Home is a place where it used to cost a dime for a telephone call but now it costs twenty cents.
For years ashamed to be a product of the suburbs, I learned like thousands of others to conceal my origins, when asked, by answering with an expansive and halfway accurate "New York."
Then several years ago a bumper sticker on a car on the Outer Banks of North Crolina changed all that. There was a picture of a seagull gracefully perched on a piling with the sun setting behind. It said simply, "Long Island." "Hmm," I thought, "not so bad after all."
Coincidentally on that trip to the Outer Banks I learned what a scallop really is. These two awakenings came together on a recent weekend journey back to home.
The sea offers no more delectable morsel than the scallop and the best scallop of all is the bay scallop. Unfortunately, restaurant owners know this and they call every scallop they sell a bay scallop.
A real bay scallop is almost impossible to find on the commercial market. It is the tiniest of all the scallops, frequently no bigger than the eraser tip of a yellow school pencil.
Though tiny, it requires the same amount of shucking and processing as a scallop the size of a hockey puck. Commercial scallopers look for the beds where they can dig the biggest scallops they can get away with calling bay scallops.
On Ocracoke someone slipped up those many years ago, and a plate of real bay scallops came to me, three-to-a-bite morsels heated briefly under the broiler in a mixture of butter and garlic.They were as sweet as a plate of M&Ms and they live to this day in my palate's memory.
I'd seen or tasted nothing like it again until that Long Island weekend when we did it ourselves.
My high school friend Mitch Farber had called to say he'd struck it rich in the mad New York music business and had a place out on the tip of the island where people like Paul McCartney and Governor Carey spend their summers.
All those folks are gone now and it's quiet. The locals have the potato crops harvested. They've switched to scalloping until the freeze sets in.
"Let's catch some, too," Mitch suggested. He found a clam-rake and we set off for the marsh in the blustery cold wind.
Scallops, we found, live in the thickest grass and weedbeds in shallow water in the bay in front of his house. While commercial men dragged metal scrapes behind little flat-bottom boats in deeper water, we dragged the rake across the weeds near shore and came up with handfulls of tiny scallops. They snapped their shells shut as we brought them into the daylight. In an hour we had a bucketful.
How do you open these things?
"You've got a job ahead," said the woman at the local vegetable stand, who shucks scallops for a living in the off-season. "You won't get much meat out of them, but they'll be awful good."
She showed us how to slip the little knife in the corner opening, cut the opening-closing muscle away from the top shell, strip the innards away and remove the muscle in one swift motion.
"Don't let the shellfish warden catch you," she said. "You need a license to take those things."
The deed having already been done, we hid our booty in the trunk of the car and hurried home.
And worked until our hands ached.
The payoff -- a little less than a pint of sweet white meat and a kitchen strewn with seaweed and puddles of salt water.
"My theory on cooking," said Farber, "is never clean anything up. It'll be fine."
He sauteed the little scallops in garlic and butter for about thirty seconds and served them alongside eight poached fillets of flounder we'd caught that morning. We had yams from the vegetable lady and a bottle of white wine.
It was the finest seafood dinner that could ever be.
It turns out that the only people that can get a shellfish license are year-round residents. I wish somebody had told me all this and showed me that bumper sticker and fed me a plate of real scallops when I was a kid.
I'd never have strayed.