Crab Daze

>> Monday, November 5, 2007

Thing One and Thing Two

Lizzy has been desperate for a pet to call her own. So desperate, she began collecting garden snails and decorating their habitat (a cardboard box) with a pie tin, leaves and a stuffed snail doll. But I could not abide their wanderlust, nor their sliminess, so we reintroduced them into the wild along with a few new stories to tell their friends about girls and cats and an overabundance of pink.

Then last Sunday I took Samantha to the pet store -- just to look around. I turned the corner and there, in an aquarium, were the cutest damned Hermit crabs. Their shells were painted in bright, beautiful colors. Some looked like giant lady bugs, some like eyeballs (perfect for Halloween), and some like cartoon characters.

That’s when I saw him. One crab’s shell was painted to look like the character Woody from Toy Story. I took this as a sign from God since we just saw Toy Story II the night before and Elizabeth loved it. Not to mention the crabs had shells -- just like her snails, only better.

I took a deep breath. I know that impulse pet purchases are often sad, emotional, costly mistakes that could guarantee me a front row seat in Hell. So I grabbed a guide on Hermit Crab Care and sat on the floor to read it. Samantha entertained herself nearby by perusing books on snakes and spiders (which may come back to haunt me someday).

Clean aquarium monthly... yep, can handle that... eats a small amount of food and vegetables a day... uh huh... pinchers can hurt, but not deadly... good, don't wanna kill the kids... changes shells as they grow... cool...

Then I talked to the guy at the pet store for half an hour. Then I stared at the crabs. Then I read some more. Am I actually going to do this? I want to. I think I’m gonna do it.

I called Michael to test my commitment to buying the crabs. I knew he would have lots of logical reasons for not buying them, so if my desire survived the Michael Test, then I was truly committed and would go for it. As expected, he had many logical questions: how much is it going to cost, who’s going to look after them, do we really need more mouths to feed, are you crazy...?

Then he surprised me. “Well,” he said, “I’ll leave it up to you. Whatever you think is best.”

Wow. Could it be that somewhere in his heart he wants these crabs, too? Because saying that is, for him, practically begging me to get them -- at least to me it is. I took it as another sign from God and told the pet store guy I was ready to pick out my crabs!

The Fancy Hermit Crabs were only $6.99 each and I selected two of them. (After all, I didn’t want them to be lonely.) So, $132 later... Zoinks! Of course there was all that crab gear I needed to buy. An aquarium. Food. Salt Water. Dishes. Heating pad. Petrified wood. Decorations. Ambient CD of ocean waves for the crabs to listen to while they sleep. You know, normal stuff.

“Do you think I have everything?” I asked the pet store guy.

“To be honest, most people just throw ‘em in a cardboard box. So, yea, I think you’ve got enough.”

“Oh. Well, I want them to be... happy, you know?”

“Yea, great.”

The night went as expected. I casually left the crab gear on the dining room table, sans crabs. Elizabeth saw the gear, asked a lot of questions, and said we should get some crabs. Great idea! Before she could don her bathing suit, grab the car keys and head to the beach, I told her about these “little guys I found” who needed a new Mommy.

“Are they crabs?” she asked because she’s so smart.


We spent the rest of the evening decorating the aquarium, playing with our friendly new companions and intercepting Meg the cat. Elizabeth named the big one “George Konick”. (I’m not kidding, she was very clear about the name and how it was pronounced, which convinces me that we must have ghosts who whisper to the girls because, come on -- “George Konick”?) Samantha eventually named the smaller one Matilda after her favorite song, Waltzing Matilda.

Natural Versus Painted

After the girls went to bed, I went online to learn more about the swinging crab lifestyle. Unbeknownst to me, apparently there is a movement among “crabbers” (people who raise Hermit crabs) to discourage people from painting their crabs’ shells. Not only is it potentially dangerous for the little fellas (if not painted properly the paint can chip off and poison the crabs if they eat it), but it’s unnatural and terribly, terribly unhip.

Who knew there was a whole hippy Hermit crab subculture? At the pet store, the “Fancy Crabs” were in a tank next to the “Natural Crabs”. I imagine the "naturals" teasing their “fancy” neighbors...

“Hey fancy boy! Nice shell. Did your Mommy make that for ya?”

“Shut up! (sniff) These are the only shells they put in here. What else was I supposed to do? Crawl around naked?”

“Well, better to be naked then look like freakin’ Elmo! Ha, ha ha!” Then the sad little Fancy crab turns away and digs himself a deep hole to crawl into.

Or, perhaps the Fancy crabs like their shells and interacted with their neighbors in a crab version of Spike Lee’s School Daze, where the “natural” crabs battle it out with the “wannabes” as in the Good and Bad Hair musical number:

Talkin’ ‘bout good and bad shells
Whether you are bawdy or belle
So go on and smell...
You think you’re so swell...
Good and bad shells.

(I really need the guys from South Park to animate this for me...)

The only way to find out for sure which shells the crabs preferred was to buy some new, natural shells and see what happened. I found four shells of different sizes and shapes and placed them into the tank. Within half an hour, George selected a beautiful white Conch shell and climbed into it. So cool. Matilda, however, still happily resides in her blue painted shell with a fish on it that resembles Gill from Finding Nemo.

Apparently, one’s shell is a personal choice.

But like most cosmetic enhancements, there is some risk. Therefore, I will forgo the painted shells in the future, lest something bad happen as a result. Oh the horrible irony of buying a shell with a Happy Face painted on it, only to have the crab die from wearing it; then me, administering funeral rites over a tiny box in the backyard, its big face staring up at me as if to say, “I’m smiling because I know you’re going to Hell for living a superficial life that valued style over substance. That, and for making me look like a poser.”


Welcome to our home, George and Matilda! May your sand be deep and warm, and your water dishes full; may your shells be comfortable and never look like Bart Simpson; and may you never be forgotten during a long vacation, never be dropped from a great height, and never be eaten by the cat. Le'chayim!

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