Dances With Lobsters

September 22nd, 2008

I first watched the film Real Genius when I was in high school – and it wouldn’t be overstating the case to say that it was formative in determining my expectations for higher education. A young Val Kilmer plays Chris Knight, the charismatic, disaffected leader of a group of undergraduate science majors – all of whom are brilliant and socially maladjusted, but deeply creative. Of course they create their own version of society where misfit is the new normal. Together, they romp through adventures that include growing hydroponic cherries bigger than human heads, freezing the dormitory hallways to better facilitate sledding, developing cutting-edge space-laser technology, then inventing even better technology that hijacks the laser and uses it to fill an evil professor’s house with popcorn.

Chris Knight had a sartorial sense that I still admire: jeans, fluffy bunny slippers, snide t-shirts (“Surf Nicaragua,” “I Love Toxic Waste,” etc.), sunglasses, and an occasional headband sporting twelve-inch antennae on springs. Sometimes, during moments of introspection and clarity, I realize that my own extended educational adventure may have been driven by a search for the Real Genius geek-family. Never mind that I was a rather unfocused humanities major, not a brilliant scientist; I feel certain that they would have taken me in.

(An aside: This clip from the film is a family classic; as my father points out, it’s a perfect representation of the life of a PhD student…)

From time to time, I’ve caught glimpses of the extended Real Genius family. Once, during finals week at my next-to-last university, I was walking down the sidewalk, lost in reverie, when an unlikely rustling in the bushes caught my eye. There, in the narrow strip of grass that separated the sidewalk from the dormitory, was a lobster. Rather far from home. But there it was, moving around in the grass, kind of shuffling along, like it was disoriented. Then I noticed that it was red… so perhaps the disorientation was a result of having just recently escaped from a pot of boiling water? But what kind of undergraduate boils lobster in a dorm room? I watched the lobster more closely, and realized that it had been partially eaten. But that didn’t slow it down – it responded to my attention by standing up on its tail and waving at me with one claw, before moving into a strange, halting little jig. Unwilling to fully believe, I kept walking, and the lobster sank back down in the grass and resumed its general, aimless rustling of the shrubbery. I continued on my way, then stopped and glanced back over my shoulder. For a split second, sunlight revealed several strands of fishing line extending from the lobster’s general area up, up, up four stories until they disappeared into a dorm room window.

A boiled, half-eaten, interactive, lobster marionette. Deployed in order to procrastinate finals-week studying. Brilliant!! The Real Geniuses are still out there…

Entry Filed under: Film, Observable Phenomena