Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lobster

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It was Mizue’s 20th birthday. To my surprise, she agreed to spend her birthday with me. I promised her to make a birthday dinner. I was a 19 year old college student, living in a tiny apartment. I was completely head over heels about her. She had something in her that just made men melt. And she decided that she’d spend time with me on her birthday!

I couldn’t figure her out though. A couple of days before her birthday, I saw her with another guy. I spotted them while I was driving my beat-up Chevy on the way home from my job. Her hand was in his back pocket as they walked. It really shook me. It’s all right. She isn’t even going out with you. She has every right to do whatever she likes. I told myself.

It wasn’t all right. It hurt, in the chest. A lot.

I started a paper delivery job in the morning. I wasn’t short on cash but wanted to work. Partly because I wanted to impress Mizue, to show her that I was not some spoiled rich kid. Come to think of it, everything I did around that time was mostly because of her.

It wasn’t a difficult job but I had to drive and had to get up at 5am and finish the delivery at 7am the latest. My route had about 100 households. I was new at this and sometimes missed a couple of houses. Then I’d get angry phone calls from customers in the afternoon from time to time. That day, I finished my route without a hitch. I’m getting better at this, I thought to myself.

I had absolutely no idea in cooking. But I was determined to cook a grand birthday meal for Mizue. Something big and impressive. All I came up with at the end were a lobster dinner and clam chowder. I went down to a fish market to look for lobsters. There they were, in a huge glass tank with blue rubber bands on those murderous claws. I was totally clueless. I had never cooked nor ate lobsters nor actually had to kill anything for a meal before.
A fishmonger noticed my hesitation.

“Can I help you with something?”
“Uh, do you have any lobsters…”
“Well, you are looking at it.” He pointed at the tank.
“That are dead?”

The fishmonger was puzzled.

“Why would you want a dead lobster?”
“Never mind.” I was determined. “I’ll take two.”
“Which ones?”

I just pointed in a general direction. “Those two.” I was the judge, jury and the executioner, great.
The fishmonger netted out two gigantic lobsters from the tank. They were flailing their little legs about. They were definitely not dead.

“Big dinner, eh?” The fishmonger put them on the scale.
“Would it be enough for two?”

There was a pause. The fishmonger narrowed his eyes.

“Sir, do you know what you’re doing?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s 18 dollars a pound. These are at least 3 pounds each.”
“But it’s--“
“This can feed the family of four easy.”
“Oh.”
“For two?”I nodded sheepishly.
“Do you have a large pot?” The fishmonger held up the lobsters in his hands. The realization dawned on me. No large pot. I felt my face getting red. “I’ll just take one.”

* * * *

“You saw me on the street? Why didn’t you say hello?” Mizue asked me.
Because I saw you with that guy, I thought, not uttered. Your hand was in his back pocket.
The water was boiling. I went back to the kitchen area. It was a struggle to put the lobster in the pot. But I closed my eyes and did it. The process felt like eternity. When I opened the lid again, there it was, like a sleeping puppy snuggled in a cardboard box that is too small for it. But instead, it was red and scary looking. Immobile.
I threw in a Campbell’s canned clam chowder in to a small pot.

“Do you need any help?” She asked.
“It’s your birthday. You shouldn’t lift a finger.”
“It smells good.”

So I presented the dinner in front of Mizue. By her expression, she was more than surprised. It pleased me.

“Did you make this from scratch?” She pointed at the chowder. Scratch? “You know, like, you made it all by yourself?” I felt my face getting red again. “It’s from a can.”

She tasted it and smiled sweetly, “It’s fine.” Then she looked at the huge dead crustacean. “So, how do we eat this?”

I didn’t have anything to cut open the lobster with. Not even a hammer in my pathetic excuse for a tool box that’s been gathering dust underneath a sink. I actually used a brick to hang that La Dolce Vita movie poster up when I moved in. I couldn’t possibly use the brick to crack open the red, now dead monster in front of a girl I wanted to impress. That would be too uncivilized.

The phone rang. It was one of the paper subscribers who didn’t receive the paper that morning. The man sounded mad and demanded his newspaper right away. I hung up the phone. I had no choice but to go. What a day it had been, I thought. I told Mizue that I was sorry but had to make the delivery that it will take about an hour (30 minutes each way because my delivery route was in another part of the town). I apologized again and asked her as if I was going off to a war.

“Can you wait for me, here?”

She looked back at the intact red monster, then looked at me straight in the eye and nodded. This made me the happiest man ever lived.

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