Sunday, July 31, 2011

Have You Heard the News!? Tuna's the New Chicken!

Fans!  It's been so long!  Gracious me, how I've missed our time together.  You're all treasures, each and every one of you, and though your parents have disowned you for your sinful ways, I never will. 

Anyhow, I've spent the last month writing distasteful things for you to enjoy, along with working on this really volatile essay called Contact--which might prove to be my most revealing, moving and poignant essay yet.  I've also been working on novel number two, Silence.  For those of you invested in my novels, you'll be glad to know that after a year of work on this, my most difficult book, I've finally figured out what its shocking twist will be.  I am so triumphant!   I won't give anything away, but let's just say that certain themes keep popping up in my fiction, and one of these themes is "women are dangerous."  So watch your backs, boys!

Here is something completely insane I wrote especially for you.  Enjoy...  Oh, and let me know if it actually offends you and why.  I'm consistently and joyously offensive to Christians (who've totally earned it), but lately my critique group has been pointing out that my work is offensive to blacks, women, the mentally disabled, members of my immediate family and smelly people (I'm not kidding).

Taking Back Tuna


            I don’t eat creatures from the sea.  It’s not that I’m above ingesting things that eat their own shit or anything snooty like that; after all, I love chicken.  It’s just that the four-year-old in me has always found seafood sort of icky.  The taste of it.  The look of it—so often shining with slime.  And then there’s that smell.

Somehow I think my pathological aversion runs deeper than the superficial, though.  It really began at the grocery store where I used to shop with my grandfather when I was a kid.  There I’d be in the seafood section, engaging in an impossible staring contest with one rainbow trout after another.  They’d pierce my soul with those goopy zombie eyes, each paralyzing me in its everlasting gaze.  I’d imagine their little jaws working up and down, speaking all the horrors they’d been through that brought them to this place of indignity.  Pitiful things, the lot of them, gutted corpses wrapped in clear plastic and displayed like slaves at the auction, each fish’s weight trumpeted in bold black ink right there on its packaging.  How humiliating. 

You didn’t see the other animals treated this way.  I mean, I’m sure it sucked for all those cows to get hacked to bits and fed through a meat grinder, but at least you didn’t have to see their frowning faces, each eye open and arresting as if to say, I see what you did to me, to my friends Clover and Maribel here in the Deli Section.  We had hopes and dreams, you know; we were going to open a yogurt shop at the mall and chew grass until we died of old age.  But that’s all over now, isn’t it?

I suppose if I grew up somewhere in the third world, I’d be less inclined today to partake in the occasional lemon-marinated chicken breast served on a bed of rice pilaf.  I’d have been traumatized by the beady stares of the whole chickens roasted on sticks that you could buy for 12,000 dinar a piece at the local open-air marketplace—sure, those crunchy beaks could do wonders for a guy’s colon, but so long as they were attached, I’d only ever hear the strangled clucks of pain and crows for mercy as the birds turned slowly over the flames.  I guess being born into one of the most modern and civilized nations in the world, I just never got the chance to have my humanity called into question by a piece of poultry.

So anyway, the other day I’m hanging out with my roommate-slash-cousin Whitney—tall, beautiful and exotic in a racially ambiguous sort of way.  She’s busying herself in our dated kitchen, mixing up something that smells distinctly like it rode in on a dolphin-drawn seashell carriage.  I’m leaning up against the faded laminate countertop—a remnant of the Cold War era—wrinkling my nose behind Whitney’s back and thinking up distasteful things to say about the tuna she’s about to eat for dinner.  The under-the-panty jokes all seem too easy, so I just keep my mouth shut and head to the fridge like the grazing cow I am. 

I’m neck deep in the refrigerator, sleeves rolled to the elbows for ease of movement and quicker reflexes, like a tracker on safari.  I’m moving things around, hunting for something self-destructive I can feel guilty about later, when Whitney asks me to pass her the mayonnaise.  Oh, dear God, things just went from fish sticks to octopus legs on the gross-out meter—I mean, the only thing that could make fin-food any less appealing is the addition of mayonnaise: the most disgusting edible substance since afterbirth.  With a little shudder, I pass Whitney the jar, held at arm’s length by the tippy-tips of my fingers.  I shake off the disgust and dive back into the wilds of the fridge. 

Searching. 

Searching. 

Ah-ha!  Feta!  I consider making a salad for about three seconds, but decide it’s faster, easier and more satisfying to just eat the cheese straight out of the tub. 

I prop myself back at the counter and start popping curds like they’re marshmallows or something, watching Whitney spread her sloppy concoction on a slice of bread.  She says, “I’ve always loved tuna fish, but I never let my mom make it for me when I was in school because I was embarrassed to eat it in the cafeteria.”

Before thinking I blurt, “Yeah, dude.  That shit totally stinks.”  This from the guy with a mouthful of something that could have been aged under a toenail.

Whitney get’s this light-bulb look on her face.  “We should totally start a campaign to change tuna’s image!”

Uh-huh. 

“There could be commercials and print-ads with little kids smiling and eating tuna together…”  Her gaze roams to the ceiling with the effort of her scheming.  She mutters, “Lots of bright colors…  A mascot.  And… and a song!” 

My cousin, tuna’s publicist.   

She takes a bite of her sandwich, gets that post-bong hit expression on her face.  “Oh, yeah.  It’ll have to be catchy, for sure.  Something you could sing in a round.”  She claps her hands together.  “‘The Tasty Tuna Song!’  Perfect!  I mean, no kid should have to hide behind the library to enjoy a tuna sandwich.” 

For a moment I imagine my cousin at eight years old, hiding her shame in a brown bag and taking quick bites from under her denim jacket with no one to keep her company but the marmey librarian, a horn-rimmed spinster-type who’s used to the particular funk of tuna because it’s the favorite meal of all those cats she keeps as tenants.  Yes, things have been hard for the chicken of the sea, especially on elementary school campuses. 

I let my mind wander to my distant past, to Jacks Valley Elementary School.  In the fourth grade my best friend was this plump blonde with a gap between her teeth, a raging case of ADD, and a Lost in Space fixation.  Natalie, I’ll call her.  I think Natalie chose me as her best friend because she had a philanthropic chamber in her heart reserved for misfits and gutter trash.  I was the kid who didn’t bathe regularly and wore the same two button-ups—one a patterned lavender nightmare and the other a neon green travesty—every alternating day.  I ate far too many Hostess Powdered Donettes, had the spare doughnut around my waist to prove it, and found that opening my mouth was a bit dangerous because the voice that came out belonged not to a strapping boy, but to a delicate little girl. 

Natalie and I were the perfect pair, enjoying many giggles at the expense of whatever bodily function had drawn our attention that day, and Natalie never hesitated to sacrifice herself for a laugh.  This one day she said to me, “So I went to my grandma’s house the other night.”

“Uh-huh.”  I nodded as Natalie spoke, always invested in her jokes.

“I asked what we were having for dinner, right?  And Grandma just jumped on the table, pulled down her pants and yelled, ‘TUNA!’”  As she told the joke, Natalie actually leaped on the cafeteria table and dropped her jeans, the word “tuna” trumpeted with a flair that suggested it might be accompanied by a swinging brass section and jazz hands.  Poor tuna, Natalie and I were about as lame as they come, but the fish couldn’t escape its role as the butt of even our stupid jokes.

This is why I totally understand my cousin’s need to reinvent tuna as one of the cool kids.  After all, with the dandruff caked in my hair and the nickname Natalie gave herself—The Constipated Cow—we were basically tuna’s human contemporaries.

To look at me now one might never guess I was the fat, smelly kid.  I groom meticulously and lament every perceived imperfection in the mirror. I work out like Jessie Spano in that very special episode of Saved by the Bell.  I pluck my nose hairs instead of trimming them because I feel I deserve to be punished for growing nose hairs in the first place, and I buy new clothes that I don’t need just because it feels good to wear something fresh off the rack.  My reinvention took many awkward teen years and the tenacity toward perfection that only a gay with an obsessive disorder could possess, but I’ve effectively left my old distasteful self behind.  And Natalie?  Well she became the coolest kind of kid around—a successful stand-up comedian who converses with her own vagina on stage before live, paying audiences, people who would never have spared her a glance back in the days when she showed up to school dressed as a Power Ranger.

So all of this is going through my head as I’m standing in the kitchen with Whitney, tub of feta tipped to my lips, tapping it gently to gobble down the last bits of feet-flavored goodness.  I wish I had some sun-dried tomatoes right about now.  And here I realize that I actually want to be a soldier for tuna.  If Whitney needs brave volunteers to dance on street corners while wearing tuna-sandwich boards, she can sign me up.  I’ll help a defenseless fish out, sure, maybe lead a special-ops unit charged with infiltrating first-grade classrooms to change how tuna’s seen in the eyes of judgy children far and wide, kids whose palettes are too immature to benefit from the fish’s high concentration of omega 3s and lean protein.  Yeah.  Yeah, why not?

And when one of those little monsters of six years makes a less-than-gracious remark about the tuna samples being passed around the room, I’ll simply ask him to stick his finger in his belly button and smell it.  Man-oh-man!  What a riot that will cause!  “Not so high and mighty now, are we, young Master Timmy?” 

As our Taking Back Tuna movement grows, Whitney will get lots of national media attention.  I’ll most certainly get to accompany her to high-profile interviews with the likes of Anderson Cooper, the sexiest silver fox on CNN.  All my favorite Food Network Stars will line up to meet us for sure.  Heck, maybe we’ll get to guest on Paula’s Best Dishes where we’ll whip up something that even the addition of tuna can’t save from being thoroughly artery clogging.

Yes, it’ll all be so great; Tuna will never again a punch line in a cunnilingus joke, and Whitney and I will be famous beyond our wildest imaginations, the saviors of the most misunderstood fish in the brine.  

Just don’t think for a moment that I’m eating any of that icky stuff.  Seriously.  That’s just nasty.

May your test results forever come back negative,

Josh

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