Fingernails are amazing. Earlier tonight, on our way home from Chinook's, I discovered a new use for them. With my left hand on the wheel of the car, I was able to use the fingernail of my right index finger to scrape away the dried salsa on the cuff of my jacket.
Is there anything more convenient than a fingernail?
The salsa had dripped there from a previous evening. We had gone to Señor Villa in Lake City to meet with D & H, who were a no-show. D texted us minutes after we’d left our apartment to let us know he had a migraine and he and H couldn’t make it. We received the message shortly after sitting down in the restaurant. We told the waitress the other two people we were expecting weren’t going to be there. She asked if we were going to stay. We said yes. I’m glad we did. The food was terrific. I had enchiladas with salsa. The salsa must’ve dropped from my fork en route to my mouth as I speedily caused my dinner to disappear into my stomach.
Chinook’s has become our favorite restaurant, which is a little ironic, as their specialty is seafood and I don’t normally care for seafood. I do, however, like crab cakes and fish and chips. It is the fish and chips that we look forward to at Chinook’s. That and the garlic bread which comes speedily and free to your table almost as soon as you sit down. The bread is moist and warm.
Chinook’s is located at Seattle’s Fishermen’s Terminal on Salmon Bay, a little over a mile east of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and immediately west of the Ballard Bridge. The terminal serves more than 600 vessels, most of them commercial, though there are now some pleasure craft moored there as well, which has been the source of ongoing conflict between the commercial interests and the wealthy, recreational boaters. The main point of contention, dating back to 2009, was over the possible removal of the storage sheds the fishermen use for drying their nets with a view toward boosting their value as real estate and rendering them attractive for redevelopment, i.e. gentrification. I don’t know what has happened since. So far as I know, the drying sheds are still there.
The view from nearly every table at Chinook’s is that of commercial fishing boats. The bay is mostly calm, and the late afternoons - which are our customary time for dinner - see little activity. It’s mostly just people leisurely strolling by or a few gulls wheeling and spiraling above the masts.
They offer three types of fish: salmon, halibut, and lingcod. We order the lingcod.
I’m always afraid to ask where the fish comes from. The ocean has been so fouled by garbage, nanoparticles of plastic, fertilizers, mercury and oil that it seems like a miracle that anything is able to live in it.
This is true of anything we buy. You can’t escape it. Everything has a sad history of pain and suffering and exploitation behind it, destruction and exhaustion of natural resources, overworked and poorly paid workers, habitats lost to urban development and climate change, species driven into extinction by pesticides and noise. Species are unable to communicate when the environment is too noisy. Reproduction declines. Populations disappear.
And yet people continue to use leaf blowers and power-wash their driveways. It’s mind-boggling how destructive the human animal can be.
The meal arrives with astonishing swiftness. The fish is good. It’s moist and tasty, and very, very hot. I almost get a second-degree burn pulling a steaming morsel of pale tender meat from my mouth.
I don’t taste anything like plastic or mercury. Which is not to say it’s not there, it might be there, but it if is there, I’m not tasting it. Like everything else which is sure to have a disturbing narrative attached to it, I’ve learned how to enjoy things by drawing heavily on my ability to produce a state of cognitive dissonance. I try not to peer too deeply into the reality of things. I have to. It would be overwhelming otherwise; I would be crushed by the weight of too much reality.
My favorite brand of illusion is a phenomenon known as “optimism bias.” Optimism bias provides the illusion that you are somehow less prone to negative events than you would otherwise more realistically conclude. This makes it a silly and potentially dangerous illusion, but without it I’d be stumbling around in a leaden existential funk.
It’s largely a dishonest psychological mechanism. I would prefer honesty, but honesty comes at a very high price. Honesty means acceptance of the fundamental temporariness of life (I’m fairly good in this department), but it also means putting an end to the filtering out of a lot of information because the knowledge is ugly and implicates you in a ubiquitous web of global predation. It means you accept your role in global malfeasance and exploitation, even though it is mostly involuntary. It means maintaining a high level of awareness at all times. If you agree with Buddhist philosophy and the idea that all life is suffering, you can see how this might be a difficult position to sustain. You might want to take up the actual practice of Buddhism and learn to live with the inner chaos, torment and contradictions of a modern identity. This burden is significantly lightened by two things: a sense of compassion, and the awareness that the self is an illusion. One’s core reality is the void.
But let’s say Buddhism isn’t your cup of tea: is there a way out of this web? One might, I suppose, go live an autonomous, self-sustaining life in the wilderness, provided that one can still find a wilderness. The one person who most notably attempted this in recent history was Christopher McCandless, who inspired a book by Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild) which was developed into a movie by Sean Penn and Emile Hirsch. McCandless spent 113 days living by himself in the Alaskan wilderness, eating edible roots and berries and finding shelter in an abandoned bus. Things did not go as planned. His body was found in the bus on September 26th, 1992, by some hunters nineteen days after he’d died. It was surmised that McCandless, already in a seriously emaciated state, had eaten the seeds of the wild sweet pea, believing it to be the wild Eskimo potato, which are toxic.
Me, I get by with a little help from my friends: optimism bias and cognitive dissonance. And when they don’t work, there’s always salsa.