Saturday, August 02, 2008

Oyster Theory of Value

The Eastpointer

Oyster Theory of Value

By Richard E. Noble

It was a horrid day in Paradise when either my wife or I asked the question, "Do you realize how many bags of oysters this is costing us?"

I don't remember which of us thought it up but from that day forward, spending our money became a rather frightening experience. Neither of us had ever made such an analogy before in our working careers. Never before had we equated our work to our purchases and bills. How many dishes did I have to wash to pay the light bill or how many chickens did I have to cut to run the air-conditioner? Once we got onto the oyster bag standard of value everything suddenly became far too expensive.

When we started our oystering career we sold a bag of oysters for $4.00. Consequently it didn't take a very large purchase to amount to a substantial number of bags of oysters. A pizza and a pitcher of beer could be 5 or 6 bags of oysters. A special dinner or a night on the town could easily turn into ten or twelve bags of oysters. That could be a whole day’s work for the two of us depending on the time of year.
The big problem was imagining carrying 5 or 6 bags of oysters up to the counter at the local pizza joint. Why in the world would we be willing to trade 75 to 80 oyster dinners for one pizza and a pitcher of beer? Were we Crazy?

We did a lot of staying at home and eating fried oysters and fresh caught fish instead of T-bone steak or even fried chicken. I would often help load a truck down at the oyster house for 25 or 30 stone crab claws. I thought that was a great deal - 2 or 3 hours of work for 3 or 4 stone crab dinners for two. My wife really liked that trade - especially since it involved my labor only.

If a hamburger and a beer cost 5 dollars and a bag of oysters was selling for $4.00 that was a very poor trade. Do you know how many oyster burgers a person could make out of one bag of oysters? If you figured six fried oysters to the bun, that would be about 50 oyster burgers to the bag. Why would anybody trade 50 oyster burgers for one hamburger?

We were off the dollar standard and the gold standard. We were now on the bag-of-oysters standard. Do you know how many bags of oysters it took to buy a washing machine or a new mattress? A new automobile took the oyster bag standard off the charts.

Then a strange thing happened. The price of oysters began to climb. The rules had changed and consequently we were able to catch fewer bags, but nevertheless we made more money.

A bag of oysters at one point was selling for as high as $20. Now from the sale of just one bag of oysters we could buy 4 T-bone steaks at the grocery store or one pizza and a pitcher of beer at the local restaurant. One bag of oysters could buy 10 or 12 pounds of hamburger. We could go to a movie in Tallahassee and even buy a bag of popcorn for one bag of oysters. Ten or fifteen bags of oysters could buy a new washing machine or a stove. We were fortunate to be in a period where the price of oysters rose faster than the price of everything else. That, of course, has since changed.

But then we had a different problem - would we rather eat fried oysters all week or T-bone steak and hamburgers? At $20 a bag of oysters we really couldn't afford to eat oysters any more. We stopped taking oysters home altogether. Just a quarter of a bag of oysters could buy a pound of hamburger and a six pack of beer.

We were now pulling up the floor boards on our boat to make sure no oysters fell through the cracks. I remember telling Carol one afternoon, "I feel like eating oysters tonight and I don't care how much they are costing us." We rebelled against the economic system that evening and ate a whole pail full of steamed oysters and a full plate of fried oysters. That one dinner may have cost us 10 pounds of hamburger and two six packs of Bud. Talk about going crazy! What was it with us? Did we now have bags of oysters to burn?

It seemed totally insane. We were the people who caught the oysters. The oysters always cost us so many hours of sweat no matter what the price. But now because of some external standard of value - we felt that we could not afford to eat our own oysters any more. What is that?

Actually I can’t afford to live here in Eastpoint anymore. Not too long ago they were telling me that my pink single-wide situated in the middle of a one acre swamp was worth $200,000 to some guy living in London or Paris, France. Does anyone out there have that man’s phone number?

Hobo-ing America and A Summer with Charlie are books written by Richard E. Noble. They are both for sale on Richard Noble is a freelance writer and has been a resident of Eastpoint for 30 years. If you would like to stock his books in your store or business he can be contacted at or call 850-670-8076.