Iko, Iko! A Crawdad in Silver Lake

My dog, Willa, and I spotted it as we set out on our morning walk. The thing was ambling slowly, but with an air of determination, across the sidewalk. At first I thought it was something abominable — a giant insect, a tarantula or some other thing that crawls out from under the house and terrorizes the neighborhood (or just me). Willa was circumspect. But like a teenager, I had to have a look. And what I found upon closer inspection was a fish out of water. Actually, it was a crayfish out of water, otherwise known as a crawfish, or, my favorite name, crawdad. It was dark, about 4 inches long, with a couple of handsome antennae and menacing pincers out front.Now, crawdads are common to North America, more than half of the 500 species of them reside in our great land, and most of them are found in the Mammoth Caves of Kentucky or in the Mississippi Basin down into Louisiana (according to the Crayfish Corner at www.mackers.com) — which may or may not say something about our muddy national character. But the only place you’re likely to see them in my Silver Lake neighborhood is in a painted rendering on the window of Pescado Mojado. Clearly this crawdad was far from home. How’d it get here? Was it a refugee from Katrina that the local bourgeois liberals at first welcomed with open arms but then cast off, tiring of its otherness? I wondered. And wondered even more what to do with it. There were several options, not the least of which was eating it. I considered selling it to my neighbors, who, if their pack of mutant, little toy dogs is any indication, seem to have an exotic-pet fetish. But the crawdad seemed so helpless and lost that my attention soon turned to matters of its well-being.I went back to my house and got a section of newspaper for it to crawl onto, and then carried it home. I arrived just as my gardener pulled up, so I showed him my morning catch. He held the newspaper and cried “langosta!” to his partner, a little too gleefully. I snatched the crawdad back. It brushed several of its pereiopods (legs) and perhaps even one of its chelipeds (pincers) against me as I held it. I shrieked like a baby and quickly set it down on my front yard. I figured it would like my just-watered grass more than the sidewalk. But then it started its determined hoofing again. Where did it think it was going? I filled a large, shallow bowl with water and some rocks, but it clambered out as soon as I put it in. I tried flooding a little trough at the edge of the grass and placing it in that. It rested for a minute, but then got up to leave again. Maybe it had errands to run. By this time, I was late for work, so I put it in a muddy bed of greenery in my backyard, figuring it could bury itself if endangered.All day long, I couldn’t stop thinking about my little buddy, wondering what plagues (like my dog, or crawfish-eating birds) had set upon it. I found myself growing attached to it. There was something endearing about its purposeful and, let’s face it, oblivious manner. At work we thought up names. I liked Iko, from “Iko, Iko” — Talkin’ ’bout: Hey now! Hey now!/Iko, Iko, unday/Jockamo feeno ai nané/Jockamo fee nané — the only zydeco song I knew. A co-worker thought of Muddy Waters. I fantasized that I’d come home and find Iko and Willa sipping mint juleps, listening to Dr. John and acting out a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. It was dark when I got home, and I feared I’d probably seen the last of my crawdad. But I went out back with a flashlight, and there it was in the yard — somehow it had scaled the plant-bed wall and made it down to the grass — just cruising around in his quick-as-molasses fashion. I watered the area and set about eating my Subway® 6-inch tuna on honey-oat bread with everything on it, plus salt and pepper, oil and vinegar (I recommend). You don’t have to be in a hurry when it comes to crawdads, and maybe that’s what I liked about Iko.When I finished eating, I looked out the window and saw Iko hightailing it (literally, his tail was up) for a ditch Willa had dug that leads under the side wall and out into the front yard. Once again, it had set a course for the dangerous world beyond my sanctuary. Still, I figured I had 10 minutes before this was an emergency. So I called up my friend John and asked him to join me in a mission to release Iko into Echo Park Lake. John said he and his wife would be proud to join in such a noble cause.For maximum stealth, we dressed in dark clothes and wore hats. I retrieved Iko from my driveway and put him in a large bucket of water and mud, which I hoped would ease the trauma motor transport might cause the little guy.We parked on the north end of the lake and, with the bucket held closely to my chest, made it about 10 yards before a film-crew security guy started hollering at us. Apparently the place was on lockdown for the next day’s shoot. Time was of the essence. Radios started cackling. Helicopters buzzed overhead. We could no longer steal through the park; we had to scurry. We lost precious moments bickering about the best place to set Iko free — there were things like currents, ducks and turtles to consider, and no lily pads in sight. Finally, we found a reasonably sheltered pool on the northwest end and let Iko go. He quickly disappeared into the murk. Unsure of Iko’s fate, we drove home in somber silence. I think. I can’t be sure. My hat had furry earflaps and I couldn’t hear much anyway.


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