My former MBA student and nevertheless good friend feels benevolent kinship toward me because he is a wonderful free diver and I used to be a quite good diver. He and I only dived together on the California coast once. That one time was enough for me to realize that he was better than I was although I was pretty damned good (if you ask me). You might say that, figuratively and existentially, on a lifetime basis, I was leaving the water when he was already well in. In spite of this limited overlap, that there is kinship there is beyond the shadow of a doubt. It’s not surprising: People who immerse themselves voluntarily in the cold Pacific Ocean in January,perhaps to catch a couple of big shellfish (abalone), are pretty likely to form mutual admiration societies founded on a shared silent contempt of everyone else on Earth. But I digress, as usual.
In late October or early November, my friend who lives in Central California (as I do) goes on a diving expedition south where the spiny lobster lives. He is successful, of course. Back in our area, my friend has the incredibly kind, charming courtesy to call on me in my own town with two frozen lobster tails in a non-descript white plastic bag. I try to kiss him but he repels me so I buy him lunch instead. Then he goes home across the hill where he lives and I take my present to my home.
Now, I have to become a little personal here and explain that I have a very long and troubled relationship with spiny lobsters. It began with a couple of the spiny lobsters’ cousins, the Atlantic lobster, the one with the big pincers they catch off Maine, for example. Well, I caught a couple of them free-diving in France when I was very young. Immediately, I was hooked. After I moved to America, in graduate school, I sometimes traveled to San Diego to dive for the spiny variety (“langosta” in Spanish). As I may already have mentioned, I was a good diver so, my expeditions were fruitful.
Spiny lobster was an extraordinary addition to the diet of a poor graduate student, of course. So, I became even more hooked. Then I spent a long summer on a Mexican Caribbean island eating not much more than spiny lobster plus bread and local oranges. (The wonder is that I never tired of eating lobster.) Later, I spent half a year in Hawaii. The Big Island turned out to offer challenging and even dangerous diving rewarded by big spiny lobsters (of a surprising green color). During my Hawaiian tenure, spiny lobster was plentiful enough to play a significant role in my seduction endeavors. (I realized later that in most cases, the lobster was superfluous to the achievement of my vulgar aims but I quickly suppressed that ugly, ungenerous thought.)
Then, life changed. Perhaps it was marriage, perhaps it was children. I continued to dive for twenty-five years but not in the right places. The rest of my life became pretty much a spinylobsterless desert relieved only by a couple of oases I am not at liberty to describe here. (And this, for reasons I can’t go into here.)
All this to explain – in an existential vein – that my friend’s gift of a pair of frozen tails of lobsters he had risked his life catching by hand had gone straight to my heart. Or, the gift had gone straight to what’s left of my heart. As a matter of fact, there is hardly any other gift I can imagine that would be more likely to reach my heart. Well, I can think of one such gift but my friend is not the of the right persuasion to have given it, or even to have thought of giving it, at least, I hope so.
Back home, careful not to interrupt the chain of cold, I placed the package of lobster tails in my refrigerator freezer compartment. I wanted to wait for an occasion important enough to justify this rare treat, of course. But one day follows the other and pretty soon, I was facing New Years’ Eve, a time of year that is always a little problematic for me (as it is for millions). My wife had given me a good dry muscat white and I had some now-illegal foie gras stashed away. I thought a couple of grilled lobsters tails would help introduce the New Year in splendor. Why, I even purchased a head of garlic – which I cannot digest – because my wife thought she remembered that she liked “langosta al ajo,” from a long-away stay in Los Cabos.
In late afternoon, I go into the freezer compartment. It’s cluttered, of course, in part because once that I wanted to score some sweetbread, I was blackmailed into buying fifteen pounds. Yet, I have no trouble locating what I am looking for: It’s a somewhat irregular package in a bag that does not look like it would originate in my household. Unlike the remainder of the contents of the freezer, it looks like a package a man, an untrained man specifically, would wrap up. As I chat in the kitchen, I feel in my hand the irregular hard angles characteristic of a lobster carapace. (The angles on the tail account in part for why it’s called “spiny” lobster.) I put the package to thaw in the sink.
A couple of hours later, I am in the kitchen again chatting, with my wife, this time, Suddenly, I observe from the corner of my eye that a red thin fluid is leaking from the plastic bag in the sink. Now, as I have conveyed, I think, I know quite a bit about spiny lobsters. One of the things I know for a fact is that they don’t bleed, and if they did bleed, it would not be red blood. My heart sinks!
I grab the bag, I tear it open. Inside the outer white garbage-type plastic bad, there is a second bag, a slightly decorated blue-on-white freezer bag, it seems. Inside the freezer bag I find two big handfuls of half-thawed strawberries. My heart skips two beats. With my wife’s help, I dive with both hands into the freezer compartment and I take everything out. That is, besides pound after pound of sweetbread, my fish soup from last summer, some sour ratatouille, and even two-year old abalone that had pretty well skipped my mind. The whole action takes only three minutes. At the end the obvious has become obvious: There are not lobster tails in my freezer; there isn’t even one, there isn’t even a half of one. Yet, given my dedication to lobster, there is zero chance that I have eaten my friend’s gift and forgotten about it. So, I am suddenly very unhappy. Men who are reading me, what would you have thought? Frankly, now?
Some relevant facts about sex (not the fun activity, the category). First, all American women believe that home refrigerators belong to them exclusively. When they allow the man in their life to cool a bottle or two herein, it makes them feel generous and open-minded. Second, women are acquisitive but that’s not the whole story. They are almost all fanatical neatnicks. Consequently, they also love throwing stuff away. The radical disposing of the superfluous helps them forgive themselves for the mindless acquisition of the superfluous. The more energetic the act of throwing away, the more virtuous they feel. Third, all women without exception think that all men are slobs. No amount of evidence, such as the rigorous order reigning aboard sports fishing boats, will convince them otherwise. The fact that they usually understand little about the things that men want to retain keeps them secure in their belief. So, it’s common for middle-class women to make themselves feel double-virtuous by throwing away men’s possessions in addition to their own. And any time a woman feels a little down she also feels free to go into the fridge (that belongs to her, remember) and to evacuate anything from it that was put there by a male human being. In my household, for example, bait is such a common target of diffuse anxiety relief that I ended up buying a small fridge just for it.
But, back to my story. After considerable expectation, I face a traumatic New Year’s Eve free of grilled lobster tail. I let my wife have it, of course. I don’t suspect her of deliberate evil. I tell her that she is so insanely eager to throw things away that she does not even look before she acts. My wife is not sweet or submissive but she is of an age where she knows herself pretty well. She protests but feebly because she is aware of the fact that she is quite capable of having committed the heinous act and of having immediately forgotten about it. I contain myself as much as I can but we end the year 2012 in coolness. (I remain a Frenchman at heart; if I discover that my wife has a lover, I may become irritated but some offenses are hard to forgive. It was lobster, after all.) And I eat thawed spaghetti sauce I had stumbled upon when emptying the freezer for what the French normally treat as a gala dinner. I am not a happy camper in late, late, late 2012.
Notwithstanding the bad impression they often make, the French have many virtues. One of these virtues is that their language contains plenty of wise locutions. One of those is: “La nuit porte conseil”, “Night is a good adviser.” Uncommonly, unusually perturbed by what she takes to be an extreme manifestation of one of the worst aspects of her personality, my wife takes advantage of her habitual insomnia to put two and two and two together. And it seems – it only seems- that she gets six. Here is how she explains it to me on the morning of the first day of 2013:
She has not cleaned the freezer compartment since the period I said my friend had given me the lobster tails. The white outer plastic bag is of a model that she has never bought. The white and blue inner plastic freezer bag has a decorative motive. She would never buy anything decorative to put in the freezer. (She is a artist and of the severe variety.) The strawberries are cut as with a knife. She would never cut strawberries except to serve them immediately. She has never frozen strawberries in her life. That’s the practice of an American woman. She is an immigrant like me. She came over as an adult woman. She was born in a country where strawberries were rare, unlikely to be dealt with in any way but immediate consumption. And, finally, the jewel in the crown: If one man (me) was dumb enough to select a frozen item by feel alone, another man was probably dumb enough to select a package out of his freezer by feel alone. (If you remember, I did say that the angles on the frozen strawberries felt pretty much like the angles on a frozen lobster tail.)
So, here are a few ethical questions I am now facing:
First, do I owe my wife an apology for my intemperate outburst in the last hours of 2012? Do I owe her one although my suspicions were so credible that she hardly bothered to defend herself at first?
Second, is it fair to think that my friend owes me a pair of frozen spiny lobster tails? How about the fact that we turned the strawberries into a pretty good coulis since they were already thawed anyway? How about I give him a pound of strawberries and he gives me a couple of lobster tails?
In the event he is unable to replace the tails on the spot, am I within my rights in demanding that my friend travel several hundred miles and risk his life in choppy waters again to replace the two lobster tails he pretty much stole from me though likely, unknowingly?
Third, is it more honorable to return her freezer baggie to my
friend ‘s wife or to leave well enough alone on the ground that the poor bastard does not need this too?
Fourth, is it even fair to ask if it is possible that my wife is totally guilty as I initially suspected and that she is playing me like a fiddle based on what she knows of my love of stories?
PS: Update four days later: My friend made a full confession by phone. He will make up for the loss. However, he is not man enough to tell my wife how very, very sorry he is.
© Jacques Delacroix 2013