How Shellfish of Us

Let me preface this by stating, I do not like oysters. 

Clams? Yes. And shrimp and crab and scallops and lobster and geoduck and most other types of seafood. But oysters are nasty, slimy, disgusting little gobs of flesh. That was my impression as Tara and I parked ourselves at a table at a trendy little bar called Interurban on Friday evening. It was the tail end of a long work week, and summer was in full swing in the Pacific Northwest, with sunshine and 80 degree temperatures.* So we headed out back to a cozy outdoor patio with an arbor and plants and tiny flickering candles on the tables, and ordered cocktails. We were in Portland to catch a show at Mississippi Studios, a birthday gift from Tara: a Johnny Cash tribute band called Cash’d Out. We ordered our usual – gin and tonic for me, vodka and 7-Up for her – and, when I spied oysters on the menu for $2 a pop, I went ahead and asked for a couple of those, too.

“What are you doing?” Tara asked.
“I thought we might want an appetizer,” I explained.
“I was thinking a cheese plate.”
“That’s too easy. We should try oysters.”
“I don’t like oysters.”
“Neither do I. This should be interesting.”

I honestly don’t know what possessed me to order them. The last time I’d eaten oysters, maybe ten years ago, black goo squirted out when I bit into them. And those were fried. I’d refused to so much as look at one ever since. I think maybe it’s because our food challenge is opening our eyes to new experiences and making us more culinarily adventurous.

Or maybe we’re just suckers for punishment.

In any case, the oysters arrived, glistening and raw on the half shell. They were served with mignonette sauce, a traditional accompaniment consisting of diced shallots, cracked black pepper, and vinegar. We both just sort of stared at them for awhile before mustering up the courage to try them. We squeezed a wedge of lemon over top, spooned a little of the sauce on them, and toasted to new adventures.

“Bottoms up!” we said, and swallowed.

Oysters with mignonette sauce.
Oysters with mignonette sauce.

To our utter surprise, they were delicious. So much so that we ordered another round. Our server explained the origin of each oyster – they were harvested at different locations off the Oregon coast – but I wasn’t interested in their pedigree so much as slurping another one down. Man, they were good! Even Tara, picky eater that she is, loved them. Go figure.

“Did they put you and Tara in a frisky mood?” my sis-in-law Esther asked over Facebook, when I posted the above pic.

“I don’t know what she’s talking about,” I said to Tara, and removed my hand from beneath her bra in order to type a reply to Esther.

But it wasn’t the alleged aphrodisiac qualities that appealed to us. Those oysters were just pretty damn good, period. I guess we’ll have to experiment some more with different types whenever we come across them on a dinner menu. Hell, we may even check out an actual oyster bar now.

The rest of the evening was equally enjoyable. Right up until the part where I collapsed on the floor. Cash’d Out was amazing, reeling off Johnny Cash hit after Johnny Cash hit. “Folsom Prison Blues.” “Get Rhythm.” “I’ve Been Everywhere.” “A Boy Named Sue.” “I Walk The Line.” “I Got Stripes.” They had the whole place singing the chorus to “Ring Of Fire.” It was a really enjoyable performance, and the lead singer nailed The Man In Black. (Yes, mom, I like Johnny Cash. Have for years!).

We were right down in front, next to the stage, surrounded by a sold-out crowd, and everything was going great. And then, I started to feel funny. Just sort of “off.” My skin turned pale and cool. I felt lightheaded. My vision blurred. Tara asked if I was okay. I said yes. She asked me what was wrong. I said, “nothing.” I kept insisting nothing was wrong until I nearly fainted, and ended up losing my balance and falling to the floor.

OK. Fine. Something was wrong.

She helped me to my feet, and there were a lot of concerned faces in the crowd. One woman kept asking if I was alright. I nodded, and Tara helped me walk outside. The moment the fresh, cool air hit me, I felt immediately better. She grabbed me some water, and the panic on her face almost made me cry. I think it took me a while to convince her that I truly was okay. We went back inside for a couple more songs, but I was feeling a little woozy in there again, so we left for good. It was nearly midnight, and the band had been playing for almost two hours nonstop. I guess they had more stamina than me.

Later, I self-diagnosed myself as suffering from a combination of dehydration and heat exhaustion. I had four gin and tonics before the show, with only a brief sip of water. I realized later, that whole day, the only other beverage I had consumed was coffee in the morning. And getting back to the (*) above, I know it’s not technically summer for another month and a half, but don’t tell Portland that. It’s been sunny and hot for days now. So, the combination of me drinking only liquids that cause dehydration and inhibit cooling, coupled with the heat and the packed crowd and the sold-out show and being on my feet for two hours straight, did me in. Lesson learned. I’ll be sure to drink plenty of water now whenever we go out and alcohol is in the picture. Which is to say, whenever we go out. Heat exhaustion leads to syncope (fainting) which leads to heat stroke, and that is serious business. It can kill you. So, I’ve been scared straight. Water is my new best friend.

Well, water and oysters. Can’t wait to try some more of those bad boys!


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

16 thoughts on “How Shellfish of Us

  1. Water is S O important…. Wondering if maybe you were locking your knees during the concert. Your bro had the same thing happen to him at a concert, and we had been standing the whole time.


    1. Oh, really? Interesting. I don’t know about locked knees…but it’s possible. I kept shifting around to get comfortable right before it happened, but by then my feet were just sore from standing in one place so long.


  2. Oysters sound sooo good….and I of course can’t have any so you guys will have to make up for lack of imbibing! And yes! Water is very important and it can be hard to actually drink as much as you are supposed to everyday. I run into the problem that water doesn’t always sound good to me, but I have found that having ice cubes on hand for ice water makes it much more appealing to me and makes it much easier to fill my daily requirement.


    1. I’m with you on the whole ice cube thing! I need them in my water. Fortunately, the office fridge has an automatic ice cube maker built into the freezer. I fill a tall glass with ice and water every afternoon. Well, every afternoon except last Friday.

      Way to go, Mark…


    1. I thought of that, but the reaction to oysters would have been more anaphylactic. I had all the classic signs of dehydration/heat exhaustion, and this was similar to the hot tub incident last year which occurred under similar circumstances. One of these days I’ll learn my lesson!


  3. OMG, Mark…I thought you were going to say that you had food poisoning from the oysters – YIKES!’s already 80 degrees there? That is so weird because here (where it usually starts getting very HOT about now), we’ve had cold weather. Cold to the point of having to put the heat back on.

    Anyway, glad to hear you’re alright. Yes, water is very important. Especially when it’s hot. I learned that from living Florida and baking in sun for 6 hours at the beach. OY!

    ““I don’t know what she’s talking about,” I said to Tara, and removed my hand from beneath her bra in order to type a reply to Esther.”

    Bwhahahahahaha! LOVED that!!!!!


    1. Normally, I would have been drinking water at work all afternoon. I have no idea why I abstained on Friday. I was busy with an assignment and I guess I just never got around getting some. You can bet your ass the next time we have a concert, I’ll be drinking water like a fish all day before we leave!

      Enjoy your cool weather. Yes, I’m jealous.


  4. When we used to get together for Christmas, it was our Christmas Eve tradition to eat smoked oysters on bacon crackers along with a bunch of other finger food. I’ve never had them raw, I’m not sure how I would handle the texture since I have a hard time swallowing yogurt because of the texture.


  5. Holy Chit!! I can just imagine the look of panic on Tara’s face and it brings me to tears. Being that scared is just plain scary! I’m happy that you are okay!

    I suffered from heat exhaustion when I was working downtown a couple of years ago. I didn’t realize how close to heat stroke I almost got. I’ll have to tell you about it sometime.


    1. One time after hiking across the pumice plain of Mount St. Helens I ended up severely dehydrated and on the verge of heatstroke, too. Not fun – and not something to take lightly, either. I look forward to hearing your story!


  6. I’m so glad you tried oysters again and liked them! I didn’t think I would, but I loved them too. And I’d go with fresh over fried anyday! Bottoms up! To the oysters and a water chaser. Be careful you!


    1. It’s great how being adventurous can pay off, huh? I’ve lived here for 19 years and had never once taken advantage of the abundance of fresh oysters the area is known for. Hell, last year Tara and I even visited Oysterville, WA – but never considered actually buying any. Next time we go, we’ll have to load up!


  7. So funny! I thought I hated oysters too, and then recently had some at a friend’s very nicely catered party and LOVED them. I couldn’t get enough. I think that something must have changed about oysters the past 10 or so years and they just got better or something! Maybe it’s in the water. 🙂


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