Man vs. periwinkle

I thought I’d starve to death before I got the thing down my throat. I was walking the boardwalk in Brighton, England, Great Britain’s answer to Coney Island. I’d met Richard on a long ago tour of Europe when he was assigned as our British tour guide and over the years we’d developed a great friendship. Great enough, in fact, that he’d invited me to spend a week in the seaside town of Brighton one summer. Richard is quite a schmoozer and he’d convinced his tour company that I was a high-powered tour agent from the United States, so they paid for my Brighton hotel. Anyone who’s dealt with European tour guides knows that they are a particular breed that sometimes play fast and loose with the truth.

So, it was on this day that I met the periwinkle, or sea snail. The boardwalk in Brighton is rife with food stands selling every imaginable type of seafood and Richard insisted that no trip to the English seacoast was complete without buying a cone of periwinkles. This little mollusk is about the size of the end of your finger and when you purchase a cone of them, they give you a little wooden periwinkle pick to dig them out of their shell. The pick looks exactly like the instrument I got from Amazon to dig the wax out of my ears, and it was hard not to confuse the two when I took my first bite.

I’d never considered the British to be especially nimble with their hands, but I swear I was the only one fumbling with my pick and periwinkle as we walked along the beach. Everyone I met seemed to be picking at his or her periwinkles while I was still struggling to get my first taste. Some foods are just not worth the effort.

Later that afternoon we stopped at a sit-down fish restaurant and Richard ordered us a huge platter of shrimp. Okay, I’m used to shrimp at The Approach in ‘Dosh or Long John Silver’s … the kind that someone’s fried and beheaded. These rascals were boiled, still in their shells and with their heads remaining. I’m a fan of the Food Network, but I still have trouble eating something that stares back at me. It makes me feel guilty. Richard showed me how to snap it off, suck out the brains, then peel the shells back eat. We had perhaps 20 shrimp on our platter and after 10 minutes, I’d wrestled only one loose from its shell. Richard was smiling. I was starving. Some foods are just not worth the effort.

Included in this hard-to-eat list are anything requiring chopsticks. I love sushi, but only if I can eat it with my fingers. I once took a group of Japanese students to the Best Buffet here in town and watched them eat rice with chopsticks. How is that possible?

Cupcakes and moustaches are a bad combination. I tried eating a pomegranate once and gave up. There’s surely something in a pom that’s edible but I couldn’t find it. Corn on the cob is just dandy if you have your original teeth. Caramel apples? Forget it. How do you eat a meatball sub without at least one of the saucy orbs rolling into your lap? Are pistachios really good enough to be worth the pain in your fingernails? Crabs? Gimme a break. Life is too short to spend the evening pounding on shells.

I remember when wrestling with food used to be fun. When I was a little poop growing up in Perry, Illinois, we’d go up to the Village Inn restaurant where Nina, the cook, would produce breaded tenderloins that were about the size of Pike County. No buns were big enough to hold them, so she’d maneuver them in between two slices of bread – and even then I couldn’t get my tiny hands around the thing, so I came up with a method whereby I’d lay the tenderloin on the back of my right hand and balance it with my left. It was glorious and no side dishes were needed. If you could get that sandwich down, then that was enough. True, it cost an outrageous $1.25 instead of the 75 cents for a cheeseburger, but sometimes you just have to live wild and free.

Nowadays I try to order only food that doesn’t wear me out. If you want to dribble hot wings all over your chin, have at it. I’ll nibble on my chicken nuggets. Go ahead and let your ice cream come drip down your fingers, I’ll take mine in a cup. If noodle soup is your stringy thing, then please go ahead and order it while I mull over my bowl of chili that comes out in chunks I can handle. Babies have been born while mothers have tried to peel a mango. Fresh coconuts? Sorry, I just don’t have the energy or a handy supply of dynamite.

Gotta go. The Schwan’s man just pulled up.

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