In 1994 my brothers an I designed and built a crawfish table (well… adapted a picnic table design, to be honest) — a table made for the intent of standing at and eating crawfish. Once a pot of bugs was done boiling, it was hoisted up and dumped out onto the table, an inner and outer rail keeping them corralled onto the table-top. Folks bellied up to the table and ate their fill without the need to grab a pile and go find somewhere else to settle in. While eating, the shells were pitched through a hole in the center directly into a garbage can, rather than making a pile of them to be dealt with later.
Like all of the outdoor furniture we built, it was a heavy, solid, sturdy, beastly monstrosity — anything worth building, was worth overbuilding. Made from pressure treated 2x lumber, it would withstand the elements and insects. It was coated with more than five layers of outdoor polyurethane to help protect it from the crawfish, and us from the chemicals used to treat the wood. Our little furniture “company” was known as Hurricane Furniture (prophetic, I know!), on the premise that come a hurricane or tornado, you should abandon your home and seatbelt yourself into our outdoor furniture — you’d be safer (“tornadoes just bounce right off of our shit”). It was branded with our signature logo — literally branded — burnt right into the wood.
This table saw eleven years of life in the sun, rain, heat, humidity and cold. Eleven crawfish seasons this table was put to use, occasionally hauled from house to house as needed. It stood the test of time. It was damn near indestructible.
It didn’t give up without a fight. Oh no. When I evacuated for Katrina, I put it in front of my garage door to ensure the wind wouldn’t blow it open. It was a silent sentinel, a guardian of my tools. The storm hit and I was the lucky recipient of 9′ of water on my street. That foul, acidic water didn’t recede for more than a week, and the table was beneath it the whole time. Upon my return I found it, just about where I left it in front of my garage door and still holding it closed, only it had tipped over onto it’s side and turned 90 degrees. It was still intact, but the table-top had warped and twisted and it was fouled with dirt, the borderline bulletproof polyurethane coating eroding away from the wood. Sadly, the table was ruined beyond future use.
After the storm I moved to Austin, carting my meager surviving possessions with me. Among them was my crawfish boiling pot and burner… they were in the garage attic, and had survived high and dry. I vowed to return to my duties as boil-master some day, but unfortunately that was hard to do in an apartment.
It took a few years, but eventually I got back into the groove — there are live crawfish to be had in Austin, the best ones being trucked in from Lake Charles for pickup on Saturdays during the season. I host a boil a year now, and generally act as boil-master for at least one other hosted by friends, sometimes two. I missed it, dearly. It’s a lot of work, but it’s in my very bones. It calls to me. It reminds me of home, family, and good times. It allows me to make more good times, and carry on healing bits and pieces of my soul.
But, there has been a big, overbuilt table-shaped hole these last seven years. The absence of the crawfish table has not gone unnoticed, or unlamented. I’ve had a yard of my own for it to live in for many years, but hadn’t had the opportunity to build a new table.
I knuckled down, and made a new one this year. It took a little digging to find the original designs I had, and some CSI-like action — oh yes, I was a clever motherfucker, for the original designs were done in CorelDraw v3, and nothing opens those any more, not even CorelDraw. Using a hex editor I was able to extract the shopping list and some basic notes I had jotted down. I was also able to see the postage-stamp sized preview to determine that I used five boards for the table-top, giving me the overall dimensions — 3’x5”.
I redesigned the table digitally (in a format that is more universal and likely to stand the test of time). I kept the same basic design and expanded the table-top to 4’x6′. I tweaked the height a bit. I also changed the way the inside rail fastens to the table — from pegs in holes, to a routed recessed area. I’ve also added a removable second tier table made of PVC that can be used to put drinks, paper towels, etc, replacing the paper towel rods drilled into the outside rail, and the car-window drink holders as well.
All the while I was cutting and assembling the lumber, my brain kept whiplashing back to 1994, and building the original table with my brothers. It made me smile for the connection to the past and to my family, and a little melancholy to think of the distance between us now, both physical and emotional — one more thing to thank Katrina for. All the while I was sitting underneath the giant wooden hulk, brushing on polyurethane, I was reminded of how much I despised getting that lovely crick in my neck the last time, and how much — after five days — I was getting damned tired of the smell of it.
But most of all, through all of the table construction, the thoughts looming largest in my mind were: I hope I do this justice, I hope this lives up to what we had created before… I hope I do my brothers proud.
They taught me well, those knuckleheads did. We didn’t always get along, and we never quite knew how to show healthy affection for one another other than through incessant teasing and verbal sparring, but they knew how to create, and they passed that on to me. When there was sawdust in the air, all was right with the world.
Here are the fruits of my labors, and I can’t wait to put it to the test in a few weeks time. I was even sent our brand so that I could properly mark anything I build, proclaiming it properly built in the finest tradition of Hurricane Furniture.
And here are three of the jackasses that helped make me the jackass that I am today. Love you all.