Sunday, April 8, 2018

Less Than Sacred Sunday

Sunday has never really been a day of rest for me.

   While I am religiously observant, I have never been good at observing the Day Of Rest rules for Sunday. That started with one of my first legit jobs at age 14, and continues. Perils of not liking working indoors, I guess.

 When I was lobstering, Sunday was airport day. I'd work for the local lobster pound, (the buyer of the local lobstermen's catch), who was located across the parking lot from the docks where we kept the boats. The pound was a 50x20 concrete tank about 4 feet deep, with a recirculation system and biofilter, refrigerated so the pound was always pretty cool and damp. There was a pump room, storage area, pump with stacks of styrofoam shipping coolers, lobster cars (floating wood or plastic crates that held about 100lbs of lobsters each that we would fill and keep in the tank), a pair of reefer chests for ice packs and a small office.

I'd unlock the door, shut off the alarm, and check the office for the order. The owner of the pound was a schoolteacher who didn't like working Sundays and spent about an hour a day at his shop. Great 2nd gig for him. It was damn near self-serve for the local lobstermen. The price of lobster off the boat is actually very low. It hasn't changed much since I was about 10, because lobstermen were obligated to sell to buyers, and forbidden from selling direct to customers in New England. While this has changed, it is still discouraged via arcane and ridiculous legal hoops that must be jumped through.

 At any rate, once I saw the order, which would look like
 "12 chickens, 5 quarters, 3 halves and 1 select" (translation: 12 25lb boxes of  1.0-1.2lb lobsters, 5 cases of 1.2-1.4 lb lobsters, 3 cases of 1.4-1.7lb, and 1 of 1.7lb and above.

 To get these, I would first raid the pre-sorted cars- as lobstermen come in, they pull lobster out of the holding tank on the boat and place them in lobster cars which are usually stacked on their dock. These are hoisted up to the pier from the dock with a block and tackle, 2 at a time, and then dragged to the back of the owner's truck and driven over to the pound, where each car was weighed on a scale.  At that point, the lobsterman is done with the owner, unless there is a 'split price' in summer, when new-shell (recently molted, and therefore holding less meat) lobsters are sorted from hard-shells, which haven't molted yet this year, survive better in shipping, and contain more meat per pound.
 When lobsters molt, they have a bigger shell than they need, which they grow into. While this is happening, they fill the space in between the shell and muscle with water. Shell hardness is tested by grabbing the lobster by the carapace and squeezing just above the legs. If you can buckle the shell inward with a strong squeeze, she's new-shelled.
 So, after weigh-in, the lobster cars are either opened and the lobsters sorted by shell hardness and weight by whoever's at the pound, or simply closed up and thrown in the tank. Cars were identified by using colored pipe cleaners to mark who was whose, and also to mark the sorted cars.

 So my job was simple. I'd slap preprinted shipping labels on a number of styrofoam coolers, drag the digital scale over by the tank, and pull out a couple of cars of pre-sorted hardshell lobsters, and fill the coolers up. If I ran out of pre-sorted lobsters, I'd have to pull over a couple of cars of unsorted catch and grade them, return the sorted cars to the tank, and continue on. Once I had the right number of coolers filled with the right weight and type of lobster, I'd put the lid on, wrap the cooler in packing tape and set it aside. At that point, I'd back the owners' box truck up to the garage door, load the truck and clean up, reset the alarm, and drive to the airport.

 Airlines have their own cargo terminals. Your passenger flight is probably carrying a fair bit of cargo along with your ass when you fly. In this case, all the lobsters went to a single food distributor in Switzerland. So I'd drive to the cargo terminal at Logan airport in Boston, unload the lobsters onto a pallet at their loading dock, sign a sheet, collect a reciept and drive home. It took about 4 1/2-5 hours from start to finish, generally, for which I received $50, and it was a lot less back-breaking than lobstering. Plus, Boston has awesome Irish music on AM radio on Sundays, which helped.

   I did other work on Sundays, before and after my time at the pound, but none was as pleasant.


Rob said...

I can't walk down to the dock & buy a couple of lobsters from the fisherman? Bummer, another fantasy run aground on the reality of law & order....

Paul, Dammit! said...

Nah, you still can. It was never perfectly legal to do so before, but it was a nice tradition.