The Salmon of Regret
This could just be a little piece about grocery store fish.
Not everything I write has to be a well-crafted essay that has meaning attached to it, or emotion, or something big to say. Nor does it have to be a slice of life with two little boys, or a witty commentary on an element of pop culture. Or an informative feature about a product I use, or have used, or tried and will never use again.
The way my brain works lately, everything means something. We’re almost at the one-year anniversary of Lisa’s death, after all, and I am mentally dragging my feet through all that I do.
I’m okay right now at this very moment. But I can’t get the salmon out of my head. Or rather, “The Salmon of Regret,” which I named it on Monday night, and I can’t shake from my mind. Once I took a writing class at UCLA and the instructor often got hung up on certain lines or titles in our stories. When we crafted a particularly pleasing group of words, he would repeat them impulsively at odd points in the class. One woman’s story was about a wedding. During the planning, the mother-in-law suggested that one of the dinner entrees be salmon. ”It’s a good crossover fish,” she said. After the woman read her story aloud the teacher kept muttering “It’s a good crossover fish,” during the class and smiling to himself. That writer probably got an A on her story.
The Salmon of Regret.
When weekends are hectic I run out of gas easily and I talk myself out of grocery shopping on Sunday, which is the ideal day for me to do it. If I don’t go on Sunday, the week just gets weird. We run out of lunch-fixings too soon. I get all flustered about what’s for dinner. I dread going back to the store, even as I know it must be done.
But last weekend I spent Saturday night at the Hotel Wilshire with my dear friend and travel blogger Melanie Wynne Waldman. I came home in the afternoon on Sunday, exhausted after so much eating and relaxing. I snuggled with the kids, and the hours just went on and I could not bring myself to do anything.
And so it was that I found myself on a Monday night, late, after Stewart came home from his late evening at work, in the aisles at our local Ralph’s, a place that likes to torture me by playing 80′s pop music and wistful love songs as I shop. I was already a bit off, being there on a Monday, but at least in our town most people are home by that time of night, and it was relatively empty. I could shop in Debbie-Gibson-laced peace.
I have been using E Meals’ Clean Eating Plan for the last month or so. Perhaps you’ve seen my annoying Super Mom photos of lovely home-cooked meals on Instagram, where every snapshot shows a faux-perfect life.
This week’s menu challenged me with a dish that called for a 2 lb. salmon steak, fresh figs, and chopped pistachios. This Ralph’s does not stock fresh figs. The pistachios were $9.15 for a small can. And the salmon – well, I’m not really a seafood lover, so I’m not accustomed to buying fish. It was odd-looking and also very expensive. I’m stubborn in my grocery pursuits, however, and loathe to go to a different store later in the week, so I rationalized the salmon down to under a pound and told myself I would halve the recipe and pop into Trader Joe’s for the figs another time (Trader Joe’s is acceptable because then I get to reward myself with my favorite wines).
I put a small salmon steak in the cart. It was the least bad-looking of the pre-wrapped salmon steaks at the fish counter, unmanned at this hour. I moped through the rest of my food-gathering excursion, distracted by Billy Ocean on the speakers and a growing sense of unease. That less-than-one-pound salmon steak was going to cost me over $7.00. It probably wouldn’t even taste good. Was I really going to pick up the fresh figs and find cheaper pistachios elsewhere?
The salmon haunted me. I kept looking at its fake pink flesh as I tossed other items in the cart. Cream cheese salmon. Eggs salmon. Milk salmon. Red wine SALMON.
And here’s where I will tell you why this is meaningful, why I can’t shake the story until I write it here. I’m not even going to find a clever segue or literary device to make it seamless.
At the end of September I gave notice to my main client, CBS Local Los Angeles, and quit my job. I basically gave 36 days notice because of my contract and wanting to tie things up in a neat little bow on October 31. That is today, and now that my last day is here, I don’t exactly regret it, but I’m suddenly nervous about all the free time I’ll have without that job. I won’t get cool invitations to do fun amazing things and report about them. I won’t get to work with my group of writers, 32 and counting, who have helped me make funky little ideas into stories that make me very proud.
Since I gave notice I have had only a few moments when I wondered if it is the right move – for my family, for our budget, and for me. I’m fairly confident that the answer is yes, but I’ll know for sure only when I venture out from behind that steady gig to spend less time obsessed with work and more time on my life. I certainly (hopefully) won’t need to spend Monday nights at Ralph’s, wondering if the salmon will poison us all.
When I finally got through my list and reached the cashier. I mustered up my courage and looked him in the eye.
“Harry,” I said.
“Well, hello!” Harry was surprised because I’ve never addressed him by his first name.
“I’ve never asked you for anything, Harry. Tonight I’m asking you to send back this salmon. I’ve regretted it since the moment I put it in my cart.”
I handed him the blue styrofoam plastic wrapped package. The pinkish meat was soft in my hand.
“Well.” Harry looked at me, and then down at the salmon in my hand, and took the package. This was normally not such a profound transaction.
“If you have any second thoughts about the salmon at all, by all means, it must go,” he said, and he flung it behind him without a glance. It landed gracefully on the conveyor belt in the next register, which was closed. And then he started ringing up the rest of my items.
The next night I made vegetarian burritos for dinner.
Salmon photo by katzenfinchPin It