Just beneath the surface in most men there lurks a real grub.
My wife offered this wry observation after I described to her the behavior of the men in attendance at the annual stag lobster feed, hosted for over 50 years now by the Vinalhaven Lions Club. Long referred to as Summer Visitors Night, it’s unclear whether this banquet celebrates the fact that its honorees are here among us or, given its customary August date, that they will soon be gone.
About 15 years ago, a particularly sophisticated member (the club welcomes seasonal residents as well as islanders) with four daughters and no sons proposed that the Summer Visitors Night be a co-ed affair. He was taken to the back of the Lions Den and subjected to an archaic embarrassment about which, as a member, I am not permitted to elaborate. He was then stripped of his membership on the Marching and Chowder Committee and not allowed to sing the club song until his recantation had been recorded in the minutes.
On the August night I speak of I sat at Grimes Park with 80 or so other men at wooden picnic tables on a comfortable evening. Among them were islanders and summer visitors alike. Caretakers, U.S. senators, grocers, men whose usual Christmas bonus is greater than the town’s annual budget, ministers, Walter Cronkite, municipal employees, authors, carpenters, innkeepers, movie actors, lobstermen, university professors, garbage men, publishers, teachers; over the years they’ve all been guests at Summer Visitors Night. This year was no exception.
We sit amidst piles of lobster, mussels and young corn, all steamed to perfection; so much food that it sometimes obstructs our view of one another as we settle naturally into gluttonous excess. A ravenous madness evolves. The pace quickens; a sort of anxiety builds.
Tails are ripped from bodies, their contents expelled in a practiced maneuver, nearly staggering in its eroticism were it not for the detached manner in which it is executed. Claws are similarly separated and smashed with rocks, or simply chomped through by the rapacious diners. Great gaping maws already overflowing with the world’s best white meat and more melted butter than they would have been allowed at home in a lifetime are crammed further full.
We’ve each been given a napkin; a nod to civility but a joke. A napkin would have no more impact on the mess we’re making than would duct tape on a bomb crater. A few new-comers have pathetically tucked them in like bibs. We seasoned gourmands use our sleeves; or our bare arms.
A frenzy of consumption is underway that makes hyenas around a fallen wildebeest look like dinner with Martha Stewart.
Then, just as it seems we might be capable of devouring our young, the danger passes. A level of satiation is reached and joke and story telling begins. Remarkably, the words ooze in understandable form through and around half-chewed globs of succulence, some of which are unavoidably expelled with the words themselves. No matter.
Faces smattered with pieces of white gelatinous stuff break into appreciative smiles, and beards and mustaches dripping with butter move with mouths forming grins. Laughter has begun; uproarious laughter; medicinal, restorative laughter. Sides ache wonderfully bad; tears of glee run skimming off buttered whiskers like water off a duck’s back.
Someone might choke to death trying to feed on this level and talk and laugh at the same time. Again, no matter. It would be worth it. If everyone could laugh like this for a few minutes at the beginning of each day, hell, there’d be no wars.
Phil Crossman owns and operates the Tidewater Motel on Vinalhaven.