Time to Start Diggin’ the Clams Again

There are a select few in Boston who have had the experience of diggin’ clams out in the mudflats of Boston Harbor – with their little shovels, picks and buckets, they bring home a treat starting about this time of year that is purely Boston.

I love clams in the spring and in the summer, especially the full bellies. If you just got here or you’re a tourist reading this column, do me a favor…don’t buy clam strips unless you’re broke.

Always go for the full belly. Maybe the idea of what that means isn’t appetizing, but beyond the fact, the taste is unbeatable.

Some of the best clams can be found at shacks down in Quincy, or even up on the North Shore. But you don’t have to leave Boston to be rewarded with a full-bellied beauty. Morse Fish had some great clams, but they’re going out of business. There’s also places like the Barking Crab and a lot of other holes in the wall where they serve up a nice plate of fried clams.

My favorite part of clams are the gents that dig them up.

There’s no way around it, clam digging is hard work, and it ain’t made for everyone. You’ll see them digging off of Logan Airport or over by JFK Library.

Clammers are a strange breed, and there are a lot of types.

Most all of them are foul-mouthed and talk too much, as you don’t have to be quiet like when you’re fishing. They go out early in the morning usually at the low tide, and so that means they also smell. Try as you might, you can’t really get rid of the scent of low-tide muck.

A lot of clammers are ex-cons, as anyone with a record in this state can’t get a really great job.

Clamming is cash only. You dig for dollars. There are no paychecks or payroll companies in clamming.

When I used to frequent the clam beds with a friend of mine, nearly every guy was an ex-con, and they all either packed heat or weapons. Reason being:  Hanging around a bunch of ex-cons with cash, or in the case of the dug clam, potential cash, made for an inviting target. The odds were against you even if nine out of 10 guys were pleasant.

Then there are the hustlers, the guys that are working like 10 jobs at the same time. In case no one knew it, Boston guys in the underbelly of this City invented multi-tasking and shared workspaces long before it was Uber to do so.

A guy would go dig clams at the break of dawn, grab his cash and head off to a regular job.

One guy I knew used to brag out on the mudflats that he was getting paid for five jobs going at once while he was diggin’. It probably wasn’t legal by any means, but only in the Boston of old times could a fella pull that off – if it were in fact true.

This guy said he was out on paid leave from the Post Office, had clocked in on a night shift for the old Boston Edison, was the on-call plumber for a property management company that morning, had double-subbed a taxi medallion to a guy from Puerto Rico, had a barroom in Medford going full on and there he was – also diggin’ clams.

If you want to get to the heart of the folks that dig those full bellies, that’s pretty much the scam.

But hey, I like ‘em just the same.

  • • •

Memorial Day is coming up this weekend, and I have to say it always saddens me to see the sometimes-crass disregard for veterans in our town.

There are a lot of heroes marching around the streets, yelling about their causes and it’s good and right. They get glorified, the news covers their every move.

Their voices are heard night in and night out.

Their bravery comes in standing up to power, which these days, has really become so en vogue that it’s less about a cause for a lot and more about a fashion statement.

I like to think of the quiet guy who dodged bullets, who saw his best friend killed, who stared down the barrel of a gun and came back home to think about it for a few decades.

What about the man or woman who faced the enemy and had to make the quick decision to kill another human being? What kind of brawn does it take to make that decision and then live with it for a lifetime?

No one wants to kill anyone, but war is hell. Some chose to go there awhile for us.

This is what we should celebrate and remember in these hardened times – particularly on Memorial Day.

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