Monday, December 17, 2007

Last Night at the Lobster (copy)

As I close my latest book and look down Main Street, I see a beautiful American flag dancing in the sunshine. Usually, I use the flag as a wind indicator before heading outdoors, but today it captures my gaze as I think about Stewart O’Nan’s new book Last Night at the Lobster.

I originally grabbed the book for its Christmas angle. The book is set entirely in one day which happens to be four days before Christmas. On December 20, in America’s Rust Belt, unbeknownst to the eating public, New Britain’s Red Lobster will close its doors forever. With this premise, I immediately concluded the book will be a tale of Christmas miracles involving the soon-to-be ex-Red Lobster employees.

Boy was I wrong. If there is any miracle it is the fact that employees have chosen to participate in work at all. At least this is how manager Manny DeLeon sees it. As he sits in his hand-me-down Regal, taking one last toke in the mid-day gray, he speculates on who will and who won’t show for this last shift. He guesses those who will be accompanying him to the Olive Garden in Bristol and those eager to get their hands on a pre-Christmas pay check will come in or at least make an appearance.

Manny hates to admit it, but at 35 he likes being manager of Red Lobster. For many years now he has ensured his customers enjoy prompt service in a clean facility. He is still in shock over the closing. He never saw it coming since his numbers remained high even though they resurfaced highway 9 this past summer.

Unlocking doors and turning on lights, he ambles past the appliances he has maintained for years, patting each as a pet. What will he miss most? It has to be the familial nature of the job. Whether he is breaking up brotherly fights between his cook, Ty, and slacker Fredo, or listening to motherly advice from Roz, the lifer waitress who wears a nametag so old he can’t find it on eBay, he realizes those days are over.

He knows one thing; he will not miss the beast. Covered in a corner, far from his eyes, the snow blower sits, taunting his manhood. Unfortunately, on his very last day, a nor’easter is kicking up and it looks like the beast will be needed.

As I gaze back at the flag, I realize author O’Nan has written a day in ordinary America, where each service worker deserves a little Christmas miracle.

Note: Number 6 Armchair Travelers Reading Challenge