issue 25 :: January 2015

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FICTION: The Clam Rally

by Josh Ronsen
George Samberg loved clams. That is, he loved eating clams. This is somewhat surprising in that George was Jewish, but his parents were not particularly religious and it was never a big deal about what one ate.
It was during a summer vacation to Cape Cod as a boy when George first ate clams and fell in love with their taste. Fried, breaded clams were served unannounced on a sampler plate at a picturesque sea-side restaurant and George assumed they were misshapen hushpuppies. He wasn’t exactly sure what a hushpuppy was at the time. He was fairly certain that they didn’t contain dog meat. His parents, unobservant as they were, surely wouldn’t eat dogs, and he was too embarrassed to ask what he knew was a stupid question. He had been eating with indifference the hushpuppies and other side dishes he had never seen before back home in Chicago, but the first bite of this particular hushpuppy shocked him: it was... different... delicious!
“What... what is this?” he boyishly stammered when the waitress next came to their table.
“Why that’s a fried clam, young man,” she answered in her strange Cape accent. “They catch them every morning right over there,” pointing past the beach and bay.
His family, who had also eaten the clams in ignorance, didn’t much care for them and George happily had the rest on the platter all to himself.
From then on, George had clams whenever he could, breaded and fried if possible, and he became picky enough only to enjoy fresh clams, not the frozen kind in grocery stores back home. It was not something he would ever admit to friends or family, and for the next thirty years he sought them out whenever he traveled.
As a project manager for a large engineering company, he traveled around the country overseeing aspects of massive projects, often for months at a time. He did not mind the travel, for some times it took him to the coasts or overseas where he could get fresh clams to his heart’s content. He even acquired special utensils for opening shells and scooping out the clam meat.
During a job in Mississippi, strengthening a county’s flood bulkheads, a man at a diner told him about a clam rally happening that very night. George was given detailed instructions to the rally’s location, which was held in a remote area out of town, probably, George presumed, to prevent just anybody from showing up. There was surely not an infinite supply of clams.
The instructions were long and detailed, involving many turns onto to farm roads (FMs) and rural routes (RRs). He had to ask them to be repeated as he carefully copied them into his Moleskin notebook. GPS coordinates would have been nice, George thought, but this was rural Mississippi.
Later that night, as he walked through the trees, following what he hoped was the trail, he wondered at the lateness of the rally. 9pm seemed late for a meal. Perhaps this was the Southern “supper.” He wasn’t too sure what the difference between dinner and supper was, and he was too embarrassed to ask what he knew was a stupid question.
Soon George could see a flickering glow through the trees, a bonfire assuredly, and could hear the hubbub of voices ahead. He stepped through the last line of trees and stopped dead in his tracks, shocked at the sight before him.
What he assumed was a bonfire was a large burning cross in the middle of a clearing. All about the cross were dozens of men dressed in white robes with white, pointed hoods.
This was not a clam rally, it was a Klan Rally.
George thought back to that afternoon at the diner. What had the young man with the closely cropped hair asked him? It seemed like a non-sequiter at the time.
“Do you hate chiggers?” George now realized he had wrongly deciphered the man’s thick Southern accent. George now realized why the man smiled when George answered “yes, ever since I was seven years old,” for George had first encountered those annoying sand fleas on that very trip to Cape Cod where he first ate clams. And because George had the association to Cape Cod on his mind, of course he would misinterpret the heavily accented “Klan rally” for “clam rally.” The entire conversation and invitation now made sense to him.
For a second, it would have been possible for George to back up and leave unnoticed by any of the Klansmen, but he was stuck in place as he connected the dots in his head. Slowly, one by one, the hooded figures quieted and turned to look at him, eyes glinting with hate through the eye slits of their crisp, white hoods.
Someone, it was difficult to tell whom because everyone’s face was covered, but he assumed it was the large fellow who took a step towards him, called out “what do you want?”
For a second, all that could be heard was the crackle of the fire.
“I’m here... for the rally?” and in fact he did come here for a rally.
“Whatchya got in yer hands there?” the large man gestured to the special clam-eating utensils in George’s hands.
George was too stunned to think of anything but to tell the truth, a dozen possible deaths and tortures flashing through his mind.
“You... you have any clams tonight?”
Suddenly everybody began to talk and shout and laugh.
“Hell yeah we got clams tonight! Fresh from the Gulf. We got some crawdads and Brother Cletus brought some gator meat from the bayou. You ever try any gator? You just grab yourself a hood and dig right in!”
And thus George to his surprise found himself enjoying his evening. There was a lot of hate that night, but also a lot of clams, so things evened out.
Read before a live audience at Austin No Shame Theater, August 2012.
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