On Sunday evening I went for a walk. I’m not sure which streets I took because I walked half in and half out of thought the whole way, but at some point a big, crowded restaurant with a table outside pulled me from my reverie.
I noticed a sign announcing the evening’s special, boiled crawfish, and a white dish next to the sign in which was sitting one live crawfish as a sort of spokesman for the special. I stopped and looked at him sitting there, and as I looked at him I saw that he was looking at me. Two ladies came out of the restaurant just then and they stopped to look at him too. One of them said, “He’s kind of cute.” And the other one replied, “But we just ate two big plates of him. I don’t know if you should say that,” and they went off laughing down the street.
I liked the face of this creature. It was a face full of intelligence and stoicism, and suddenly I felt terrible for him. A din roared out of the crowded restaurant, which was full of people who all looked alike. The crawfish in the dish was a thousand times more interesting as a character than any of the people in the restaurant.
I turned away from the table and started to walk towards 2nd Avenue, but leaving the crawfish at the restaurant felt something like unbearable to me. I turned to have another look at him and saw a man standing at the table. The man raised his hand like a claw and jabbed at the crawfish. And I watched the little crawfish stand up on his hind legs and show the man his two tiny claws. My heart swelled. I thought: If I don’t do something, I risk being up all night suffering, and regretting it forever. I’ve seen him, and he has seen me. And I can either try to save him or not.
I went back to the table. People eat crawfish, that’s part of life. But if I could rescue this one, that would be part of life too. Instinct told me that if I were to say to the guys in their white aprons behind the table that my heart was breaking at the sight of the critter in the dish, they would dismiss me and that would jeopardize my chance to rescue him. So I asked, “What do these taste like, shrimp?” One of the guys said, “Well, they’re crustaceans so it’s kind of like a little lobster. You get fifteen as part of the meal for thirty dollars.”
I like lobsters. Especially since reading a story I found some years ago, in the Strange But True column of one of the dailies, about a huge lobster found guarding a watch at the bottom of a harbor. It made such an impression on me that I tore the story out and still have it in my billfold. This is what it says:
Lobster Found Guarding Watch
“Divers doing routine maintenance work in a British harbor have discovered a giant lobster standing guard over a barnacle-encrusted wristwatch. The lobster, which is thought to be more than 30 years old, was spotted by members of a diving club in Blyth harbor, Northumberland. On closer inspection they were amazed to find that the ancient crustacean appeared to be guarding the watch, which was still ticking.
Graham McDonnar, a member of the Lady Francis Dive Team, said: "We've estimated that the watch had to have been under water for at least three years due to its condition and what's even more amazing is that it's not even a waterproof model.”
The lobster has been taken to the Blue Reef Aquarium in Tynemouth where it is settling in well in the harbor tank display. Blue Reef's Zahra d'Aronville said: "Lobsters are well known for being extremely territorial. Perhaps it identified the watch as part of its territory and has been standing guard over it ever since. We're not sure whether we will be allowed to keep the original watch but if not we'll definitely supply the lobster with a waterproof replacement.”
After I read that story I worried that the lobster wouldn’t get to keep the watch and wondered what reason there could possibly be for him not to. I sent a letter to the aquarium in Cornwall, England, telling them what I thought. I’m sure they considered me an oddball, or maybe they were flooded with letters, I don’t know; they never wrote back. But over the years I’ve thought of that lobster every so often, and I thought of him as I looked at the tiny version of him sitting in the dish on the table. I asked the man how much it would cost to just buy one. I told him I wanted to take one home and let my cat have it and he laughed.
He said, “Oh you want to do that? Sure! I’ll just give you one.” And I said, “Can I have this one?” The man said, “Why not?” He dumped the crawfish into a plastic cup and handed it to me. I hurried to 2nd Avenue before the man could change his mind for some reason. I had the lobster. I felt so glad. I decided to take him over and set him free in the East River.
I told him not to worry and held the cup so he could look out on the walk over. He saw the FDR Drive, and a big curious dog, and once we reached the river, there was the Williamsburg Bridge and the old Domino Sugar Factory. I wondered, is it okay for him if the water is brackish? Is it too polluted? He still had fight in him and his eyes were clear and watching, but he had started to blow foam. His out-of-the-water time was up. So I wished him luck and dropped him in the river.
31 May 2011