Monday, February 19, 2024

Crayfish Culture

I made a mistake.  I bought fresh biscotti on sale at the grocers.  I don't want to drink the coffee now, just soak it up with biscotti until both are gone.  I'm a fool for breakfast starchy sweet things.  I have to stay away from them. 

But I often don't.  

They are one of life's little pleasures.  Indeed, if they didn't make me fat, they would be one of its great pleasures.  Life should have, absolutely, great pleasures.  So much. . . too much. . . of life is toil and dross. That's why people get pets, I think.  And. . . if I want to piss a lot of people off. . . children.  

I'll delete that before I post.  But if I had to choose. . . . 

No, I kid.  Children are great.  I enjoy the heck out of them.  They are a unique experience that makes you appreciate small things again.  Life through the eyes of a child and all that.  My problem is that I never outgrew "the eyes of a child."  I'm sort of like "Big," the movie.  At some point, my development just stopped.  Mental,  I mean.  My body keeps racing toward the grave.  

Yea, I'll delete all this before I post.  I can already feel the heat from my friends with grown children who are ready to lambast me.  Skewer me.  Admonish and berate.  Of course they love their children more than they love me.  Don't get between a grizzly and its offspring.  Try it and see.  

Jesus, that is not what I intended to write at all.  I was at dinner with my mother and cousin last night and the talk was of the hillbilly children.  Fucked up.  All of them.  Cognitive and personality disfunction galore.  Sometimes the State has to intervene.  I know your kids are not like that.  But, you know, you are bourgeois enough to be almost a conservative republican.  At least my hillbilly relatives wouldn't be able to tell the difference.  

Hey--maybe I am slouching toward what I had intended to write.  Or so it seems to me now.  This was supposed to be about dumbass me and my failures.  Not failures, exactly.  More like hillbilly insecurity.  Although, and this is big. . . I don't think real hillbillies feel insecurity so much.  They are belligerent and obstinate about people who are "uppity."  They are like Faulkner's Snopes family.  If you don't know them, you can learn a lot by reading "Barn Burning" (link).  It won't take you long.  It's short. . . but powerful.  Abner Snopes is a hideous, but if you read very, very closely, almost sympathetic character in a defiance to overlords and power, characterized by, "[a] stiff and implacable limp of [a] figure which was not dwarfed by the [mansion], for the reason that it had never looked big anywhere and which now, against the serene columned backdrop, had more than ever that impervious quality of something cut ruthlessly from tin, depthless, as though, sidewise to the sun, it would cast no shadow."

Damn, just looking back at that story gives me chills.  

After dinner last night, and after all the conversation about hillbilly troubles, I had to go to dinner with a friend.  More than an acquaintance but not an intimate so much.  The fellow who used to write for all the major publications is in town.  He's called and texted and left messages that we need to get together.  I, having suffered from the "Black Ass" for awhile now, had not responded.  But last night was his birthday, he said, and he was going to dinner with friends at a crawfish restaurant.  I felt I had no choice but to go.  It was dark, cold, and rainy, and I had taken a long schvitz late in the afternoon.  I had eaten dinner and now all I wanted to do was climb onto my couch, snuggle down with desert, and watch a little t.v.  

But I didn't do that.  I went to the crawdaddy place, a dumpy place that smelled of. . . you guessed it. . . crayfish.  I am not a fan.  Crayfish/crawfish/crawdaddies live in ditches, under rocks, in dirty water where they eat detritus.  It IS hillbilly food, or, at least, the food of the impoverished.  If you have never been poor or are not from a country family, you might not understand the taste for rabbit, squirrel, turtle, frogs. . . anything that you can get for free.  Crayfish, like redfish, taste so shitty they are prepared in a spicy mixture to disguise the taste.  Redfish were blackened.  That was the only way one could consume the shitty things.  But, and this is huge, the bourgeois "discovered" down-home cooking, and it became "a thing."  It is idiotic to order a good piece of fish blackened, but by the time the trend had trickled down to the hoi-polloi, that was always one of the options when ordering at chain restaurants.  

"And would you like your mahi baked, grilled, or blackened?"

Whatever.  Most of the fish, no matter what you are told it is, probably needs to be blackened to disguise the fishy taste of age, so. . . . 

When I walked in, the place was packed.  It was fairly large and looked like a cajun movie set.  The proprietors are Vietnamese who came from New Orleans, and about half the tables were populated by Asians.  I had to admit that the place had a particular scruffy charm.  I looked around for a bit before I found my friend at a table in the back with two other fellows.  I took a deep breath.  

"Here you go."

Introductions were brief.  My writer friend was with his media buddies, one an illustrator for Netflix, the other a filmmaker.  They'd all met when they were working in NYC.  My buddy still lives there, but he spends his summers in the Hamptons and much of his winters here.  The guys were nice and informal and the kibitzing started right away.  I can kibitz, so it seemed the night was off to a good start.  For some reason about which I didn't inquire, they were all drinking sweet tea.  Maybe one of them had a drinking problem, or maybe that's the thing to drink with boiled crawfish.  

I ordered a Heineken.  

The filmmaker seemed to be the knowledgeable one about cajun cooking, so when the waitress came to take the order, everyone deferred to him.  

"We'll have a large order of etouffée, two pounds of shrimp, two pounds of crayfish, and a couple orders  of the sausage."  

The fellows at the table nodded their approval.  

"Would you like that hot, medium, or mild?"

My writer buddy spoke up immediately.  "Mild," he said.  It was his birthday, so everyone said that was fine.  Except me. 

"What the fuck?  Mild?  Have you eaten crawfish before?  Do you know where they live, what they eat?  Where do you think they got these things, from some pristine river in the mountains?  They probably have a ditch outside where the breed them.  Mild?"

The filmmaker laughed.  

"They fly these in from New Zealand daily," he chuckled.  "These are gourmet crawdads."

"We just made a short film," the writer said motioning toward the filmmaker.  

"It was really a trailer for a film idea," the filmmaker said.  "He was in it," he said nodding toward the writer.  "He was pretty good."

"Do you have it on your phone?  Show it to him."

The filmmaker pulled out his phone and pulled it up.  It was difficult to hear, but the cinematography was really good.  The color lighting and camera movements were top quality and the color grading was superb."  

I nodded my approval when it was over.  

"That was really good. You need to play a private eye," I said to my buddy.

"Yea, he did a good job," said the filmmaker. 

"You need to dub over his voice, though," I said.  "He sounds like a Borscht Belt comedian."  

My buddy has a thick New York/New Jersey accent.  

"Yea, yea. . . ."  

I started asking the filmmaker technical questions.  What camera did he shoot on?  What did he use for his dolly shots?  What program did he edit on?  I was very curious.  You don't need a million dollars worth of equipment anymore to make video that looks good.  It amazes me how far the technology has come since I was doing it.  All my old docs look like tinny video shit comparatively.  Since I've been trying to do a little video now, I have been fairly lost in the technology.  I was sitting with people who were producing work for big media companies, not amateurs.  

The writer mentioned my background.  He's seen some of my big prints and told his buddies, I would imagine to enhance my credibility some, that I was a good photographer.  We talked of cameras.  We talked of lenses.  About these things I am knowledgeable.  

"But I recently started shooting with a little plastic lens," I said, "and I am wild for it."

"What do you shoot?" the filmmaker asked.  "People, landscapes. . . ?"

Just then, my hillbilly insecurities kicked in.  What did I shoot?  How in the fuck were we talking about this, talking about my "work" with people you could read in major publications, people whose work you could see in films and on t.v.?  My writer buddy is editing part time for a big art  book company right now.  What the fuck did I shoot?

"Right now. . . everything looks good with this lens.  I'm just shooting everyday stuff, flotsam and jetsam. . . ."  I pointed to the catsup bottle on sitting next to the hot sauce on the checkered plastic table cloth.  "This," I said, pointing.  I looked around the restaurant.  "Hell, just about anything in here."

I have been hot shit excited by what I've been doing lately.  I love the photo I've posted at the top of the page.  I love the look of the lens and of the treatment in post processing.  But. . . what am I doing?  I mean. . . how do I explain?  I was sitting with people who produced commercially, products for large markets.  Their work has to be perfect,  It has to be slick.  It has to have mass appeal.  I am a schlub, some fellow carving ducks in the garage.  

Just then I could feel the hillbilly arrogance welling up and I had to swallow it or I would become aggressive, caustic.  I would rip their shit to shreds.  Put 'em up.  

I used to do that, but I have mellowed over time.  I know now that if I weren't a lazy, arrogant hillbilly. . . . 

The night went on famously.  We laughed and talked and had fun.  My buddy's friends were nice guys, quick and witty, and they had good stories to tell.  When we looked around the empty restaurant long after dinner was eaten, it was time to leave.  

"Man, it was great that you came for my birthday.  Let's get together next week.  We can go get Kitty from the factory and take her to lunch.  Something."

"Yea, yea. . . I'll be in touch."

When I got home, it was past my bedtime.  I'd missed my comfy night on the couch.  The temperature was dropping, the rain falling.  I poured a whiskey and turned on the television.  I didn't pay attention to what was on, though.  I was thinking.  

"We should write a script.  We can make a film.  I might be able to hook you up with a travel publication.  Photos and words, you know?"

All I really wanted to do was go back to the restaurant and take a photo of that catsup bottle next to the hot sauce sitting on the plastic checkered table cloth with my plastic lens.  I don't know, man. . . I don't know.  

I don't know.  I don't know.  Here's the song.  Twisted hillbilly stuff.  You know?  

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