Down East 2013 ©
As most Mainers know, you can tell tourists pretty much any absurd thing about a lobster, and they’ll believe you.
Lobsters that fly.
Lobsters that sing and dance.
Lobsters that shoot laser beams from their eyeballs.
Nothing is too outlandish to dent your credibility, particularly with gullible visitors from any state beginning with the letter “I” and Australians. The key is to relate your lobster lies in an authoritative voice with just a hint of world-weariness and a tinge of well-concealed fear. To all people from away, lobsters look dangerous, so these rubes are inclined to accept anything that fits with the image.
I was once dining with a couple from Wales (where everyone is nearly as easily conned as Iowans and Aussies), who had been invited to a lobster bake. When the main course was plopped in front of the woman sitting next to me, she regarded it with growing alarm.
“Is this safe to eat?” she asked.
Sure,” I said, “so long as you know what you’re doing, there’s almost no danger.”
“No?” she choked. “Danger?”
“Lobsters have stingers in each claw that inject their victims with a paralyzing venom,” I said. The Welshman across from me dropped his fork.
“Cooking destroys most of the poison,” I continued, “but you don’t want to eat the gland itself, because even trace amounts can cause permanent brain damage. Folks who aren’t careful in their eating habits end up as drooling, babbling idiots unfit for any human occupation except state legislator.”
“I don’t think I’ll eat the claws,” said the woman. “Do you want them?”
“Sure,” I said, shoveling them onto my plate. “Now about the tail. That’s how a lobster defends itself from enemies, such as whales, sea bears, and aquatic elk. You can’t see it, but there’s a big sharp spine in there that’s used to spray predators with a substance that causes them to grow excessive nostril hair, develop premature gum diseasem and produces poison ivy-like symptoms. Don’t prick yourself while you’re getting out the meat.”
The lobster’s tail landed on my plate.
“Not hungry?” I inquired politely. “Too bad, because you’re missing out on a real delicacy.”
“What’s that?” she asked with something in her voice that indicated the question was being posed against her better judgment.
“The antennae,” I said. “No poisons there. You just dip ‘em in butter and suck until you’re satiated.”
It wasn’t easy keeping a straight face through the rest of the meal, but considering I has all that extra lobster to eat, I somehow managed.
I was reminded of this incident by the news that soft-shell lobsters have been turning up extra early  this year. Normally shedders don’t show up in traps in great numbers until a month or more from now, but it appears the unusually warm weather has prompted the lobbies to change clothing ahead of schedule. No big deal, unless you’re hosting people of Australian descent who are visiting from Illinois. When one of them asks why some lobsters are hard-shell, while others are soft, there’s absolutely no reason to tell them anything remotely resembling the truth.
“Undersea volcanoes,” I said casting a wary eye toward the ocean. “They warm up the water so much, it partially melts the lobster’s shells. Makes for easier eating, but there’s a price to be paid for scarfing down too many soft-shells.”
“Wh-wh-what is it?” (Try to imagine this being said in an accent that’s equal parts frustrated Chicago Cubs fan and announcer for an Outback Steakhouse TV commercial.)
“Those volcanoes dredge up a lot of strange stuff from inside the earth,” I said. “Magma. Manga. Mangoes. It gets in the lobsters’ systems, and they might pass it on to anything that eats them.”
Frightened undercurrent of whispers.
“As far as anyone knows, it doesn’t affect the sea bears, but we’ve found some aquatic elk lately with bizarre mutations. Extra legs. Curly antlers. Snooki tattoos. No one knows if it’s related to the soft shells.”
Whole lobsters hit my plate like it’s raining crustaceans. The visitors light out for the nearest McDonald’s.
“Stay away from the Filet-O-Fish,” I call after them. “You never can tell if that stuff comes from volcano zones.”
In other news of the week, Portland installed a bunch of new parking meters  that are run by solar power, take credit cards and can direct visitors to the nearest restaurant offering lobsters that have been certified free of volcanic pollution and have had the stingers removed. The devices also notify city officials when the meter’s coin holder is full, when there’s a mechanical malfunction or when there are folks from New South Wales or Indiana in the area and ripe for bilking.
But I doubt the high-tech meters will do much to alleviate Portland’s real parking problem, which is that there are roughly fourteen thousand vehicles for every available space. In order to discourage some of these drivers, aimlessly circling the Old Port in search of any spot they can squeeze into, the city is considering increasing the hourly rate  at the parking garages it owns.
Municipal garages have traditionally charged less than commercial parking facilities because they’re not as conveniently located. For instance, one of them is in Idaho, which is bit of hike from downtown. But keep in mind that it only costs a buck and a quarter an hour. On the other hand, to leave a car in the Fore Street garage, in the heart of the trendy waterfront area, is so expensive that I sometimes find my parking bill is more than my bar tab.
It wouldn’t be worth it if I wasn’t getting my lobsters for free.
Al Diamon was planning to gloat about how he’d found a cheap spot to park in the Old Port for just five bucks a day. But then, he found out somebody is planning to put up a building  on that underutilized lot, along with another overpriced parking garage. He suspects it’s a plot by Australians trying to get even. If you have evidence, email it to him at email@example.com .