5-Cent Salmon?

How I lost my slippers but found the deal of the century

I like the shorter days. We get so much sun out here in L.A., a scorching embarrassment of beveled gold beams.

By September, I’ve had as much ultraviolet light as my rhubarb complexion can take. We Vikings of the north country are tough as ship rope. But we tend to have delicate, candle-wax skin that melts in the sun. I guess everyone has something.

Another thing about September: In California, it’s when the state catches fire and stays that way till Christmas, when the summer rains finally arrive.

Dear gawd, this place.

As a friend noted the other day, “Just remember, 93% of California is not on fire right now.”

So I try to stay positive.

History is full of stories of meek minister’s wives who one day sit down and grind out a great novel…a novel out of nowhere. They just suddenly have the urge to rid themselves of every naughty thought and past dysfunction and some forbidden romance that caught them by surprise, out of nowhere, just like the novel itself.

I will do that one day, and it’ll probably happen in September or October, when the days are shorter and you rake the cupboards for a throw-blanket, and ask, “Oh, where did I lose my slippers? Hey Smartacus, have you seen my slippers?”

“No, Dad.”

“Well, they were right here five months ago.”

In the cooler mornings, the coffee tastes better, the mug feels good cradled against the hand. It is weather well-suited to writing.

By the way, I just discovered that coffee mugs are great for ice water. They keep it chilled, and don’t sweat like a typical water glass.

So I pass that tip along, now that summer is ending. I’ve always been the sort of lame goof who figures things out a tad too late…who gets the crossword answers while nodding off at midnight, or starts novels at age 63.

Do you ever wonder how you would’ve lived your life, if you knew then what you know now?

Would you marry and start having babies in the seventh grade, as Posh and I did?

Would you move to Los Angeles with two kids in a small Honda with the mistaken notion you could actually afford a decent house here?

Would you have four kids, when you could barely afford a cat?

Would you toil for more than 40 years in a dying industry – publishing – despite any indication you were ever much good at it?

Never a raise, never a bonus, never a kind or encouraging word.

Would you spend countless hours coaching other people’s children, lugging mesh bags of wet soccer balls and buckets of scuffed baseballs, while other parents showed up when practice was over, in their BMWs and expensive Italian shoes, which you can afford when you don’t duck out of work at 4 p.m. to go coach other people’s kids?

Dear gawd…

The other day, I was lamenting that I am the poorest dad I know. The exterminator was here, and announced that it would cost 6 grand to rid my prairie home – my humble three-bedroom ranch – of critters in the attic. That’s right, 6 grand.

Apparently, our attic contains wombats, foxes, snakes, jackals, bobcats, mink, kangaroo rats, bears, baboons, the Easter Bunny and a couple of dudes named Floyd.

Basically, every kind of creature lives in our attic. Hence, the $6,000 bid.

“It’s not good,” the inspector said when he came down out of the attic. “Not good.”

He’s lucky, I suppose, just to have survived up there.

Look, I am happy to have a home at all (see above) and owning one requires spending gobs of money on invisibles such as mold removal or re-piping, or other things that just don’t show.

You spend 6 grand on a stove, and you have something to look at – “Hey, check out my new digital vintage stove. How much? Only 6 grand.”

But you spend 6 grand on invisibles, and all you have is peace of mind, which is highly overrated and (I’m finding) kind of expensive too.

My advice: Give up on peace of mind entirely. It’s so overpriced, and ultimately unattainable.

Then I dashed out for groceries, while I still had a few bucks left.

As you know, groceries are way more expensive now than before COVID, and I can assure you prices won’t come down, since prices never come down.

I swear, I could be the next Keynes or Friedman just by stating (pompously, while wearing a bow tie) what everybody already knows: Prices never drop.

Yet, in the butcher case yesterday, near the brats and the Italian sausage, I found little slabs of fresh salmon, packed that same morning, for 5 cents.

I mean, not all of them were a nickel. Some of the packages were 7 cents, which is a 40% markup, so I stayed clear of those.

“Look at this,” I showed a nearby shopper. “Five cents!” because I couldn’t believe my eyes.

She took one package, I took two, because it seemed greedy to take all six or seven packages that were on display.

Thirty years ago, would I have moved to L.A. had I known that one ashy September morning – the sky the color of old milk — I would find packages of salmon in the supermarket butcher case for 5 cents?

You bet I would.

In good conscience, I started to ask the butcher what the deal was, and might he lose his job, but he was busy with another customer, and quite frankly I don’t find the butcher staff at this particular store very responsive anyway.

So, I said, “What the puck” and tossed the two packages in my grocery buggy, with the carrots and the beer and the too many bags of Cape Cod potato chips (my favorite vegetable).

If we have choices, we have a life. So much comes down to appreciating our choices.

Besides, I figured there was a good chance the cashier would question why they were giving away fish that day, when they were charging so much for everything else. It wouldn’t seem consistent to her, given the supermarket’s general principle that prices never come down again.

“Hey boss, look at this,” she’d say, waving the 5-cent packages. “We’re giving away fresh Atlantic salmon today?”

To balance things out, I added an overpriced pumpkin to my buggy—I didn’t want to seem a thief.

A day later, I have a pumpkin on the porch and two packages of salmon in the fridge, a 10-cent investment of which I remain proud. I mean, I’m afraid to eat it, yet proud just the same.

On the way to the car, another shopper questioned the pumpkin purchase:

“A pumpkin already?” the stranger asked, and she said it with judgment, pronouncing it “all-read-EEEEEE,” like she was playing the xylophone or something, pinging the high notes a little extra hard.

This shopper had purple hair, so it’s not like I’m the only weird one in the conversation. If you have purple hair, should you really go around questioning other people’s choices?

Evidently, the answer is yes.

To tell the truth, purple is now my favorite hair color. I see it more and more, and the people with the purple hair – seldom men – always seem a little more engaged and curious about the world.  

Good news! Apparently, our attic contains wombats, foxes, snakes, jackals, bobcats, mink, kangaroo rats, bears, baboons, the Easter Bunny and a couple of dudes named Floyd #ChrisErskineLA

I like them very much.

Not sure the purple’s purpose. I just assume they must be avid Vikings fans, who like me, are glad that the sun is easing up a bit and that the days are getting shorter.

Like me, they probably fondly recall Fran Tarkenton and listen to too much Garrison Keillor while enjoying a nice mid-priced Syrah.

And they probably have a pumpkin on their porch.

Yes. Al-read-EEEEEE.

My new book is now available. It’s called “Lavender in Your Lemonade,” and you can get it here. The print copy is $11 and the ebook is $7, not the same as 5-cent salmon but hopefully not too bad. This is one of the ways you can support this crazy operation, and I thank you in advance. Best, Chris

32 thoughts on “5-Cent Salmon?

  1. I have made hundreds of forehead-slapping mistakes in my life. Avoiding any one of them could have made me more successful, but would have kept me from meeting my wife. That’s why we don’t really get do-overs.

  2. Way to go, Chris! Marínate, cook, eat that salmon with gusto and with Smartacus.
    You earned it.
    I love your take on life. I’m buying your book now.I, for one, appreciate you.

  3. I hope you get a second opinion on the attic zoo. Sounds way out of line. Was that sentence about the publishing employer, you know the one I mean, hyperbole or true? I cannot believe that. Seriously. Who does that?

  4. On this ghastly air “quality” day, you have lifted my spirits with your incisive comments about a variety of things. Chris, you must understand one thing. The supermarkets HAVE to raise their prices to pay for all those plastic shields that protect you from the COVID. I hope you will excuse my sarcasm.

  5. Enjoy the salmon dinner!
    You may have to find a different market in which to shop or keep a very low profile in your local Vons.

  6. “Never a raise, never a bonus, never a kind or encouraging word.” I can’t give you a raise or a bonus Chris, but here’s an encouraging word…Your column was the best part of the L.A. Times. I look forward to reading “Lavender in Your Lemonade”. And thank God Autumn’s almost here. The season that never disappoints.

  7. Oh, Chris, your writing is just beautiful, and your ability to make light of so many things that occur to us(NOT 5 cent Salmon, though!) keeps so many of us going! You have a gift and you are helping people. Keep it up! Oh, and now that you have published this, the Vons Salmon police are heading to collect from you!!

  8. Okay Erskine, no more pithy comments from me until you moderate the one I lovingly sent you last week! To wit: Well, I hope you didn’t count me with the angry mobs, though I was a little surprised by the Trevor and Idina appraisals. But certainly not angry or outraged or even a little bit peeved. You are completely entitled to those opinions even if I disagree with them. But really, you don’t feel the same way about Bill Maher? With his “Oh the sky is falling we’re going to lose the election and we are doomed” Chicken Little bit (and so sexist attitude toward women) anyway I digress, We’ll always have Leonard Cohen, John Prine and maybe some day Chez Jay … and I’ll love you til I die. signed: Your Pal Judy, XOXO
    And BTW I have a GREAT broiled salmon recipe (with mustard cream dill sauce!!)

  9. I preferred Kettle chips over Cape Cod, but since my last glucose and A1c numbers were in the danger zone I’ve had to give up all of them, along with many other food items.

  10. FYI – there’s no such thing as Atlantic salmon except way up north around Greenland which is not harvested for the U.S. It’s a made up name for farm raised salmon which has high levels of mercury and pollutants from runoff. Pregnant women are advised not to eat it and it shouldn’t be overly consumed. Maybe that’s why it was five cents. Wild Pacific salmon is healthy and way more expensive.

  11. No such thing as “…too many bags of Cape Cod potato chips…” The book is ordered. Couldn’t find the link to have the author sign and deliver personally. Please send it.

  12. Four words for you… Victor Electronic Mouse (or Rat) Trap. OK, I added two words. 2 traps, $40.00 and my garage is free of vermin. Cheaper than a Westie!

  13. I was in such a “pissy” mood until I read today’s post.
    Thank you again for brightening my otherwise dreary day. I think it’s time for a gin and tonic. 😘

  14. OMG thank you for making me laugh out loud today: “To balance things out, I added an overpriced pumpkin to my buggy—I didn’t want to seem a thief.” THAT line is hilarious!!! And, it’s been rare lately that I’ve laughed out loud!

  15. Enjoy the salmon and do give a bite to the wolf. My pup loves salmon and it’s good for their coat! Get a second opinion on the critter situation… that is outrageous even for LA! Love your writing and can’t wait to get the book!

  16. Yikes. $6000? What is in that attic? More than critters. Bigfoot or Jimmy Hoffa I’m guessing. I’d get a second opinion too. Glad you are enjoying the shorter days. Here in the Midwest, I’m not so fond of them as it signals that winter is near and that means one thing: hibernation…the inactive state that gets us through the Chicago winters. Looking forward to the book…like I do these columns! Ordering now.

      1. October is nice with crisp days, fall foliage and Friday Night Lights in my town. It comes after false fall (don’t care for) and the 1 week-long second summer. We have 11 seasons here. Hard to keep track. Also interested in a book signing.

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