Wednesday, July 14, 2004

A Boy and His Lobster: In Silent Communion, As God Intended

Not much time to write today, at least not in this venue. A lot going on, my friends, and all of it's good. After shipping off the final version of a fun little story for August's Northern Ohio Live only in the pre-dawn hours of Monday, its talented and hyperefficient editor, Kathy DeLong, was kind enough to buzz me only a day later (yesterday), inviting me to stop by to see the dazzling story design by my longtime friend and colleague, Live's art director and resident mordant wit, Ben Small (with whom I've now been collaborating in a couple of venues for going on a decade). Anyway, it's beautiful--Ben once more proves why he cleans up each year during publication awards season. I'll tell you more about that story as we get closer to publication.

Elsewhere, the latest dad's column for Cleveland/Akron Family is now posted on the web. It's about my youngest, Patrick, and his catalytic first brush with thespian fame. Working under the first commandment of good parenting (keep things as precisely balanced as possible in the attention department, because those kids are keeping constant score even if you're not), the next column (written but not yet published) is about his brother Michael. And then I plan to give my readers a rest, not mentioning my boys much for some months to come.

But those are readers of the dad's columns (which may well soon be running in various other markets across the country--stay posted for that). Alas, you faithful readers of Working With Words can't get off that easily. How would you feel if I neglected to relate the Michael- eating-lobster story from our recent too-short vacation in Maine?

Well, maybe it's not a full story. Hell, it may not even rise to the level of anecdote. But I did get a chance to take him to the neighborhood Lobster "shack" (not to be confused with fullblown restaurant). This is a place which, in keeping with the finest flinty Yankee traditions of no-nonsense semi-rural New England, cuts to the chase and focuses its attention on the only things that matter: those perfect little pink-hued wonders, clad in shells as thick (this summer at least) as armor. The tables are park benches covered in ragged plastic tablecloths, the "silverware" is plastic, but the lobster sublime. (Check out this nice Atlantic Monthly piece, an interview with the author of The Secret Life of Lobsters, about "the transcendent dining experience" of gobbling lobsters, once considered a "low class meal for the poor and unrefined").

Anyway, Patrick and Jule were otherwise occupied that day, but Michael quickly agreed to a run up to the shack with the old man. I chose not to eat just then, preferring to pay full attention to my eldest go mano a mano with this creature whose last known address was perhaps the bottom of Casco Bay. I watched in delight as he wordlessly tore into that bad boy, occasionally splattering me with errant drops of sea water as he expertly wielded the metal tool used in cracking the shell, before coaxing the smallest pieces of meat from their hiding places with another specialized lobster-eating instrument. He would occasionally pause to look up, waiting for me to say something. When I didn't, he cooly returned to business, yanking out another chunk of sweet succulence, dabbing it with butter and ushering it into his mouth.

When it comes to visiting the ocean, I can take or leave the beach. But I'll keep that mental picture of a serious boy efficiently doing what god intended him to do, eating lobster, pasted in my mental scrapbook for a long time.


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