Under the gun

Last spring I took the family to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Bethesda, located beneath the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology on the grounds of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Built to withstand a nuclear blast, AFIP is a windowless building with massive vault-like doors.

The medical museum has been a perennial DC favorite for generations, where you can see pieces of Abraham Lincoln's skull and James Garfield's spine, the pickled leg of an elephantiasis victim, conjoined twins and ancephalic babies floating in formaldehyde, and all sorts of morbid curiosities.

They don't have Dillinger's penis. That's folklore.

Back to our visit. It was a beautiful mild day when we pulled up to the Georgia Avenue gate. Walter Reed is a medical center, but it is also a miltary base. The medical museum is open to the public. Like much of DC, Walter Reed is sporting new security measures -- tire spikes and bollards, large concrete planters, two armed military police at the gatehouse.

One soldier approached the driver's window and requested my license. Another soldier stood several feet in front of the car, on the passenger side, with his assault rifle leveled at us. I handed my license over to a young guy who until a few weeks or months earlier was probably a high school teacher in Des Moines.

I eyed the second soldier uneasily as he kept his weapon trained on us while my name or the license plate was run through a computerized database. This did not sit well with me. You don't point a weapon at somebody unless you intend to shoot.

How threatening could we be -- an ordinary couple with two teenage children? Was it necessary to have the weapon raised and aimed? Several uncomfortable minutes elapsed. I wanted to say, "Ferchristsake please lower the fucking weapon. This is my family, my kids."

But I didn't. Another indignity tolerated. Took my license as we were cleared to proceed to the parking lot, and visited the medical museum beneath the bomb-proof building.

It was cool.


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