The Fish Guy and the Farmers Market

Let’s go right to the moral of this story:

I’d rather pay less and get better service. Get the joke?

Once a week, we poor cloistered hamsters get to step off our wheel and enjoy the fruits of the earth, unmitigated by grocers, truckers, or any other middlemen. The Farmer’s Market graces our neighborhood. Is it a little bit like heaven? Kind of. And kind of not.

One of my favorite things has been to get fresh fish directly from The Fisherman. I don’t know his name. His credentials are the quality of the fish. They’re practically still wriggling, caught within 48 hours of the sale. I love his swordfish. His sea scallops are transcendent. And his clams call to me. They are sweet and nutty. The best.

The last time I went there – all meanings intended – I arrived chipper, if not fully awake, at 8:15am. I had to be back for an early patient, but those clams were singing my name. I waited almost patiently, the only customer, while The Fisherman, deeply engrossed in setting up his stand, said “Give me a couple of minutes.” My minutes were precious, but wasn’t it worth it? I could taste the delicious dinner: my homemade sauce, pasta, parmesan – simple but mouth-watering. After many more than a couple of minutes, another woman joined in the waiting. Right after she showed up, the hard-eyed, sinewy proprietor stepped toward us, looked at her, and said, “You wanted the fillet of…?”

“What?” I said, trying hard not to show the irritation which had already flared. “I was here first.”

A digression. Being somewhere first is a very big deal in Manhattan. It’s one of the few common values that New Yorkers share. There are many who try to beat the system. Having a friend wait on line and joining him, leaving your full shopping cart unattended at the supermarket checkout, plaintively saying “I’m just buying this one thing.” Sometimes those ploys work, but often there will be back-up if one invokes the magic words: “I was here first.”

And so I had just done. But he, our man of the hour, said, “No. She was here first.”

A blatant lie, except if you are using a different accounting system. Maybe she was there ten minutes earlier, maybe a week before, maybe she had been there last spring. Whatever. He was not playing by the rules. So, I left in a quiet huff, muttering, “I’ll just leave then.” He said, “Leave.” This customer was clearly not always right.

Disappointed (the clams are so good) and pissed off, I walked down the block, gathering a few more farm-fresh provisions. There were some big, beautiful hothouse tomatoes. That cheered me, until the smiling, well-lined face of the farmer at this stand said, “$3.15”…for one tomato!

On my way back, headed toward home, I came once more to the fish stand. Don’t hold on to resentment. And don’t cut off your nose…etc., I exhorted myself. The Fish Guy had no other customers. I approached. I stood. He was looking at his phone or calculator. He didn’t look up.

I left. For me, the fish store around the corner will suffice from now on. There, I’m treated as if I matter, and that trumps freshness.

and other tales from the Upper West Side and beyond