By Silent Sam
Many generations ago in this sheltered cove, located in R Naut Parish, just West of N’Orlins, (that’s how we pronounce it down hea.),was a sanctuary for fishermen, outlaws, buccaneers, men from all Navies, and slaves. French, German, Asian and English were the predominate languages. This dock was the place where all came to replenish their hardware needs, to get food, get drunk bring families together and generally live the life that was needed by all that made their livings on the great oceans. Today it serves the same purpose but on a much smaller scale. Still the anchoring place for trawlers and their crew, local folk that work in the Crescent City, artists and reclusive Cajuns. They come to Banion Bayou and eat at Merchons.
Today is Friday and for the last forty plus years, a special celebration occurs that Merchon calls “good Friday”. Not to be confused with the religious Good Friday, this one is purely a family declaration of sorts. It is the way that this woman and all of her past families have encouraged their fellows to eat and drink and enjoy her establishment.
They say her family history goes back to the time when lying and cheating and general mayhem was a way of life for the pirates and, being a descendent, she has learned a way of doing business that border on legitimacy. I vouch for the fact that she has been known to excite the local law enforcers to respond on occasion.
It is now ten minutes ‘til six, early evening, on Friday the thirteenth. The sun has diminished it’s searing eye to a half asleep pose and a cooling breeze filters thru a line of about one hundred or more patrons who wait to see and hear their makeshift heroin.
The door latch clanks iron against iron as it ratchets open and Merchon steps out and onto the brown-green weathered dock. A stately woman of about fifty, she wears a ballooned white blouse and tight black jeans, sports a rope around her waist that tithers to a lanyard that hangs at her side. Her right hand brushes the handle.
“Hello my fellow sea swags and gulf hags!” She smiles and waves. The roar of cheers, hand clapping, and a synchronous stomping of boots, high-heals and flip- flops return her welcome. “As you know or may not know, I am Merchon and this is my place, my establishment.” Her arms swing wide taking their eyes towards the door that she just came thru. “Tonight I’m giving away free crab and shrimp meals with oysters on the half shell, a great seafood salad and a fine California wine.” More cheers erupt from the waiting line. ”I do this to celebrate good Friday, the day everyone gets paid.” Another mass cheer. “Today my staff and I show our appreciation by buying, fixing and serving terrific meals to over one hundred persons who, over this last week have performed their duties as citizens and wannabees of this fair state of Louisiana. You one hundred and more have toiled in unforgiving menial jobs, have performed for guests of the casinos, fished and seined the rivers and gulf for the sweet sustenance we call food. You have painted, written, sang and danced. You have carried bog and sold shoes. You are my heroes and on this day I am honored to salute you. I have here in my hand, some numbered cards that I am ready to pass out. Each card gets you one free meal. There are a few rules that must be told before we begin.”
From back of the line the salty male voice of old Harvey, yells out. “Give them hell MiMi!”
“It’s Merchon, you jerk!” Again, the cordial group laughs and stomps the dock.
For about ten years Harvey has yelled the same line and gotten the same response. He always gets a free meal. She now knows they are ready to spend money, lots of it.
“Now when I say one hundred, that’s it. One…two…three…four…If you have a difference of opinion with me or one of my staff, come talk to me…seven…eight…nine…My cook is a three star chef and I am even better…fifteen…sixteen…seventeen…For you that miss the cut, my crab n’ shrimp plate is thirteen dollars…twenty three…twenty four…that’s seven dollars of good food and six dollars of ambiance and good service…twenty seven…twenty eight..”
A young Petty Officer takes the number thirty one then in a low voice says “Excuse me Merchon but you missed twenty six, twenty nine and thirty.”
“Well son, what ship are you from?”
“The USS Saufley, DD 465” he yells it proudly.
“Let’s hear it for the men of the Saufley.”
“Hay, Yea”…stomping of feet and clapping and while the acknowledgement hits it’s crescendo, she leans in on the swabby and grabs his nylon black tie and pulls him close. In a slow and quiet voice she asks “Do you and your matte here want to go back to your ship with a full stomach and a good buzz on?” She smiles.
“Yes,” he answers.
“Then shut up.” She pats him on top of his white Dixie cup hat. “…thirty seven…thirty eight…thirty nine…”
“As I was saying, I run a tight ship and any breaking of this captains rules will result in your cerebellum saying hello to Mr. Oak, resulting in heavenly displays …forty seven…forty eight…For all of you not educated in such pirate talk, let me explain…fifty three…fifty four…fifty five… My lanyard will pop your head until it sees stars. I’m just kidding. Everyone laughs.
“We have several families here tonight. I want to tell you that my place is not child proof. There have been, in the past, some cursing, some swab talk, and occasional differences of opinions. Tonight, however, we all swear that there will be no foul language, no arguments and no head banging. We do swear, don’t we?” Confirmations and groans are forthcoming.
“That’s what I like about you blokes, you are so agreeable.” A scattering of laughter.
“72…73…74… This little person, who has just joined us, is Raphael. He used to be a midget before we got a social conscience. He bows to Raphael and pats his head fondly. Raphael is here to take care of the needs of the children. You kids just ask Uncle Raphael for whatever you need and he will deliver just like a genie in a bottle, a big bottle.” He bows, waves and smiles at the children.
“92…93…97…98…99…100.” She completes her task and address the group.
“Now, for the rest of you, belly up to the bar and order what you will. Our one eyed bartender…I mean our sight impaired bartender, will get it in a hurry. Stick around for an open seat at the food tables and call your friends because we are going to shake this old dock with our special band, C-Kid and the Pirates.”
For Merchon, giving away 45 meals….Oh, I’m sorry, 100 meals, is a good way to foster the bond that has built good will and will insure her a great Friday and Saturday and a pleasant brunch on Sunday.
Welcome to Merchons Crab Shack.
By the way…I get a free meal too.