My dad owned a restaurant from long before I was born till the day he died. Marty’s Seafood was a big fried-fish shack on the Connecticut shoreline. The tons of fish, lobster, scallops, clams, hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, onion rings, and other (mostly breaded and deep-fried) delights he served–working seven days a week year-round, and a good fifteen hours a day during the tourist season–added up to a living. I’m sure as he paid my college tuition, he muttered, “That’s a lot of scallops.”
I was practically weaned on his menu, and started bussing tables at age 8. I was paid a quarter per table, which made me nearly vibrate with glee. Later, during summers off from college, I waited tables, and then I left the place as fast as I could. Restaurant work was hard.
Decades later, I still have many vivid recollections of Marty’s, several of which my therapist finds fascinating. Some of my earliest memories of any kind are of my father carrying me through the steamy, greasy haze of the kitchen. But topping the memory list would be the lobsters, who were delivered through the back door in waxy cardboard crates on icy “bedding,” damp and bluish-greenish-brownish black. They were “claw-cuffed” with thick rubber bands, and they bubbled at the mouth a little, half-heartedly wiggling their spiny tentacles.
They arrived mildly stupefied, but when being lowered into the boiling cauldron, they put up an admirable, if disturbing, fight. The teenage cooks were told to remove them from the crate one at a time and lower them head-first into the water, so they would die quickly and wouldn’t “scream” (which sounded less like screaming than whistling). But these nudniks often did the opposite. They would hold a crate above the edge of the pot and try to dump in the lobsters all at once, which often caused the creatures to cling, in apparent desperation, to the sides of the crate. This response only delayed the inevitable, of course, and then once they were in the pot, they… well, what they did was, they thrashed around for about thirty seconds, clanking and rattling the lid. The boys certainly didn’t react with horror like the Julie Powell character in Julie and Julia, nor were they giddily afraid like Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Instead they seemed not to notice.
But I noticed. It made me sick inside, like my bowels were melting.
Minutes later, though, wearing my pastel “Marty’s Seafood Restaurant” t-shirt, my permed hair pulled back in a high ponytail, I would carry the now-bright-red creatures into the dining area. With the “screams” of the recent past behind me, I would present the lobsters to the sunburned tourists, giving each a plastic bib, a nutcracker, a little ramekin filled with about half a stick of melted butter, and a handful of hand-wipes.