Shorty & the Great Crab Massacre

by Flynn Washburne, July 19, 2017

I watched the movie ‘Need For Speed’ over the weekend. Yes, willingly.

I was not strapped into a chair with my glazzies pried open a la’ Clockwork Orange — and my expectations were solidly met, it being genuinely awful and an almost complete waste of time. The reason I masochistically subjected myself to a hundred-odd minutes of cinematic torture instead of doing something worthwhile like staring at the ceiling and twiddling my thumbs is: I remembered it had been filmed up in Mendo, and I figured that vicariously enjoying the verdant landscape through the TV for a couple hours beat the reality of dust and creosote bushes I could see by going outside, and maybe even worth suffering the incredibly bad acting and absurdly contrived story.

Verdict: sort of, though I didn’t recognize anything until the final quarter of the picture and the big chase down Highway 128 and Highway 1, culminating at the Point Arena Lighthouse. I don't know how much of that was real, in terms of someone actually negotiating those turns at those purported speeds, but I was impressed.

I used to have a hard enough time keeping my little Camry on those roads at speeds no more than 25-30% over the limit. Of course, I was usually trying either to choose between two identically blurry roads or swerving to avoid hallucinations. Why not drive right through them? Because the get-­the-hell-out-of-the-way reaction is much more finely calibrated than the is-this-real-or-not? one, and will not wait around for you to gather enough data to make an informed decision about the corporeal possibilities of the giant pile of macaroni and cheese which seems to have suddenly and inexplicably materialized on the highway. It's trying to save your life, so you swerve. Usually when I do this I feel quite proud of my quick reflexes and agile response and will say to my passenqer something like, "Nice driving… right? Dragon that size coulda done ol' Betsey here some real damage," as I pat B's dash reassuringly.

And, of course, my little runabout hadn't a shadow of the performance specs of those beastly Euro supercars. Had I been present during filming I probably would've been rather indignant about the disparity and tried to figure out a way to steal one.

Even without a Lambo or Enzo, I've had my share of adventures on those roads. One night I was whiling away the wee hours on Highway 1 near Big River in the Right Reverend Jim Mooneyham' s bluntly utilitarian CJ-5 Jeep. with a snarling, leaping dog attempting quixotically to catch, subdue and rip the throat out of the vehicle. This was by design; the dog, who was part border collie, part wolverine, and part Tasmanian devil, belonged to Jim and had, of necessity, to burn off her excess murderous energy in this manner lest she turn on her master, myself, and eventually the townspeople. "Shorty," as she was innocuously called, was as viciously unpredictable as a lightning storm and only suffered my continued existence through Jim's calming influence and these therapeutic outings.

I use the past tense because the last time I saw her, attrition had whittled her away to something resembling a parts dog and she has no doubt departed this earthly realm to take her rightful place at the left hand of Satan. I would say "rest in peace, Shorty," but I'm sure she's actively engaged in the everlasting torment of damned souls and there's nothing either peaceful or restful about it. In her prime, though, she was a truly malevolent force of nature, like a squat four-legged hurricane.

The Rev, who didn't really deserve the title but did have an ordination certificate from the Universal Life Church, and was the one actively addicted person I knew who if he said he was going to pay you fifty dollars you could go ahead and enter it on the credit side of your ledger. So maybe he did deserve that title.

He’d spun off the highway and on to the Big River beach exit to let Shorty have her head on the sand and maybe dive into the surf to murder some poor unsuspecting sea creature who'd so far managed to avoid natural predators and fishermen but hadn't considered the matter of dogs.

We parked and Shorty shot off into the darkness, and woe betide anyone or thing she came across. Jim and I cracked beers and ambled aimlessly down the beach, talking of this, that, and a couple of other things besides.

It was a still, chill night without any discernible moon or stars, and the sound of the waves provided the only proof of demarcation 'twixt land and sea.

Noticing a glow from one of the firepits over by the bridge, we headed in that direction. We no doubt appeared quite suddenly out of the gloom from the perspective of the gent tending the fire, hence his startlement. "Jesus Christ!" he said. "The hell you guys come from?"

I jerked my head to vaguely indicate someplace not where we were and said, "Whatcha doin', friend?"

"Eatin' crabs," he responded, indicating a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket in the sand next to him. I looked in the bucket and sure enough it was filled with those very creatures, the one on top waving his pincers menacingly and stepping on his mates trying to scramble up from the muddle to see just what the hell was going on. The king of the hill position proved an unlucky one, though, as the firemaster just then nimbly plucked him from the bucket and tossed him onto the grill where he popped, hissed, and writhed briefly before succumbing to the flames.

I was a little bothered, first, by the incongruity of storing marine life in a fried-chicken container. The nearest KFC was on N. State St. in Ukiah, and while it wasn't inconceivable that someone had purchased a bucket there either for the ride or for their day on the beach, it just seemed out of place. Those buckets aren't exactly impermeable, either, and it was surely soaked with grease and contained remnants of chicken and breading, which no doubt stimulated and confused the crabs. This, not to mention his method of dispatching them, seemed unnecessarily cruel and I decided to advocate for the crabs.

"Say, is that really the most humane way of cooking those things?" I asked.

He took a large knife from a sheath on his belt, poked it into the crab's thorax, flipped him over and said, "Who're you, Saint Francis?"

"Well, y'know, no, but—" and here Jim, knowing me and the likelihood of this ending with me racing toward the surf with a bucketful of crabs and an angry homeless man pursuing us with a Bowie knife, interrupted by nudging me and saying, "Alright, then, we're gonna leave you to it. Have a good night. And by the way, if you see a dog come by here, do not engage her in any way. Don't look her in the eye and definitely don't run."

No sooner were the words out of his mouth when Shorty, no doubt attracted by the smell of roasting crab, came trotting in out of the darkness. She took the scene in carefully and her ears pricked up at the clacking and rustling coming from the chicken bucket. She walked over in investigatory mode, stuck her snout in the bucket, and the new lead crab did what crabs have always done when inquisitive pets or children encroach on their personal space: he latched on for all he was worth, sinking one claw into her nose and one into her flews. Shorty, for her part, did not do what dogs thus pinched have always done, i.e., yelp piteously and run, chastened, off to whine and lick her wounds. She was not the yelping kind, never mind whining.

If anything, she was a yelpee, having stimulated yelps in many other creatures, great and small.

She assessed the situation calmly, looking cross-eyed down her muzzle at the offending crustacean, and snapped her head up smartly, dislodging the crab and sending him hurtling skyward. Shorty set herself like a punt returner and looked up, jaws agape, making minute corrections as Crabby reached apogee and began his descent.

I don't know if crabs are capable of regret, but I like to think that this one, in his last few moments of life, looked down at that toothy maw and thought, Man, I have definitely fucked with the wrong dog. Into the abyss he plunged; crunch! went the powerful jaws, and the crab's outer thirds fell away, claws still waving feebly. Shorty spat out the crab's middle and walked back over to the bucket. She had, uniquely among dogs, very well ­developed senses of both revenge and justice, and the rest of those crabs were guilty by association. Using a startlingly intelligent and unusually self-sacrificial tactic, she jammed her head forcefully into the bucket and left it there, giving the crabs ample time to catch hold of her. She lifted her head out — really, more crab than dog at this point — and spun, writhed, and shook like a dervish, sending crabs whirling off every which away Noting all their positions, Shorty calmly and efficiently executed every last one with a single bite and worrying shake.

The area was littered with crab parts and their erstwhile custodian was staring wide-eyed at the scene, clearly terrified. Shorty, bloodlust temporarily satisfied, sat calmly at Jim's side, licking her chops and looking smug.

"Wow. Sorry about that. Hang on, lemme see what I got here…" Jim said, digging into his pocket. He handed the guy a five-spot, which the guy looked at as if he'd never before seen money, then at Jim, then me, and then the carnage (but not Shorty), as if trying to figure out just how in the hell his night had taken such a bizarre and violent turn.

"Well — goodnight, then," Jim said.

"You take it easy, guy," I said, and the three of us headed back toward the Jeep.

"Say, Jim," I said. "You ever considered the possibility that you're less a pet owner and more a hostage?"

"More than once," he admitted. "But you know, she's got me Stockholm Syndrome'd enough that it really makes no difference. we understand each other."

I made mention above of Jim's unique (among tweakers) quality of trustworthiness, and it was not simply to promote his character, nor was the figure of $50.00 arrived at as a random example. When I went down for the bank job & etc. in 2011 Jim was into me for that very amount and I have not forgotten about it. I will be expecting repayment in the spring when I touch down. With interest, we'll call it $62.50. Maybe we'll go down to the harbor and eat some crabs, in memory of Shorty.

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