“We’re going to kill something, skin it and eat it” Tex proclaimed one afternoon midway through his visit to my city, just when I thought that he was adjusting to the civilities of urban life. Thankfully he didn’t mean an elk or deer, the creature Tex was hankering for was lobster.
The first problem with this idea was transportation. In Tex’s world vehicles come with half or one tonne sizes with a gun rack on the back. By contrast these were my wheels at the time.
Happily, although Tex likes his meat red and his boots nicely polished, he isn’t averse to riding a bicycle, so we rode to the grocery store. The next problem was how to get the boxed up lobsters home. Normally I stow delicate items like eggs in my jacket so that my body can absorb the impact of any curbs or bumps. It was decided that there are better ways to lose a nipple than by stowing live crustaceans in your clothing, so Tex set about using our other groceries to pad the saddle bags of my bike to create a nest for our new marine friends.
The last and greatest problem we faced that day was me; specifically my inability to kill and dismember living creatures. An avid meat eater, I had no problem with the theory of the process, but the actual act itself caused me quite a bit of anguish. Once we arrived home, Tex was all set to commit murder. I on the other hand was preoccupied with the lobsters’ mental wellbeing. I sang to comfort the lobsters and distract them from their impending doom. Every creature loves music right? Meanwhile Tex busied himself with boiling a stock pot full of water. “Do you think their lives were happy?” I asked Tex. Standing over my slow moving salt water friends that I had carefully transported home, I worried aloud “Should we show them pictures of the sea during their last moments, or would that be cruel?” Guilt was slowly building in my gut; I tried to assuage it by brainstorming a last meal for the lobsters. “What is a lobster’s favourite food?” I wondered.
Then came the terrible moment. Tex held the lobsters over the boiling stock pot of water and looked down. “I don’t think it’s hot enough” he lowered the lobsters back into the box and transferred the pot to another, supposedly more effective burner. The lobsters had been spared, and given an extra couple minutes of life, so I sang them a song from the “Rescuers” encouraging the hard shelled creatures to be brave. They lazily waved their claws at me. I don’t know if lobsters understand English.
The water reached a rolling boil on the larger burner and once again Tex held the lobsters high above the pot. Supposedly the change in pressure when lobsters are immersed in boiling liquid creates a sound like a small scream. Neither Tex nor I heard that noise over my shriek as Tex dropped Fergus and Amalda in. (Following their close call minutes earlier, I named our supper which is according to Tex a rookie cowboy’s mistake; the only names his rancher brother gives his cattle are “Filet Mignon”, “Steak” and “Chuck”.)
Twelve minutes later the lobsters were declared done and Tex offered the tongs to me. “Want to fish yours out?” he asked. I didn’t. I wanted nothing of the sort but I took the tongs anyway and haphazardly grabbed a lobster (Possibly Amalda?) out of the pot and dropped it on the plate. The lobster was sopping and water sloshed over the plate. Then Tex confidently turned his lobster in the pot so it was easy to grasp, raised it out of the water and held it still for a couple of seconds to allow the shell to drain before lowering it onto his dry plate.
I brought my full plate with lobster water to the table, too distressed to tip the excess liquid back into the pot. “Turn your lobster like this” Tex instructed, “It makes it easier to break off its arms”. My hand went to touch the poor dead lobster, then pulled back at the last second. “Touch it” I ordered my hand. My fingers hovered around the lobster almost touching it, then pulling back. “Just pick it up” Tex encouraged. “I can do this” I thought as my hand hovered around the dead sea creature. I’m not sure what terrified me more, the idea that the lobster would move when I touched it, or the fact that it wouldn’t. Finally after more coaching, I picked up my lobster. That’s when the low grade distress noises started, my terror and guilt combining in a small, high pitched hum.
Undeterred by my hesitation, Tex continued to coach me in the art of lobster slaughter. “Now you grip it like this, and break its arm. Don’t hold onto the pointy part of the claw.” That last part seemed obvious but in my upset state I had grabbed the claw tightly in the wrong spot, it was only then that I felt the pain in my hand as the points of the claw dug into my skin. “Crack!” Tex’s lobster was now down an arm. My stomach lurched, it sounded just like the rat dissection in grade twelve, when my partner had to break the rat’s arm in order to pin it down. In that biology lab, not only had I refused to break the arms but I avoided pinning the rodent to the cutting board as well.
In the present, I held a dead crustacean and gave it the same horrified and disgusted look I had given the formaldehyde preserved rat. “Your turn” Tex gestured to my lobster. Desperate to delay the inevitable I sweetly asked if I could watch him do it again. “Crack!” off went the other arm of Tex’s lobster. “Now yours”, Tex urged.
I took a deep breath and recalled my university Animal Physiology lab, when I’d been paired with a beautiful but flaky sorority girl. She was a partier and a consistent C student whereas I stayed home most nights and excelled at the course. At first glance it seemed like an unfortunate pairing however after I passed out during the teaching assistant’s demonstration of how to behead, then filet a fish, the sorority girl beheaded and prepared our fish for the experiment while I inhaled through my nose on the floor and focused on not puking all over the other teaching assistant that was patiently rubbing my back. “No more blood!” The cheerful sorority blonde proclaimed when I returned to our lab station still woozy and soaked in my own sweat.
Closing my eyes I bent the lobster’s arm back. “Crack!” My stomach heaved, and my guilt over having broken the poor creature’s claw was thick at the back of my throat. It didn’t matter that it was dead; in my mind the lobster needed that claw. “Now the other one”, Tex instructed. As I gripped the remaining claw, a wobbly “Uhhhhh” was added to my high pitched hum. It grew in volume as the claw moved to break, so loud that the “crack” was almost soft underneath my keening.
Just as in both the biology and animal physiology labs, my dread over dismantling a living creature had me bathing in my own sweat. But unlike both of these situations there was no one else to dismember the lobster for me. Regrettably, the worst was yet to come. “Now you rip the lobster body in half” with a great “POP” Tex’s lobster was in two and my stomach flipped over. My arms shook and tears gathered at the corners of my eyes as I tore Amalda in two. At my feet, Whiskey, my room-mate at the time’s cat mewled pathetically for a taste.
Tex’s enthusiasm was palpable now as he prepared to taste his meal. Using my can opener, (surprisingly I lacked the tool to crack the hard shells of crustaceans) he broke the hard red chitin of the claw into pieces and fished out the meat inside. Then handed me the can opener so I could so the same.
Next to literally tearing a creature in half, this step seemed humane. But then as the meat dangled limply from my fingers I realized that guilt had stolen my appetite. By contrast, Whiskey the cat was in a frenzy at my feet. So I passed the meaty claw to him. He devoured it with what can only be described as feline ecstasy.
From there, the gradual consumption of our meal continued, Whiskey was fed more surf than I think any cat aside from those in cultures which worship felines have eaten. While cleaning up Tex grabbed me about the shoulders and kissed the top of my head “You did great Unwashed” he said. Clearly he was more engrossed in his dinner than in my reaction, either that or “great” in cowboy terms means wimpy and on the verge of fainting.