Soft-Shelled Nuts – Originally published in San Diego Writers’ Monthly, 1995

I. Rumbles from the Deep

My life changed forever when Bert Bivalve, my pet mollusk, announced his attention to form a political party. Bert had trouble communicating as he had no lips with which to form the “m” sound, so necessary in English speech.

He also had a patchy vocabulary due to a lack of a brain. Did you know there is no mollusk equivalent to the word “danger.” What’s the point for a mollusk cannot outrun any predator? However, there are 273 phrases to express the anguish of being eaten by a humongous furry creature with sharp claws. Eventually Bert and I worked out a sign language and so, interspecies dialogue began.

Bert, a cultured soul, had wearied of his benign neglect by humanity. He contacted mollusks all over the world to express his discontent–this explains my huge long distance bills. Thousands echoed Bert’s frustration and disillusionment. With Bert’s encouragement these sea creatures rushed to form debating societies. At first, however, they called these societies “Bicycling Clubs,” so as not to arouse humanity’s suspicions.

At first, these gatherings were chaotic and violent with the ugliest of insults exchanged freely. The phrase, “So’s your mother,” by itself, generated dozens of drunken brawl with gastropods careening into cephalopods. Eventually, cooler shells prevailed and organizing began.

One momentous day, Chuck Chiton, suggested that they would never get any respect from the politicians inside Washington unless they themselves entered politics. “After all,” he said, “Puerto Rico never got any respect until it became the 51st state.” As you no doubt know, Puerto Rico is not a state. Some think it is this inattention to detail to research that held mollusks back through the centuries.

The mollusks overcame their lack of political knowledge with shrewd business sense. As we all know mollusks are superb lichen harvesters. By skillful manipulation of the lichen markets, the mollusks quietly amassed a huge fortune over the centuries which they quietly deposited in off-shore banks.

These wealthy critters, conservative by nature, initially considered throwing in their lot with the Republican party. Only inopportune anti-mollusk rhetoric by some of the GOP candidates stopped this alliance.

What to do? They couldn’t back the democrats with its welfare society. Why the idea the very idea of a young mollusk just sitting there and doing nothing was disgusting.

Eventually, Sarah Scaphopod raised her hand, figuratively, of course, to suggest they form their own political party. All the mollusks agreed that she had a wonderful idea and brought out the fermented lichen to celebrate.

I laughed, along with the rest of humanity, when the mollusks held their first press conference in Bodega Bay, California. For one thing, how were they going to get enough signatures to be on the ballot in all fifty states.

Well, they had the last laugh. Hell hath no fury like a mollusk mocked. They set the world on its ear with their alliance with Carl Hickham, the billionaire seafood king from Texas. Mollusks control the supply of lichen, the bottom of the food chain in the oceans, and they let Mr. Hickham know it. The crafty critters presented the Texan with an ultimatum, either provide us with machines that help us to write or we’ll let your fish starve. Carl Hickham caved into their demands the next day.

II. One Giant Step for Mollusk

Mollusks from all over the world swarmed the United States. The beaches of Southern California became saturated with walls of mollusks reaching up to ten feet high. Beach merchants complained to the police that these invaders were devastating business. The men in blue sympathized, but pointed out the mollusks had a constitutional right to freedom of assembly.

The mollusks used Hickham’s machine to great effect. Within two weeks they gathered 423 million signatures; which is nine times the total human population of California. In the face of impending molluskan–if that is a word–domination the peoples of California buried their differences with an enormous clam bake that ran the length of the state.

Mollusks reacted to this barbarism by overwhelming and suffocating a dozen surfers off the shore of La Jolla. Some commentators remarked that interspecies warfare signaled the end of the world, while most thought it just an aggressive campaign tactic in the vein of the Willie Horton ads of 1988.

It was pretty much the same in all the coastal states. The mollusks consistently refused to blend into American society. They never bothered to learn English or any other language, save Romanche, an obscure language spoken by a few thousand Swiss.

The Democrats and Republicans united in the face of impending political disaster. Would it be enough? The coastal states were goners, but could they hold onto Middle America? Would the People’s Party prevail?

III. Remember Maine!

The leaders of the People’s Party assembled in Lincoln, Nebraska. Peacemakers solved lingering differences by feeding the chairmen of the old parties to mollusks stationed at Fort Sumter. Voter registration drives began in earnest as everyone did his bit. Negative ads ruled the day. You couldn’t watch tv for more than five minutes without seeing an ad ripping into the mollusks. Do you remember the ad that said “If the mollusks gain power, your daughter will be forced to marry one.” I do.

The mollusks did their best, but so did the humans. The boatmen of Mississippi refused to transport the mollusks. So did the railmen of Texas. The pilots of New Orleans were not tested as mollusks are afraid of flying.

Our defiant stand forced the mollusks to trek overland from California. Have you ever seen mollusks move? Take it from me, it’s not very fast. Weeks later, the mollusks began to die of exhaustion and dehydration. Most died in the middle of Phoenix where they began to decompose. Millions of birds now live in Phoenix, but no people do.

The heartland of American had been saved. But what about Maine and the other coastal states?

IV. The Readers of Nebraska

Remarkably it was the readers of America that rescued our great land. Fortunately, Nebraska, home of sixty percent of all book sales in U.S., remained mollusk free. These readers reminded the politicos that voters must be eighteen and American citizens. Amazingly, no one else had thought of that. Ha, we had the shelled bastards by the balls, or what passed for balls on a mollusk.

Election officials fanned out into all fifty states checking voter registrations. It was always the same; the mollusks were all underage. We struck them off every voting list. The stricken mollusks protested as vehemently as they could, but their protests fell on deaf ears.
We had won, or had we?

V. The California Mollusk Rush

We totally forgot about the stubbornness of your typical Joe Mollusk. They say an elephant never forgets, well an elephant has nothing on a mollusk. I can say with certainty that a mollusk knows as much today as it did a year ago.

Those mollusks–oh dang it, what’s a good synonym for mollusk; how about “invertebrate animals,” well that’s passable–still harbored an abiding hatred for our mistreatment of them. Since, they could not take America by the ballot box, they would take it by force.

Well, we weren’t afraid of those mollusks. Our army would soon make them cry uncle. In fact, our army was singularly unprepared to fight. Three years ago, the Pentagon asked Congress for thirty-two billion dollars for a weapon system to combat crustaceans and mollusks. At the time it seemed like just another example of the Pentagon wasting tax dollars. So, the proposal was defeated. Who knew?

Congress voted again; this time the vote was in favor of making the weapons. But it was too late; the weapons would take two years to develop. In that time, the coastal states would be permanently lost. The mollusks, stinking ‘lusks, were already starting to push the locals around. It was especially bad in California where they restricted surfing to one hour a week, hogged all the good times at all the best seaside restaurants, and darn near monopolized the inland tennis courts.

VI. Wally and the Beaver

Not all Americans gave up so easily. Wally Quoin, a true mountain man from the Sierra Nevada came to our rescue. He suggested that we set all our beavers on those damn ‘lusks. He said beavers love to eat ‘lusks. He also said beavers and ‘lusks have been feuding for centuries, its origin lost in the mist of time.

The President went on tv to tell us of our new allies. As he spoke, rangers in the National Park Service enlisted our friends, the beavers.
Well, you know what happened next. Millions of beavers swarmed the beaches. Their sharp claws broke open the mollusks’ shells to make countless tasty meals.

VII. E Pluribus Unum

We thanked the beavers for saving America. All they asked in return was that we stop logging near their homes. We stopped doing it, for the beaver is our friend forever. Look at the front of your five-dollar bill; you will see a portrait of a beaver.

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