The pain of getting Duane to Maine

Posted: Sunday, March 12, 2000

It was a Thursday evening when I got a chilling message from my office at The Miami Herald: Somebody had sent me a live Maine lobster.

It was meant as a gift. I was supposed to eat it. But I do not believe in eating lobsters. I do not believe in eating ANYTHING that looks like an insect and has 137 legs and claws and feelers and eyeballs waving around on stalks. I believe that lobsters are biologically related to that thing that is always chasing Sigourney Weaver around spaceships.

So I was not thrilled to get a live lobster. I think there should be laws against interstate lobster trafficking. I think that, as Americans, we should be protected from the danger of opening an innocent-looking box and finding ourselves confronting a crustacean the size of Mary Lou Retton.

The Miami Herald Business Section, located next to my office, offered to take the lobster off my hands and eat it (the Business Section will eat anything). But I was uncomfortable with that. In a strange way, I felt responsible for this lobster. I felt that if something bad were to happen to it, I would ultimately pay the price, under the principle of ``karma,'' which holds that your fate in future incarnations is determined by how you treat lobsters.

So I decided to drive to work and release the lobster - which I had started thinking of as ``Duane'' - in Biscayne Bay, a body of water that is located next to the Miami Herald building so the editors will have something to look at. On the way in, I called the Herald's fishing/outdoors writer, Sue Cocking, who gave me some bad news: Duane was a cold-water lobster, and if I put him in the warm South Florida water, he would quickly kick the bucket, or whatever it is that lobsters kick.

So now I had a problem: I was taking custody of a lobster upon which my fate depended, and I had no idea what I was going to do with him. And then it hit me: I could send him to Tom Schroth. Tom is my old friend and journalism mentor; he and his wife, Pat, live in Sedgwick, Maine, and are veteran lobster wranglers. I figured that if I could get Duane up there in time, they could release him into his original stomping waters.

So I got Duane at the Herald. He was in a cardboard box with some kind of cold thing to keep him in semi-suspended animation, but he could still move his claws in small, sad gestures. With Duane on the seat next to me, I raced to the shipping place in Coconut Grove, where the proprietors, Rod and Judy Heflin, to their credit, did not question the concept of shipping a live Maine lobster, from Maine, back to Maine. Before they sealed the box, I took a last look at Duane, who gave me a jaunty wave, as if to say, ``What the HECK is going on?'' And then he was gone.

Next I called Tom and Pat in Maine to alert them. They were not home. This was bad, because in my haste to get Duane shipped, I neglected to put a note in his box, which meant that Tom and Pat might assume he was dinner.

Fortunately, Tom got my message and called back to say he'd release Duane, assuming that Duane - who by now was qualifying for frequent-flyer benefits - arrived alive. I told Tom that Duane was a spunky lobster with a lot of heart (or, possibly, hearts).

The next 24 hours took forever. The Business Section assured me that Duane would arrive in Maine as dead as Lamar Alexander's presidential campaign. I was a mess.

And then it came, an e-mail from Tom that filled my heart with joy. It described how Tom and his daughter Jennifer took Duane to the sea:

``The Sedgwick Town Dock is about a half-mile from home. The snow was falling hard. It was getting quite dark. We took Duane to the edge of the water, where the boat-launching tracks went into the lowering tide. There was little ice at the edge of the water. I took him out of his box - he was gorgeous, about 2 pounds and still lively, no rubber bands on his claws - and placed him tail-first into the water. As you had predicted, he waved to us as he, with a quick flip of his luscious tail, pulled deep into the dark waters of Eggemoggin Reach as it greeted the Benjamin River off Sedgwick's shore. Perhaps now he is in the Gulf of Maine, where his chances of survival are as good as the other 1,237,456,987 lobsters there.''

I'd say more about this, but I am too choked up.

BOOORN FREE! AS FREE AS THE WIND BLOWS...

Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.



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