The waitress at the harborside seafood restaurant in New Hampshire had already delivered to our table what were apparently necessary but totally unfamiliar tools: a nutcracker, a tiny fork, a wet paper towel.
Now she plunked down before me a dinner plate crowded with steamed clams and the main course, the entree, my entrance into a world I had glimpsed but never visited, a bright red lobster which, combined with the puzzlingly named “drawn butter,” would, I was told, be claws for gastronomic celebration.
Thence and thusly I embarked on my first lesson in the art of cracking open a lobster’s shell and claws in order to probe deeply into said shell’s crevices and then withdraw from those dark mysterious regions the sweet and succulent meat of the poor lobster who was now just a shell of his former self.
Here’s what I learned about eating a lobster: It is an act of violence, faith and persistence that is not for the weak of spirit or stomach. I’m told that the expression of my face — as I cracked open lobster shells to get at lobster innards while lobster antennae and lobster legs shivered and quivered — looked something like the expressions on the faces of the Little Rascals when Spanky’s mom served them mush and cod liver oil for breakfast.
When one eats pork, chicken or beef, at least the meat has usually been transformed beyond recognition into something that mostly looks nothing like the flesh of a dead cow, chicken or pig.
Eating that lobster, though, I had clear images of the prehistoric-looking creature scuttling steadfastly along the ocean floor when it was suddenly snared in a net along with hundreds more of its brethren and, within hours, thrust headlong into a pot of boiling water, then delivered to my dinner plate while Mrs. Lobster and her poor fatherless children waited unwittingly and unknowingly for the return of the husband and father they would see no more.
I must admit that despite my reservations — equal parts guilt and apathy — I thoroughly enjoyed ingesting the approximately one ounce of lobster meat I managed to liberate during approximately two hours of poking and probing and insinuating and exploring the poor litle (one pound) lobster’s dead and lifeless and boiled body.
But what of poor Mrs. Lobster and her poor orphaned Lobster children?!
As I dipped Mr. Lobster’s boiled flesh into the tiny pool of butter which represented the poor bloke’s final immersion into something much different from his familiar salty ocean water, I pondered and debated and agonized over whether it was proper and right to eat this lobster, imagined so clearly the beady-eyed and sorrowful faces of his family when they realized their husband and father would not ever return home from his job down at the waterfront docks…
And, ultimately, I simply didn’t care. This meal, despite the physical and emotional effort required to obtain it, was despicable, yes, but it was also so delicious and delectable that it was more than worth the burden of guilt I carried with me out the restaurant door, where the muffled sobs burbled and bubbled up through the cold harbor waters from the sad place called Lobster Land on the dark and swirling ocean floor.