Our soap or our salmon can travel in tins. – Songs of Education: “Geography” by G. K. Chesterton
I like eating fish, but not all fish. I find tuna dry, nondescript, and rather tasteless. I do like salmon, however, which can be hard on the budget. One of my hobbies is chopping firewood, which saves us money and keeps me away from more expensive pursuits. So salmon sandwiches in my lunch pail is a luxury I allow myself, like an occasional cigar, or a Nero Wolfe book with its dust jacket intact, if the price is not too steep.
Theresa (my wife) indulges this luxury of mine and has gone one better: she makes sandwiches out of special white salmon. She discovered this from my mom, who used to make white salmon sandwiches for Dad and me before Dad retired and I got married. Mom said that she discovered white salmon in a specialty shop, and told us it is considered by connoisseurs to be the finest of all the varieties of salmon. I have asked at various stores where the white salmon is, and I always get the same reply: “We do not carry white salmon, sir.” When I ask my mom, or my wife, they become vague and talk about some store on the other side of town on a street whose name they cannot remember.
One Saturday morning I was shopping with my wife at the kind of store where they sell everything from furniture to ketchup. I got an idea that they might have some old black and white movies here, maybe some from Ealing Studios.
I walked along the aisles for a few miles and tried to get help from the store clerks who did not get their heads down in time to ignore me—“Movies are in aisle four, sir, in Electronics”—explored the latest craze in toasters—“You will find movies are in aisle four, sir, you are in Cooking”—spent a pleasant half-hour in a labyrinth filled with kettles equipped with safety features that cause them to shut off automatically before the water gets warm—“You will find movies in aisle four on the other side; this is aisle fifteen”—and finally got to aisle four—“You are in aisle four, sir.”
Aisle four had miniature telephones, calculators, and printers, but appeared to be innocent of movies. Strong emotions reared up within me. Down an aisle I saw a lady wearing a vest and leaning on a cart, and I walked over to her saying with irony (and I meant it!): “Do you sell movies in this store? You know, the talkies? Delightful images that wander across television screens to relay a story?”
She glanced up with tired eyes and pointed into her cart at a pile of DVDs. “You mean those?” She then pointed to a rack beside me, “Or those?” and then swept her arms in an arc across several rows of shelves filled with movies saying, “or those? Are those things what you are looking for?” Putting her head back down, she ambled away, pushing her cart, oblivious to my faltering apologies.
I found a movie.
At the checkout counter, the lady picked up my purchase, then looked me straight in the eye and shouted, “Points?”
I looked back at her. She turned to my wife beside me who said, “No.”
“Thanks,” said the lady. “Nothing personal, but your husband had that dumb deer-in-the-headlights look. I knew it was a waste of time trying to get a sensible answer from him.”
We got home just in time for lunch. Theresa had promised me my favourite, white salmon, to make up for the morning’s ordeal. In my chair, from the kitchen I heard Theresa say “Drat” rather sharply. Looking through the doorway I saw her with her finger in her mouth; she had cut it while opened a tin.
“Here, Theresa. I’ll help with that,” I said, getting up.
“No, just stay there,” Theresa told me. “It is no big deal. Go back. Sit down. Lunch will be ready in a moment.”
I got up anyway above her continued protests and came into the kitchen. There, in the mixing bowl, was a pile of white salmon and diced onions. And there, beside the bowl on the counter, were four empty tins with the words Finest Flaked Tuna on the label.
“Hey, why do all these cans say tuna? … ? … !”