Without Flail

Armed against the bottom-feeders

Don’t ask me why I’m in Maine right now. Suffice it to say that I take almost any writer-related opportunity that promises a paid-for hotel room these days. Lately I love watching lurid true crime on cable TV from a big bed I don’t have to make myself, all while luxuriating in a view of anything from the Caribbean Sea to an abandoned bus, I don’t care. Plus Maine has lobsters so fresh they, like, practically walk out of the ocean and onto your plate. I love Atlanta, but sometimes you gotta take a break from the barbecue and collard greens and sink your teeth into some fresh, bottom-feeding sea insects, right?

I also have a lot of making up to do. It was woefully late in life that I discovered the delectability of lobster, due to the fact that, until I was a teenager, my palate was limited to Big Macs and refried beans. Then at sixteen, already a veteran at lying about my age in order to work, I got a job waiting tables at a seafood restaurant in Palos Verdes called the Flying Tigers. The name is significant because it honored a World War II air brigade, and a big attraction of the place was that it had its own small fleet that regularly flew in live lobsters from Maine. The lobsters were kept in a large tank by the hostess podium and were priced by the pound. So when a customer chose one, I’d have to pluck it up with special tongs and place it on a scale that hung from thin chains over the tank. I hated doing this, because the second the lobster was raised from the water, it would flail its arms out from its sides, making it hard to get it through the chains and onto the scale. It wasn’t the difficulty of this that bothered me; it was the lobster’s actions—the flailing of its arms. It was like it was begging, with arms outstretched, not to be boiled alive. Even to this day I hate thinking about it. I hate recalling their struggle.

Bummer that they have to be murdered so horribly in order to be so delicious. So out of deference during this trip to Maine, I’ve kept my feast down to five or six so far. Plus the true crime on TV does wonders to kill my appetite. I really should stop watching this stuff. Already I have taught my daughter how to escape from a choke hold, a car trunk, and zip-tie handcuffs. I’ve pointed out to her at least a half dozen ordinary items in our household that could easily be weaponized in the event of a home invasion: “See the spires on that wall clock? They break off in a snap, then go for the eyes!” My friend Michael practically foamed at the mouth when I told him I wanted him to teach me to use a gun. This was after I spent an afternoon watching YouTube videos on how to disarm an assailant. I figured that once I got the gun from the guy, I should know how to use it, right? Otherwise what good am I? Plus I tend to have mercy, which, from what I’ve seen from these true-crime documentaries, can be a fatal flaw. There’s inevitably the story of how the girl somehow got the gun from the perp and then hesitated, to her huge detriment. But always, always, there is the struggle. There is the flailing.

Which makes me wonder how I survived at sixteen. Never mind your average opportunist murderer, whom I now know lurked around every corner. (At that time the notoriously brutal Hillside Stranglers were preying on girls my age in my neighborhood.) How did I live through that without knowing, at the very least, how to make a bayonet from common items found under the bathroom sink? It did not even occur to me that this knowledge was important. It did not occur to me that I’d ever be the one picked. Today it’s different, though. I’ve seen 7 million real-life crime scenes, it seems. The camera will pan the clutter, and I will point out a perfectly good plaster statue of Laurel & Hardy. “Why didn’t she hit him with that?” I ask the screen. My girl looks at me, her eyes rolling at my worry—eyes so big, so unaware—and the world is all of a sudden a lobster tank. All of a sudden my arms are outstretched. All of a sudden I am flailing.

Illustration by Peter Arkle