Friday, November 6, 2009


What do I know about tuna fish? It can be scrumptious with mayonnaise. It's high in mercury. It's over-fished commercially.

What can I find out about tuna fish? Canned tuna was first produced in 1903. Skipjack tuna are sacred in central Melanesia. The seventh album by American light rockband R.E.O. Speedwagon was, "You Can Tune a Piano but You Can't Tuna Fish."

Why do I care about tuna fish? Because, in thinking about it today, I realized the tuna fish sandwich is the only remaining meal that has to be made by my mom in order for me to eat it.

(circa 2001)

When I was a kid, I couldn't relish sandwiches of any kind if they didn't originate from her hand; for a long time lasagna drew my scorn if it wasn't maternal. And, for me, non-mom meatloaf was a non-starter long into my teen years. Tuna remains, alone on my picky-list.

There's something intimate about a tuna fish sandwich. I don't want just anyone preparing it for me. There's the mixing, the moisture, the very real and horrifying prospect of too much or too little celery. Also, oil-fish and dairy is an inherently disgusting combination: therefore, said combination needs to be handled by someone I utterly trust, a person of light-hand on the mayo and deft touch with the pimentos.

Imagine your tongue tasting, for the first time, a suspect batch of tuna salad. The texture. The worry. You start to sweat. You start to chew. . .

It's enough to make me shiver.

I'm thinking about a man making me a tuna fish sandwich right now. His strong hands blending all of that cold gumminess. The sound of the creamy gray fish emulsifying in the tupperware. He forms it into a piscine bolus. I smell a tang. Could it be delicious?

No! It's unnatural. Inedible. Inoedipal!

(It's even hard for me to watch this trustworthy guy and his tuna).

Today, I was offered such a meal by my friend Joe. I declined.

But I love tuna fish. And male camaraderie. And I'm no bigot. So I think I know what I can count on if I'm ever so politely invited again: pepper.

Pepper neutralizes most any culinary fear. Peppering is like putting one's signature on a bit of food, our way of convincing ourselves that we've authored the dish and that it's okey-doke. Pepper looks hearty. Pepper binds. Black flecks of security, mild spice of confidence, stipple of safety.

I'll always love you, mom, but I'm ready to grow up now.

Bring on the tuna, Joe. Bring on the tuna.


Joe said...

Hallelujah, I am ready to tuna. As we speak I am mentally walking myself through each step of delicate prep (yes, as you said, the making of tuna salad is a risk, it's not like slapping together a PBJ or a turkey club).

I remember hearing a story on the radio about a guy making tuna at a restaurant. He's standing in the kitchen in the early dawn, before the place opens, with a giant saucepot full of of tuna. He's dumping in mayo and pickles and lemon juice and in between squirts of mustard he's got his hands wrist-deep in the mess, kneading it, all the time a cigarette dangling from his mouth and the inevitable falling ash or two . . . that's not even trying to walk the tuna tightrope: this guy's just wading through the marsh. Terrifying, yes.

Joe said...

Also, if I'm not mistaken, President Obama actually tasted the tuna, then proceeded to use the same fork to stir it up again. My sweetheart would have murdered me had she been witness to such a transgression.