On Tilghman Island where I’m staying on weekends this summer, my rented cottage is located in a ‘compound’ of cottages owned by an amazing couple (let’s call them P and J, to protect the names of the innocent). They are beyond awesome. This is a picture of their Crab Shack at sunset. The Crab Shack is where the weekend cottage renters all come together on Saturday nights and eat a bushel of crabs and drink beer or wine (or in my case, Jack Daniels mixed with some watermelon wine coolers I found at the country store that may or may not have been there since 1984).
Since I started staying here to work on the novel three weekends ago, I have been wanting to learn to catch and cook my own crabs. This island is full of watermen, it’s like where the Maryland crabs come from, so I reason, in my incredibly skewed, distorted thinking, that theoretically, I should be able to catch and cook my own dinner and maybe even enough crabs to provide a Saturday dinner at the crab shack. Apparently, in this summer of Girl Vs. Island, there is no limit to my stupidity.
P&J tell me I need to go meet “Jerry” the waterman and ask him for some fish heads for the crab traps. Morons like myself who are foreigners to Maryland’s Eastern Shore are referred to as “Chicken neckers” because we allegedly catch crabs with chicken necks, which I guess is like the ghetto way to attract the bottom-feeding crustaceans known for their deliciousness. No chicken necks for this girl. I’m going to learn how to do it the right way from people who have been doing it all their lives.
At around 7 am, I ride J’s pink bike to the dock near the drawbridge and, having no idea where to find Jerry, I enter the bait and tackle shop. I meet Calvin. I immediately have an old man crush on him, and I can tell he wants me, so he is officially my new summer old man waterman boyfriend. It’s easy to see how I fell for him; he just has so many things the other watermen in the shop don’t seem to have- a cheery personality… friendly smile… teeth. He had me at “Looky here, we have a newcomer to the island.” (meltttt)
I tell my new BF that I am going to catch crabs today, and I buy this hat:
I tell Calvin that this is going to be the hat I wear when I achieve the catching of my first crab.
He tells me where to find Jerry (um, down at the dock, duh… because that’s where the fish are and there aren’t any here in this shop where they sell Tastycakes and beef jerky, dumbass..)
Hi Jerry! Jerry is going to teach me how to catch crabs.
What’s that white cooler on the left?
photobombing the picture. Yeah. Crabbing is not for pussies, people.
Jerry instantly tries to get me to cheat on Calvin with him, and I am having none of it. Plying me with gifts of already-caught crabs to eat for dinner so I don’t have to catch my own? Well played, Jerry.
After we move past the extreme sexual tension, and once I figure out that the reason his voice is odd is not that he has no teeth but that his mouth is completely packed with a black tobacco product of some sort, we get down to business. Jerry explains that I should use menhaden to catch the crabs because chicken necks and fish heads are for chumps. I’m going to need to “Maybe put on some gloves, then twist the head off the fish just as you’re putting it into the trap. You’re gonna want to squeeze the head real good, because that gets all the oil to come out and attracts the crabs.”
Savagely ripping the heads off fish? I’m in.
This is the last picture I could take with my ipad before I became completely covered in fish brains and guts and blood. I didn’t have gloves. I felt like a fish-eating zombie. Luckily there were no bath salts around, or there would be missing islanders right now. Fish destruction is disgusting and, because I’m a little crazy and off my meds to write the novel, going all Ozzy Osbourne and tearing fish shit up was fucking awesome. Seriously, if y’all need to release tension in your life, violently rip the heads off some motherfucking fish.
So now my crab traps are in the water and it’s time to wait. I have forgotten to ask anyone how long it takes to catch a bushel of crabs, but I figure what- like 3-4 hours? I was sadly disappointed when I went running down to the dock that I had caught not a single crab.
Jerry is a liar. He’s just jealous of me and Calvin. What the fuck, Jerry?!
I begin thinking about how Jerry had insisted on a certain type of fish but then had specifically made it clear that if I didn’t catch any, I could come get them from him. Suspicious. How is Jerry going to stay in the waterman business by giving people free fish that actually catch the very crabs he’s trying to sell?
I’m a sucker.
How am I ever going to get to wear this awesome fucking hat??
The next day? No crabs in pots. P&J come down to the docks, and P quickly analyzes the situation and informs me that the traps aren’t locked shut. WHAT? DAFUQ?! I blame Jerry. He ‘showed me how to bait the pots’ and said NOTHING about like some latch thing you have to latch so that the crabs can’t just walk in and get food like it’s a fucking Golden Corral buffet, and then just walk the fuck out. Without paying. You know, paying with their lives like they’re supposed to!
I enthusiastically if a bit Shining-madnessy rip off some more menhaden heads, add the bait, CLOSE THE DAMN TRAPS, and into the water they go.
And this morning? When I went down to the dock, guess what I saw?
I ran screaming up to P&J’s cottage and demand to know if they snuck this crab into the trap so they wouldn’t have to listen to me talk about my goddamn hat anymore. They swear they did not. He is a legit crab that I have caught.
(the following sentence sounds to me in my head like it’s narrated by Ellen DeGeneres for some reason:)
He is my Crabby and I will call him Crabby and he will be my pet and I will love him forever because he is my Crabby.
He only has one claw! Who could ever eat such a cute Crabby?
Ok, so the good news is, duh, I CAN WEAR THE HAT. The bad news is that Crabby eats a lot of fucking menhaden. And I’m out of menhaden. How am I ever going to be able to put Crabby through college someday? But I notice a fresh looking 16-inch rockfish floating in the bay and also a much nastier fish-head-carcass floating deal. P grabs the rockfish with a net. Crabby is going to eat well. I put on a swimsuit, retrieve the nasty ass carcass fish from the bay, and (LIKE A BOSS…) I cram each dead, stinking, rotten fish into the two traps. Next weekend, it’s going to be bushel time.
And after Crabby invites all his friends over, I will find him, and thank him (while we steam, Old Bay and eat the living shit out of all his friends), and then I will let Crabby go at sunset to be free. He will wave his single claw at my hatted head, and we will be friends forever.
Here I am, letting Crabby go even though he didn’t bring any friends over. He gave me hat priveleges, so he shall be free. Goodbye, Crabby!
Photo by jruddfoto