I think Happiness is mis-sold, overvalued and under-appreciated. I mean the emotion/ state-of-mind rather than the (excellent, though difficult-at-first) film by Todd Solodnz.
Happiness is difficult to do right -and almost impossible to maintain for very long. All’s it takes to rain on a day-long flotation of upbeat positivity is often a dismissive sigh, a shake of the head or an eyes-a-sky selfish shrug from a “friend” for it all to come crashing down.
I’ll give you an example of the birth and death of Happiness…
I recently found myself in a fish shop for the first time in living memory. Now, I’m almost certain I bought fish in such a shop in the past, but for some reason I don’t seem to recall ever doing so. Perhaps the soft muzak, wide aisles and anonymous de-shelving in supermarkets has dulled my memories of all commercial tête-à-têtes, but I don’t remember the last time before now that I set foot in a shop that sold nothing but fish.
“We don’t eat enough seafood!” I had decided as I cheerily threw open the door, without another thought, and stepped inside just such a store to try my dab hand in selecting from the catch of the day.
Immediately inside I realised I was in another world. It wasn’t the pleasant foreign lady (Eastern European I believe) behind the stall that lent me this impression, but rather the selection of deceased sub mariner stock she had to offer. There were bug-eyed monsters of the deep, de-scaled tentacled limbs aplenty, clawed and clamped shells -large and small, ice-packed stacks of fishy chunks of pink and purple and grey and white and orange. There were fins and flippers and shark-jaws and whale-bones and… ok I might be getting carried away here, but suffice to say I didn’t know what I was looking at or how to choose what I -or more importantly the rest of my family- might find edible.
“Er, oh, umm…” I mused, unsure if my ruse to represent disorientation as uncertainty was succeeding. I often do this, I don’t mind telling you. For some reason it comes naturally to me to fake one reaction for another. I’ve often found myself mid-fall on a public pavement, suddenly pretending to be tying my shoelace. Well not often, obviously, but you know what I mean.
For some reason I prefer to look like a prat on his back attempting to tie a shoelace with his legs in the air than to be thought of as someone who has just lost his balance. It’s somehow more dignified to suddenly stop dead and concentrate on the writing on a poster on a lamp-post, pretending to read it intently than to admit you very nearly almost twonked your head on it.
But I digress… I was standing in the fish-shop, unable to discern a prawn from a mackerel, trying to look like Lord Faulkner choosing between pheasant or swan for dinner, when I was rescued by the smiling assistant.
“Cod?” she offered, lifting a hefty-looking slab o’fish.
“Ehh..” I began, but soon gained ground by transforming it mid-h into an “aaaahhh yes, why not! …Two of those and two small ones for the kids!” I enthused.
“You want me cut it for 2 adult 2 children?” she asked, as though she didn’t quite grasp my precise meaning.
Quickly reassessing the fillet to be around the size of an over-large salt-water, full-fat cat, I once again dodged a bullet by nodding yes yes yes, over-excitedly. Clearly that is what I was saying, but our common language was proving a barrier to effective communication.
She smiled politely as she turned away and I availed of the opportunity to steal a quick titter of my own. By now I had realised we didn’t have a pan large enough to fry one of those fillets whole, nevermind if I had bought four of them.
“Would you like anything else?” she enquired, handing over two hefty, though small plastic bags.
I still had no idea how much such an amount of cod cost these days. Wasn’t cod expensive? I had 20 euros in my pocket -did I need a bankcard? I wouldn’t have been happy if I did, but was prepared to do so and later plead temporary insanity rather than contemplate anything else.
I looked at the label on the larger bag and quickly spotted “4.75” on there. With obvious relief I relaxed and pointed to the salmon steaks I had prided myself on recognising.
“I’ll take two salmons,” I said, nonchalantly.
Of course, rather than embarrassing me with two whole salmon, again the gracious merchant before me lifted a couple of portions with a polite and stifled giggle.
…I won’t continue with this comedy of transactional errors -You get the point. Suffice to say, it was an excruciating experience for me, but I came out of that shop somewhat dizzy and elated, as though I was a sixteen year old who had just succeeded in buying a naggin of vodka, a packet of cigarettes and a large box of ribbed & flavoured condoms without being asked for I.D. or having a raised eyebrow boomeranged across the counter at me.
I had bought fish from a fish-mongers and come out the other side, older and wiser! At LAST I WAS A MAN!!
It was a good day and my happiness was unbounded. All the way home I left cars into traffic before me and waved merrily at angry drivers giving me the finger for doing so. It was almost lunchtime and I was returning home to cook me a salmon. I couldn’t have felt more elated if I had netted it myself on the open sea.
…So, without further ado, I’m in the kitchen preparing my meal. How best to cook it? Nothing too fancy -it’s just me on my own, remember. I find some garlic and ginger purées in the fridge and squirt them on. Crack a bit of pepper over and slide it under a moderate grill. Is this enough for me? I remember those egg noodles I bought in 1997 that have been clogging the cupboard ever since, just waiting for their opportunity to shine. I boil them up, drain them and toss them on a pan with a few frozen vegetables (yes I was a little carried away by now, but what the hell)
So happy was I after preparing this simple, but gorgeous looking meal -so overwhelmed by my genius in making this culinary delight I took a picture of it, certain I’d never be able to effectively describe its perfection otherwise.
And here, for the first time, is that picture…
I know what you’re thinking, but let me assure you it did in fact taste every bit -AND MORE- as delicious as it looks. …That’s not where this is going. Just hang on a little bit longer…
The rest of the afternoon was a delight. Nothing could phase me. Everything was right in the world. For evening meal, I made some vague mental preparations –“beer battered cod on a bed of fried noodles with mushrooms and some other stir-fried vegetables” It couldn’t fail. I knew Mrs. Rumm wasn’t the greatest fish-lover in the world, but this was cod! Everybody -including Mrs. Rumm, I know, loves cod! Even the children love fish fingers -this is just fish fingers -only more of it. And my beer batter would be a damn fine improvement on the frozen battered Donegal Catch they often eat. It couldn’t fail to be a big hit!
I had prepared the batter in the meantime (using Carlsberg instead of milk or water) and was about to open one of the bags to dunk the first portion as Mrs. Rumm came through the front door. The children jumped up & down with glee. It was the perfect day.
“Look what I’m making for dinner!” I announced with delight, lifting the two bags of hefty fish (one bag half-opened) toward my good lady wife. She was at least five-feet from the bags, but immediately she screwed her nose into her face and made a “eurgh!” noise.
“It’s cod!” I assured her, lest she think I brought home something alien.
“Eurgh!” she intoned again.
“You like cod!” I reminded her, suddenly irrationally almost ready to cry.
“What are we having with it?” she softly demanded to know.
“Noodles!” I rebounded “…fried with vegetables!”
“…The kids would prefer pasta.”
Now, it’s not that Mrs. Rumm is a heartless cow. It’s not that she said any of the above with any malicious or even conscious intent, but I’m sure you can at least empathise with me as I admit I did not cook dinner that evening.
Nothing much of note happened after that. I placed the fish back in the fridge with a none-too-pleased huff, then left the kitchen. Mrs. Rumm made something for herself and the kids. Later I emerged and made some beer-battered cod on a bed of stir-fried noodles & vegetables for myself. Mrs. Rumm sat across from me and tried to make-good by looking appreciatively and longingly at it, but didn’t plead for a taste and I neither did I offer any. I knew she was none-too-pleased with me that she had to quickly feed two hungry children and herself, but I had no intention of acknowledging that.
Over the next two days I ate nothing but fish and though it tasted great, none of it reintroduced me to happiness. I never attempted to explain my joy and subsequent disenchantment to anyone -least of all Mrs. Rumm. I did try to imagine I might mention how I had previously been so happy that I photographed my lunch, but I couldn’t find a way to say it without sounding pathetic or silly. I wasn’t looking for sympathy or favours. I merely wanted to give her a figurative slap of a wet fish. It wasn’t possible to do that with a sad and fishy tale. So I didn’t bother.
I gave the kids the last (small) cod portion between them. They lapped it up and looked for more, but by then it was much too late. Happiness had lived and died and its passing had nary been acknowledged.
I’d like to add, that was some months ago. I have since been back to the fish shop in question and we’ve all enjoyed a number of seafood dinners from there. I’ve also discovered their prices are at least half those charged for inferior produce in supermarkets. If you are lucky enough to have a local fishmongers -don’t let it die! Go now! BUY FISH!
(Copyright Stanley Rumm -as with all posts on this site, unless otherwise stated)