It’s Hell to Be a Crab
I hate crabs. Yes, I hate crabs. Not the crabs in crab cakes, mind you. Or the crabs in crab quesadillas. Or giant lumps of crab meat on a steak filet. Those are good crabs. No, the crabs I hate are the ones that look you straight in the eye as you’re about to lobotomize them with a wooden hammer. Those crabs.
Knowing this, I still agreed to spend an evening at a local all-you-can-eat crab feast with friends I will kindly call “professional crab eaters.” I did NOT agree to sit in the middle of this carnivorous group of crab fiends. “I get the end of the table,” I said. Pretty plainly, I must say. So where do I end up? In between Kim the Crab Killer and Susan the Splatterer. Was I out of place with my platter of fried oysters and hushpuppies? Yes, I was. And it got ugly fast.
Within a few seconds of the arrival of a steaming pile of crucified crabs, the Crab Killer was ripping the face off of an innocent shelled victim. No sooner was I subjected to this horror, a crab claw came flying into my forehead. Thanks, Susie. I should have brought goggles.
After the carnage began, all conversation consisted of grunting and an occasional “Hey! Over here! More crabs!” I was not picking crabs, yet my hands, my shirt, my cheeks were covered in Old Bay and whatever comes out of a crab when you hit it hard enough. Small pieces of crab shells were flying into my oysters. Had I realized earlier that this “social event” was really a contest of catapulting crab shells, I would have ordered takeout and eaten in my car.
My professional crab-eating friends were eating so quickly that I dropped three hushpuppies on the floor just watching. Their fingers were actually bleeding. Not enough to call an ambulance, but enough to require band-aids. And still they chewed on, dipping crabmeat into little cups of butter with such gusto that I wish I had brought a change of clothes. One of them actually did. And another brought a pillow, of all things. She says it was to support her back. I think it was to reach the crabs in the middle of the table faster than her crab buddies could.
I grabbed a moment between the grunts to ask Kim, “Why? Why do you do this? Why do you eat crab after crab after crab with bloodied hands and butter-covered chins?” She said, “Because the next crab might be the best.” Suddenly, I got it. It’s why golfers bang a ball all over an oversized lawn 100 times a match. Or why people keep feeding the slots at the casino. Because the next crab or golf shot or pull of the handle might be the best. It sure didn’t make me feel any cleaner, but it did explain my friends and their quest for the best.
Not everything signaled a lost evening for me. Once we had all one-by-one trudged to the restrooms to clean up as much as possible, we headed to the local ice cream hangout for vanilla cones, supposedly to calm the spicy remains of the Old Bay on their tongues. And to trick me into forgetting what I had just witnessed. A crab massacre.
The Greek playwright Aristophanes said, “You cannot teach a crab to walk straight.” Had I had the chance, I would have taught this batch to run like hell. ▼
How to Eat Crabs —
There are almost as many ways to pick crabs as there are people who love to do it. Here’s the Kim-and-Susan guide. If you’re squeamish, don’t go any further.
Step 1: First you rip his face off.
(Yes, that’s a crab thing.)
Step 2: Tear off the large claws.
(You’ll get to those later.)
Step 3: Remove each smaller claw and crack open the largest part for claw meat.
Step 4: Very gently and with a great deal of finesse remove each swimming leg so that you can pull out a great big chunk of crab meat on the end of it. Dunk the meat immediately in melted butter (or vinegar with Old Bay seasoning) and devour.
Step 5: Remove the apron from the underside of the crab and then pull the front and the back apart. Discard the hard back shell.
Step 6: Holding each half of the body, break it in half.
Step 7: Lightly smoosh together to loosen meat and tear in half again. Dig out the meat and enjoy.
Step 8: Separate the two parts of the large claws and gently using a knife and a mallet, lightly cut into the part of the leg nearest the movable part. Break it at the knife indentation and enjoy the claw meat like a lollipop. Split the other part of the claw the same way and eat.
Step 9: Have a little cole slaw and a swig of beer. Then grab another crab!
Michael Gilles is a playwright, actor, and director from Milton, and a regular contributor to Letters from CAMP Rehoboth.