HMM WEEKLY for August 6, 2019

Enlarged for your enlightenment

HMM WEEKLY for August 6, 2019

Hmm Daily is now Hmm Weekly

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There Is More Than One Way, and Also Only One Way, to Crack a Crab

THE GROCERY DELIVERY company had a sale on a dozen steamed blue crabs, so I ordered a dozen steamed blue crabs. It had been a long time. I eat lobster now much more often than I eat crabs, and soft-shelled crabs more often than hard-shelled ones, which is completely upside-down from what I grew up on, but that's what's available in New York, or possibly it's just that the crabs subjectively seem unavailable, because the normal ways of getting them aren't there, here.

But this time I wanted them enough, and the price was not prohibitive. They came coated in Old Bay, and I rinsed them off before warming them up in the steamer. There are all sorts of arguments about the appropriateness and authenticity of Old Bay versus other crab seasonings versus whatever and I don't need to care about them. I like the taste of Old Bay fine, and I like it even more when I've rinsed it off the crabs so I can taste a little bit of it while mostly tasting crabmeat. The way I eat crabs is the way crabs get eaten by me. That's my cultural practice.

Crabs are a treat, not a performance. The grocery delivery company had included plastic crab bibs, as a ritual vestment for someone else's wrong guess about the liturgy, a gesture akin to the horrifying "crab boil," in which some New York restaurant cooked crabs wrong as a piece of overpriced ersatz exotic-regionalist foodie shtick. Back home, I don't judge, but nobody back home would ever do such a thing.

The delivery also included a pair of crab mallets. I already had crab mallets somewhere, but I never use them. Long ago, through trial and error, I figured out that the only crab tool I want is a butter knife. Specifically, it's the knife from the set of stainless tableware I grew up with, in what the Internet eventually would inform me was the Oneida "Surf Club" pattern. After decades and decades of attrition, my parents got some new complete set of flatware and I claimed the remains of the Surf Club set, which makes up maybe half of the unmatched assortment we use.

Professional crab pickers use straight, sharp little knives to disassemble the crabs, but the Surf Club knife has its own logic and function. The handle is a long, shallow S curve, bellying out and then tapering, after the curve reverses, to a narrow yet still sturdy butt, angled slightly downward.

Mostly, to whatever extent I can, I take the crabs apart without implements. Once, somewhere around the front of my teen years, my best friend and I went to St. Michael's on a day trip from summer camp, and there, entranced by the low prices, we decided we should buy ourselves an entire bag of claws for lunch. We gave no thought to tools or utensils till we settled in to eat them—the hardest, spiniest, most mallet-worthy parts of the crab—with nothing but our bare hands, and sometimes our teeth, and our refusal to accept failure. The same technique, minus the desperation, has been my standard approach ever since. You can get pretty far just by breaking them apart at the joints, and prying back the pincer till it yields. Sometimes the meat pops out of each segment intact; sometimes you need to pull it or slurp it out. When it's stuck in there, it's time to break the shell.

There's nothing wrong with using a mallet for this, as long as you have a feel for how to strike to crack the shell, rather than just flattening the whole thing into pulverized meat laced with shell shards. But why swing the big hammer at all, when the back end of the butter knife can deliver a blow exactly where it's needed to widen the opening? The wrong utensil, wielded backwards, becomes a precision instrument. Reverse it again, and the tip of the knife can go in and retrieve the meat. If anyone's designed a better tool on purpose, I haven't seen it, and I'm not looking.

(The leftover crabs, if any, get popped out of their top shell, cleaned of guts and gills, split in half, and then cooked into a sauce for spaghetti or linguini: garlic in oil followed by onion followed by crab, and then tomatoes to simmer with it all for, who knows, 20 minutes, 35 minutes. Till it smells like crab sauce.)


Swimming pool flotation device packaging as seen in swimming pool supply stores

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  • Cemetry Gate
  • This Thing Took Time
  • This Night Has Opened My Eye
  • Shoplifter of the World Unite
  • Some Girl Is Bigger Than Other

(Apologies to Jordan Ellenberg)


Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Directed by David Leitch

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Hobbs being punched by Idris Elba as Brixton being punched by Jason Statham as Shaw in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.

THERE WAS SOME discussion about Idris Elba playing 007 and/or James Bond in a James Bond movie, and I don’t know if he was too busy or the money wasn’t right or if he was just thinking: “Why should I get all knotted up about playing James Bond or a double-oh seven when I can be the principal malefactor in a Fast & Furious movie?” Fast & Furious!

This is the ninth one of these and the franchise is going fast and furious, take a deep breath for the list:

  • The Fast & The Furious (2001)
  • 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
  • The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
  • Fast & Furious (2009)
  • Fast Five (2011)
  • Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
  • Furious 7 (2015)
  • The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Also according to Wikipedia here’s the film future of the furious and fast:

  • Fast & Furious 9
  • Untitled tenth film
  • Untitled female-centered film

If you saw the recent Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood, think about the speech Al Pacino made to Leonardo DiCaprio about how his career is going, and that theory is totally applied by The Rock and Jason Statham in this movie.

This movie had like six music cues in the first five minutes, I swear, I tried to count and then I realized it’s pointless, the whole movie is a chain of music cues and then The Rock and Jason Statham engage in buddy-movie mutual disparagements before during and after bursts of violence or stunts, and they are all the bullshit kind of stunts with the slow jokiness of the Roger Moore era of James Bond. Here’s some recent accomplishments by David Leitch, the film’s director:

  • Céline Dion: Ashes
  • 2018 Deadpool 2
  • 2017 Atomic Blonde
  • 2014 John Wick

Back to the action; nothing’s real, it’s all a bunch of movie-stunt-looking setups and every once in awhile they slow it down to inject some drama about somebody’s mom or brother or something and then at some point people get in motor vehicles and do a bunch of even more bullshit stunts but that’s the entertaining part, the mousetrap-level of the stunts.

Here’s a scene from the film:

OK, no, seriously, here’s a clip  from the film:

OK, NBC Universal wouldn’t let me use that clip via YouTube, I don’t know why, it perfectly illustrated my point, but whatever, here’s a trailer:

This series of flicks is generally about cops & robbers and muscle cars and muscle guys and girls with hot bods and they have made a mountain of dough. I don’t know about the other ones, but this one right here, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw with, in addition to Mr. Elba, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jason Statham, and Vanessa Kirby as the good people fighting the bad, has fully stepped into the James Bond 007–level of bullshit because there’s a secret organization that wants to evolve humans into super-humans, and Idris Elba is their point person, and Mssrs. The Rock and Statham and Ms. Kirby are all 007-level fighters of evil, so that means it takes 007 times three (021?) to beat Idris Elba. Or do they? Spoiler alert.


WE PRESENT HERE for your continued amusement, delectation, and possible degustation a selection of recipes for antique but entirely possible sandwiches, found in The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, published in 1909 and now in the public domain for all to enjoy. So, enjoy, and if you have made any of these sandwiches, kindly send a picture to

Chop five hard-boiled eggs very fine. Stone and chop fifteen large olives and mix with the egg, moisten all with three tablespoonfuls of melted butter, season with salt and pepper, and mix to a moist paste. Spread on thin slices of lightly buttered white bread. Put two slices together and garnish with an olive..

Run a sour cucumber through the meat chopper, then run through six hard-boiled eggs. Mix with a little mayonnaise dressing. Place mixture between thin slices of lightly buttered white bread with a crisp lettuce leaf between.

Chop hard-boiled eggs fine, season with salt and pepper, add olive oil until of the consistency to spread. Use for a filling for a filling for brown bread sandwiches.

Rub smooth the yolk of a hard-boiled egg, add a tablespoonful of melted butter, a dash of salt and white pepper, one-half teaspoonful of mustard, and one-fourth of a pound of American cheese grated, then stir in a tablespoonful of vinegar. Spread mixture on thin slices of lightly buttered white or rye bread. Put two slices together and garnish with a pickle..

Rub the yolks of three hard-boiled eggs to a paste. Add two teaspoonfuls of olive oil, mixing with a silver fork. Add a pinch of mustard, cayenne pepper, and salt, and lastly one tablespoonful of vinegar. When this is thoroughly mixed, add one cup of grated American cheese. Spread on thin slices of lightly buttered white bread.

Here Is a Photograph of the Sky

WHILE WE MULL over what to serialize next, here's yet another installment of Spam Filter Letters to the Awl, from the 80,000-word collection of dummy-text cover letters I wrote to make sure that when I emailed that site a photograph of the sky, the filters would allow it to go through.

Subject: Here we go
To: Awl notes
at least if I can pad this out long enough to do the usual, put on the same old show, repeat the shtick, append another novel string of words to this to successfully communicate the ordinary message. You know. The message that is always in these emails, packaged and repackaged in obedience to the demands of the system. Here is a picture, there is the review.

Subject: the sky
To: Awl notes
Is depicted in the attached photograph, according to our usual custom, and the delivery of it is accompanied by this useless string of words, according to our usual custom. Also there is a draft of the review in the system, ditto, which provides an opportunity to pad out the word-string even more, ditto. Thus we spend our days.

Subject: decisions
To: Awl notes
Here again we have one of those days where in lieu of sending you one photo, I send you two, and invite you to make an editorial decision as to which of the two should be used. It would be used to illustrate the review that has been filed and put into the system, which is obvious but not obvious enough for the filters to allow us to let that be wordlessly understood between us.

Subject: delivery
To: Awl notes
This is the minimally meaningful text strung together to justify the existence of the email to the satisfaction of the non-sentient sentinels who would otherwise object to its passage. This is a second sentence to pad it out a little more, to make it seem even more substantial and meaningful. Here is the part where I unnecessarily say that a sky photograph is attached and a review has been saved into the system.

Subject: This is the subject of the message.
To: Awl notes
This is the first sentence of the message. This is the sentence after the first sentence, which varies in construction. Now another sentence. Here is another sentence, adding even more variety and no inconsiderable amount of length, once its various clauses have been strung together, one after another, wrapping from the original line to the next to the next, and possibly even beyond, like so, at least within the formatting of the particular window in which the sentence is composed. And now here is acknowledgement that the task of padding out the email has probably been completed, followed by notification that the draft review is in the system and the sky photo is attached. Thank you very much.

Once again, but slightly different
To: Awl notes
Which is to say, the same, always, the fake variety being more repetitive than actual monotony could be. Words strung together. A non-message message. The invisible and unknowable quota of performance to meet. Is this enough? Is this enough now? How about now? Surely by now it must be enough. And yet even "enough" is only enough for now, not enough to satisfy the lurking filters of the ultimate legitimacy of these communications, in which I try to inform you that the review is in the system and that I have attached a photograph of the sky.

Subject: Good afternoon
To: Awl notes
Is it? Is the afternoon good? What sort of afternoon is it, really? The actual answer to this will be dealt with tomorrow, I suppose, under my usual critical responsibilities, but the space has to be filled somehow, so here we go. The afternoon and its goodness: discuss. Conversational conventions. Human discourse. So very typically human. What filter would want to stop such a natural human discussion? No filter would dream of it. (Filters do not dream; filters are endlessly wakefully unconscious.) Here is a photo of the sky, to go with the review that is in the system.


A five-dollar wood rack.

EVERY YEAR I spend a week or two in the beautiful and scenic Adirondacks in upstate New York, and it’s very woodsy, and I enjoy the outdoors, not enough to sleep in a tent on the regular, but enough to rent a camp (technically just a house) on or near a lake and then spend a lot of time outside of it. The great outdoors!

Outdoors, in the Great Outdoors.

The moment I always feel the least great-outdoors-y is when we realize we need some wood for our campfire. There are usually enough fallen branches to scavenge off the ground around the camp we rent to get a fire going the first night, but generally not enough to support a week’s worth of late night campfires and weenie roasting and the annoying marshmallow-toasting s’mores process.

10 seconds worth of a typical first-night fire.

So we need to obtain an ample supply of firewood! That’s where the city-slicker in me kicks in, because I want to buy wood for the campfire, but I don’t want to get ripped off, because I know I’m gonna get ripped off.

The honor box.

Unless you’ve made a deal with someone who delivers firewood in mass quantity, the camp wood options are limited to buying a plastic-wrapped bundle at a local gas-station convenience store, which you know is going to be complete highway robbery, for a tiny amount of kiln-dried sticks that are going to last about three hours tops, or else driving around looking for a roadside camp wood rack.

This is the only shot I have of confirmed overpriced convenience store wood, down at the bottom of the image, that small plastic-wrapped package next to one of those weird fireplace faux logs. $7.69 (plus tax) for six or seven pieces of wood. I didn’t ask if the big hunk of wood on top next to the gasoline containers was for sale as firewood, but I don’t see how it figures into “YOUR CAR CARE NEEDS.”

These roadside firewood honor bars are like snowflakes, in that they are at first glance similar: a wooden shelf/rack constructed so there is a grid with portions of firewood in each cell. You drive up, put your cash in the box, make a joke about taking more wood than you are supposed to, load up, and then depart with an odd sense of satisfaction in performing a trust-based transaction, but that just might be me.

A 10-dollar wood rack. Does the square contain more wood than the five-dollar rectangle?

Then you notice the details, such as that one stand’s grid has portion-areas that are square, and another has rectangles. Some appear larger and might charge more than the typical five bucks per helping, some appear to have smaller pieces of firewood, some appear to have wood that is not packed in as tightly as the last one you drove by, and in the case of Schroon Lake, New York, one stand has wheelbarrows that are either pre-loaded or empty so that you can load them yourself from the woodpile.

The wheelbarrow proposition.

These are ostensibly the bargain firewood loads, an abundant byproduct of the chainsaw carvings of Sculptures by Frank. Lots of camps in the area have a bear or eagle wrought in the distinctive Sculptures by Frank style. Not only does Sculptures by Frank offer firewood on the honor system, they also employ the same system as an option to purchase sculptures, by Frank. A quick phone call to the sculpture establishment confirmed that the wheelbarrow firewood is “at least 50-50” sculpture trimmings, with the other half-or-less being harvested wood split specifically for fire purposes. You can tell the trimmings because they are irregular and frequently knotty hunks of wood, as opposed to the more consistently-shaped split wood.

Sculptures, by Frank

I always vow to be better prepared for the comparison shopping, but a year goes by and I never remember. This year, however, I’m going back for another week of pine needles and loon calls, and I’m bringing a tape measure and a goddamn scale. Stay tuned.