Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Fishy Tale

Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing to complain about the practice at your Edgewater venue of selling old fish.  You advertise on your web site that "we go fishing everyday."  Evidently this is not the case.

Several times I have brought home seafood that smells bad: I have returned scallops, rockfish, and cod.  Fortunately, the crab cakes have always been fresh.  So suspicious have I become that I now demand to smell fish before purchasing it.  Today (Saturday, noon) I stopped by, hoping to find something for dinner.  Most of the fish in the case looked old, so I asked about the dry scallops,which I smelled.  They emitted a foul, offensive odor, and I told the salesperson that Annapolis Seafood had no right selling decrepit fish to its customers.  I then asked to speak with the manager.

Initially, he suggested the problem was me, not the scallops ("they smell like that").  I informed him that I grew up fishing on the coast of California and that we regularly bought our fish from the local wharf; moreover, my father owned and ran restaurants.  I know the difference between fresh and putrid seafood.  The manager then admitted that these scallops came in on Thursday.  They were already three days old just from being in the shop; and who knows how long they were out of the water before being shipped to Annapolis Seafood!

Most troubling of all, the manager subsequently disclosed that a fresh shipment had come in that morning, which I asked to inspect.  These scallops had the proper briny scent: they smelled like the ocean, not a garbage heap.  Clearly, the manager hoped to pawn off the old scallops before putting out the new shipment.

This is appalling, especially given the claims on your web site.  Even if the bulk of your customers can't tell the difference (or are too embarrassed to make a fuss), you have no business misrepresenting your seafood.  As I said at the outset of this letter, this is not the first time I have encountered questionable fish at your establishment.

I will continue to purchase crab cakes from Annapolis Seafood but nothing else after today's experience, which I am also recording in my blog.  We have a dining club in my community, and I will alert folks to your dubious practices. I am also going to talk to chefs and caterers in town to see about alternative sources for seafood.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Deborah Payne Fisk
Associate Professor of Literature
Affiliate Professor of Theatre
American University

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Maggie Update

The last ten days with Maggie have been gruesome. She had a terrible reaction to Cytoxan, a derivative of mustard gas. As one might expect from such a potent chemical, the side effects can be considerable. Typically Cytoxan induces cystitis-like symptoms, and in Maggie, these were especially egregious, resulting in incontinency and bloody urine.

Several times we thought about putting her down. I was especially distraught at her suffering, something I never wanted for this stoic creature who had already undergone major surgery. She sailed through the first round of chemo, and we expected, perhaps naively, that the second round would follow suit. Alas, that was not to be the case. Even though Cytoxan didn't affect her the first time through, for whatever reason it slammed her during this second course of chemo.

Gradually Maggie is improving, but if the symptoms don't abate by Friday, we will make the hard decision to put her down. The oncologist doesn't seem that concerned: he goes by the old formula of "as long as they're eating and drinking," but we're not convinced, knowing this dog as well as we do.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Possum in the Trash and the Snake in the Basement

Husband calls at 9:00 a.m. and informs me there's a possum in the trash can.

Me:  And why didn't you let him out?

Rod: I was afraid Maggie might attack him.

Me:  Why didn't you put Maggie in the car and then cope with said possum?

Rod: We were late for Maggie's appointment with the oncologist.

And so I found myself staring at a possum who had somehow pried open the lid of our trash can and slid down the recepticle to enjoy a nocturnal feast.  I thought that surfing trash cans was largely the domain of raccoons, but the sight before me suggested otherwise.  The possum regarded me with the bilious expression of a drunk recovering from a bender.  Then I noticed his panting, in addition to a protruding stomach. Was he sick?  I gave the trash can, now on its side, a little shake, hoping to encourage Mr. Possum's departure.  Instead, he dug in, resting his head on a discarded sport sock.

Another phone exchange ensued.

Me:  I think he's dying.

Rod:  They're nocturnal.  He probably just wants to sleep.  Leave him alone and eventually he'll wander off into the woods.

Me:  Maybe our trash is killing him.  What if he ate one of the socks?  What if it's entwined around his intestine?

Rod:  Then there's nothing we can do about it, right?

Annoyed by my husband's eminent reasonableness, I ventured outside again to look at Mr. Possum, who was either sleeping or dying--I couldn't tell which.  I gently picked up one end of the trash can and tipped it, sliding the marsupial to the opening.  He showed his teeth.  Testiness I took for a good sign.  We regarded each other warily until he closed his eyes, resting his head once again on the discarded sock.  Defeated, I went back into the house, certain to find a dead possum in a couple of hours.

As Rod predicted, Mr. Possum wandered away, no doubt irritated by these continuous intrusions. I worried about the effect of coffee grounds and crème fraîche on his digestive track until I read that possums (technically the Virginia Opossum or Didelphis Virginiana) are omnivores, frequently feasting on road kill.  They are also impervious to snake venom.  I figured that any creature who can withstand the bite of a rattlesnake will survive our yuppie garbage. 

Speaking of snakes, on Wednesday night I nearly stepped on one that slithered into the lower basement level of our home.  I had just put away my knitting, turned off the BBC evening report, and was making for the stairs when I heard Chloe growl, an uncharacteristic sound for this otherwise docile animal.  I looked down to see a coiled snake at my feet.  I screamed, jumped, and painfully slammed my hip into the handrail, instigating utter canine chaos as the dogs circled the intruder.  Terrified the snake might be poisonous, I grabbed the dogs by their respective collars and dragged them upstairs.  I slammed the door shut, breathing hard.  What to do?  If I left the snake below, it might eventually work its way up the stairs and under the door, finding me in the bedroom.  I imagined waking at 3:00 to the sensation of a reptile undulating against me, not the sort of amorous encounter I want in the middle of the night.

I called Rod, who was in Miami on a business trip.

Me:  There's a snake in the basement.

Rod:  What?

Me:  There's a snake in the basement.

Rod:  Is it poisonous?

Me:  How the hell do I know?

Rod: (thinking for a moment) Either sweep it out of the house or put a bucket over the snake. I'll deal with it when I get home.

Me:  The snake might die by then.  I don't want it in the house,  but I don't want it to die.

Rod:  (exasperated)  Then sweep it out of the house.

As it turned out, the snake was more terrified of me than I was of it.  I grabbed a broom and gingerly poked at the little serpent to see if it attacked or showed fangs.  He coiled defensively into a mound.  Satisfied the snake wasn't poisonous, I gently pushed him into the garage and then outside.  I went upstairs to bed, relieved that I wouldn't have an unexpected companion in the wee hours, at least not of the reptilian variety.

The next day I glanced at the web site for the Chesapeake Bay Program, hoping to identify the interloper.  Recognizing the markings, I realized to my horror that I had indeed swept a baby copperhead out of the house. Further research disclosed that the babies are just as venomous as the adults.  It was my good fortune to have encountered a cowardly copperhead; still, I'd rather not press my luck.

A condo in the heart of urban D.C. is starting to look good.    

Friday, April 4, 2008


Known for her adaptations of timeless works, such as The Arabian Nights or Ovid's Metamorphosis, Mary Zimmerman turned her sights to the ancient story of Jason and the Argonaut. Back in January we went with eager anticipation to see her latest redaction, this time staged by The Shakespeare Theatre Company. I walked away disappointed: the show, while good, had none of the polish or visual ingenuity of Metamorphosis, which we had seen in New York several years ago.

We saw Argonautika fairly early in the run, and it felt underrehearsed: entrances and exits were sloppy and some technical cues were missed. Movement-based theatre needs especially to be sharp. I was also disappointed with the poor handling of the language. Several actors treated their lines like a casual afterthought, not an essential part of the show, again, a problem I often encounter in theatre based more on movement than script.

Casting actors to fulfill an ideological aim is common these days. One sees, for instance, all-male versions of Sondheim's Company or race-reversed productions of Othello. I don't object to the practice but rather to the assumption that one must be pounded to get the point. Do we really need to see a white Othello and a black Iago to divine the complexities of race in the play? Can Bobby's reluctance to marry at the end of Company only be explained in terms of repressed homosexuality? Zimmerman, alas, was so determined to make goddesses central to her retelling of Jason's story that she cast an absolutely colorless actor in the role. His line readings were flat and without affect, as were those of the men who accompany him on the journey. The women playing the goddesses were, by contrast, energetic, funny, smart, and sexy, dominating the stage figuratively and literally (many of their scenes take place on a platform overlooking the exploits of the bland males). Okay, we get it: goddesses rule, not masculine heroics.  Zimmerman clearly wants us to rethink this ancient tale; rather than "Jason and the Argonauts," she's giving us "Jason, the hapless plaything of Hera and Athena," with the usual philippic on the evils of empire, colonies, and warfare.