Escaped Lobsters Terrorize Author

Escaped Lobsters Terrorize Author

I always felt uneasy driving back from the fish market with Mum Mum, my grandmother, while that heavy-duty, foil-lined bag full of squiggling, doomed lobsters was at my feet. This was a little too close to the food chain for my suburban taste.

Back at the beach cottage, she would place the animated bag in the middle of the dining room table while she unloaded the other groceries. Each time I checked, the congregation had moved a little closer to the edge. I swear.

I was about 8 years old and had just arrived for my summer visit when my grandfather, watching me watch the bag, launched into the story that would define my relationship with crustaceans. The credibility of Mad Jack, as we sometimes called him, was unassailable. Annie Oakley taught him to shoot. He had made the acquaintance of the legendary warrior Sitting Bull — and had a Lakota tomahawk to prove it. These historic encounters occurred at Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, but still, when Jack spoke, we drank it in like vanilla Coke.

"Last week," he boomed from his reading chair, flush with mischief and smelling of noontime sherry, "Mum Mum left the bag on the table for a long, long time." He paused, lit his pipe, letting his remark sink in. Indeed, she forgot about the bag entirely, as she puttered around the pantry, he continued, exhaling a healthy puff of white smoke. With a big gathering due for supper, rather than buying many smallish lobsters, she had asked the fish man to cull the granddaddies from the holding tank.

"So these giants, with claws larger than mine," he said, dramatically holding high his meaty right mitt, "they were left to their own devices for a very, very long time." Not only did they topple the bag over; they lobstered their way free. Thence they began to disperse as if they had been planning this cottage invasion for months.

He explained that once a lobster gets a claw-hold on you the only way to get it off is to smash it with a hammer. If you have one handy. And that didn't always work.

"Why hadn't he stopped them?" I asked.

He smiled sympathetically and said, "I must have dozed off."

"When did you wake up?"

"At the very moment one was crawling over my foot, heading for the stairs to the second floor."

"Where are they now?" I demanded.

"Here and there," he said, nonchalantly drawing on his pipe.

"Where and there?" I nearly screamed at him.

"Well, I was getting dressed this morning and I opened my sock drawer. . . ."

"They were in your sock drawer?"

"There was only one."

"Did he grab you?"

"It was a female, I think."

"Did she grab you?"

"No, I closed the drawer."

"She's still in there?"

"As far as I know."

"Where are the others?"

"Mum Mum found one in the laundry."

"Did she catch it?"

"No, it got away."

"Aren't you worried?"

"Not terribly," he said. "They can only live out of water for another week or so."

"What do lobsters eat?"

"I understand that they are fond of the peanut butter and jelly. . . ."

I nearly fainted. Peanut butter and jelly was what kept me alive.

I rushed into the kitchen, checking the bag on the way — it had moved at least a foot — to do an inventory of the peanut butter and jelly stock. From the living room, I heard Jack bellowing, "Be careful!"

The cautionary was unnecessary. I undertook the accounting at a snail's pace. Careful was my middle name for the next 10 days. It took me forever to get dressed in the morning, shorts and a T-shirt. It was the most careful summer of my life. I was careful even after my older brothers clued me in on the joke.