Octopus' Garden

Sunday, August 06, 2006


supposed to be so happy?

What is their secret?

And why is it never:

Mad as a clam.

Disgruntled as a clam.

Lachrymose as a clam.

Ambivalent as a clam.

Wistful as a clam.

Does the happiness factor apply to all bivalves in general, or only to clams in particular?

And why even clams? (And why singular? Only one clam happy at a time.) Why not wombats or terriers or giant squid?

But really. What makes clams so happy that their alleged monopoly on happiness has become a cliché?

Maybe it’s the quirkiness of their names: Quahog for example, which makes them sound like a sort of oceanic hedgehog or groundhog or other similarly winsome but mildly eccentric creature, although the word in fact was derived from the Narragansett word poquauhock. Isn’t Quahog an intrinsically happy sort of aname?

But it’s always more complicated than that, isn’t it? Because clam shells were used by native New England Indian tribes to make beads used as currency, their rather beautiful genus and species names were derived from the Latin word for money: Mercenaria, mercenaria. I suppose this is probably how “clams” also became a slang word for money. But all of this makes clams seem vaguely dangerous and unpredictable and mercenary, like a film noir femme fatale, as opposed to happy. Unless it’s meant to suggest that money can buy happiness. Or maybe the saying’s meant to be taken ironically?

Maybe clams are happy because they are benthic fauna, residing all the way down in the benthic zone, and they can survive the cooler temperatures, lower oxygen levels, and absence of light other than that created by bioluminescent organisms happening by like liquid, glowing science fiction apparitions on a deserted highway at night. Maybe the suggestion is that they have learned happiness by figuring out how to get by with very little?

What is their secret?

How to eat a clam (or Do not suck! Sucking is Improper!):

If you feel determined to have them fresh on the halfshell, which is highly recommended, you will first need a clam knife. Hold the knife in your dominant hand, and in your other hand position the clam with its lip facing out towards your fingers and the hinge facing in. Apply the knife carefully in the groove between the two lips, and use your fingers to apply steady pressure to the back of the knife. Do not try to use your knife hand; this increases the chance of slipping. Simply squeeze the knife in and use it to cut the two muscles holding the clam closed. If you are careful you can run the knife along the roof of the clam and sever these muscles without cutting the meat. Next simply cut the other ends of these muscles, apply a little of cocktail sauce and put the clam to your lips and throw your head back. Do not suck - sucking is improper! If you are trying this for the first time or are not good at it, a heavy glove for the hand holding the clam is highly recommended, though those who are proficient often do it barehanded since this allows a greater degree of control. If you are looking for a leg up on these clams, ice them first as this causes the muscles to relax, and never handle the clams roughly before trying to open them as this is a recipe for frustration of even the most deft. If all else fails there is a “backdoor”: apply the knife to the hinge in the back and work it until you break the hinge, or, if you have one laying about, use a mallet the drive the knife through the hinge. Good luck and good eating.

What is their secret?:

Mercenaria, mercenaria.

The knife, the ice, the glove.

Tell me . . . is this happiness? Do you feel happy?
posted by Artichoke Heart at 3:24 AM


Wow. This is flippin amazing! I was just thinking about the HAAC factor (happy as a clam) today, listening to a radio progam. Then, lo and behold, I find your musings on the same topic. Clams - and why they're happy. Btw, are clams solitary creatures or do they derive and share their happiness in clusters?
Blogger Joyful Catholics, at 9:12 PM  

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