It's not about the house.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Loaves and Fishes

You all know Johnny’s Catholic, right? He doesn’t go to church or anything, except to get his ashes or when someone he loves dies, but he Believes.

I Don’t. But I speak the language. I grew up immersed in it and, although I’ll go to hell for saying so (if, you know, there is one), sometimes I still think it’s fun to play along. One Friend asked me once why I strew (strow?) so many Jesuses around my house at Christmastime, to which I shrugged and answered: “I don't know. I don’t believe in Santa, either. But they both seem to go with the territory!”

(For the record: I think Jesus is really Cool. I just don’t think he’s God. Then again, I don’t so much think God is God for that matter, so—

Well, anyway. This was not the road I meant to travel. Let’s go back to the fork and start again. Okay?)

We don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent. Honestly, I don’t eat meat most days anyway, and when I do it’s mostly only chicken. I’ve got nothing against the beefier bits philosophically, and Lordy knows I loves my bacon, but if I eat too much of it I get all logey and wind up down a deep, dark roadway that you really wouldn’t want to join me on. But during Lent I help Johnny remember.

The funny thing is, it is ingrained in him that he has to have fish. As far as I’m concerned, the rule is No Meat. You could have salad, you could have mac & cheese. You could have pizza or French toast or veggie burgers. But Johnny must have fish. “Fish on Fridays.” Or, I guess, you go to hell.

Now, as much as I don’t have a philosophy on meat (not anymore, at least; but before my mother weighs in with a comment on my hypocrisy, I should state for the record that I used to. For twelve or fourteen years I let no meat pass my lips except for turkey on Thanksgiving, and the lard-cream filling of an Oreo cookie, and an occasional slice or pound of bacon. So you see? I’m not a hypocrite at all! Now, where was I? Oh yes…) I do have a philosophy on fish. It is:

Fresh Is Always Better Than Frozen, But If It’s Not Going To Be Cooked Today, Then You’re An Ass To Pay Fresh Prices.

So when I made plans to go away Good Friday night, and Johnny asked me if before I left I’d have time to go pick him up a nice piece of fish for dinner -- and he even told me where to go because they had his favorite filets on special for $5.99 a pound -- I went. But when I ordered my pound of haddock and the fishmonger asked if I wanted fresh or frozen, I instinctively said “fresh” without looking at the price.

And wound up being charged $10.99.

Yes, yes, I could have handed it back over the counter. But no, no, that is nothing I would ever do. In addition to the whole Catholic-language thing, I was somehow brought up with a pair of ingrained fears: money, and confrontation. If I tried to give the fish back, I would be risking the latter and coming way too close for comfort to breaching a discussion of the former. So I paid it. And then, just to ease the sting, I bought some beer.

When I got home I explained my gaffe to Johnny, and impressed upon him the importance of him treating this fish right. Eleven dollars is usually like three days’ meal-budget for the two of us, and I wasn’t even going to be home. So even though one of our favorite things – discovered when we used to get haddock for free and were always looking for new ways of cooking it – is to simmer it slowly in a skillet with a half a jar of salsa, I didn’t want him to hide this light under that sort of bushel. Respect the animal is, I suppose, what I was asking.

“Fuck no! I’m not going to smother it in bleedin’ salsa. Jaysus! I’m going to batter it and throw it in the deep-fryer with chips just like we used to do on Good Friday at home!”

Well, that’s not quite as Respectful as I’d imagined. I was thinking more along the lines of a bit of lemon juice and a light broil. But I knew he was an Irish snake when I picked him up, and besides, what kind of Grandest Lady would I be if I rained on my own husband’s Easter parade?

So I went on my overnight. And when I called Saturday to give him my e.t.a., he announced he’d spent the evening on his hands and knees, washing the kitchen floor. By the time he had a chance to eat at all he couldn’t stomach cooking, so he had ramen noodles for his Holy Friday meal. “So the haddock’s still here, and there’s plenty for the two of us to have tonight!”

Saturday? You’re not supposed to have fish on Saturday! And besides, by dinnertime it would be two days old (at least; and that’s if the Stop & Shop fishmonger is actually down the docks at sunrise every morning, which I doubt). But what the hell. I paid eleven dollars for it, I might’s’well eat it. And if he’s only going to batter it and deep-fry it anyway, what difference could twenty-four hours make? I actually started to look forward to eating a big greasy dinner and then waddling off to bed, where I intended to remain for the duration of the Highest Holiday.

When I got home, though, I was informed we’d been invited to Gerry Smyth's for Easter dinner, and Johnny wanted to bake and bring along some bread and cake. So if I would help him quickly throw those two little things together, when we were done he’d get right to work on battering the fish.

But doesn’t crumpet bread take three and a half hours to make? And didn’t I walk in the door at 7:00 p.m.? And even if two of those three hours are rise-time, doesn’t the ginger-carrot-walnut cake occupy both of them? Plus, um, didn’t we maybe, possibly, have a couple beers apiece while we were baking? So by the time we were at last ready for dinner, wasn’t it eleven?

And didn’t we decide to just have Welsh Rabbit instead?

Irish Pizza, Johnny calls it. Yum.

After we ate – and thank god it was after – Johnny got off his arse to freeze the fish. The eleven dollar fish, that I could have had for six if I’d bought it frozen in the first place, only now it had the added benefit of being two days older... and it stank.

I mean, not rot-stink. Not foul-stink. Not death. But fish stink. A distinctive wouldn’t-kill-you, but-wouldn’t-serve-it-in-a-restaurant-either degree of smell. The kind of fishy stink they tell you fish is not supposed to smell like when it’s fresh. And it doesn’t. Or it didn’t. Yesterday.

It got the cat all excited, though, I’ll tell you what. And since the morsel of it that I fed him didn’t kill him, I held my nose and tongue while Johnny put the filet on a cookie sheet to freeze. And then we went to bed, where I dreamt of having a day off.

This morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn like always, spontaneously decided to give myself the Holy Day off writing (can’t you tell?) and working out, watched an episode of Charlie and Lola and one or two of the Colbert Report, then showered and dressed and decided 9:30 was late enough for Johnny to be sleeping, considering we were expected at the Smyth’s house before noon. I cleaned up the bread-and-cake-and-Irish-pizza mess from the night before, and just as I was finishing Johnny came in and set up the sucker-thing to vacuum-seal the fish. Which he fetched on its cookie sheet from the freezer in the other room.

The freezer, which happens to be attached to the (ahem) beer refrigerator. And the other room, which happens to be my office.

Do I need to tell you – or are you sufficiently-skilled students of certain literary devices – that the fish, even frozen, now stank worse?

I said pee-yew, and Johnny said it smells like fish, and I said yes, but fish is not supposed to smell like fish, and he said ’course it is, that’s the way it always smelled when I was growing up, and I did not say well, that’s probably because you were even poorer than we were back then, and your ma was probably buying day-old fish! And then he said:

“I’ll tell you what, though, there’s clearly a pong comin’ from that freezer.”

Now it is 11:51. We were supposed to be at the Smyth’s at 11:30, but he said to call him first and nobody is answering the phone. So I decided I might as well have a beer, but every time I go near the fridge I get a pong. It didn’t stop me (you know me better than that), but I’m worried about next weekend. We have a houseguest coming – two, in fact – so one of them is sleeping on the day bed in the office. And now the entire office smells like pongy fish.

I’m not going to make any Courtney Love jokes today, don’t worry. But I do earnestly hope that, on today of all possible Days, I might be forgiven for saying this:

Jesus Christ Almighty!

Smyth just called. We have to go. So I don't have time to proofread. I apologize if there are typos. And oh my god I'm heartily sorry if none of the above makes any sense.


DonnaStaf said...

I'd bring it back to the fishmonger and complain that it was bad when you went to cook it. And had to freeze it to survive the smell for the weekend...It shouldn't have smelled like ass in one day, no way. (Sox just gave up another one- WTF)

su said...

Good plan Donna and put 2 open boxes of Baking soda into the fridge. One in the freezer that will usually absorb odors. Or you could just put your dirty underwear in there and trade smells!

pork luck said...

I wouldnt eat that stinky fish. Give it to the kitty!

Anonymous said...

Yuk. I agree with Donna, take it back and complain.

jen said...


ege said...

Donna -- Yeah, you're right, but I won't. Honestly? I think we'll probably end up feeding it to the ravens and the seagulls.

Su -- I did do the baking soda thing. Fortunately, our houseguests cancelled so it's just me breathing the pong.

PorkPie -- Oooh, the kitty! Well, maybe he can share it with the ravens and gulls.

12 -- Something tells me you'd be better at the taking it back and complaining thing than I am. Maybe I'll just drive by and wing it at 'em.

Jen -- Hey! You've been away a while! You missed the whole "pong" discussion. It was not so terribly long ago, however, so scroll back! (If you don't want to, well, it just means stink.)