This whole thing started when my Aunt Margaret killed that chicken.
Let me quickly establish that I am a happy carnivore. I’ve eaten everything including roasted musk ox. (Don’t. Just don’t. Promise me.) I am well aware that meat comes from animals, and I am more than a little familiar with the process that moves the musk ox from tundra to table. (Really, take it from a friend, don’t eat musk ox.)
The now-legendary Aunt Margaret Chicken Experience happened on a Sunday in the Spring in Fairburn, Georgia. The family had gathered for Sunday dinner and was looking forward to the traditional meal of green beans, corn, mashed potatoes, pickled peaches, pink salad, hot biscuits … and fried chicken.
Nobody in the family had the common decency to tell me that our Sunday dinner chicken was still walking around the back yard waiting for the football game to start.
I was playing with the dogs and dodging the chickens when Aunt Margaret came into the yard and said to me “ready for some fried chicken?” Before I could answer she walked over to an innocent chicken, picked it up by the neck and swung it over her head like Roy Rogers getting ready to rope Dale.
I seized the obvious and shouted, “You just killed that chicken!”
Aunt Margaret, ever the wit, laughed and said, “Honey, you can’t eat ‘em live.”
Since that time I have studiously avoided thinking about where dinner originates. Members of the four basic food groups like barbecued pork, rib eye steaks and crispy beef tacos aren’t a problem. Lobsters, however, are a different story.
Once I made the mistake of buying a whole lobster to take home for dinner. There was a tank of them, and the lobster cooker person said, “Which one do you want?” I told him I didn’t care, and I didn’t, until he pulled one out of the tank.
“Not that one.”
“You want a bigger one?
“I don’t care. Just not that one. Pick another one out and cook it while I’m shopping. And promise me you won’t try to fool me and cook the one in your hand.”
“I promise, but please tell me what’s wrong with this one.”
“He looked at me.”
OK, so maybe Aunt Margaret did more harm than I had thought. It all came to a head one night at a terrific restaurant called New York Prime.
While Rebecca and I were putting several sticks of butter on two of their 20 pound baked potatoes, a waiter walked by pulling a red wagon that was carrying the biggest lobster I had ever seen. We were told he weighed 35 pounds.
Me: “Who’s going to buy a 35 pound lobster?”
Waiter: “Somebody will. It’ll cost them about $400.”
Me: “Not counting the butter.”
Waiter: “We don’t charge for the butter.”
Me: “How much would he cost if I wanted him live?”
Waiter: “Live? I don’t think we can sell them live.”
Me: “But if you could, how much …?”
Goddess: “What would you do with a 35 pound live lobster?”
Me: “Take him home.”
Goddess: “And give him to George as a playmate?”
Me: “No, sweetheart, I’d take him to his home, and let him go back to his people.”
Waiter: “His people? Sir, this is a lobster. Lobsters have no people.”
Me: “Do you know how old this lobster is?”
Waiter: “I have no idea.”
Me: “Lobster scientists say lobsters are about 7 years old per pound. That means our friend here is roughly 235 years old. Two hundred and thirty-five years ago we declared war on Great Britain and Paul Revere made his ride. Of course, Mr. Lobster was still in diapers.”
Me: “Where is your sense of history? This lobster is a Son of the American Revolution, a veteran of the War Between The States, a witness to two World Wars, a survivor of the McCarthy hearings and one of the zillions of proud Americans who never understood the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act. And now he faces an ignoble death at the hands of four quarter turn ball valve salesmen who are in a hurry to wrap dinner up so they can make it to the last show at the Pink Pony. So how much for the lobster?”
Water: “Sir, this lobster is a menu item.”
Me: “Fine. I’ll have that lobster with a side of creamed corn and an arugula salad.”
Me: “Pimento cheese. One more thing. I’d like the lobster to go.”
Waiter: “To go?”
Waiter: “Uh …”
Me: “And don’t cook him.”
Goddess: “We are NOT going to take home a live 35 pound lobster. I don’t care if he is a veteran of the Crimean War. And I will assure you that no conflict in the past will equal the Rebecca-Mark 100 Years War if that crustacean darkens our door.”
Me: “Your lack of compassion saddens me.”
Goddess: “Get that thing out of here. And I’ll have the sea bass.”
Me: “Did you know that sea bass often live …”
Goddess: “Shut up.”
Me: “Yes ma’am.
Me: “Waiter? One more thing.”
Waiter: “Now what?”
Me: “Don’t look him in the eye.”