One of the strangest jobs I ever accepted came as a result of a job offer I received on the fly in the lobby of a Red Lobster. Call me a day laborer, if you will. My boss, that day, was the Informinator.
I was 28 and free as a bird. It was a roasty Sunday afternoon with all the sunshine a person could ever need. And four of us were standing in the lobby of Red Lobster, waiting to be seated. The restaurant was more crowded than the lobby was, hence the wait. Since there was precisely nothing else to do or look at, we found ourselves staring at the nasty, nasty lobsters and discussing their fate. I personally believe those guys are house pets and never see the death of a lunch date. I think Red Lobster gets their lobster off a refrigerated truck, but I can’t prove this and it isn’t crucial to the story anyway. I’m just trying to take the heat off of me. The lobster tank was located about 2 feet from the Host/Hostess ( suddenly hungry for a Twinkie…) station. It was greenish and dark and just thoroughly represented everything that is wrong with seafood. By that I mean the pinchers and eyeballs and bones and scales and dead smell. That’s really all the negative that one can say about seafood. Hanging over the side of the tank, for a little splashy decor, was a yellow mask and snorkel, last used in 1962.
So as we stood there, making idle chat, the Informinator says, “Hey, I’ll pay you $10 to put that on for one minute.”
“Put what on?” I asked.
“The snorkel and the mask,” she clarified. “Snorkel in the mouth. Mask over the eyes.” I looked over at the contraption for a very brief moment. Mr. Informinator had perked up with new energy and I could tell he was hoping I was about to take this offer.
“One minute?” I asked again, thinking.
“One minute,” she said. “Sixty seconds.”
Well, now. How could anyone refuse an offer like that? With a few jobs like that on my resume, I could take a fancy vacation and afford to buy myself a brand new snorkel and mask.
“You’re on,” I said, with no further hesitation. As these words left my lips, I was surrounded by loved ones, along with 3 Red Lobster employees. I leaned over, placed the mask over my eyes and the very offensive snorkel in my mouth and the watch on Mr. Informinator’s arm began to count down. I had just assumed, when taking this assignment, that Mr. Informinator would stand by me, calling out the time each time 10 seconds ticked away. That isn’t quite the way it happened. At that moment, all the aforementioned loved ones fanned out and were just as gone as if they’d been at Olive Garden next door. And that really quick minute slowed down to a day and a half. It was like dog years, times 1000 eternities.
And there I was, sucking on a foreign snorkel while time crawled by at an alarmingly slow rate. Since I was hooked to the tank with my body bent over at an almost 90 degree angle, I was limited in what I could see. Todd? Todd are you there? Are you kidding? No guy wants to be happily married to Lobster Girl. Informinator? Mr. Informinator? Anyone? The only people within eye-locking range were the three Red Lobster employees who were watching me with unblinking suspicion and contempt. From my mask-inhibited peripheral vision, I could tell they hated me and wanted to call the police. But as of 1998, being disgusting and uncouth was not a prosecutable crime and they only had 60 seconds to think out a plan against me anyway.
Ah, 60 seconds. Has that not passed yet? Haven’t I been here for a week already? When the Informinator called ‘time’, I yanked the equipment off my face and tried to stand upright and walk into the bathroom with grace and dignity, as if nothing unusual had occurred. Everyone else was laughing. Hard. And I was wash, wash, washing my mouth. With soap even.
I resumed my day, one minute later, but it was difficult to walk upright after that. The weight of my shame was debilitating. Yes, yes, it was. But that night, my boss pressed a clean, crisp $10 into my hand and said, “Here you go. You earned it.”
She walked away $10 poorer, but had a priceless amount of dignity and grace. And she’s still the Informinator.
We returned to that same Red Lobster the very next Sunday afternoon. The mask and snorkel were gone. Thrown out. The end of an era. Hard to know what to even say about that. But if you pay me $10, I’ll think of something.