Lent: A time for sacrifice, and fish

For me, Lent is a time for fish and chips, the same way Thanksgiving is a time for turkey and stuffing, and the Fourth of July is a time for hot dogs and beer. You can never eat enough fish, although most of the fish I’ve been eating is deep-fried, which tends to clog your arteries, clog your pores and make you wish you’d gone for the beer and hot dogs.
Nevertheless, fish on Friday is a Lenten ritual, so we go to Big Y for the fish fry, which consists of deep-fried halibut, deep-fried clams and French fries. That’s a lot of fried food. Pretty soon, the food police will be showing up with a court order for my arrest so they can lock me up for my own safety.

Fish and chips are so popular this time of year that the line is out the door. As a result, our family has developed a carefully coordinated routine. I call my wife when I get off the train, and she puts in the order. Then, she bullies her way to the front of the line, grabs the goods and races home. You have to act fast; no one wants to eat fish and chips that have been sitting around because they get soggy.

Last week, I set the table, poured the drinks and kept the door unlocked so she could rush in and spread out the food. Everything was fine until she made a troubling discovery: “They didn’t give me any condiments.”
I hate that word “condiments.” It’s so imprecise, and I’m never sure whether it refers to relish, sauerkraut, duck sauce, soy sauce or chocolate syrup. In this case, we didn’t get any coleslaw, ketchup or tartar sauce. No tartar sauce? You may as well eat deep-fried granola.
One thing the presidential candidates have yet to discuss is the tartar sauce shortage in America. Like Social Security benefits, you can never get enough. Restaurants skimp on tartar sauce or give you packets that are so small they barely cover a scallop. Sometimes I think this is a covert government conspiracy to limit our saturated fat intake and curb obesity.

Sandy made me run outside in life-threatening frigid cold with a flashlight to check the car to see whether the condiments had fallen out. I came back empty-handed.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “We have some in the refrigerator.” She took out the jar of tartar sauce but immediately concluded, “This isn’t good. It expired six months ago.”
“That doesn’t matter. Expiration dates mean nothing. Let’s use it.”
“I’m throwing it out.” Before I could stop her, the jar ended up on the bottom of the garbage with a lot of creepy, wet and gooey stuff.
“I wanted that!”
“Too late.”
I grew up before expiration dates were invented, and everyone lived long, healthy lives. Expiration dates are just another example of government interference in a free market system. In fact, there’s probably a U.S. department with thousands of employees who do nothing but regulate expiration dates, thereby contributing to the federal deficit and spending money that could be more wisely allocated to, say, Social Security for Baby Boomers or larger packets of tartar sauce.
As we quibbled, the fish got colder and soggier. Then, another argument erupted when I realized we didn’t have a spare jar of tartar sauce in the pantry. You see, we have two different grocery shopping styles. My wife doesn't buy a replacement until the one we have is empty, whether it’s toothpaste, mayonnaise, mustard … or tartar sauce.
I, on the other hand, throw caution to the wind and buy enough reserve supplies to last until Armageddon. I have survivalist genes. I’m also following the tradition of my mother, who grew up during the Great Depression and had at least six replacements for everything — so many they usually expired years before we opened them.

In my quest for tartar sauce, I was about to drive to the supermarket, until my wife said, “The fish will be like oatmeal by the time you get back.”
I sighed and said, “OK, I’ll use ketchup.”
“We’re out of ketchup.”
My blood pressure rose to a perilously high level, and in desperation, I started rummaging through the kitchen drawer, where over the years, I’ve saved several hundred packets of ketchup, soy sauce and duck sauce from Chinese restaurants and Burger King. Fortunately, they don’t have expiration dates.
Have you ever eaten soggy fried clams with duck sauce? How about soggy fish and chips with spicy mustard? It’s a life-altering experience. It is, I suppose, a Lenten sacrifice.

Contact Joe Pisani at joefpisani@yahoo.com.