Authors: Nancy Verde Barr
Famous last words of a fool.
t eight forty-five the next morning, Sally was sitting in a chair on the studio set, which was designed to resemble someone’s cozy living room. She was chatting with Karen and Jim, who were sitting next to each other on the sofa. The cameras were rolling and Sally was telling the hosts what she thought the future was for fusion food, architectural food, and no-carb diets. She predicted that none of it would outlive just plain old good cooking.
“Rather than no-carb, don’t you think no-fat makes more sense?” Karen asked.
If you don’t eat fat, you’ll get dandruff. ‘Everything in moderation’ is my motto.”
Sally really glowed on camera. Her sky-blue eyes were full of expression, and her short, soft curls in many shades of honey shone under the lights. In spite of the wrinkles and age spots that makeup could not completely camouflage, the camera, as they say in show business, loved her. She had “it,” that indefinable, unforgettable magic that makes a star.
The show would be off the air at nine, so I took yet one more look at the setups for our taped spots. The lobster trays were ready to go. Jonathan had definitely outdone himself with the seaside theme, having managed to find some seaweed, as well as a weathered lobster trap complete with a faded buoy attached by a rope—and the bibs. The tarts were looking better than good.
When the show was off the air, Sally and Jim went upstairs to change their clothes. I don’t know which of the staff keeps track of such things, but on the day the lobster spot airs, Jim will be wearing the same clothes he chooses for today’s taping. He’ll be on the living room set and will say something like “When we return, I will join Sally Woods, who’s waiting in our
Morning in America
kitchen. She’s going to show us the proper way to eat a lobster, so don’t touch that dial.” After a commercial break, he will reappear on the kitchen set with Sally, and his clothes will give no hint that it’s not the same day or that Sally isn’t really there.
As soon as we got the all-clear call from the studio, we brought the lobsters and ocean paraphernalia to the set. We positioned two lobsters in the center of the counter and surrounded each with plenty of seaweed, the claw crackers, lobster forks, and picks, bowls of melted butter, the lobster trap with attached buoy, and the plastic bibs. We added a bottle of wine and two stemmed wine glasses to the seascape. Jonathan fussed over his set, which did look incredible, spraying water over the seaweed and painting oil onto the lobsters to keep everything glistening. Sally and Jim took their places, the sound technician wired them, and we kitchen people stepped back so they could do a run-through. The run-through shows the director what is going to happen and where it will happen. That way
he can direct the cameras where to be once they are rolling. Sally and Jim walked through all the steps, never, of course, actually disassembling the lobster. They finished by pretending to pour wine and then for real clinked their glasses in a toast. Perhaps because the glasses were empty and Sally was a little too enthusiastic, one of the glasses broke. Jonathan was on the set in a flash, cleaning broken glass out of the seaweed and off the counter while I went to the kitchen for replacement bowls of butter. I didn’t know if any glass had landed in the butter, but CYA is what my job is all about. I gave the new bowls of butter to a Tony to bring to Jonathan and I checked once again on the tart setup. The lobster would be a piece of cake, but I still felt some angst about the tarts.
Returning to the studio just as the director asked for “quiet on the set,” I took a place off to the side, next to Jonathan. The floor manager broke the silence when she began her countdown. “In five, four, three . . .” She stopped speaking aloud and held up two fingers, then one, and then made a small circling motion with that finger to indicate “now.” Jim waited his usual three seconds before he began to talk, in order to give the editor some wiggle room, then said, “Sally, why do you think we need a lesson in eating a lobster?”
“I’ve watched so many people in restaurants struggling with them. Some people even throw away good parts that still have delicious meat in them.”
“It is. But as we say in Georgia, ‘Some people are as lost as a goose in a snowstorm.’”
Jim laughed. “Okay. So where do we begin?”
Sally handed him a bib. “You’ll want to put this on to save that tie, which is quite handsome.”
“Thank you. My wife picked it out.”
“They always do.” They each tied on their lobster bibs and Sally picked up her lobster and wiggled it at the camera.
“This is a fine fellow. Probably about a two-pounder.” She turned it over and looked at the underside of the tail. “Well, it’s a she, so we will have the delicious roe to eat.” We had ordered only females according to Sally’s directions.
“How do you know it’s female?”
She pointed to the small joints under the tail near the chest. “In the female, these little swimmerets have tiny hairs. The male swimmerets are bald and pointy.” Poor Jim didn’t seem to know where to go with that. “I see.”
Sally plowed right along. “Start with a claw and grip it firmly.” She took a good hold of hers and waited for Jim to do the same. “Now snap it off. Wump!” They did it together.
“Is the claw meat tastier than the body meat?” Jim asked.
“It’s a matter of preference. I’m a body person myself. Now break off the knuckle.” Sally gave a good snap and the knuckle separated from the claw. Jim followed suit. “To get at the claw meat, you’ll need a good set of lobster crackers.” Sally searched on all sides of her lobster. The crackers weren’t there. What the hell! I’d seen them there, but they were gone now. Sally kept going. She had begun her television career in what is known as “live to tape,” so no matter what happened she was not about to stop until someone directed her to do so. She looked totally undaunted as she said, “Or you can just give it a good thump,” and she picked the claw up over her head and gave it a good whack on the counter—or, actually, on the seaweed, since Jonathan had completely covered the counter’s surface. The shell on a two-pound lobster is pretty thick, and the seaweed cushioned the blow, so even the second whack that Sally applied didn’t so much as dent it. So, she picked up the Joyce Chen scissors
meant to cut through the thinner tail shell and tried to slice into the obstinate claw. She needed a starting point and didn’t have a good one. Meanwhile, Jim was thwacking his shell on the seaweed and having no more luck than Sally had, but he kept at it. Finally, Sally grabbed the scissors so they were point down and prepared to stab the point into the enemy claw. It was beginning to look like a massacre scene from a bad B-movie. All that was missing was the blood, and if Jim moved any closer to Sally, we would have that too. Before Sally’s scissors plunged into the claw, the director called, “Cut. Hold it. Please.”
When the director tells us to “hold it” or “please wait,” he means don’t touch or move anything until he checks the tape to see if he can fix the problem in editing. If he can, he tells us where he’ll pick the tape up and what he needs to see. If he can’t fix it, then we start from the beginning. In that pregnant time, I turned to Jonathan and screamed in a furious whisper. “What the hell happened to the lobster crackers? I touched them twice. They were there.” The minute I saw his face, I knew he knew what the hell had happened. He reached into his stylist’s basket and pulled out the two sets of crackers.
“When I cleaned the broken glass off the counter, I picked everything up. I guess I didn’t put these back.”
I tried not to sound too sarcastic. “Guess not.”
“I—I—I—I can’t believe I’ve messed up like this. Kill me. Just take your chef’s knife and run it through my heart.”
What a tempting thought. The truth was, I couldn’t believe he’d messed up either. Jonathan is meticulous and doesn’t make mistakes. Anyway, killing him wouldn’t exonerate me; ultimately anything that goes wrong with setup is my fault.
“Hey, get a grip. It’s okay. We’ve got backup, and anyway, the director may be able to pick it up from where they broke off the claws.”
Or maybe not. “We’ll start from the beginning. Setup please.” Mae was ready with the backup trays, and as soon as we got the word, she and two Tonys appeared with fresh lobsters and clean bibs. Two other Tonys carried empty trays to remove the used lobsters and bibs.
“I can’t find the crackers, Casey. They’re not in the kitchen,” Mae said in a panicked tone as she hurried by me.
“It’s cool. We have them.” Mae looked surprised but didn’t ask. There wasn’t time. The director was already asking, “How long?” Together, we cleared and reset the set. Jonathan put the crackers in place, and I made sure I was the last one to check the set.
“In five, four, three . . .”
“Sally, why do you think we need a lesson in eating a lobster?”
On went the bibs, off came the claws, and this time up came the crackers. Sally showed Jim how to crack the claw, and then she easily slipped the meat out of the shell in one piece. Jim did the same.
Sally dipped her lobster claw in the melted butter and took a good big bite. There was no acting involved; she was eating lobster and enjoying every minute of it. “Umm, ummm, that is just delicious. Try it.”
Jim may have been waiting for Sally to finish chewing before he bit into his lobster, so that one of them would be able to speak without a mouthful of food. Forget it. Sally was already taking a second bite and umming some more, so he went ahead and dipped his claw into the butter and took a bite. I’d like to say he said, “Ummm, ummm” as Sally had, but he didn’t. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He reached his hands up and clutched at his throat. Jim was choking—a frightening choke that made his eyes go wide and brought three of the
crew rushing onto the set. Sally was already close to him, so she immediately grabbed him from behind in a ferocious bear hug and administered an insanely violent Heimlich upthrust that lifted the host several inches off the floor but did not dislodge the lobster. Sally did it again, and this time a large piece of partially chewed claw flew across the set with astonishing force and hit Jonathan in the face. I shouldn’t have considered it revenge for the crackers, but I did. Jim held up a hand to indicate that he was okay and then began making small coughing sounds before finally managing to say, in a squeaky voice, “It went down”—
“the wrong way.”
. “I’m okay.” And he sipped some of the water one of the stagehands had brought him.
Meanwhile, I was beginning to imagine the unimaginable. I was pretty sure there was no way to edit that take, so this next one would exhaust our supply of lobsters. If something went wrong with the next take, we’d be screwed.
Mae was standing next to me, waiting to see if we needed to clear and set up again. One of the reasons I like working with her is that she never says such dumb-ass things as “Do you realize there are only two lobsters left.”
“Mae, I don’t think they can fix this one, so if something goes wrong with the next take, we need a backup plan. I was thinking that they could start the spot with one claw already off. Sally can say something like ‘I’ve already removed one claw and separated the knuckle.’ Then she can say, ‘I did it like this and blah, blah, blah’ as she pulls off the claw that’s attached. She won’t like it, but we have no choice other than scratching the whole thing. Put the lobsters from the first take back on the trays with their detached claws and we’ll see if it’ll fly.”
Mae went to the kitchen and was back in a flash. “We have a problem. The Tonys ate the claws.”
“What! They know better. Shit! Which Tonys? They are so dead.”
Mae looked confused. “I don’t know. I mean, I know who but I don’t know which ones they are. The taller, skinnier ones.”
“Whatever, they are so very dead.”
“They feel wicked bad. They didn’t think we’d ever need a separated claw.”
“We are so screwed. Let me think. These lobsters”—I nodded my head toward the set—“each still have one claw attached, and the two in the kitchen each have a whole claw. We can take the claws off the ones in the kitchen, put them with the ones on the set, and go with my backup plan of having lobsters with a claw already off. Did Jim and Sally both pull off the same claw?”
“I think so,” Mae said.
“I do too. Do you think we can get away with lobsters with two left claws?” At that moment, ten more seventy-dollar-apiece, fully cooked lobsters sounded like a steal.
Jim vocalized something that sounded like “Ee dee ee do” and then announced that he was fine. The director called for us to start from the beginning, and we set up again.
“In five, four, three . . .”
“Sally, why do you think we need a lesson in eating a lobster?”
Put on bibs, shake the lobster for the camera, tickle its swimmerets, remove and crack the claw, dip and eat. Cut open the stomach, taste tomalley and roe, remove body meat, dip, and eat. Suck and nibble on legs and tail flaps.
As Jim poured Sally and then himself a glass of wine, I said, “Thank you God” under my breath repeatedly.
They picked up their glasses and held them ready for a toast. “Thank you, Sally, for a great lesson. It was delicious.
.” And Jim ever so gently tapped Sally’s glass.
“Or as we sometimes like to say, bon appe-titty.”
They smiled for the camera and the director, who was probably replaying the tape to see if he’d heard correctly, asked us once again, “Hold it, please.”
say that?” I said to no one in particular and then answered myself. “Of course she did. She’s Sally.”
“What should I do, Casey? The lobster-with-two-left-claws bit?”
“You know what, Mae, they’re going to be able to fix that with a voice-over or something. Let’s get ready for the tart.” I probably sounded surer than I felt, but I couldn’t even consider the possibility of one more take. It was aging me.
“That’s a wrap. Thank you everyone. Next setup please.”