Conch Shells are Weapons of Mass Destruction

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Helmet Conch image from Naples Sea Shell Company naplesseashellcompany.com

I know, that sounds harsh for a first post. Perhaps I should keep it light and talk about the tasty Montepulciano I’m drinking, but I’d prefer to save that for another time when I’m more interested in discussing wine notes. Tonight I’m simply taking the edge off the first work week of 2012 and it’s just lovely. So I’ll tell you a brief tale from my recent trip to Nevis and St. Kitts.

This incident actually occurred on the flight home from St. Kitts while passing through St. Maarten airport security. Behold the culprit to the left: one helmet cameo conch shell (the kind from which cameo jewelry pieces are made).  I found a shell like this one on Lover’s Beach in Nevis. Actually I take that back. I found it while being coerced into a walk from Lover’s Beach around Hurricane Hill. I don’t recommend this “walk.” It’s actually a hike that involves slippery rocks and some agility. I’m more of an indoor girl and we’ll discuss how I got out wrangled into this “walk” at a later date. So while trying not to faceplant or break a limb, I spied something interesting tucked among the rocks. This shell was perfect – no holes and no inhabitants (I learned the holes in conchs come from the fishermen and those without holes are usually snagged by an octupus). I couldn’t wait to get my perfect, fancy shell home.

I packed my beach prize in my carry-on bag because I didn’t want to run the risk of breaking it. I made it through the St. Kitts airport security and was off to St. Maarten for the next round. I arrived and had to re-check my bag. Since I had a long layover, I made my way outdoors into the sun to enjoy the last few hours of the vacay. When it came time to run the carry-on bag through security again, I was alarmed to hear the words, “Conch shell!” The St. Kitts security had inspected the shell for critters, but no one indicated any problem with the shell being in a carry-on.  The security worker asked, “Is this your bag?” and proceeded to rummage. She found a smaller conch in a Ziploc and dug deeper for my prized helmet. “Oh, no,” she said, “No, you can’t take this on the plane.”

“What? Why?” I asked.

She replied, “It’s too big.”

“Well, what options do I have? Do you have something set up where I can mail it to myself?”

“No ma’am. You should have put it in a checked bag. It’s too big.”

“I don’t understand what the problem is. I wasn’t aware of any shell restrictions.”

“There aren’t. You could take this shell and hit the pilot or someone else on the head with it,” at this point she has it out and is demonstrating how I could smack a person upside the head…with a friggin’ seashell.

I would have paid to see the look on my own face, “Are you serious?” I mean, really – who thinks of doing this kind of thing? I could have hit someone with one of the five pieces of Nevis Newcastle Pottery that were in also my carry-on bag and had the same result. I’m now picturing my caucasian self, somewhere between sizes 2 and 4, beating the crap out of unsuspecting plane passengers with my conch shell. The visual is bizarre and slightly unflattering. I begin to wonder what I’m beating them for…an aisle seat? A miniscule bottle of Bacardi? Duty-free perfume? I’m reminded of a time where I watched a woman chase her children around an apartment complex pool screaming, “Get back here. I am not a sane woman!”

“Yes ma’am,” she says, snapping me back into reality, “You probably should have put it in checked. Do you want your plastic bag?” Wait, do I want my plastic bag? What?

“But…no one told me,” I pleaded (cue the tears), “I mean, I didn’t know it was a problem or I would have.”

“Well, now you know,” she said, very matter-of-factly. With that, she pivoted on one foot, and strutted away with my perfect cameo shell. I’m sure it’s sitting on her mantel or selling on eBay for a whopping $10 – $15. And well, now you know.

Every person who has heard this story has responded in the same way, “That (insert exploitive of choice) just wanted your shell!” Yes. Indeed. She’s going to take that shell home and beat someone with it.  She is not a sane woman.

So the moral of this little debacle is: when you find a shell you like, (like really like, like Sally-Field-Oscar-speech-kind-of-like) wrap it well and put it in your checked bag or prepare to deal with some security snatch who thinks you have a hidden agenda. Don’t get me wrong, I understand and appreciate the extra airline security in light of the events that have occurred over the past 10 + years.  I’ve never had any problem with airline security up until this dreaded conch shell incident. Hmmmm…but I think I now know what will be this season’s hottest self-defense accessory. Conch wristlets, anyone?

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