Soft-Shell Sandwich

After finishing William Warner’s magnum opus, Beautiful Swimmers, I’ve had callinectes sapidus on the brain. This is bound to happen at some point in May or June, when spring stretches lazily and turns to summertime. The appearance of blue crabs in the markets heralds the summer party season; there have been many Memorial Day picnics in my childhood filled with Old Bay and paper-covered tables littered with crab shells.

This year, because summer is a little slower to arrive in New York than down on the shores of the Chesapeake, I gave my memories a jump start with some crustacean-themed reading material. Since I started reading I’ve been scouting the fish markets in my neighborhood, in the bowels of Chinatown (probably not the best source of fresh seafood—I was desperate) and on my daily commute for that little creature I equate with the carefree days of summer.

I went out to dinner with a friend last night after reading an interesting in the paper about my demographic: [white] financially stretched mid-twentysomething new professionals recently moved to New York City for a new job and/or life. How very specific, right? We met at a location equidistant from our respective apartments and New York City’s epicenter of trendiness: SoHo.

We wandered the cobbled streets in search of a dining location while contemplating our places in the ebb and flow of the city, settling for no particular reason on an ordinary Italian bistro. It was a perfectly fine dinner with sub-par service. The service was clearly due to the fact that neither of us was wearing diamonds, shoes with more than 4 inch heels, or a fake tan.

Leaving the restaurant I remarked that I don’t usually hang out in the area due to the fact that it’s a little too “ritzy” for me (read: overpriced). We passed a marble-lined hotel on the left. My dear friend of twelve years looked puzzled and laughed that she thought we were “roughing it” merely by being this far downtown—oh, you uptown girl. I immediately chastised her for going soft in her banker’s lifestyle and felt a little self-righteous about my intimate knowledge of New York City’s less ritzy neighborhoods in the outer boroughs.

Upon reflection, I think I made a mistake. We’re both hard and soft in different ways, just like my fried friend that made a delicious sandwich this evening. The blue crab turns from soft to hard in a methodical fashion manner, but the change in a human’s shell is much more subtle.

I’ve been shutting people out lately: not calling my parents, letting myself get down when people stand me up or stop calling, and stopped interacting with the sane people at work (there are but a few). Part of it is that I don’t think my parent’s understand me very well, it sucks when people don’t want to hang out with you, and I work in a cubicle instead of a happy group office. But part of it is also me falling into the mindset that I’m not someone that anyone would want to talk to, or that I’m fairly forgettable.

This is what I did years ago: create a prickly (some have used less-flattering adjectives) exterior to protect a very vulnerable inner core. In case you’ve tried it before, it’s not a very effective manner to make friends. I’d like to think that I’ve grown up a little since the 11th grade. I realize that in order to have normal relationships with people it’s necessary to temper some of the hardness, but there’s a part of me that has a stubborn pride in my armor, calling it strength. An older wiser me now thinks there’s a difference between strength and hardness. Strength gives support and stretches, while hardness gets you boiled in a pot and whacked with a crab mallet.

I finally found fresh soft-shelled crabs this evening on my way home from work, and bought one from the edgy-cute seafood guy at Grand Central. It’s a little sad to purchase a lone soft-shelled crab, but I’m a realist. I don’t cook for anyone other than myself, and I’m not going to try and seem less sad to the fish guy by letting an animal die a slow death in my refrigerator. When I got home I dipped her in egg, dusted her in a little flour and cornmeal, and then watched her change that beautiful bright red as she sizzled in the pan.

Sitting in my non-air-conditioned living room in my work clothing and apron, I ate one of the tastiest things a human being can eat in the summertime: a soft-shell crab sandwich with a twist of lime. It is crunchy, salty, sweet, soft, warm, crusty and tart—just like me (ok, maybe that’s a stretch).

Even though I live in the city, far from the watermen of the Chesapeake and the grey-blue inlets of Tidewater, I can still get a damn good crab sandwich. Maybe I can sluff off this shell and be a little better about letting people in.

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