He never went skinny-dipping, even though it was dark and he was alone, because
he knew the lake was filled with crayfish, and he felt awfully vulnerable among
them when he was naked. Most weren't even as big as his thumb and he didn't
believe they would try to exact revenge for the way he slaughtered so many of
their saltwater genus kin, but the idea had crossed his mind and so he always
wore a suitjust in case.
He didn't tell his audience this part of his story. But even at the podium he
recalled those swims vividly.
"I must admit, at nineteen I took no small amount of pride in my abilities
as second chef, and I understood that Lobster Boy was a compliment of
sorts," he continued. "No one killed lobsters with my supernatural
speed, and speed mattered greatly to the waitersand, yes, to the dinersat
the Steer by the Shore."
The fact was that Spencer took pride in most of what he did, even then, whether
it was cranking out a five-page essay on Gogol at the last minuteusually
between 6 a.m. and the start of class at 9:10playing pickup basketball at the
gym his first spring semester, or butchering live lobsters in the summer that
followed. He knew he was intolerant of ineptitude, and he understood that as he
grew further into adulthood he would be the sort of person who was easily
annoyed by incompetence. He sensed this both because he was impatient and
because he viewed his impatience as a virtue. Serene people annoyed him.
"At the end of the summer," he said, lowering his voice once more as
he prepared to build toward the particular moment in his life that marked the
turning point for the sinnerthe carnivore!that he knew he once was,
"I took the bus from New Hampshire to the Port Authority in Manhattan. I
lugged my suitcase across town to Grand Central in sweltering, Bombay-like late
August heat. At nineteen, it never crossed my mind to take a cab, and the only
subways I could find then were those that followed the island's avenues north
and south. I met my father at the platform where the 5:57 to Scarsdale was
By design Spencer did not add that once he and his father had boarded the train,
he asked to see pictures of the new house. While Spencer had been having sex
with his girlfriend in northern New Hampshire and scuppering lobsters, his
parents had decided to move. Again.
"That night at dinner"in, alas, an unfamiliar dining room in an
unfamiliar house"I realized that something had changed. The lamban
animal nothing at all like a lobster, I knowmade me gag. There I was with my
parents and my sister and a serving plate layered with skewers of shish kabob,
and I thought I was going to be ill. Really and truly ill. And I knewI
knew!at precisely that instant that never again was I going to yearn for meat
or poultry or fish and that I would always find the slick, rubbery touch of
bologna revolting. I might never have nightmares about lobsters, but nor would I
ever again dream of meat."
With his thumb he flipped the small button on the remote in his right hand that
dimmed the room's overhead lights and then the second one that controlled his
PowerPoint presentation slides, and instantly the FERAL logoan image of lions
and tigers and bears and cows and chickens and dogs and goldfish and cats and
(at Spencer's insistence) lobsters planted on a grid on a lentil-shaped oval
that FERAL's critics insisted was a subliminal hand grenadefilled the screen.
A sweeping, evocative epic of two women's intertwined fates and their search for identity, that moves from the lavish parlors of Shanghai courtesans to the fog-shrouded mountains of a remote Chinese...
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