Picking the Lobster


There is a famous discussion activity (sometimes) referred to as “The Ark.” The idea is simple. The world is about to end (by flood) and the UN has chosen twelve very different people to move to an island in the South Pacific that will be untouched by the natural disaster.

The task is that a bureaucratic oversight (screwing us to the end!) means that only eight of the twelve can go, so the students have to decide on the four to die and the eight to live.

The catch is that the characters are all either physically or socially “flawed.” One character is a major in the British special forces, who might appear to be the perfect candidate because he can cope with extreme situations and is a survival expert, he is also gay. While none of the somewhat liberal kids in my class (seem) to have any problem with homosexuality, the question is raised because he will have to help reproduce. Another character is a female marine biologist, the exact sort of person you’d want on a Pacific island. However, of course, her mother has just died and she is an alcoholic.

My students are not lacking empathy, but they do get involved. Like, involved. Once life or death enters the sphere, these rather mellow students engage somewhat aggressively in the discussions. This, in part, is the point of the activity. I grab a seat, huddle down, and make notes while I listen. This guy has to die. Nope, she stays. She dies. This man is a flirt! I hate him, let him see the flood! She’s an alcoholic, she’ll be all bugged out. This guy looks like an asshole, I say he dies.

Naturally I am reminded of the first and only time I ever picked a lobster in a seafood restaurant. I am fairly certain it was in Maine, but my brain might be making up that detail. So just know that other than the time a bag of live crabs staged an escape in my mom’s kitchen, this was my only interaction with live decapod crustaceans.

In the restaurant I joked about choosing an animal to eat all the way until it came time to choose an animal to eat. There’s a tank filled with lobsters just kind of lounging around. I am definitely one of those hypocrites who thoroughly enjoys meat, but if any of those meats approached me in animal form, I’d pet it and give it a name. And so it started with me and the lobsters. Gary. Jim. Dwayne. Scott. This didn’t help.

I then tried to judge them by personal characteristics. Gary looks a bit sentient, he’s out. Jim looks depressed, ooh that works. But if he’s depressed will that mean he’s let himself go? Will his meat be a flimsy, sad, and tough? Scott looks like kind of a dick, nobody’s talking to him. Dwayne sort of looks like my neighbor.    

If I recall correctly, I drank. I decided to stall with an appetizer and hope that having a few drinks would help me as it helped comedian Richard Jeni. Jeni said that after a few drinks his initial hesitancy about picking a lobster was gone and he adopted an emperor of Rome mentality. Bring me the brown one, he amuses me! Seize him! He shall pay for his crimes! The table next to us is a bit obnoxious, boil them as well!

This seems to be the attitude my students have taken on: be ruthless, because a choice has to be made and you might as well fight for the one you want. I suppose I can respect that.

In the end I think I picked Dwayne. There was no emperor of Rome attitude, but rather pragmatics. He was a bit fatter than the rest. His physical disposition was something like a Zen-like inertia that I could convince myself meant he was healthily disengaged. He sort of had a scowl. Besides, I never liked that neighbor anyway.

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