Parable of the Lobster and the Brick

There are many stories about piano-playing lobsters,
and about lobsters in late-night bars, on the concert
platform, lobsters travelling on subways, and so on,
and I suppose you have heard quite of a few them,
and have even collected autographs or shaken hands
with some famous examples… But the only lobster
that I ever knew well, or with any degree of intimacy,
played a small metal piano of the type given to
children, the sort with blue and white notes,
that are sometimes found discarded in attics. Although, he
did play it exceptionally well… And there was no
bar in this lobster’s story, until near the end —
but he did like an occasional drink, just the same
as you or me or any other person… Well, this lobster wore a soft,
ruffed, red-velvet suit with braces and a sort of little bib pulled
up over the hard, red-enamel panels of his outer shell —
I mean the shell that was actually part of him,
and not a stage costume — and he had hundreds of little
sparkling diamantes on the ends of his feelers and claws
that lit up in the bright stage lights and created an interesting
theatrical effect that was never lost on an audience …
And he would often accentuate this, too, with a diamond
tie-pin, and swivel around slowly on the piano stool
with a big, cheesy smile and say, “I am soooo
glaaad that you have come heeeere tonight…!”
Actually, this lobster did impressions and funny voices,
or told a few jokes, but usually as a warm-up, and part
of his act on this particular night was to sing
Italian opera highlights, and little bits of mock opera,
which sounded like the real thing but were really invented
on the spot. I suppose this amused him and was also part
of the generosity he felt towards his audience.
Well, who knows what goes through a lobster’s mind
in such a moment…? It’s just you, up there on the stage,
with the lights in your eyes, and your feelers full of diamantes.

Anyway, this night, he was working with the Italian word for
cheese, which is ‘formaggio’, or ‘plattodelformaggio’,
which is ‘plate of cheese’, singing in a mock-operatic style:
“Platto! del! formaggio! forma-forma-forma-maggio!
Platto! formaggio!” And sometimes, just as he did this ver
night, he would also do some very basic and, I suppose,
silly impressions, such as becoming a willow tree,
standing in front of the audience with his feelers and long
spiky legs and claws waving, swaying slowly from side
to side, and making sound effects — “Ssshhhh ssshhhhhh”
which was meant to be the wind whooshing through the leaves,
as he swayed… Anyway, you probably guessed it, this night
there was an obnoxious drunk in the audience, who rose
from his chair and shouted: “I came for some serious  music,
not a lobster doing an impression of a fucking willow tree!”

The lobster was not fazed, but just sat down and teased
a long, twinkling arpeggio from the keyboard dinga dinga
dinga ding… and just looked slowly over his left feeler, with a very
quizzical stalked eye, at the drunk — which was actually
a signal to the bouncer, who took the drunk outside
and beat him up a little, until he was in an appropriately
receptive mood for great art, and then the bouncer sat the drunk
down again, back in his seat. Meanwhile, by that time, the lobster
was playing a Chopin etude, with great concentration
and sensitivity. The spotlight had narrowed to an intense beam,
high-lighting the lobster’s face and his rapt expression,
picked out in a bright pool, poised above the keyboard.

Actually, when not on stage, the lobster slept mainly
on the Sandringhamtram, in scraps of dishevelled newspaper
pulled over his claws, like something left-over from a prawn
and beer night. That’s where, he said, he found his inspiration.
He lived that way purely out of choice, not out of necessity.
He would travel back and forth, fromSandringhamto the city,
back and forth, without sometimes saying a single word.
His companion, at these times, was a red, wire-cut
house brick. His constant companion, really.
And the two would travel together, side by side,
on the seat of the tram — the lobster in his bit of
newspaper, and the brick just sitting there on the seat.
The two had a lot of things in common, they were both
red, of approximately the same size, and both did
impressions — except that the brick was more regular
and geometric in shape and, of course, much heavier.
The brick, actually, did only one impression…
He did an impression of a house brick. That is,
he did an impression of himself, as a brick.
The lobster thought his friend an amazingly ‘deep’ philosopher,
a real artist whom not everyone ‘got’ straight away. The lobster
would sometimes nudge other passengers and say:
“Look at that brick – he’s doing himself again.”
Anyway, it was amazing to see these two together,
there was such a bond and accord between them,
a real regard and kind politeness. You don’t often
see that any more. It was a joy to see them together.
When they stepped from the tram, for example,
the lobster would hold back, and say, “Oh, you first.”
And the brick would say, “I wouldn’t dream
of it… after you, I’m sure.” And the lobster would
gesture with a flourish, “No, no, my very good friend.
I’m sure, after you.” Or, if they were dining at a restaurant,
and both arrived at the same time, the lobster would
pull back the brick’s seat with some considerable style,
and say, “Dear Monsieur Brick, Mon Ami, please be seated —
and as my guest.” And the brick would say, “No, but you are
too kind. Of course, you must be seated first, Monsieur
Lobster. And, of course, naturally, you are my guest.”

And so on. Well, this night, the lobster worked his magic at
the keyboard, and with such close attention, his feelers
began to quiver and sway, as he played. Even the drunk
had calmed down and was ecstatic now. When the lobster
felt the audience under his spell, he stopped abruptly
and inquired, very softly and with great gentleness,
addressing the front row: “Is there a Beryl in the audience?”
The lobster then heard a short intake of breath –
of surprise, perhaps – as a slow hand was raised.
“Beryl, I have a message from Alf, just come through. Alf says that you
should  stop grieving, because time is an illusion in eternity —
and he has never really left you. Alf says he wants you to sell
the ring and find happiness. That is your true purpose in life.”
The woman stifled a sob and whispered, “Thank you so, so much,”
and the lobster continued the Chopin. Again, his feelers trembled
as the effortless, plangent notes lifted and fell from his lightning-
sharp skittering across the keys. Again, the lobster abruptly stopped:
A message from…From… coming through, for Martha!
Is Martha here?” Another hand was raised, from a back row.
“A message from… Fritz!  He says, he forgives you and forgives himself.
He says, if you could only see the stars pouring in from… the place… the place…
far away now. He will see you again, but you must learn to let go
and be happy, for now.” The lobster liked to convey these messages
from the other side, even if it meant interrupting his playing. Well,
he had these talents… This night, however, although he didn’t know it,
his friend the brick was in the audience, and suddenly, to the Lobster’s
enormous surprise, a message for the brick came through.
“Is the brick really here?” he asked. “Yes, indeed, kind sir.”
The brick was here — with a crisp bow tie, seated in the third row.
“Brick,” he said, “I will tell you later”, and went back to his playing. 

It was well after the last notes and the applause had died,
and after he had taken his final bow, that the lobster left
the concert hall and met the brick. (At a bar, as it turned
out.) The two sipped their martinis, while the lobster, very
carefully, told his friend what he had picked up from the ether.
“Or is that aether?” he asked. “Either,” said the brick. Anyway,
I will condense the story, as it’s getting late. Besides, the ruddy duo
want to catch their tram toSandringham. It seems the clay from
which the brick was made (as the lobster explained) was
actually of the kind used for house tiles, not for bricks.
“For tiles, not bricks!” You see, fate had originalLy intended the brick to be a tile, not a brick. On the day the brick was made, the wrong clay had arrived at the brickworks, but nobody had noticed.
Very gently, the lobster broke all this to his friend. The brick nodded,

and actually took the news quite well. He said
he had often “wondered…” Perhaps even suspected “as much”.
At which, the lobster was quick to remind him — of the great
similarities. That bricks and tiles were equally important,
both excellent insulators, and impervious to bright sunshine
and any sort of weather. And he, the brick, after all, was surely
not alone. There were many others in the batch. And so on. 

Yes, the brick took it really well, and even continued
doing his single impression — of himself being a brick, who was
originally intended to be a clay tile but had, after all, ended up a brick.
The brick became a resigned Stoic of sorts. Tile by clay,
brick by name. But always, brick by nature! And the lobster?
 

Well, the lobster, more and more, trusted less and less in first
impressions . . . And was always prepared to be surprised by life,
and by people, too — and to accept them for what they were,
as nothing more or less than the peculiar outcome
of their own peculiar histories. And he knew that everyone, actually,
had quite a story to tell. And he never tired of telling them, to himself
and to the faces hushed beyond his twinkling keyboard. And even on his
tram, in his crumpled paper cape, where he never tired of being amazed. 

John Jenkins

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