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Lucky

The Boston outlet of Morton’s, a Chicago-based steakhouse chain, sits across the street from Boston Harbor in a newly developed part of town called the Seaport.

Inside, Morton’s has a clubby feel—all hushed tones and white linen and dark paneling. The bad lighting makes it hard to read the prices, which are high, so perhaps that’s the point.

I guess it’s a very nice restaurant, but it reminds me more of the kind of place my parents might think of as a very nice restaurant: When a group of us walked in one recent night, it was a little like entering a private inner chamber. We weren’t exactly rowdy—but, still, it felt like the Laugh-In party of seven had just crashed Masterpiece Theatre.

Morton’s is known for its beef. Right away, after you’re seated, a waiter trots over, parading raw steaks on a wheeled display cart. He takes a lot of time, table side, to explain the various samples of meat and the characteristics of each cut, but still I can’t grasp the difference between a porterhouse, or a NY strip, or a double-cut filet. In my mind, I instead give each a name: One as big as a shoebox. Oval with bone. Size of a Chihuahua’s head.

Each steak is gargantuan, with the overfed and solid look of a linebacker. The other things on the rolling display are huge, too: An entire head of broccoli, a potato the size of a shot-put. But what caught my attention was a colossal green-black lobster perched on a plastic tray, his powerful claws neutered by thick rubber bands. The creature was motionless, so it took me a minute to realize that it wasn’t, as I originally thought, dead. Its slick antennae whips suddenly twitched and its stalked eyes seemed to dart about, as if to silently signal a frantic recommendation that diners try the steaks.

Lots of seafood restaurants—and some grocery stores—warehouse live lobsters in saltwater tanks until a customer picks one out. You carry it home live, boil a pot of water, drop the lobster in, and then wait for it to stop thrashing and clanging its claws against the kettle before you lift it out and, soon after, begin a different kind of wrestling—cracking the shell, picking out the edible parts, and tossing aside the icky stuff. Set aside for a minute the moral issue of cooking a creature alive, the lobster is easy to cook but considerably more work to eat.

For about $120, Morton’s eases the process for diners. The restaurant doesn’t have a tank; instead, lobsters are warehoused on ice in a walk-in cooler, except for when they take a wheeled tour around the dining room. Lobsters can survive outside of the water this way for 12 hours or more, our waiter explained. They remain alive, but the cold renders them fairly listless and limp, like a cucumber that spends too long in the crisper drawer.

That explanation, and the lobster’s sorry fate, made me feel immediately sad for the creature. I stared into its pinched, plated face, at his black beady eyes which for years had surveyed nothing but the murky sea bottom. Those black eyes failed him, I guess, when they couldn’t discern that the tangle of net securing the bait in the lobster trap would instantly signal an end to life as he knew it. Instead, for the lobster, life became an endless parade around the dining room. Perhaps he thought it couldn’t get worse. Of course, it would.

My friend Amber Naslund, seated two seats away from me, said I was being ridiculous. The lobster didn’t have a clue what was going on, she said, adding by way of explanation: “It’s a bug! It’s a giant bug! That lives in the water!”

It’s true that the lobster looks closer to a swollen grasshopper than, say, a cocker spaniel. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something wrong with the scene in Morton’s: Here we were, a jolly bunch out for an expense-account dinner, each of us sure that we had a job, money in our wallets, and the love of those waiting at home for our eventual return. And what was the lobster sure of? What did he know now, except for a consuming fear and misery? His life, his future, was in our hands. His poor soul, bearing silent witness to the happy excess at our table—and 50 more like ours around the dining room—made Morton’s the stage something of a medieval spectacle, tortured and grotesque.

“Does that comparison seem a bit much?” the renowned late author David Foster Wallace wrote in his August 2004 feature on lobsters for Gourmet magazine, when he compared Maine Lobster Festival (occurring again in a few weeks) to a Roman circus, among other things. For Wallace, his visit to Maine inspired a fearless look at the ethics of boiling an animal alive, as the realities of the scene left “no honest way to avoid certain moral questions.” And so it was in Morton’s that night: When the thing is inches away and staring at you, there is no conscious way to sidestep the issue.

If you think I’m carrying things too far here, then you’ll likely be appalled at what happened next. Because Amber, who is brave and decisive and unflinching in a way that I am passive and mournful and silent, suddenly snapped open her purse, counted out several twenties, and threw them on the table. “Let’s free him!” she dared us. “Who’s in?”

There was only the tiniest stunned silence before the rest of us around the table (Greg, Mack, Tim, Doug, and Justin) were in on the plot, unfolding bills and tossing them onto hers. Suddenly, the whole thing amped up into a kind of frenzied rescue operation. The next thing I knew, we were on our feet and parading the lobster for a final time through Morton’s—Amber was carrying him this time, cradling him the way Mary herself might have protected an infant Jesus—out of the front door and across the windswept street toward the Harbor.

“Wait!” someone from the restaurant called after us, and our waiter emerged from the small puzzled crowd of staff and a few diners who had gathered at the entry. “You’ll need these to clip his paws!” And he pressed a pair of scissors into my hand. Paws. “Did you hear that?” I yelled at the others, over the wind.

The lobster’s release was swift. There was a kind of small ceremony on the drizzly dockside, and someone quickly christened him the luckiest lobster alive—and, at that, the name Lucky was his. With a grisly sounding snip he was freed from his thick rubber-band shackles; then he was overboard and disappeared below the surface of the brown water.

In my memory, his reunion with the sea was climactic. I remember a giddy scramble toward the water, his graceful swoop toward the surface, and his landing with a small but satisfyingly final splash. But the whole thing was captured on video by my friend Justin Cresswell, and, in truth, when I watched it later, the release was nothing like that: Instead the lobster lurched away from us with a kind of contempt, and I have no doubt that had my hand wandered too close to his fantastic paws he would have had no qualms about snipping off a finger. He landed in the water awkwardly, upside down, and seemed to sink like a cannonball.

That’s the problem with video. It doesn’t allow you to hold your memories the way you want, like a photograph does. It forces you to accept them as they really were. Which is why, when I think of Lucky’s release, I think of the waiter’s last mention of him, and the way he referred to his two powerful pinchers as “paws.” The waiter was not a native speaker of English, so maybe he confused “claws” with “paws.” But I prefer to think otherwise. I like to think that he thought of the lobster a little bit like I did—less Jurassic Park and more Lassie. Maybe the creature was more like a bug than a puppy dog. But he was, all the same, something in need of rescue.

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63 Responses to Lucky

  1. Rick Wolff says:

    If money meant as little to me as it apparently did to the two of you, I’d have outbid you for the lobster. And eaten it.

  2. Rick Wolff says:

    If money meant as little to me as it apparently did to the two of you, I’d have outbid you for the lobster. And eaten it.

  3. I love this story! I remember my first time going to Mortons in Chicago in the ’80′s as a 20-something out for a night of fine (expensed) dining — and to this day, whenever I think of my experience there, the first thing that pops in my mind is the memory of the food cart, especially the gargantuan asparagus spears. So happy you and your friends rallied to save Lucky!

  4. I love this story! I remember my first time going to Mortons in Chicago in the ’80′s as a 20-something out for a night of fine (expensed) dining — and to this day, whenever I think of my experience there, the first thing that pops in my mind is the memory of the food cart, especially the gargantuan asparagus spears. So happy you and your friends rallied to save Lucky!

  5. Hiro Boga says:

    Ann, each of your stories is a small, perfect jewel. This one is opalescent–all shifting colors and layered depths.

    Lucky was lucky indeed to have encountered you and your crew at Morton’s that night! :-)

    Hiro

  6. Hiro Boga says:

    Ann, each of your stories is a small, perfect jewel. This one is opalescent–all shifting colors and layered depths.

    Lucky was lucky indeed to have encountered you and your crew at Morton’s that night! :-)

    Hiro

  7. Karen Swim says:

    Ann, beautifully told story as always and one that made me stand up and cheer for Lucky! Bless you all for saving the little guy!

  8. Karen Swim says:

    Ann, beautifully told story as always and one that made me stand up and cheer for Lucky! Bless you all for saving the little guy!

  9. I remember seeing this on Twitter and love having the back story. The movie was great! Way to free Lucky and his paws.:)

  10. I remember seeing this on Twitter and love having the back story. The movie was great! Way to free Lucky and his paws.:)

  11. Paul Chaney says:

    As the risk of appearing to lack concern for Lucky’s plight, I concur with Amber’s earlier observation. It’s a bug, and a mighty tasty one that would have soothed my palate in the most delectable way. But, I bet you wouldn’t trade that experience for even more money than you paid to free old lucky, and I’m sure it’s one you’ll treasure just as I treasure reading your all too infrequent tomes, Ann.

    As to Mortons, it’s a stuffy, over-priced steakhouse where, yes, the beef is really, really good, but where a baked potato is a baked potato whether you get it at Mortons or Outback. In fact, I’ll take Outback any day if for no other reason than they don’t serve pet lobsters. :-)

  12. Paul Chaney says:

    As the risk of appearing to lack concern for Lucky’s plight, I concur with Amber’s earlier observation. It’s a bug, and a mighty tasty one that would have soothed my palate in the most delectable way. But, I bet you wouldn’t trade that experience for even more money than you paid to free old lucky, and I’m sure it’s one you’ll treasure just as I treasure reading your all too infrequent tomes, Ann.

    As to Mortons, it’s a stuffy, over-priced steakhouse where, yes, the beef is really, really good, but where a baked potato is a baked potato whether you get it at Mortons or Outback. In fact, I’ll take Outback any day if for no other reason than they don’t serve pet lobsters. :-)

  13. Twitter Comment


    @AmberCadabra You silly girl!! I LOVE you did this, even if you feel it a bug. LOL! [link to post] :-))) – Posted using Chat Catcher

  14. Hmmm, I wonder how many other animals “Lucky” has ripped to pieces by now? Well, as soon as the Lobster Festival opens, I’ll avenge them. But I like mine in a roll with mayonnaise.

  15. Twitter Comment


    @AmberCadabra You silly girl!! I LOVE you did this, even if you feel it a bug. LOL! [link to post] :-)))

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  16. Hmmm, I wonder how many other animals “Lucky” has ripped to pieces by now? Well, as soon as the Lobster Festival opens, I’ll avenge them. But I like mine in a roll with mayonnaise.

  17. Twitter Comment


    But go read Ann Handley today.. The Free Lucky story .. I swear it is something I’d do. [link to post] – Posted using Chat Catcher

  18. Twitter Comment


    But go read Ann Handley today.. The Free Lucky story .. I swear it is something I’d do. [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  19. Amber's Mom says:

    Love your writing style, Ann. Great prose behind the “movie.” It’s typical that my Amber would hook up with people just a bit to one side or the other of center. Rage on and have fun!

  20. Amber's Mom says:

    Love your writing style, Ann. Great prose behind the “movie.” It’s typical that my Amber would hook up with people just a bit to one side or the other of center. Rage on and have fun!

  21. Paulette says:

    Ann–Loved this story and now feel guilty about not freeing the captive lobsters I’ve seen elsewhere. So, when’s Annarchy the book (or the movie musical) coming out?

  22. Paulette says:

    Ann–Loved this story and now feel guilty about not freeing the captive lobsters I’ve seen elsewhere. So, when’s Annarchy the book (or the movie musical) coming out?

  23. J. Tyler says:

    Reading your story immediately brought to mind an outstanding post John wrote recently called “Save that one, Screw the Rest?”

    http://tinyurl.com/mmo5c4

    I was also reminded of how truly backwards it is that those who act with compassion towards animals feel the need to apologize for it; to carefully couch our concerns or brace ourselves for ridicule. (On a side note: check out this brilliant essay on the “Rhetoric of Apology”)

    http://tinyurl.com/lht6jt

    As a culture, we routinely support and participate in cruelty towards animals that individually, most of us would likely find abhorrent, if not criminal. Think about it — what would we likely do if we saw a child torturing an animal? If we saw a kid, say, boiling a frog or fish alive? Or cutting the beak off a chicken with a hot knife? Or keeping a baby calf locked in a tiny crate for months on end? I think we’d take that kid to therapy, pronto!! We might even call the police, press animal cruelty charges, or at the very start a discussion about compassion and kindness towards animals.

    Fact is, most people believe causing animals unnecessary harm and suffering is wrong. And yet, most people cause animals unnecessary harm and suffering every single day – at every single meal. Why the disconnect?

    Part of it is presentation, I believe. If we had to meet not only the lobster, but the lamb, the calf, the chicken, the cow, the piglet, etc…before ordering his or her death, I believe there would be a lot more orders for Pasta Primavera. But for now at least, our culture permits us to remain blissfully disconnected, our compassion buried beneath a blanket of sauce, our outrage obstructed by a slick layer of cellophane.

    I firmly believe, however, that the tide is changing. Your post gives hope.

  24. Jo Tyler says:

    Reading your story immediately brought to mind an outstanding post John wrote recently called “Save that one, Screw the Rest?”

    http://tinyurl.com/mmo5c4

    I was also reminded of how truly backwards it is that those who act with compassion towards animals feel the need to apologize for it; to carefully couch our concerns or brace ourselves for ridicule. (On a side note: check out this brilliant essay on the “Rhetoric of Apology”)

    http://tinyurl.com/lht6jt

    As a culture, we routinely support and participate in cruelty towards animals that individually, most of us would likely find abhorrent, if not criminal. Think about it — what would we likely do if we saw a child torturing an animal? If we saw a kid, say, boiling a frog or fish alive? Or cutting the beak off a chicken with a hot knife? Or keeping a baby calf locked in a tiny crate for months on end? I think we’d take that kid to therapy, pronto!! We might even call the police, press animal cruelty charges, or at the very start a discussion about compassion and kindness towards animals.

    Fact is, most people believe causing animals unnecessary harm and suffering is wrong. And yet, most people cause animals unnecessary harm and suffering every single day – at every single meal. Why the disconnect?

    Part of it is presentation, I believe. If we had to meet not only the lobster, but the lamb, the calf, the chicken, the cow, the piglet, etc…before ordering his or her death, I believe there would be a lot more orders for Pasta Primavera. But for now at least, our culture permits us to remain blissfully disconnected, our compassion buried beneath a blanket of sauce, our outrage obstructed by a slick layer of cellophane.

    I firmly believe, however, that the tide is changing. Your post gives hope.

  25. Twitter Comment


    “Lucky” from @MarketingProfs’ personal blog, Annarchy.com. A true story of rescue, memories & why film = reality. [link to post] – Posted using Chat Catcher

  26. Twitter Comment


    “Lucky” from @MarketingProfs’ personal blog, Annarchy.com. A true story of rescue, memories & why film = reality. [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  27. leigh durst says:

    Okay, I knew I’d be missing out when I couldn’t come to the conference… didn’t know I’d be missing out on this! Go Lucky!

  28. leigh durst says:

    Okay, I knew I’d be missing out when I couldn’t come to the conference… didn’t know I’d be missing out on this! Go Lucky!

  29. Shelley Ryan says:

    David Foster Wallace would have loved your story, Ann. It actually sounds like it could be a scene in Infinite Jest, one of my favorite books ever. ;)

  30. Shelley Ryan says:

    David Foster Wallace would have loved your story, Ann. It actually sounds like it could be a scene in Infinite Jest, one of my favorite books ever. ;)

  31. Twitter Comment


    RT @shelleyryan: This lobster is definitely Lucky… ‘cuz @marketingprofs is a heck of a storyteller! [link to post] – Posted using Chat Catcher

  32. Twitter Comment


    RT @shelleyryan: This lobster is definitely Lucky… ‘cuz @marketingprofs is a heck of a storyteller! [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  33. Twitter Comment


    This lobster is definitely Lucky… ‘cuz @marketingprofs is a heck of a storyteller! [link to post] – Posted using Chat Catcher

  34. Twitter Comment


    This lobster is definitely Lucky… ‘cuz @marketingprofs is a heck of a storyteller! [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  35. Matt says:

    It’s a nice story, but Lucky really is a bug. Not like a bug, not closer to a bug than a sheep, but literally a bug. He had no idea what was happening when he was minutes away from being boiled and eaten, and he had no idea what was happening when you threw him back in the water. He would have felt no pain when he was cooked, and he felt no joy when he was freed.

    He’s just a bug. But you did a nice thing.

  36. Matt says:

    It’s a nice story, but Lucky really is a bug. Not like a bug, not closer to a bug than a sheep, but literally a bug. He had no idea what was happening when he was minutes away from being boiled and eaten, and he had no idea what was happening when you threw him back in the water. He would have felt no pain when he was cooked, and he felt no joy when he was freed.

    He’s just a bug. But you did a nice thing.

  37. Oh yeah.. I would have been so “in” on that Free Lucky evening! Great writing, my friend, as usual…

  38. Oh yeah.. I would have been so “in” on that Free Lucky evening! Great writing, my friend, as usual…

  39. Melissa says:

    so you went back in and ate a steak, right?

    i’m hoping the table discussed the irony of this, at least in passing.

  40. Melissa says:

    so you went back in and ate a steak, right?

    i’m hoping the table discussed the irony of this, at least in passing.

  41. Ann Handley says:

    Thanks for all the comments here, folks… and yes, plenty of irony was served that night, believe me. For a lot of the reasons folks call out here.

    I feel compelled to share a link with some who think we were completely nuts:

    Lobsters and crabs feel pain, study shows
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29915025/

    I’m not saying that a lobster is capable of long division or anything, but it appears that feeling pain is something it *can* manage… And at the same time, the whole experience gave me (and maybe others) plenty to think about… but I guess if you’ve made it this far in the post you’ve figured that out!

  42. Ann Handley says:

    Thanks for all the comments here, folks… and yes, plenty of irony was served that night, believe me. For a lot of the reasons folks call out here.

    I feel compelled to share a link with some who think we were completely nuts:

    Lobsters and crabs feel pain, study shows
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29915025/

    I’m not saying that a lobster is capable of long division or anything, but it appears that feeling pain is something it *can* manage… And at the same time, the whole experience gave me (and maybe others) plenty to think about… but I guess if you’ve made it this far in the post you’ve figured that out!

  43. Scott Monty says:

    You threw a Maine lobster into Boston Harbor? You do realize that you subjected him to a fate worse than boiling, right? Odds are that the creature accustomed to the chilly Maine waters (and kept on ice for the day) probably didn’t survive the drop, let alone the comparatively harsh conditions of the harbor…

  44. Scott Monty says:

    You threw a Maine lobster into Boston Harbor? You do realize that you subjected him to a fate worse than boiling, right? Odds are that the creature accustomed to the chilly Maine waters (and kept on ice for the day) probably didn’t survive the drop, let alone the comparatively harsh conditions of the harbor…

  45. Twitter Comment


    Well told story here (though I might have eaten the lobster) RT @pertuset Setting free the lobster [link to post] – Posted using Chat Catcher

  46. Twitter Comment


    Well told story here (though I might have eaten the lobster) RT @pertuset Setting free the lobster [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  47. Scott beat me to it. The suffering that this lobster is now enduring is worse than purgatory. He is wondering in his mind what could have possible succumbed him to this fate. He is wondering if it was that curse that the shrimp put on him or that bad night in Northern Maine when he left the girl lobster on the shelf without so much as a thank you. He is running through his mind now as he sits twitching at the bottom of the harbor.

    Fast forward as he has his last breaths floating and rotting as he washes ashore and a small child runs up and pokes him in the eye with a stick and laughs. We call that “Market Price.”

  48. Scott beat me to it. The suffering that this lobster is now enduring is worse than purgatory. He is wondering in his mind what could have possible succumbed him to this fate. He is wondering if it was that curse that the shrimp put on him or that bad night in Northern Maine when he left the girl lobster on the shelf without so much as a thank you. He is running through his mind now as he sits twitching at the bottom of the harbor.

    Fast forward as he has his last breaths floating and rotting as he washes ashore and a small child runs up and pokes him in the eye with a stick and laughs. We call that “Market Price.”

  49. Twitter Comment


    Setting free the lobster [link to post] – Posted using Chat Catcher

  50. Twitter Comment


    Setting free the lobster [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  51. Pingback: That Had to Hurt « Overcommunicated

  52. GiGi says:

    Ann,
    Great story. While some think Lucky won’t survive in Boston Harbor, his chances are better than hanging out at Morton’s!

  53. GiGi says:

    Ann,
    Great story. While some think Lucky won’t survive in Boston Harbor, his chances are better than hanging out at Morton’s!

  54. Twitter Comment


    . @MarketingProfs A propos “Lucky” [link to post] via @zen_habits: Buddhist Practice: of Saving Life http://tiny.cc/EdOCk via @The … – Posted using Chat Catcher

  55. Twitter Comment


    . @MarketingProfs A propos “Lucky” [link to post] via @zen_habits: Buddhist Practice: of Saving Life http://tiny.cc/EdOCk via @The …

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  56. Elaine Fogel says:

    Oh, Ann, you made me feel badly for Lucky. What do I do now? Lobster is my favorite food in the world!
    Good thing you don’t live where I am. What would Lucky do in the desert? :)

  57. Elaine Fogel says:

    Oh, Ann, you made me feel badly for Lucky. What do I do now? Lobster is my favorite food in the world!
    Good thing you don’t live where I am. What would Lucky do in the desert? :)

  58. Ann,

    I KNEW you wouldn’t eat the lobsta.

    I was right there with you {In spirit} during your story.

    Which is why you are my favorite writer.

    It’s been awhile since I have been active on your awesome blog.

    {I DID just turn 50, you know!}

    Anyway, great post. As usual.

    Now, where did those damn crab claws go….

    The Franchise King
    Joel Libava

  59. Joel Libava says:

    Ann,

    I KNEW you wouldn’t eat the lobsta.

    I was right there with you {In spirit} during your story.

    Which is why you are my favorite writer.

    It’s been awhile since I have been active on your awesome blog.

    {I DID just turn 50, you know!}

    Anyway, great post. As usual.

    Now, where did those damn crab claws go….

    The Franchise King
    Joel Libava

  60. Mindy says:

    Love the spontaneity and sense of indignation on behalf of Lucky, the underdog (or shall we say, under-lobster). Now you’ve got me thinking – wonder how long he (she?) was on ice parading around the restaurant and whether there was a certain special un-lucky who he or she left behind. But then I digress, because the spirit of your rescue mission is what inspires! See you on another flight to LA perhaps? ;-)
    Mindy

  61. Mindy says:

    Love the spontaneity and sense of indignation on behalf of Lucky, the underdog (or shall we say, under-lobster). Now you’ve got me thinking – wonder how long he (she?) was on ice parading around the restaurant and whether there was a certain special un-lucky who he or she left behind. But then I digress, because the spirit of your rescue mission is what inspires! See you on another flight to LA perhaps? ;-)
    Mindy

  62. When I was in grade school it used to disturb me to see my dad toss live lobsters into a boiling kettle of water. As I recall, they actually made little peeping sounds… I must be making that up – ?

    Anyway, medieval sure sounds right to me…

  63. When I was in grade school it used to disturb me to see my dad toss live lobsters into a boiling kettle of water. As I recall, they actually made little peeping sounds… I must be making that up – ?

    Anyway, medieval sure sounds right to me…

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