|A Nasty Shell Game|
|Written by Wendy Doscher-Smith -- BT Contributor|
Coming face-to-face with a crustacean killer in the Florida Keys
It takes a bit of living, but eventually anyone with half a brain realizes that evil is everywhere at all times, and no, it does not look like a little red man who carries a pitchfork.
Sometimes, though, evil does hunt little red nonhumans. It is exactly this form of evil that I encountered on an otherwise beautiful late afternoon in the Keys.
My husband, Jeremy, and I towed Big Betty, our canoe, behind our little Subaru, destined for Marathon. Thinking back, the only thing missing from this potential Subaru commercial-in-the-making was a dog. Of which we have plenty. However, the dogs remained at home.
Minutes after checking in to our hotel, we took Big Betty over to the nearest put-in. Owning a canoe is great, but all the niggling details that go along with it aren’t. Preparing the canoe, hooking up the canoe to the trailer, making sure the canoe is on the trailer properly as you drive (which requires many rear-view mirror glances) -- in addition to the more than occasional roadside stopping when it isn’t -- gets old.
No fan of niggling details, I’m the assigned “documenter/photographer.” Upon arrival, I scope out the put-in. There are usually plenty of photos taken before we even launch.
Since we arrived in Marathon at day’s end, the only canoeing action involved sunset. We hurriedly threw on our swimsuits in order to make this happen. Had I known what lurked at the put-in’s edge, I assure you that analyzing the bathroom tile grout in our room would have been my choice of activity.
At the put-in I noticed a scraggly, longhaired guy in his mid-20s at the water’s edge. His filthy hair immediately struck me. I expected to see a procession of multi-legged critters beginning the “March Out of the White Guy Dreads.” Great shot, I figured; I’ve got zoom.
While focusing on Dirt Head, I failed to notice the bag near him. Dirt Head noticed me, though, smiled, and said, “This is the best part!” Confused, I replied, “Of what?” Dirt Head smiled again, and I noticed a twinkle in his eye (I know it’s a cliché, but I swear I saw it): “I get to rip their heads off!”
Just as I was registering this new and disturbing bit of information (unless he was referring to dolls; I gladly rip their heads off for art projects), a cheery blonde woman came up to us.
Dirt Head: “You want to see them?”
Cheery Blonde: “Sure!”
Dirt Head reached into his bag and plucked out maybe nine lobsters. He lined them up in a row on the dock. The lobsters sat there, looking sluggish and dejected. Still, I was enchanted by their shapes and colors and immediately started taking pictures.
Much like the time when my hairstylist chopped layers into my hair, and I watched wet pieces of hair fall into my lap and then onto the floor, I knew something was off, but I didn’t know what. That time, it was the realization that my hair was no longer ponytail-worthy. This time, it was the lobsters’ fate.
I took a bunch of photos of the soon-to-be-doomed lobsters, noticing Cheery Blonde doing the same. This awoke me from my snap-happy stupor.
Me: “What is this?”
Dirt Head: “The best part. I get to rip their heads off. Want to help me?”
[Note No. 1: I actually think Dirt Head was flirting, showing off, or both. He really thought I’d be interested in beheading live creatures.]
Me (staring in shock and horror): “I’m a vegetarian.”
Dirt Head: “So, you wanna?”
Me (eyes widening): “What!?”
[Note No. 2: At that moment it didn’t occur to me that Dirt Head could be that stupid, so I figured he was challenging me, which led me to exercise the nostril flare. If this had been a NatGeo “urban nature” special on “Land-Dwelling Mammal Humanoids of the Florida Keys,” the British-accented narrator might have said, “Before striking, the protective animal-loving woman sends out a warning nostril flare.”]
Then I heard…
Cheery Blonde: “If she’s a vegetarian, the last thing she wants to do is rip their heads off!”
Standing just feet from Lobster Dahmer -- Dirt Head seemed like too innocuous a nickname for this character -- I had forgotten about the Cheery Blonde. Now I looked at her, then looked down at the lobsters, one of which was trying to crawl away, toward the parking lot. Poor, confused crustacean.
Lobster Dahmer (fixing lobster with a crazed, homicidal look): “What? You trying to get away from me?”
Me: “Of course he’s trying to get away from you.”
No reply. Lobster Dahmer was busy snatching the helpless lobster. [Note No. 3: Florida lobsters cannot pinch like Maine lobsters, meaning Lobster Dahmer was no brave hunter.]
Disgusted, I surveyed the scene: Line of lobsters. Out of element. Suffocating. Options: Kick them back in? No. That might kill them, too. Take them away? No gloves. How many can I scoop up at once? Survey says: Lobsters will likely be plated tonight.
Cheery Blond retrieved a white pail for Lobster Dahmer.
Me (grim, resigned): “Is that for the heads?”
Cheery Blonde: “For the tails.”
Cheery Blonde: “That’s the part we eat.”
Me: “What about the rest?”
Cheery Blonde: “Oh, the heads are thrown back. We’re not the only ones who eat them.”
Me: “So they will not go to waste then? Other animals will eat their remains?”
Lobster Dahmer: “Hey! I’m an animal. I need to eat!”
I shifted my eyes slightly in his direction, and scowled.
Cheery Blonde (running interference): “Well, probably not.”
Enter Jeremy: “See? I told you it takes forever to set up the canoe.”
He greeted Cheery Blonde and Lobster Dahmer. Then he leaned in toward me, still smiling, and mumbled, “Don’t start a fight.”
Lobster Dahmer began his ugly work, ripping heads off before joyfully reaching up high and rocketing them into Florida Bay. Some of them he treated as if they were stones going for a little lake skip.
Me: “So, you enjoy ripping heads off puppies, too?”
Lobster Dahmer: “Why? You got a puppy that needs his head ripped off?”
I looked at him, tired and sorry this half-wit was these lobsters’ executioner. They deserved better. “Oh, forget it.” I told him. “You…you are just…bellicose!”
I stomp off. Bellicose? More like psychotic.
Cheery Blonde trailed behind me. “But, you know, lobsters are the cockroaches of the sea. Plus I make a mean lobster macaroni and cheese! (She smiled.) You’d love it. Really.”
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
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