May 30, 2014 by T. Gregory Argall
Years ago, in the days of my misspent youth… No, wait. Let me change that.
If you survive it, your youth is never misspent. Youth can be misused, misdirected, mistaken or just plain missed, but never misspent. The purpose of youth is to bridge the gap between infancy and adulthood with more than a dribbly chin and a droopy diaper. If you’re an adult then your youth was not misspent. It was simply spent.
Enough rambling; let’s get back to my rambling.
“The Night We Killed The Lobster” paragraph one; take two:
Years ago, in the days of my youth, I was, more than anything else, technically, an Art Student. I wasn’t quite the bohemian, communal-college-dorm, protest-marching, flower-picking kind of Art Student. In fact, by some interpretations I was still in high school. But in my mind and the minds of certain other similarly-attituded people in my vicinity, I, no, we were Art Students and kindred spirits with Art Students all over the world. Or at least all over the school.
Being an Art Student, we proudly recognized, entailed many diverse and complicated activities. The most important of these activities included: i) Wearing clothes that were made, or at least altered, at home. ii) Smoking lesser-known brands of cigarettes. iii) Drinking far more coffee than is good for someone your age, or any age for that matter. iv) Discussing the set design or lighting instead of the plot of any randomly chosen television show, including cartoons. v) Being unemployed, or if it was absolutely necessary for you to be employed, at least have the decency to do so sporadically.
(The criteria change every ten years or so. I believe the current guidelines still include unemployment but focus mainly on blue hair, green goatees and old clothes from Seattle.)
My most frequent ally and cohort in that miniature universe of alternate ideas was Stephanie. We were like-minded lunatics in a sea of neo-reality. We were inseparable, Siamese twins joined at the mind. And the night we killed the lobster we were flailing our way through a standard dilemma that vexes all Art Students: THE NEGLECTED DEADLINE. About a billion projects were due for submission at nine o’clock the following morning and after months of planning we had nothing finished. Nor started. Nor conceived. Nor even idly considered during the pauses in discussions of the social merits of Mod Squad reruns.
We had nothing. We had long since exhausted the ruse of turning in blank canvases and sketch-books, arguing that we had found our calling in Extreme Minimalism. Claiming that an empty pedestal held a huge minimalist sculpture depicting the spiritual development of household pets from the twelfth century up to the present was the sad death rattle of that idea. We had to come up with something. Having left ourselves no choice, we had to resort to the dreaded, yet oft-invoked scourge of all students, everywhere.
We would pull an all-nighter.
People often underestimate the power of an all-nighter. Parents, teachers and all others connected with the administration of higher academia have pondered for centuries the youthful ideal of frittering away valuable time until a deadline is looming directly over one’s head. What these ponderers fail to realize is the enormous creative potential caused by a combination of intense time-pressure and sheer desperation.
One afternoon Stephanie, Sandra and I were spending our lunch break playing euchre at Stephanie’s home. Sandra (pronounced Sondra) was an Honorary Art Student. She wasn’t actually studying art but she met all the other requirements so we all accepted her. We eventually realized that lunch was over and we were due in a Politics class in five minutes. This fact alone was not cause for concern. However, it was accompanied by the fact that it was a ten minute walk back to the school. We felt that we should do something by way of apology for our teacher, whom we affectionately called Barry. It was decided that a gift of fudge brownies would appease our beloved Barry and so we went about cooking a batch of the tender goodies right away. When we finally arrived at the school there were only five minutes left in the class. We presented Barry with our brownies of penance. With a grin he declared that he had given up brownies for Lent and promptly distributed the treats amongst our fellow students. In the end he neither listed us as absent nor late.
Time-pressure breeds inspiration.
And so Stephanie and I would pull an all-nighter.
Armed with pencils, paints, brushes, pastel, pens and reams of horrifyingly blank paper we made the first pot of coffee. The next few hours saw an unsteady stream of mindless doodles, pen and ink renderings and colourful designs, all lacking even the barest hint of a theme to join them together.
“What,” I hear you cry as you glance back incredulously at the title of this essay, “has any of this got to do with killing a lobster?” Well, just be patient. The lobster will be arrive soon.
After about five hours and ten pots of coffee the world was getting a wee bit fuzzy around the edges and then the phone rang. Stephanie tentatively answered the phone. A voice on the other end said, “Hello. You don’t know me, but…” This enough, given our present state of mind, to hold our attention for whatever this stranger may have to say at 1:30 in the morning. The stranger was, or at least said he was, a friend of Stephanie’s Aunt Something-or-other and Uncle Whatever on the east coast and he was driving west for reasons that we couldn’t ascertain. He would be arriving in our area in a couple of hours and Aunt and Uncle Whoever-they-were had asked him to deliver a gift to Stephanie’s family.
“Gee, that’s nice,” said Stephanie, “but it’s kind of late. Couldn’t it wait till morning?”
“Well,” replied the mysterious gift-bearing stranger, “it’s in the back seat of my car and it really doesn’t want to be there.
DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! DING!
READER’S QUIZ TIME!
What is the “gift” being transported by the stranger on the telephone? Is it:
a) a banana?
b) the salvaged remains of the Titanic?
or c) a lobster?
(Hint: When in doubt, the answer is always “c”.)
All thoughts of artistic endeavour left us as we were faced with this new challenging problem. What do you do with a lobster? Couldn’t keep it as a pet. Stephanie already had a cat; felines and crustaceans are natural enemies. The only other alternative was to cook and eat it. This, logically, required that the lobster be killed, just as if it were a chicken or a cow. Of course with a chicken or a cow there is, for most people, the psychological and moral “distancing” of oneself from the actual act of killing. Not so with a lobster. Every cookbook we checked required that start cooking with a live lobster and finish cooking with a dead lobster. They were all very adamant that it should be the same lobster throughout.
With thoughts of murder filling our minds, we returned to our senseless renderings and obsessive coffee consumption. It was a short while later that we discovered The Sound. It wasn’t just any sound. It was The Sound. It was discovered in the midst of a caffeine coma disguised as deep thought. In order to make The Sound, first form your mouth into the shape of an “O”. Then place your left hand in front of your mouth with the thumb on the left cheek and the middle finger on the right cheek. (You could use your index finger, but acoustically the middle finger provides the best results.) Pressing the thumb and finger inward towards each other, pull the hand swiftly away from your face. At the point of release your mouth should be formed in the shape of a “8”. Go ahead. Try it. It doesn’t matter where you are right now. In your living room. On a bus. At your seat in the House of Commons. It doesn’t matter, just go ahead and try it.
Sure, it doesn’t seem like much now. But in the coffee-induced throes of semi-consciousness it was fascinating! It was astounding! It was… COOL!
And just silly enough to make us giggle maniacally for a full twenty minutes.
Stephanie’s neighbour, Sean, had a tendency to watch old movies on late-night television. Thus he was still awake and only mildly perturbed when we came knocking on his door at three o’clock in the morning the share the wonderment of The Sound. Sean smiled politely and said, “That’s very impressive. Go home.” He then closed the door and returned to his film.
About an hour later the unknown seafood-bearer arrived. He gave us a lobster with rubber bands on its claws, said, “good night,” and left. We never saw him again in the intervening years. It was as if he had fulfilled his purpose in delivering the lobster and then simply ceased to exist. Oh, well.
We now had to confront the dilemma of killing this creature. We wasted no time in making the problem exponentially more difficult. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, don’t make the same mistake we made. I implore you, do not name the lobster. We did. We named it Louie. This just added a more familiar, personal connection between us and the poor little sea critter. Killing a lobster was one thing. Killing Louie was another matter entirely.
We boiled a huge pot of water and told Louie that it wasn’t really for him. He looked at us sceptically. We added a pinch or two of salt and told Louie that it wasn’t really for him. He looked dubious. We sat down and drank another pot of coffee, trying desperately to avoid Louie’s gaze. After another hour of stalling Louie’s look seemed to be saying, “Get on with it,” and we realized that we really had no choice. Sending him back to the ocean just wasn’t a realistic alternative. I grabbed Louie and threw him into the water, rubber bands and all.
Louie let out a bloodcurdling scream.
The people who wrote the cookbooks said that we should expect that sound, that it was just air escaping from under the lobster’s shell or exo-skeleton or whatever it was. But those people weren’t there that night. They weren’t hearing that gut-wrenching noise. They weren’t racked with guilt over the murder of our new found friend, Louie. They weren’t pumped up with a hundred and fifty gallons of coffee and seeing giggling elves hiding in the corner! Oh, it was horrible.
But, eventually it stopped.
Then, we ran out of coffee grounds. Stephanie went to bed. I went to couch.
Morning came about five minutes later. It was now time for the final stage of the all-nighter: panic and desperation. We took all the inedible parts of Louie and glued, stapled, taped and otherwise affixed them through sheer force of will to a large canvas covered with swirls of blue and green paint. A knife and fork were attached (stabbed in) to opposite sides of the canvas and a bib was hung from the bottom.
Our “Representation of Darwinism Applied to Oceanic Existentialism” (sculpture/painting), submitted as a joint effort earned us both an “A-” and kudos from fellow Art Students whose own efforts had neither a lobster nor sufficient amounts of coffee. That work is still displayed in the main hall of the high school, thus ensuring our mark is permanently left in the annals of the school’s history. And we couldn’t have done it without Louie’s selfless sacrifice.
Goodbye, Louie. Thanks for the help.
As always, try to be nice to each other.