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Anecdote

Steamed crabs on a table.A couple of weeks ago, my sister and I decided to make the best of the heat and we went to a state park that has a little bit of a beach. Afterwards, we went to a crab house. I sent this photo to Noel, but later I found myself wondering if he was aware that crabs are a really big deal in Maryland. I tried to see if I could find a link with some information and I learned a few things I didn’t know. Perhaps it will be of interest.

For those of you who don’t know, Maryland is a mid-Atlantic state, meaning that it’s in the middle of the eastern seaboard of the United States. The Chesapeake Bay cuts deeply into the state.

Crabs are highly associated with the state, specifically a variety called blue crabs, Callinectes sapidus. According to an article on Eater, Spike Gjerde, a Baltimore chef, the growing conditions in the estuary make the crabs from Maryland especially good.

From a scientific perspective, the need for hibernation is the main reason Maryland crabs taste better than other types of crab — and also tastes better than blue crabs from other waters, according to Steve Vilnit of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Services. He explains that just like other creatures that hibernate, crabs need to build up fat stores to sustain them through the dormant period. “This gives our crabs a buttery flavor that you won’t find anywhere else,” Vilnit says.

The article also says

Marylanders prepare hard shells and other seafood by steaming them, rather than the boiling that is common along the rest of the East Coast and Louisiana. Marylanders will tell you that boiling makes the crabmeat wet, rather than just moist.

That people boiled them was news to me.

As you can see in the top picture, they’re steamed with a large amount of spices. The typical spice associated with Maryland is a spice blend called Old Bay. It was originally produced by the Brunn Baltimore Spice Company, until it was bought by the large McCormick company. Eater adds

Odds are at a crab house, what’s seasoning the crabs is made by J.O. Spice Company, not Old Bay. Established in 1945, the company supplies more than 800 restaurants in the mid-Atlantic, often creating custom blends that vary in saltiness and heat.

They are served with apple cider vinegar on the side.

Crabs are seasonal, and in Maryland they’re available from April to December.

While June through August are the most favored and tradition-laden times for eating crabs, September and October are the best time to get the largest and fattest hard crabs at the best prices.

The Eater article lists several places to get crabs, but they’re not really a fancy item and there are a lot of places that are good.

beach

From earlier the same day.

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Well, today I took a little walk in the park. I’m trying to build back up to my old five-mile habit. I think I did about three miles today, so I’m making progress. Before setting out on my brisk “power walk” for exercise, I stopped by the little rivulet where I watched the birds bathing the other day. The robins (American Robins) were enjoying themselves thoroughly. I stood quietly, leaning against the railing of the small wooden bridge that crossed the water. The rats were nowhere to be seen. Today, however, there were squirrels foraging in the low undergrowth. One dug something out of the mud on the bank and ate it.

A squirrel ran along the water towards me in short bursts. After each little skip and hop she seemed to pause and look at me. She climbed up the footing of the bridge, just beneath my feet. She paused for a moment. The wooden beam on which the walkway was resting stuck out a few inches. The curious squirrel peered at me with this obvious barrier between us. Then, all of a sudden, she jumped up on top of it and looked me right in the eye. I was trying to figure out what she wanted. She was right at my feet, just on the other side of the railing, and for a moment I wondered if she would climb up my leg. I didn’t want to scare her and I had become quite curious as to what she would do, so I stood very still. She pondered my face for a moment and then disappeared under the bridge.

A moment later, I had the distinct feeling someone was watching me. Slowly, I turned my head and looked behind me. There, peeking through the opposite railing was the squirrel. She disappeared again and reappeared at my feet. She stared at me for a few more moments then, curiosity presumably satisfied, hopped down and ran away along the stream.

Weddings have always offended my sensibilities. They are like a masquerade where no one has any fun, yet everyone must pretend to have fun. The woman comes down the aisle wearing a hideous dress that she would normally never be caught dead in, with hair piled high on her head in a manner she would never wear and make-up that is worse than a Halloween mask. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the dress is frequently either ugly or boring, it is usually the most expensive dress a woman will ever wear. What a waste of a good opportunity. The one time in your life that no one will look down on you for buying the most expensive outfit you can possibly afford and we are condemned to strip ourselves of all individuality and buy the same stupid white dress.

And eat bad food.

And dance badly to bad music.

And the men appear just as ridiculous and even more uncomfortable.

About a year before my sister got married, I was initiated into the expense of weddings by the unfortunate occurrence of being asked to be a bridesmaid. I’m convinced this woman hated me. I have no idea what I had done to her to deserve such punishment. Would you ever ask a friend to do such a terrible thing. Apparently, being a bridesmaid entails helping to plan this monstrosity known as a wedding. She, another college friend and sacrificial victim, and I schlepped out to some place in Queens. Don’t ask me where, but the bride-to-be in question insisted that this place was well-known as having the world’s biggest selections of gargantuan white dresses. I still have nightmares of being attacked by headless dresses. A woman asks you what you want and brings out a series of gowns. Personally, I thought the entire process was geared to getting you to spend too much money. At one point the sales woman coerced the bride into a thing that resembled the costume worn by a ballerina doll I had as a child. The sales clerk turned her to face the mirror. “You look like a china doll!” she exclaimed.

“I’m fucking Malaysian, and I don’t want to look like a goddamn doll!” She may have been born in Malaysia, but she was raised in Brooklyn and proceeded to display the vocabulary to prove it. She ripped the dress off and threw her street clothes back on. On the subway back she said, “And did you see the damned prices on that crap?”

Ah, the prices indeed.

So a year later, when my sister announced her revenge for all the mean things I did to her as a child by making me her maid of horror, we decided to forgo the whole wedding dress boondoggle from the get go. I said to her, “When was the last time you bought a dress without even considering the price?”

She said, “Never.”

I suggested that she go to her favorite store buy a white dress not marketed as a wedding dress. “Don’t even bother looking at the price. Just buy one you think is pretty. It’s almost guaranteed to be less expensive than what you would buy if we went shopping for a wedding dress.”

She said to me, “Can you do it for me?”

A few days later I phoned and said to her, “I saw a pretty dress in a store the other day. I think it would look good on you. Do you want me to take a photo or something.”

“Nah,” she said, “Just buy it in a size eight and stick it in an envelope.”

So I did.

She looked great, but the was one little problem with the dress. We couldn’t find any underpants that weren’t visible. It was the strangest effect. Without underpants, nothing was visible, but no matter what we tried, even the thinnest littlest thong, we could still see them. Finally, we all decided that my sister had to get married sans panties. All day long my grandmother kept jabbing her with her finger, laughing, saying, “You’re the bottomless bride!”

Better a bottomless bride than a bridezilla.

A few years ago, out of the blue, I received a phone call from someone I knew in high school. For a short while, we were best buddies but I hadn’t heard from him in nearly thirty years. A few weeks later, he stopped by. He asked about my family, and specifically about my father. I informed him that my father had passed away a few years earlier. He told me something that I thought was incredibly lovely.

He had been very badly abused by his father as a child, as had all his siblings. Furthermore, he was gay and came out of the closet in high school, a situation which made his relationship with his father even worse. In fact, one of the reasons we lost contact is that he left home at the first opportunity. He told me how important my father had been to him because he set an example for him that let him know that a man can be gentle and kind. Indeed, my father was a very kind and gentle person, and I think it would have gratified him to know how my friend felt.

I was reminded of this by a post I read today. It’s only very tangentially related, but I thought I would share it with everyone because I think it’s very sweet.

The first time I received Roses from him, I thought it was charming. The doorbell rang. I wasn’t expecting anything and the delivery man handed me a long narrow box that I knew meant flowers. A dozen roses from my new boyfriend on the West Coast. “To a beautiful soul.” I was touched. Charmed. I got a vase, filled it with water and put the bouquet on the table.

The next day, the doorbell rang again. What could it be? There was another long narrow box. Another dozen roses. “You are beautiful, inside and out.” Slightly less charming than the day before, but still charming. I pulled out my step-ladder and climbed to reach the other vase that I kept tucked away on the highest shelf. It looked lovely on the sideboard.

On the third day, when the doorbell rang, I had a hunch what it was. The delivery man smiled and shook his head. “Wow, he sure must be in love.” I smiled politely, but I was beginning to think it was something other than love. I phoned my boyfriend, “Sweetie, lover, honey pie. That’s quite a lot of roses.”

“Don’t you like them?”

“Sure honey, I love them.”

“Oh, good.”

“But don’t you think that’s enough roses for the immediate future?”

“Right. Got you. Hey, I’ve gotta go. Can we talk later?”

The next day, I received daisies.

A week later, my apartment looked like a funeral home.

“No more fucking flowers!”

“I thought you said you love flowers.”

“Just stop it!”

“You still like me, don’t you?”

It was the end of  this past December. A friend had invited me to a “First Night Celebration” in New Hampshire. At first, I was eager to go. I had no plans for New Years Eve and I was happy to be invited anyplace at all. I tried to push down the fact that I was ideologically opposed to the concept of “First Night.” I am a firm believer in the importance of the Dionysian impulse as an integral part of the human experience, and there are few opportunities we have for fully exploring those impulses. The trend away from “New Year’s Eve” celebrations to “First Night” celebrations strikes me as a puritanism as misguided as Prohibition. The only reason I considered it at all was the source of the invitation. I hadn’t seen my friend in a while, someone I’d known since I was sixteen.

Meanwhile, some exchanges on the internet put me in mind of a band I hadn’t thought of in a long time. I typed the name into a search engine and came up with a list of videos. One was of a song I once knew but hadn’t heard in a long time. The video that’s online for the song “40 Shades of Blue” has footage of the East Village as I remember it when I first started spending much of my time there at the age of eighteen or nineteen and into my late twenties. The video opens with a shot of the Bowery Mission, only a few blocks away from where my boyfriend grew up in the housing projects on Pitt Street. His bedroom window faced north and from there we could see a line of buildings along Second Street that were nothing more than shells. My boyfriend told me about how one summer in the seventies he felt that he watch building after building going up in flames, usually a result of arson. That big bad New York of the past wasn’t in the past yet. Crime was still at an all time high. Those shells of tenements feature prominently in the video and I recognized many of the other locations. I even remembered some of the graffiti. I started feeling, not only nostalgic, but homesick.

Part of the East Village was a Ukrainian neighborhood and Luscious’ parents were living in a building on Tompkins Square Park when she was born. By the time I knew her, her mother had died and her father was long since living out on Long Island and she lived in Chelsea. Sometimes we’d end a night of bar hopping at Veselka Coffee Shop, or another place whose name I’m forgetting, and argue about the right way to make pierogi. She was, as I mentioned before, a rock and roll obsessive. She would phone me dramatically declaring that there was some band we “had” to go see. She was tall, beautiful and flamboyant and I felt it was almost a privilege to be her little sidekick. I was very aware that without her I would not be half so aware of what was going on.

So one day she called me and the band we “had” to go see was named Black 47 and they were playing at some bar I’d never heard of with an Irish sounding name. She knew it, she said. Of course, she knew every place. When we walked into the place we were early, which was unusual for us, and it was crowded. An older man in his mid-thirties, looking like he had taken off his jacket and tie before leaving the office so he wouldn’t stand out too much, asked Luscious if he could buy her a beer. She smiled slowly and broadly. “I’ll allow you to buy me a drink only if you buy my friend here a drink,” she said gesturing to her faithful sidekick. She took the beers from his hands, passed one to me, and promptly turned her back on him. She was a bitch and I loved her for it. She spun me around and pushed me toward the stage.

Black 47 was based in New York and played pretty much all the time. We went to see them a few more times. A few years later I moved out of New York. Eventually, I drifted back, but by then I had no idea what had become of Luscious. The friends I was still in touch with didn’t go out that much anymore. Some of them did things like jogging on New Years Eve. As everybody knows by now, a few years ago I left New York yet again, pushed out by rising rents and stagnating income.

As I’ve been writing down my memories, one challenge has been to figure out when certain events happened. Usually there’s a clue that places it in a window of time. Sometimes larger, sometimes smaller. I probably would have put that night with Luscious down a couple of years too early. But I poked around the internet some more and I found out the, much to my surprise, Black 47 is still around but they’re planning on disbanding on the 25th anniversary of their first performance. I also saw that they were playing on New Years Eve. I thought to myself, “What the fuck,” and bought a train ticket to New York.

At the last minute, I began to wonder if it wasn’t a dumb idea. Perhaps they wouldn’t be as good as I remembered and I’d feel let down. I needn’t have worried. I don’t have the knowledge to make this a review of the show. They have a hell of a lot of energy for guys their age… um… I mean my age. They have a lot of time under their belts playing live and it shows. There’s nothing on earth that I enjoy more than a live band in a small place, except the obvious. It felt good to be back in New York.

So, apparently they’ll be around until November of this year. They’re really good live. If you’re in New York you should consider seeking them out.

I lived in Manhattan. All the trains except the G train go through Manhattan, and in Manhattan the trains are always crowded. For the first few stops into the outer boroughs, the trains still tend to be crowded. Then people start getting off. Occasionally people get on, but mostly they get off. With each stop, there are fewer people until there is no longer a crowd but just some individuals.

One day, I was on I don’t remember which train going I don’t remember where, but I was on a train which wasn’t one I typically took heading to the outer boroughs where I didn’t typically go. It was one of the trains where the seats were two lines of benches facing each other. We rolled deep into the outer boroughs. Eventually, there were only a few other people in the car and there was a couple sitting across from me. Two young people. I would guess them to be about twenty-one or twenty-two. The woman was asleep, her head resting on her boyfriends shoulder. Her boyfriend looked down at her, and, with great gentleness so as not to wake her, brushed back a lock of hair that had fallen across her face.

I was charmed by the couple who were unaware my presence. Then, without warning, I began to feel very melancholy. A young man once stole a car to see me. Another would hitchhike from Canada to New York City. A man once threatened to throw acid in my face if I didn’t marry him. I’ve known plenty of passion from men, but never tenderness.

My sister insists I should tell this story. I’m a little hesitant.

My mother has moved to Baltimore. She’s spent her entire life in New Jersey. As far as she’s concerned, Maryland may as well be a foreign country. She’s having regular panic attacks and temper tantrums about how she doesn’t like it here. She doesn’t like the culture. She doesn’t understand how things work here. Why are there so many four-way stops? Why are there so many traffic circles? Why are the bagels so bad? Where can you get a decent slice of pizza? Making matters worse, she has no sense of direction. “I feel like I’m living in a maze,” she says constantly, her little blond head barely above the steering wheel. Yes, she’s getting to the age when people start shrinking. She’s already locked herself out of her apartment once. She said, “I’m worried that I’m developing dementia.” She’s not near dementia yet. I’m not really quite sure how to explain it, but her perception is fuzzy. She’s gotten a little slow on the uptake. She was always a smart, energetic woman, and now her reaction time is not what it used to be.

So, her television was very old and barely worked. When she moved, she decided to not take it with her. Now she needed a television. She hates television. When we were kids, if we watched tv, she would come in and yell at us and tell us we were getting dumber by the second. But it’s the modern world and everyone has to have a television whether you like it or not. But… she’s not going to spend money on one. So, she calls me up. She needs a tv. A big tv, because she’s half blind. And it needs to be cheap. She wants the cheapest big tv I can find for her.

“Your brother-in-law said go to Best Buy. I don’t want to go to Best Buy.”

“Okay. Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t know Baltimore. Isn’t there some sort of little appliance store some place. Sometimes places like that have good deals.”

So, I take to the internet and call her back. “Okay, I have a list of a few places we can get a t.v., but the cheapest place is Best Buy.”

“I don’t want to go to Best Buy. Aren’t there any little stores.”

“Well, I found one called Joe’s Appliances, but they don’t have prices on the internet,” I suggest. “We can go there and see.”

“They’re closed,” my mother informs me.

“How did you know that?”

“I got lost the other day. I saw a big sign, Joe’s Appliances. I thought, ‘Oh, good.’ So I pulled into the parking lot, and they’re closed.”

“Okay, then we have to go to Best Buy whether you like it or not.”

“Oh,” my mother says.

So, we get in the car and we go to the store. We find the very same t.v. I saw on the internet, we pick it up. She’s holding one end and I’m holding the other. The sales clerk asks if we need help getting it to the car. My mother replies that we have to get it from the car to her apartment, so if we can’t get it to the car without help we have a problem. She then tells the clerk her life story. “I was born a poor girl in Patterson, New Jersey.” Fortunately, the store wasn’t too busy and the sales clerk managed to smile through the whole story until she brought him up to the current day. “So, now I’m living in Baltimore.”

“Welcome to Baltimore,” the clerk says. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “Please, Ma, don’t start about the bagels.” She thinks New Jersey is the greatest place on earth, and she’s not entirely aware that the rest of the earth does not agree with her. Happily, she responds politely.

The box is bulky, but not heavy, and we waddle to the door. At the door, there’s another young man who’s about six-foot five. He says, “Ladies, why don’t the leave the television here, go get your car, bring it around to the door, and I’ll help you put it in the trunk.” My mother has decided that we have sufficiently proved our ability to carry the t.v., so now we can let this guy help us.

We bring the car around to the front door. My mother says to me, “Stay in the car.” However, I’m a little concerned about her slightly fuzzy behavior, and I insist on getting out. She’s sitting behind the steering wheel, craning her neck, looking around. “I don’t see the guy with the tv.”

“Don’t worry, ma,” I say. “He’ll be there as soon as he sees us.” With that, I get out of the car. The young man walks out of the door, easily carrying the box that my mother and I had to carry together in his big, long arms.

“Pop open the trunk,” I call to my mother from behind the car. The trunk pops open. The man with the t.v. is at my side and he begins lifting the box to place it in the trunk. At the moment, gaping maw of the trunk stars drifting forward. The car is moving. Why is the car moving?

I run to the driver’s side of the car. “Stop the car, ma,” I’m yelling. As I round the side of the car, I see that the driver’s side door is open and a little blond head is emerging. “Stop, Ma! Stop!” I see a leg emerge. “Ma! What are you doing?” The car is continuing to roll forward. “Ma! MA!” Her body is following. Her foot is touching the ground. I’m standing with my mouth agape, the guy with the t.v. is standing with his mouth agape, and a small crowd has gathered. Her other leg emerges from the car and suddenly, splat! She’s on the ground on her hands and knees. The car is still moving forward and it’s picking up momentum on the sloping parking lot. It looks like the rear wheel is going to roll over my mother’s legs. Suddenly, she seems to be aware of what’s happening and she crawls faster than I’ve ever seen anyone crawl. She’s out of immediate danger, but the car is rolling forward. I’m frozen in place.

Suddenly, someone comes from behind me and runs and jumps in the car. I turn to my mother, “Is the brake broken?”

“I don’t think so,” she says. “I think I just forgot to put it in park.”

The man who jumped into the car pulls the car around and parks it where is should have been in front of the store. He gets out and hands the keys to my mother. My mother starts telling him her life story. When we reach the present, when she has just moved to Baltimore, bought a tv and fallen out of a moving car, she concludes, “It’s a miracle that you were here.”

Those words seemed to come out of her mouth in the same slow motion that I saw her head emerge from the car. I was thinking, “No, Ma! Stop! Don’t say that!”

“Will you ladies wait here,” the man says. I have something in my car I want to give to you. With that, he runs off.

His wife, standing by our side, says, “You two can go now, if you like.”

The man comes back with a small booklet, which I immediately recognize as a religious tract.

“Are you ladies believers?” he asks.

I look over at my mother and see that she has the same frozen, half-smile that I’m pretty sure I have on my face. “Um, well, uh, I, uh.” Sounds are coming from my mother’s mouth, but they’re not making any sense.

“Look at all of this,” he says raising his arms in a broad sweep that takes in, not only the Best Buy parking lot, but the strip mall across the street. “Do you think evolution can account for all of this.” I want to say, “You mean the macadam? I think that was a Scottish fellow.” but I bite my tongue. I stand there saying nothing and, happily, my mother says nothing. Eventually, the man has nothing left to say and insists that my mother will find his booklet inspiring.

We get in the car. “I need a drink,” my mother says.

“There’s a wine bar in Hampden….”

“Let’s go.”

This morning my mother phoned. “You know, I realized. I don’t like tv.”

A few times recently I’ve read, in articles and posts on other subjects, a reference to a racist statement made by the writer’s grandparents. They have been one sentence in a longer piece and I, unfortunately, didn’t bookmark them, so I can’t provide a link for an example. However, the basic pattern is something to the effect of: My grandmother said x, which was racist, but I ignored it because, well, she’s older and her generation doesn’t understand. This could potentially bring up a wide-ranging conversation on the racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on, of times in the past and to what degree we need to ignore it or confront it, but for the moment I’m just going to limit myself to a story that I was told about my grandfather.

My grandfather had, as a young man, hitchhiked around the country. He was something of the black sheep in the family. In a family of classical violinists, he played drums with swing and jazz combos. His father was a violin maker and cabinet-maker and his older brother followed in their father’s footsteps. Meanwhile, my grandfather hung out in rough areas of New York City, joined the navy, did a little amateur boxing and never learned a trade. In the end he wound up working in a factory. In his journeys, he picked up Spanish, which he eventually learned to speak fluently, and developed a serious case of what I will call Mexophilia. He loved everything Mexican. He had paintings of Mexico on the walls and knick-knacks along the top of the bookcase.

He had traveled to Mexico a couple of times as a young man and wanted to go again with my grandmother. To get to Mexico, they had to take a bus. Between New York City and Mexico, lies the Southern states of the U.S. There, the bus stopped at a roadside restaurant. My grandfather and grandmother got up and began walking down the aisle of the bus when my grandfather noticed that everyone was not getting off the bus. He paused and asked one of their fellow passengers why he wasn’t getting up. He told them that the restaurant did not serve blacks. When my grandfather heard that, he turned to my grandmother and said, “We’re sitting back down. We’re not going to patronize a place like that. We’ll eat when we get to Mexico.”

There’s a possibility that I’ll get in late this evening – probably not, but a gal can always hope. Just in case, I figured I’d put up a quick little post before I go out, just an anecdote.

The first time I came to Paris I stayed here for a month in the summer of ’94. At the end of that month, my husband joined me here. I said to my husband that I couldn’t see where Parisians got their reputation. I was finding that everyone was just sweet and lovely, and downright friendly on occasion.

“Hé?” He looked at me shocked for a moment and then said, “Ouais, b’en sûr. You come from the one city where people are ruder. No wonder you think this is friendly.”

New Yorkers, rude? Who knew. Well, I still think my ex is wrong and Parisians are surprisingly friendly.