes, Kate, assuming the role of head cockroach, told us she would be taking us around the museum and explaining humans to us. She also informed us that we would travel as a group by "scuttling." At this point Sophie rolled her eyeballs at me so hard I’m surprised they didn’t fall out.

"SCUTTLE!" shouted Kate, and she took off running at surprisingly high speed, hunched over cockroach-style. The rest of us took off after her in a herd, with me in the rear. I could barely see: My headpiece was bouncing wildly, and my official Olympic press credential was flapping all over the place. (No, I don’t know why I wore my credential; it’s not as though there was going to be a part of the tour open only to media cockroaches.)

Led by Kate, we scuttled across the museum floor. The crowd quickly parted for us, obeying the fundamental human instinct to get out of the way of insane people. We scuttled over to the Science Museum cafeteria, where we clustered around a group of humans and observed them eating while Kate gave a brief speech about how humans waste food. The humans stared back at us in alarm, some frozen in mid-chew.

"SCUTTLE!" shouted Kate, taking off again through the crowd. We scuttled to a series of exhibits; at each one, Kate would talk about how humans are destroying the planet with wacky insane human behavior such as burning fuel. Then she would shout "SCUTTLE!" again, and off we would go.

At one point I lost the herd. I came scuttling around a corner, and I saw no cockroach shells, only civilians. Two women were staring at me. I said -- this is a direct quote -- "Do you know which way the cockroaches went?" One of them pointed to some stairs, and I scuttled that way. I quickly rejoined the herd, but I will not soon forget the feeling of panic I had when I was separated from it. The next time I see a cockroach running around my kitchen floor, alone and vulnerable, I will not stomp on it with cruel indifference, as I have done so often in the past. I will stomp on it with heartfelt sympathy.

We scuttled around the museum for 45 minutes, ending up on a balcony looking down on the museum crowd. There, under Kate’s direction, we waved our antennae goodbye to the human race, which -- this was the Subtle Educational Message of the tour -- is doomed. Then we took off our costumes, and Sophie got out her iPhone so she could Google how to put herself up for adoption.

I’m out of space here, so I’m afraid the Olympic update will have to wait until tomorrow. Assuming there is one.

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