These crabs remind me of the Devilled Crab Man,
the glistening black man who'd show up
erratically during our summers with a tray
of still-warm toasted crabs in each massive hand,
having rung the doorbell with a big toe,
smiling broadly as we ran to the screen door,
then ran back to fetch Mother and her stash
of quarters, the succulent devilled crabs
twenty-five cents apiece, each of us able
to gluttonously consume two by ourselves,
so Mother counted out ten quarters,
dumping them on a tray, it nearly empty now,
Devilled Crab Man bowing his thanks
as we stayed on the stoop, nibbling
the rich meat and bread and spices
mixed together and stuffed back into the shells
of the curious Chesapeake Bay creatures,
oven-browned, that now sell for twenty-five
dollars for two in this multi-star restaurant,
our surly white waiter wearing pointy
polished shoes, unthinkable of him
to arrive barefooted at our elegant table.
Hardly anyone would believe
that you could have a French meal
for seventy-five cents, dollar-and-a-
quarter tops if you chose lamb ragout.
The seventy-five center was lentils and
spicy sausage, always my favorite at
Chez Odette on Wisconsin Avenue,
a tiny darkened room with seating for
twenty or so diners at five tables and
three booths with lumpy, cracked seats.
I had breakfast there every morning
before my Physical Chem class at A.U.
Always three fried eggs, white toast and
French roast coffee, as much as I wanted.
Also seventy-five cents and who knows
how much cholesterol over a year's span.
How delicious, how atmospheric, how
unbelievable to think that a buck -- I
always left a quarter tip! -- could buy
so much savory pleasure and inner peace.
Jack and Jackie Kennedy must have
thought so too: we, my bride-to-be and I,
joined them every Wednesday evening
for dinner at Odette's where Jackie also
preferred the lentil dish, Jack usually
springing for the pricier ragout of lamb.
We didn't exactly eat with them, just
near enough by to nod when they came in
or left, their schedule a bit more erratic
than ours in those halcyon days of yore.
But who would believe such a tale, that
you could get a French meal for seventy-
five cents? And in such good company!
©2006 by Bill Roberts
Bill Roberts is a retired nuclear weapons expert who
writes poetry for the small press to relax. He has
recently returned from France fifteen pounds heavier, and
has resumed spoiling his two dogs. If he could turn
back the clock, he'd get up much later and pursue a
career in opera (non-singing roles).