Thursday, March 24, 2011

Grand Central Oyster Bar, 1918

The best shucker came from a landlocked kingdom. Not that it mattered. To Erno Nagy, an oyster was a puzzle to be solved with his hands, a blunt-tipped knife and a second or two of thought. There was a rhythm to the work that carried him through his shift. Cup the oyster in his left hand, ease the knife between the shells with his right, twist, then lay the glistening morsel in its luminous bed on a platter of crushed ice. On his first day, it had taken him ten minutes to open a single oyster; now he could open three times that many in the same time.
            The months of his apprenticeship were spent opening crates marked Orient Point and Cutchogue, then shouldering the buckets of crenellated shells to the line of shuckers who worked behind the counter in wet aprons. The glazed yellow tiles of the vaulted ceiling carried their whispered jokes to the other side of the hall, where Erno would stop to knead the muscles of his back between trips to the basement.
            But, today, Erno was at the head of the line with three other shuckers to his right: a Pole, a Bohemian, and a fellow Hungarian. This position and his callused handshake were a source of pride to be savored, like the weight of a coin kept in his pocket while he walked from the subway to the fifth floor Yorkville walkup where his sweet Lina waited for him with a pot of tripe stew...

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