Martha as Metaphor
by Lloyd Allen
She was at sea off Hog Island, a small-massed irregular radial lying out on the water off the coast of San Francisco. The day, one of mentionable incredibility, waited for Martha before closing down for the evening. The Pacific Ocean stretched itself out in every direction and had relaxation written all over its languid body in low hieroglyphic whitecaps. Way out, near the edge of the earth, the sun readied for a good night’s sleep, pulling on the cumulus comforters that lie at the bottom the darkening sky, in the process, exposing more rays in more ways than I have the time to go into. Let me just say this: It was nearing “magic hour.” Sixty–– count them ––hydrogen fired minutes of cinematic graphic opportunity. Shoot it or loose it, Seconds were ticking by. She had seen it all before and it excited her. And–– excitement brought her to this place for oysters, Hog Island Sweetwater Oysters.
Martha arrived just in the nick of time for the harvest. Seamen, preparing to go out in their boats waited patiently much like the sun, moon and stars for their errant passenger as she climbed first into her waders, then into one of the boats. The seamen also wished while they waited only to make good on their quota and to return with their vats filled only with the largest of large oysters. Martha’s wishing went way beyond the fishermen and numbered as many as there were whitecaps in all the world’s oceans.
Now look! Out there, on one of the boats, floating around among her whitecap dreams, Martha, gazed ashore for signs of her distant camera crew before leaning overboard. She put herself in the hands of the oystermen, learning what no book could teach her, from unschooled experts teaching unschooled skills, watching and listening, offering a helping hand when they’d let her.
Oysters! Famed fishermen’s tales foretold the impending word of mouth on this fantastic filter feeding phenomena known tacitly, not only for its texture and flavor, but also for its perennially aphrodisiac potential. These primitive provocateurs of love and lust, living up to their virile reputations, ignoring all that science fails to find, abound in legend and lore–– vitally! Down below on the ocean’s floor, placeboes are impossibilities; all mollusks, comers. High above, the clouds came.
The crew was all too aware of the approaching cumulonimbus, and Martha, not failing to take note of daylight’s muting glow, challenged all hands on all decks to heedfully heft every last unsuspecting oyster out of its bed; “lights out” would never be called. No more nestling for you no-good nincompoop filter feeders, no more lounging for you lethargic, but legal, lust pimps; languish no more you salty seafaring pooper scoopers; Yes, sing it, “Hush little oysters, don’t you cry, Martha’s going to make everything all right, because whether you like it or not, back on shore an audience awaits every last one of you.” That said, that done.
On the quick return to shore, Martha considered all the options for the nefariously infamous near do wells. “If only the sun would loiter and linger a little longer,” whispered one of her snowcapped wishes as it sprayed over the bow of the boat. Martha sucked salt through a matted clump of hair as she leaned headstrong into a west-southwesterly wind, wondering if her camera crew was all set and ready to go.
She had planned to demonstrate to the world how to harvest oysters, the preferred packing techniques to properly bring them back safe and sound; how to store oysters in a satisfactory manner, how to shuck them. She had planned a vignette featuring a down and dirty dozen, all shucked, she would lay them out one at a time on shaved ice around a horse-radished cocktail sauce, all the while discussing the nuances of the numerous flavors afforded to the slippery bed fellow. She rehearsed in her head the litany of ways to prepare the saltine sand puck–– Oysters Rockefeller were on the roster of shots, as well as a Creole oyster dish, an Asian oyster dish, saucy oysters and eggs, oysters with almond crème, scalloped oysters, not to mention that preposterous pickled oyster, “I’d have to mention oysters Florentine, and the century-old favorite Calypso Oyster Stew,” she thought out loud. “And I mustn’t forget Grand Central’s Oyster Stew and Brown Derby’s Oyster Brie Soup.” She wasn’t going to forget the garlic baked oysters, and more importantly, “Everyone really should know how to make English Oyster Stuffing for the holidays!”
Damn it! The little barnacled bastard had more recipe options than any sea critter Martha had ever come across and on top of that the ornery oyster demanded whole databases on devoted servers; buckwheat fried oysters and bacon wrapped, not to mention every vegetable around wanted to lay down next to the slippery slime ball; smoking them was also a favorite pastime, and stuffing the silicone blob with anything and everything was sanctioned, and dang, wouldn’t you know it, there was even a recipe for barbequed oysters. Martha had to dig mighty deep to rustle up a vision of what a real cowboy looked like, sidling up to a grub plate full of barbecued oysters, but what reverberated repeatedly in her head were only these two words: “Prairie Oyster,” and it made her smile to herself for some unknown reason. Inside joke, I guess.
Upon landing, the seamen moved quickly to unload their oyster-laden treasure. Out at sea, Martha, in between her concerned questioning about the fate of the family oyster farmer, had also thoroughly informed the seaman on the intricacies of television production, especially the aspects of the art relating to today’s shoot. In her discussion, while laying out the odds of completing all the scheduled shots, she found fearless comrades ready to fight along side her against daylight’s ticking time tomb, grabbing every ray of the magical light, down to dusk if need be, and as one seaman said his seaworthy prayer, Martha made her millionth wish, when, ever so slowly the clouds parted, rousing the sleepy headed sun; now woken and wide-eyed, it raised its curious head above its cloud cover, to look back in encore before settling in for the evening, but not until it had a chance to gaze at Martha one last time.
Film equipment was everywhere: big, bright lights, cameras on track, boom mikes, and a massive crew. This was not her normal New York crew by any means; they were out of San Francisco and they were set, ready to go; Gaphers and electricians, gophers and production assistants, all, in mass.
Martha does a sideways slosh-step off the boat and she’s a total wreck. Make-up everywhere, her hair all matted and surf salted. Despite the elements taking serious advantage of her, she remains as beautiful as ever. I’m beginning to wonder though, about the oyster’s boast, you know, the one about love and lust; could those silver-bellied slime suckers have riled Miss Pacific out of her slumberous state as they were being yanked from there beds? Was it they who prodded the pacification from the sea? Chanting: “Have your way with her! Have you way with her!” Like I said, it makes me wonder.
She still has her waders on, as she pans the crowd for Eva, her hair and make-up artist. Locating her, she begins taking swashbuckling steps through the crowd and equipment, only to mistakenly meet fate, head on. As she moves forward, she unerringly steps on an electrical wire: a live wire. It didn’t help that the plug was separated only the slightest bit from its outlet, and it was neither a good thing that she was carrying a half an inch of water in her waders. Zap! You could hear the sound of the voltage rev like a zillion pissed-off yellow jackets.
“Help! Somebody, please, Martha’s been shocked! Horribly shocked! Did you see that? It threw her ten feet,” screamed Eva. “I was just about to touch her, oh my God!” Everyone rushed to Martha; a few lifted her up from the ground. Martha looked stunned with all the dirt and sand on her face, like a fighter, down for the count, and she kept repeating to everyone, “I’m fine, I’m fine; don’t worry.”
So wow, she must have just missed it. Somehow she “9-lived” what could have been an unfortunate fate. It would take more than high voltage to bring this bitch down, this great white, returning from sea, all oystered out but still perfectly presentable. Bu,t correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t believe great white sharks eat oysters. Well, maybe this one was going to have her oysters and eat them too. That is, if they’re properly prepared; but time’s a wasting.
Eva gets right on her hair and make-up, it didn’t take much time, and anyway, Martha liked looking au natural. The filming began immediately. Determined to shoot the full segment before ole sleepyhead conked out, Martha deftly maneuvers her cast and crew. That tuckered out ball of light wasn’t going to ruin her hundred-thousand-dollar shoot day, not if she could help it, but they were losing light fast; Take 1! Action! Rolling!
About five minutes into it, Eva noticed Martha scratching her foot; continually reaching down into her boot trying to get at her foot until she couldn’t take it any longer, finally, she pulled off the waterlogged boot to take a closer look. There, in the center of the sole of her right foot, was a large red hole. Her reaction is one of startled, but stoic, concern, “Oh my God, is there an insect around here? Something must have bit me! Is it a snakebite? Here, somebody take a look.” And everyone standing around, already pressed mercilessly by Father Time, and, a mother-of-all-shoots on their hands, had no idea what the oozing red hole in Martha’s foot could be. How could they? And guess what else: There wasn’t “a doctor in the house.”
What to do? “Martha, do you want to go to the doctor? Should we cancel and re-shoot? What do we do with all the oysters?” Thinking. Thinking. She decides to continue the television shoot. Go for it! It was long yardage and a short clock; they were down by 10 minutes but she had every sense of confidence that they could pull it off. No measly mundane hole in her foot was going to cancel this Living episode. No way. She had a plan, and as always, it was in her head. There was no time to call a huddle.
Martha winced in pain as she glanced over her shoulder one more time, like a quarterback looking sideways before the snap: Oysters Rockefeller, take 2. Action! Like clockwork she took the oyster, passing it off in a sideways lateral move to one of the stand-in seaman, as camera 2 paned the overflowing vats of oysters, she shrugged off the pain with a silly question concerning the sexuality of the oyster. All the while camera 3, oh yea, camera 3, locked in on the wide shot–– don’t miss that, Martha in all her glory, backlit by a fading sun child, fixated from afar, out in the distance, its triple A’s running lower than low, and yelling “Hurry Martha!”
Despite the great distance between the two heavenly bodies, Martha’s second sense heard her suns call–– all the while, camera 3 pulling a slow focus from the perfectly breathtaking horizon back toward the perfectly breathtaking Martha, and as she slowly came into a crisp focus, the lens caught the detailed whitecap etchings out on the ocean, one at a time.
Everything went swimmingly for the remaining segment set-ups; finished in under an hour! Hell, Martha had been in tougher elements than this and pulled it off. Did you ever here the one about… nah, I’ll save that for later, but what a testament to her strength; a proclamation of her true professionalism. Martha was going to make it through that segment, come hell or high water. Her thinking was, if a running back with torn ligaments and cartilage could sprint 90 yards to the end zone and catch a pass, then surely she could, in the same manner, complete the task that was now behind her.
After being electrocuted, going full on for the camera, finishing the cut-away shots, she’s finally rushed to a doctor. Don’t hurry on my account, boys, was the sense Martha gave. It was only a short wait before she was examined. Martha is informed by the doctor that the red hole in the bottom of her foot was an exit wound, that the electricity from the “hot wire” went up the left side of her body, somehow bypassed her heart and then exited out her right side, out the right foot.
It seems that electricity is fickle, but in between entering and exiting, is a no mans land. What goes in, has to come out, only more times than not, before waving goodbye, the high voltage proceeds to do the Electric Glide all around your heart muscles. You get the picture. Back in Nutley, New Jersey, they called Martha “just plain lucky;” but then, hasn’t she always been?
Reports are that Martha most definitely was in very real pain; that she proceeded with the shoot on one foot, while bending the other leg and kneeling on a box. Others, informed of the event, recalled hearing that the cast and crew had to finally drag her off the set, but not before each and every shot for the oyster story was complete, and it was then and only then, while being treated in the infirmary by the doctor, wrapped up with sterile white gauze, layered with a skin toned bandage–– and I almost forgot, given a crutch ––she was overheard saying the word, “Ouch.”