Excerpt of Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian
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"Good. Walter was a lot of work, wasn't he?"
"A lot of work," Marguerite agreed.
Across the kitchen, the deep black circles around the outer edges of the loofah
sponge pancakes were spreading into the centers, and the acrid smell of badly
burned batter was starting to waft through the house. Quickly Nan said good-bye
and hung up. She flipped the pancakes, telling herself that if she scraped the
creosote-like sludge off the bottom and served each one with the undercooked
side up the girls would never know the difference. She didn't believe this for a
second, but she wasn't about to waste all that good leftover batter.
WHILE THE GIRLS were picking apart their grandmother's pancakes with their
forkseach curious in her own way as to exactly how the edges of the pancakes
could appear charbroiled while the insides were the consistency of
mayonnaiseCharlotte's father, Spencer, was standing before 150 executives and
middle managers from the American Association of Meat Substitutes in the
Ticonderoga Room in a conference center in Westchester County. The Ticonderoga
Room was the largest of a series of meeting rooms in this wing of the building,
all of which seemed to have been named after regional Revolutionary War
landmarks (the Saratoga, the Delaware, the Yorktown Heights), though Spencer had
yet to see anything anywhere in the conference center that in the slightest way
reflected a colonial motif. Not so much as a bellhop in knickers and a
tricornered hat, or a plugged-up wrought-iron cannon and hitching post along the
Spencer was asked to speak here this morning both to provide the group with some
light breakfast entertainment and to inspire them in their ongoing efforts to
garner more (and more) refrigerator and freezer case space in the nation's
mainstream supermarkets for their garden burgers and faux sausages, their Fakin
Bacon and Foney Baloney, their ground round made from seaweed and soy protein.
In today's speech, before he got to his routine slides of the slaughterhouse in
North Carolina that sent thirty-two thousand desperately frightened, squealing
hogs to their death every single day (many of them dunked by mistake in vats of
scalding water while still half-alive), he played a television commercial on the
room's three large TV monitors. The ad was for a more individualized torture
chamber called the Microwave Home Lobster Steamer. He chose this particular
commercial to warm up the crowdget them good and indignant before they had
even finished their bagels and muffins and vegan granolabecause this morning
he was beginning his speech with his own restaurant experiences when he was
nineteen, his very first summer in Sugar Hill. He guessed he was choosing this
part of his life because he and Catherine would be flying to New Hampshire
tomorrow for their annual summer vacation.
He had already told the crowd of the restaurant's snappish dying lobsters, those
behemoth earwigs on steroids, and then of the busloads of senior citizens in
their thin plastic bibs who came to the Steer by the Shore to devour them. They
would come for dinner after gazing upon the craggy visage of the Old Man of the
Mountain in nearby Franconia Notcha curmudgeon who had since slid down the
side of the cliffsomeone inevitably observing that the natural granite bust
indeed had a certain Daniel Webster-like resemblance from the side but from the
front looked like nothing more than an outcropping of shale and rock.
"No one could cleaver a live lobster as quickly as I could," he said
now, segueing from his well-practiced Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve-Step
confessional tone into what he considered his Baptist preacher's crescendo.
"That's not hyperbole, that's not immodesty. That's fact. I could kill two
in a minute. One night I killed sixty-four in half an hour and changeenough
for the whole bus! That evening every single man and woman on the tour ordered
the restaurant's signature meal, the baked stuffed one-and-one-quarter-pound
Maine lobster, andhonest to God, I am not exaggeratingI might have split
even more if the restaurant's ovens had been larger, because there were three
buddies from Texas on that sightseeing jaunt with their wives, and each of them
volunteered his belief that the only thing better than twenty ounces of baked
stuffed Maine lobster... was forty!"
Excerpted from Before
You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian Bestselling author of Midwives
Copyright© 2004 by Chris Bohjalian. Excerpted by permission of Shaye Areheart
Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this
excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the