The Strange Story of the Stinky, Exploding Squid

Lizzy Saxe

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When I was a little kid, I was wholly unable to discern fantasy from reality. Like, Snow White and The Great Mouse Detective may as well have been horror movies.

Because my adorably non-neurotypical brain had such a hard time with this stuff, my parents made the executive decision to shield me from the news. It was never on in our house except in their bedroom, and then with the door closed. This trend persisted up into my elementary and middle school years. But they couldn't keep me away from the mail.

By 5th or 6th grade, I was regularly stealing my mom's People Magazines... and promptly developed a new spate of vivid nightmares. Why? Because in the early 2000s, all anyone could talk about in those magazines was sweet little girls getting kidnapped.

One night, I woke up my dad, deeply convinced that a kidnapper was going to break into my bedroom at any moment and whisk me away to my doom. He stayed up with me and decided I needed a distraction if I was ever going to get back to sleep.

That distraction was The Squid Story.

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You see, in the summer of 1974, my father (his name is Bob) and his former UCLA roommate Gary went out on a squid fishing expedition. It was super hot out that year, and as a result, a bunch of 18-inch long Humboldt squid had migrated further north than usual. According to Dad, you didn't even have to try to catch them. You could just toss a special lure into the water from this barge off the coast of Redondo Beach at night and go to town. Squids, as it turns out, are kinda like moths, and the barge was dripping in bright lights to lure them in.

There were so many squids out there that Dad and Gary hardly had to bait their lines. If you pulled a squid jig (that's the special lure thing) up from the water, even with nothing enticing on it, you were probably going to snag a squid.

After only a couple of hours of fishing, Gary and Dad had several dozen huge squids. They stuffed them into burlap sacks, took a ferry back to shore, put the burlap sacks into garbage bags, so they didn't ruin the trunk of my dad's sexy sports car (a red Mazda R100 coupe that he only surrendered once he had two children in elementary school); and drove their several dozen cephalopods 20 miles back to his two-room guest house apartment in West Hollywood.

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They spent the rest of the day cleaning squid. This was easy too. Squids are soft, squishy, and delightfully uncomplicated. By the end of the day, Dad's fridge was brimming with calamari steaks and tentacles.

They discarded all the beaks and entrails and various inedible bits (which filled up a third of a trash can all by themselves). Then, they knotted the trash bag nice and tight, put it out on the curb in its bin like normal, and went to their respective beds on an unseasonably warm Los Angeles night.

Dad has also written this story up before, and here I'll let him take over for a while:

"Trash was picked up once a week, and it had been collected a day or two before our fishing expedition. So the discarded squid parts sat marinating in the scorching summer sun for some time, inside of their knotted plastic bag, which was itself inside of the closed trash can. I had completely forgotten about them, thinking no more about them than I would any other trash.

A few nights later, I was sound asleep. It was about three o'clock in the morning. Suddenly, something jerked me out of bed.

It was the most intense, compelling, putrid, horrifying, dominating stench I had ever experienced. It grabbed me by the shoulders and shouted, "You are going to wake up NOW!" It made the pet food docks of Gloucester, Massachusetts - which I visited once in the 1950s - where busy skip loaders ran back and forth over tons of deceased anchovies and mackerel, smell like a summer breeze.

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It knocked me out of bed.

It was the olfactory equivalent of the loudest alarm clock I had ever heard. I jumped up, threw on some clothes, and quickly went outside, where it seemed like the smell was coming from. As I walked out, looking for the source, I heard numerous neighbors' voices wafting through the dark, exclaiming in incredulous tones from inside their nearby apartments. "WHAT IS THAT SMELL?" "OH MY GOD! Where is that COMING FROM?" and so on.

It didn't take me long to figure out what had happened. As I got closer to the trash can, the smell got even stronger. It dawned on my not-so-bright mind that the squid guts had been decaying rapidly in the summer heat. Over several days, they had inflated the sealed heavy plastic bag, and then finally burst it open with a rush of military-grade non-lethal-weapon-style incapacitatingly-horrible-smelling decay gases that quickly blanketed the whole neighborhood.

I tried to keep my head. I tried to figure out what to do. My first thought was to take the trash can to the street and dump its contents down the gutter. But then I realized that the guts would stay in the gutter, continuing to stifle the neighborhood. I had to get them out of there.

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My car was conveniently parked right next to the trash cans. I opened the trunk and stuffed the squid guts trash can inside. I grabbed a shovel from the garage and stuck that in too. Then I drove away as fast as I could, hoping no one noticed me.

I turned onto Sunset Boulevard, heading toward the beach, about 20 miles to the west. The stench pouring from the trash can would envelop my car at slow speeds, so I tried to drive fairly quickly to outrun the smell. However, I kept a sharp eye out for police cars. I did not want to have to answer questions about why I was driving in the middle of the night with a shovel and a trash can full of horribly decayed once-living matter in the trunk of my car.

I came to a stoplight. Not wanting to take a chance on running the light, I stopped and waited for the light to turn green, enduring the smell which had now caught up to me. The streets had seemed deserted, but now another car, a convertible, pulled up alongside me. It waited there for a few seconds; then, the driver fired me a dubious look, and tires screeching, zoomed through the red light."

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So, by this point, Dad was in urgent need of a way to ditch all these malodorous squid guts. He drove down Sunset, resisting the instinct to hold his nose until he reached a deserted beach on the PCH, one he knew wasn't exactly...um...popular.

He parked the car. He dug a big hole in the sand. And, in a move that is so environmentally irresponsible that he would probably do it super differently now: HE BURIED THE WHOLE TRASH BAG FULL OF SQUID GUTS, anxiously looking over his shoulder to make sure no one was around to suspect him of disposing of a body.

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He washed the trash can out in the sea a few times, brought it back to the trunk, and drove back to West Hollywood to collapse. No one in the neighborhood ever figured out who was responsible for waking them up that night. But that trash can continued to bear subtle witness to his guilt for several months afterward, the faint but unforgettable odor a reminder of the squids' revenge.

Needless to say, I was in stitches by the end of this story, and sufficiently distracted to get back to sleep. It didn't stop me from reading true crime stories that kept me up at night, but luckily, I've grown into my penchant for the dark and mysterious.

Photo Credit: Alev Takil, Brian Lundquist, Kris D Souza, Robert Bye, Andre Benz, Nathan Dumlao, and Tobias Tulius, Unsplash

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I write about the past, present, and future of food and the human condition. Also sometimes snacks.

Brooklyn, NY
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