John Barth
I paid my hotel bill, then, and stepped onto High Street just as the clock on the People's Trust building struck seven. Already the air was warm; it promised to be a blistering hot day, like the day before, when temperature and humidity both were in the nineties. Very few people were about yet, and only an occasional automobile wandered down the quiet expanse of the street. I crossed diagonally against the traffic --- to the corner of Christ Episcopal Church, whose lovely stones were softly greened, and strolled from there down the left side of High Street toward Long Wharf, eating my breakfast as I walked.

May I recommend three Maryland beaten biscuits, with water, for your breakfast? They are hard as a haul-seiner's conscience and dry as a dredger's tongue, and they sit for hours in your morning stomach like ballast on a tender ship's keel. They cost little, are easily and crumblessly carried in your pockets, and if forgotten and gone stale, are neither harder nor less palatable than when fresh. What's more, eaten first thing in the morning and followed by a cigar, they put a crabberman's thirst on you, such that all the water in a deep neap tide can't quench --- and none, I think, denies the charms of water on the bowels of morning? Beaten biscuits, friend: beaten with the back of an axe on a sawn stump behind the cookhouse; you really need a slave system, I suppose, to produce the best beaten biscuits, but there is a colored lady down by the creek, next door to the dredge builder's... If, like a condemned man, I had been offered my choice from man's cuisine for this my final earthly breakfast, I'd have chosen no more than what I had.

Few things are stable in this world. Your morning stomach, reader, ballasted with three Maryland beaten biscuits, will be stable.

High Street, where I walked, is like no other street in Cambridge, or on the peninsula. A wide, flat boulevard of a street, gently arched with edge-laid yellow brick, it runs its gracious best from Christ Church and the courthouse down to Long Wharf, the municipal park, two long, stately blocks away. One is tempted to describe it as lined with elegant mansions, until one examines it in winter, when the leaves are down and the trees are gaunt as gibbets. Mansions there are --- two, three of them --- but the majority of the homes are large and inelegant. What makes High Street lovely are the trees and the street itself. The trees are enormous, for the most part: oaks and cottonwood poplars that rustle loftily above you like wind pennants atop mighty masts; that when leaved transform the shabbiest houses into mansions; that corrugate the concrete of the wide sidewalks with the idle flexing of their roots. An avenue of edge-laid yellow bricks is the only pavement worthy of such trees, and like them, it dignifies the things around it. Automobiles whisper over this brick like quiet yachts; men walking on the outsized sidewalk under the out-sized poplars are dwarfed into dignity. The whole boulevard terminates excellently in a circular roadway on Long Wharf --- terminates, actually, in the grander Boulevard of the Choptank. Daniel Jones, upon whose plantation the whole city of Cambridge now rests, put his plantation house near where this street runs. Colonel John Kirk, Lord Baltimore's Dorchester land agent, built in 1706 the town's first house, "The Point," near where this street runs. There are slave quarters; there are porch columns made of ships' masts; there are ancient names bred to idle pursuits; there are barns of houses housing servantless, kinless, friendless dodderers; there are brazen parades and bold seagulls, brass bands, eminence, and imbecility; there are Sunday pigeons and excursion steamers and mock oranges --- all dignified by the great trees and soft glazed brick of the street. The rest of Cambridge is rather unattractive.

As was my custom, I strolled down to the circle and over beside the yacht basin. The river was glassy and empty of boats, too calm to move the clappers of the bell buoy out in the channel, a mile away. A single early motor truck inched across the long, low bridge. The flag above the yacht club predicted fair weather. With a great sense of well-being I tossed the last hard half of my breakfast biscuits at a doubler crab mating lazily just beneath the surface. As was their custom, the gentleman did the swimming while the soft lady beneath, locked to him with all her legs, allowed him his pleasure, which might last for fourteen hours. Crabbers refer to the male and female thus coupled in their sport as one crab, a "doubler," just as Plato imagined the human prototype to be male and female joined into one being. My biscuit landed to starboard of the lovers, and the gentleman slid, unruffled, six inches to port, then submerged, girl friend and all, in search of the tasty missile that had near scuttled his affair. I laughed and made a mental note to make a physical note, for my Inquiry, of the similarity between the crabbers and Plato, and to remind Jane that there were creatures who took longer than I.

--- From The Floating Opera
© 1956, Avon Books

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