Monday, February 13, 2006

Dinner fights back

I am not a person who does things "without incident."

I don't seek out drama. I like to be left alone to go about my business. But drama tends to seek me out. The s.o. has mentioned this to me on a number of occasions, and he's right.

So I should know to avoid doing unusual, attention-getting things, because , well, you know.

Yesterday the DeKalb Farmers Market didn't happen to have the fish I wanted, so I was looking around for something new and interesting. I spotted a tub labeled "LIVE BLUE CRABS." I walked over to it and ogled. Several dozen small crabs were slowly waving their claws around. There were a couple pairs of tongs available to grab them with, and there were sturdy clear plastic bags with breathing holes pre-cut in them. The price was $2.29 a pound.

And they were from Savannah! Can't get much more local than that.

I gingerly picked up a pair of tongs and tried to grab a crab, but I soon found that all the crabs were hanging onto each other and it would be extraordinarily difficult to pick up one at a time.

It was about this time that a crowd began to gather. A woman was the first to speak. "They've banded together," she said. "They're saying, 'If you want one of us, you have to take all of us!'"

Another woman piped up, "I hope they don't get loose in the car!"

I laughed a little and returned to concentrating on the task at hand. I managed to find a lively unattached crab and drop it into the sack. This whole procedure reminded me of those games where you try to pick up a stuffed animal with a robotic arm. I reached in with the tongs and tried to get another.

A boy about 10 years old approached me, and out of the corner of my eye I saw him place a small hot pepper on my shopping cart. I'm a little awkward around children sometimes, plus I'm not crazy about people I don't know touching my stuff, but I ignored the hot pepper and kept trying to extract crabs from the tub. The boy leaned over and watched me for several minutes, then took up his own pair of tongs and started poking at the crabs.

I looked to see if there was an adult in charge of the boy, but no one seemed to claim him. I tried to be friendly and light-hearted as I whispered, "You probably shouldn't bother the crabs unless you are going to buy some."

The boy put down the tongs and watched me at extremely close range as I fished out three more crabs. When I was done, I merrily picked up the hot pepper and placed it next to the boy on the edge of the crab tank. Away I went.

Except I soon noticed that the boy was following me, right at my elbow. He followed me through the entire meat section, apparently hoping that something else exciting would happen--maybe that I would kill a duck with my bare hands or buy some unimaginable type of offal. I had no idea what to do. I tried to appear pleasant but noncommital. He hovered next to me as I ordered and received three large lamb shoulder chops.

When we got to the cheeses, the boy suddenly demanded to know where his chili pepper was. (I was a little startled, because I was pretty sure he'd seen me move it. Apparently not! Now I felt like a really mean lady, but there was no help for it.) I told him I had put it on the edge of the crab tank. He disappeared to go find it, and I was able to shake him at last.

I stopped at the in-store café to get a cup of coffee and a raspberry bar, and then I headed for the checkout. I munched on my snack and sipped my coffee as I waited in line. Unfortunately, a store employee spotted my bag of crabs and approached me to ask whether they were really alive (yes), and what I was going to do with them. It took my full concentration to explain my culinary ideas to him because his first language was (according to his nametag) Gujarati. I am not one hundred percent sure that I managed to convey "boil" and "pasta," but I tried valiantly.

Finally I was at the front of the line. And there I hit a bit of a snag, because one of the crabs had reached through a breathing hole in the bag and grabbed onto my shopping cart. I struggled to liberate the bag of crabs and in the process spilled quite a bit of my coffee on my shoes. Everyone in line behind me watched the drama unfold. In the end I managed to use my fingernails to pry the claw off, and the checkout girl was able to weigh the crabs and complete my transaction.

Total cost? $3.00 (and several years of my life, thanks to the stress). But they made one hell of a batch of crab linguine.