Crustacean Fixation…..the origins of my recurring lobster nightmare.
I was a ‘Rounds Cook’ in one of the many restaurants I worked in along the coast of Maine. A Rounds Cook “makes the rounds” of the various stations behind a kitchen’s line, covering a shift or two for each of the other cooks (so the poor bastards can get at least one day off). The number of stations vary according to several factors, such as kitchen-size, menu, available help etc., one cook covering more than one station is, unfortunately, common practice.
It was at the peak of the ‘Fall Foliage Extravaganza’ (my coinage), when ‘Leaf-Peepers’ from throughout the land descend in droves & mobs & hordes, and stuff themselves into cushy Tour Buses for the scenic ooh & aah ogling experience. Some of those buses would be scheduled to disgorge hungry passengers at our restaurant, and others (the real ball-busters) would UN-scheduled ‘drop-ins’. On this particular night I was to be covering the “bug-slot”, meaning that it was my job to cook & serve the lobsters (also, in this kitchen, I had to share responsibility for the busy steam-table with the broiler-cook, who was equally unhappy with the set up)…..there were 3 bus tours scheduled, and I knew enough to assume there would be a couple unscheduled drop-ins, so I figured I’d boil-off a bunch of the ugly-ass sea-bugs just to get started ( I knew I’d need more later, so I put another huge pot of water on the range)…I was busy dropping the screaming critters into boiling water when Elmer, our crazed French-Canadian kitchen manager, walked in through the swinging doors, spotted me at the bug-slot, and stopped dead in his tracks…”What the hell are you’re doing there, eh?!….where the hell is Adam?!” (I’m doing my job, Elmer, it’s Adam’s night off)….He tells me, very sheepishly, but with a typical evil grin, that he’s really, really sorry, but that he’d been trying to gain some unspecified pay-back on Adam, and had put out the signs for a twin-lobster special! (making sure that I understood it would be available to the tour bus crowds as well)……”Oh, and by the way,” he says, like a dagger going in, “we just scheduled another bus…that makes 4,eh….I’d cook-off a few more bugs if I were you.” (Elmer-hate rises in my gorge as I drag a whole crate of lobsters out of the walk-in & put another pot of water on the stove).
I dunno….it was a long time ago, and I’ve blessedly forgotten most of the hellish details (I do remember that there were 3 unscheduled buses, for a total of 7), but that mad & feverish shift must have burrowed it’s way into my sub-conscious, because I still, to this day, have the nightmare:
I’m behind the line, minding my own business and being pleasant, joking with the waitrons, casually tending a single, simple order of sauteed mushrooms, envisioning my 1st after-shift cold beer, when suddenly the pot lids begin to rattle, ever-so-slightly at first, then louder & more insistently, boiling water spilling over, until the lids are knocked right off and go clattering to the floor….then the oven doors begin banging open & shut, wider each time until the baking lobsters animate themselves and come crawling out!….they keep coming & coming and soon the now-vengeful boiling lobsters tumble out of the pot, endlessly, and crawl towards me, eyes aglow & claws clicking…..they crawl up & over me, pinching as they go, until I wake up in a cold sweat, my heart beating hard in my ears.