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Cosmic Debris
by Gary Greenberg

 The Great Crawfish Massacre

    To you or me, my wife might seem like a nice  person. She is warm, friendly, fun and caring. She cries at least once during the evening news, usually at the sight of  children suffering from the ravages of poverty or war. She is open, honest and filled with a contagious energy that, like good music, can give your soul a lift. To most humans, she might seem a beacon of light. But to the crawfish of the world, my wife is Attila the Hun. 

    Nora was born in Panama, where she claims to have eaten iguana. Her
formative years, however, were spent in New Orleans where the culinary tastes of the natives favor crawfish, a small Crustacean the locals use to make crawfish soup, crawfish bisque, crawfish gumbo, crawfish etouffe, crawfish monica, crawfish bread, crawfish pie...well, I’m sure you get the idea. The Italians in New Orleans bake crawfish pizza, the Chinese stir-fry it and the Japanese make sushi rolls with it. 

    Although crawfish can be prepared in a variety of  ways, the preferred
method in New Orleans is to boil them up by the thousands, giving  people who traditionally love to party a good excuse to invite a lot of friends over. They throw crawfish boils to celebrate all kinds of events and milestones, major or minor, or sometimes for no reason at all. 

    Since moving to Florida, my wife has established an annual tradition of
celebrating her birthday in just such a fashion. This consists of flying in a hundred or more pounds of live crawfish, sticking them on ice in our bath tub overnight, then throwing them into boiling water and eventually eating them by tearing them in half, extracting a smidgeon of meat from the tail, sucking the boil’s spicy juices out of the head and casually throwing away the other ninety percent of the crawfish. 

    While crawfish boils can be enjoyable for human beings, it can’t be much fun for crawfish beings. Imagine... 

    First you’re rousted from your comfortable home in the nutrient-rich mud of a Louisiana bayou. (If you’re a crawfish living there, you don’t have to run to the market or call Domino’s. All you have to do is eat the mud, which isn’t really mud so much as a lot of, shall we say, pre-digested foodstuffs, most of which has been through the intestinal tracts of typically slimy creatures such as fish, frogs, snakes, alligators and Howard Stern.) You’re  plucked from this Garden of Eaten, stuffed into a box with a thousand other crawfish, flown to Florida (no doubt with some other crawfish’s pinchers sticking in your back the whole way), and upon arriving, put on ice till you’re so cold  you can’t even  bat an antenna. Come morning, you’re dumped into a tub of saltwater that is supposed to “purge” you of your last nutrient-rich meal of Louisiana bayou  mud. Then comes the  coup de grace. Still half-frozen, you’re dumped into a gigantic pot of rapidly boiling water loaded with Cajun spices. Mercifully, you never know how you’re eventually torn asunder, sucked dry and so cavalierly discarded. 
    Such is life in the lower middle class of the food chain. 

    However, crawfish are crabby Crustaceans by nature, ornery little critters with a skin of armor and Edward Scissorhand pinchers. They are sometimes ornery even after they become deceased, as they can be difficult to eat and ever-capable of inflicting bleeding wounds in the fingers of their consumers. Nora the Hun, of course, is a master when it comes to eating crawfish. In fact, she once won a crawfish-eating contest in Coconut  Grove, a memorable  moment I didn’t have the fortune to witness because I was busy trying to run down the two guys who had stolen our bicycles during the semi-finals. 

    For people who’ve never eaten boiled crawfish before, the finger-pricking task of digging meat out of the tail and the concept of sucking spices out of a crawfish head might make this unique dining experience seem to be more  trouble than it’s worth. However, with a little instruction, a lot of practice and enough beer, anyone can learn to enjoy boiled crawfish. 

    Some people can even enjoy unboiled crawfish. Kid people, in particular, are endlessly fascinated with crawfish so long as they are alive and still capable of being imprisoned in cups, prodded with sticks and used to terrorize other kids and even some adults. As the father of a six-year-old boy, I myself  have personably attended many children’s functions, and I’d say that kids are far more entertained by live crawfish than by things like inflatable bouncy houses, pony rides and clowns. 

    So everyone has a good time at a crawfish boil (except the crawfish) until the next morning, when you, as host, finally arise with lips still aflame from sucking Cajun spices and your head pounding from all the beer it took to quell that fire the previous night. You arise to find the remnants of a hundred pounds of boiled crawfish (about ninety pounds)  baking in the sub-tropical Florida sun, the fragrance of their rapidly decomposing bodies drawing flies from as far away as Loxahatchee. 

    As I filled up one, two, three large trash cans with crawfish corpses, I was struck by the barbaric nature of our eating habits. The food chain certainly doesn’t gain civility as it gains height. We at the top are really no less primitive than those on the lower rungs. The only difference is that we cook what we kill before eating it. Some, like these crawfish, we boil alive. You can’t get much more brutal than that. 

    The sun was hot, the air stifling, not even a hint of a breeze. I was sweating out equal parts beer and crawfish boil spices. Flies buzzed around me in swarms. Perspiration stung my eyes like cayenne pepper. My mouth was as dry as cat litter. I drank glass after glass of water and still couldn’t get enough. Nora the Hun hosed me down with a laugh. A slight breeze rustled the palms. I reached into a cooler that still had a little ice, pulled out a leftover beer and was poised to pop the top when our son Glen shouted with glee. He’d found a crawfish. Alive. 

    The crawfish was big and feisty, his pinchers clicking like maracas when I picked him up. Miracle of miracles. Out of the thousands who’d perished in Nora the Hun’s crawfish massacre, he alone had survived.

    Glen asked if we could keep him as a pet. I convinced my son that we should set him free instead. He’d earned it. So later that evening, we walked him to a nearby canal, thinking up names along the way. I suggested Magellan, since he was a great explorer about to embark on the next leg of his improbable journey. Glen wanted to call him Super Crawfish, which made sense considering his uncanny ability to survive when those all around him were having crawfish boil juice sucked out of
their brains. We settled for calling him both, Magellan the Super Crawfish. 

    Upon arriving at the canal, my wife insisted we find an appropriate spot to let him go and pointed out a nice little mudbank any crawfish would be glad to call home. Glen handed me the cup where Magellan the Super Crawfish had been imprisoned for most of the day. I carefully plucked him out and held him aloft, his serrated pinchers arching back gracefully as though he were stretching. 

    “Magellan the Super Crawfish, you alone have survived the great crawfish massacre perpetrated by Nora the Hun on the occasion of her birthday,” I said. “We humans appreciate the sacrifice your brethren paid to highlight our celebration and fill our bellies, and we hope that you will somehow manage to find peace and happiness here in Florida. Godspeed, little friend.” 

    That said, I let him go and the three of us watched him scurry away into the underbrush, to live and die a free crawfish after all.

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