A Lobster’s View of the World
It’s hideously cruel, really. Some poor slob of a lobster is crawling across the bottom of the sea, acting all tough ’cause he’s got this bad-ass pair of claws in front of him. He smells something rotten and lovely, and he shuffles over to it for a bit of the old pinch-and-gulp. But what’s this? I can’t get out! What’s going on here?
Fast-forward: Hoisted up through layers of warm and mucky water. Grabbed by rough hands in just the wrong place, where the Pincers of Death can’t reach. Tossed into a bucket of seawater with a few dozen other lobsters who, until recently, were the Jets and the Sharks of their turf. The occasional scuffle breaks out among the inmates, but mainly everyone’s just looking at each other from the ends of their eye stalks, wondering what the hell is going on.
Another tank, this one occupied by a cute little number from some neighboring bay. But before the action gets hot, the action gets uncomfortably hot. Yanked out of that tank and hauled through air, of all stupid elements. Then tossed into a pot of scalding water, green calcium turning bright red, until the bubbles all blend together and the pain goes away.
I would have traded places with those pitiful crustaceans in a heartbeat. Instead, I was walking toward the front door of the Coffin residence, a bottle of Canadian wine in one hand and my self-esteem in the other, wondering how many people were already inside ready to help themselves to one or both.
The door was opened by Cory. She was dressed in a simple grey skirt and white shirt; she looked almost respectable. I smiled when I saw her. She smiled back. That was a bad sign. “Asshole,” she said. Then she stepped aside and let me in.
The house is a two-story clapboard structure, painted the requisite grey with black shutters. On the ground floor is a stunted entryway, blocked by the stairs that spiral in a tight square in front of the central chimney. To the left is a formal parlor, with some fine antique-looking furniture placed tastefully about and some fine antique-looking relatives glowering out from portraits on the walls. The parlor was empty.
To the right is the less formal family room. This room has several worn but very nice chairs, a few Oriental carpets, and some lovely gold-and-cream wallpaper. And every square inch of it was occupied by Coffins, who each looked as though the wine they were drinking had just turned to pig’s blood in their mouths.
President Lincoln, I’d like you to meet John Booth and his family….
I’m pleased to report that my friends the Canadians sell wine in sturdy glass bottles; otherwise, the Token of Appreciation I brought with me would have shattered in my hand. Instead, I mumbled a few generic words of greeting, handed the wine to Cory, and begged her to pour me a big mug of it.
I scanned the crowd. All conversation had stopped. It seemed like the music on the radio had stopped, too, as though Rex at WGSI had picked up a “one if by land” sort of signal from the Coffin’s belfry. Two dozen tall, gaunt, black-garbed Coffins stared at me like I was a witch and they were Salem’s finest.
General Custer, I’d like to introduce the members of the Sioux delegation….
I have read about cannibals who would capture explorers and bury them up to their necks in the sand, only to pour honey over their heads and watch the ants attack. I felt like the sweetest newcomer at the ant farm.
I tossed out a casual, lighthearted, devil-may-care greeting to the Coffin mob and turned to admire the crudités that Cory had arranged on a side table. When in doubt, I always say, throw yourself on the crudités.
Commander Napoleon, may I say that you have erected some fine defenses here at Waterloo….
Eventually, the music returned — playing Autumn, as I recall — and the conversation was restored to a hushed, conspiratorial level.
Overall, the evening is a bit of a blur, enhanced no doubt by the frequent and generous support I received from my friends the Canadians. But a few things do stand out.
The first is that the Coffia gradually melted into basic, actually friendly people with offbeat senses of humor and a few rollicking good stories to tell. I kept my hands in plain sight at all times, to prove that I wasn’t taking notes for my column, and the clan warmed up in due time. It’s amazing how decent people can be when you get past the impression they’re trying to make.
The second is that the lobster dish that Cory served was truly magnificent. It was some sort of cheesy lobster-tail casserole with toast points that blunted the assault on my brain that was mounted by those turncoats the Canadians.
And the third is Meg Coffin. I know that evidence has surfaced that at least a few people on GSI read my blog every now and then, so let me say that I’m really not trying to be mean. Just accurate.
Meg is the daughter of Henry and Cory, which I guess makes her the Crown Princess of Grand Seal Island. She’s twenty-two years old, about my height, and the best word I can find to describe her is “plain.”
She has dark hair, nearly black, which she wears parted in the middle and trailing down each side of her head in pigtails. She was dressed in a simple green frock. (OK — I don’t know what a “frock” is, but this looked like something that someone would call a “frock.”) She helped her parents serve the lobster and the wine, and she smiled at me every now and then.
Make no mistake: She’s not the hottest babe at the prom. When the kids in high school were pairing off for the slow dance, I’m guessing that she was maybe the third-from-last girl to be asked. She’s the kind of girl who would consider going the serious tomboy route every now and then, just to have a rationale for the lack of phone calls on a Friday night. Her body is perfectly decent but not terribly remarkable; she can probably walk past a construction site without endangering the project’s timetable. She has a sweet smile and fascinating grey eyes, but the overall impression is a bit like breaking even at Vegas.
I mention Meg for one very important reason. During a brief interlude in my after-dinner extraction process, she asked me if I’d be interested in going with her — and her family — to the Quaker Meeting on Sunday. Naturally enough, I expressed surprise that Quakers still existed; I thought they died off during a devastating outbreak of celibacy. She explained that I was confusing them with Shakers, to which I chuckled in a lighthearted way and offered some witty repartee that I’m sure made no sense whatsoever.
It seems that pockets of Quakers are still thriving here and there, and one of the persistent here-and-theres is GSI. Given the nature of the evening, I was in a highly accepting mood: “Why, yes! I’d love some goose-liver pâté on my raisin bread!” “Well, of course — I’d be thrilled to see your appendix scar!” “Your twins can juggle? Bring them on!” So when Meg suggested a Sunday morning at the family’s Mindless Ritual, I was quick to give the thumbs-up.
And then to make matters worse, after our dessert of cheesecake with lobster sauce, Meg and I went for a walk.
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — Kate Fisher, editor: See? I knew you’d find that the townspeople were OK after all. Keep it up.
Comment — BillFromMaine: Yeah, well, most all the people in the Great State of Maine are decent, friendly folk. It might take some work now and then to warm up to them, but they’re good people down inside.
Comment — MapleLeaf249: Almost as nice as Canadians. We don’t take warming up to. Just say hello, and we’ll smile and say hello back.
Comment — NavyBrat414: Sure! They’ll smile nicely and then try to conquer your island. At least with Americans you know where you stand.
Comment — Julius: I went to Canada once, and the people were just great. Friendly, helpful, just great. I thought they were great. Go, Canada!
Comment — MapleLeaf249: Actually, that’s “Oh, Canada.” It’s our national anthem.
Comment — NavyBrat414: You have a national anthem? Gee, maybe if you guys won an Olympic sport every now and then, we’d know what it sounds like.
Comment — Gemstone: Plain? That’s an interesting comment. I suppose next to Eliza, all women are plain — on the surface.
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.