I’ve been eating about a can of sardines a month for many, many years. Unlike wine, sardines are not a convivial treat best enjoyed with others.
Recently I smuggled a can of sardines into work, figuring I’d have them for lunch, but the appropriate occasion never arose. Such an occasion would be a fire alarm punctuated by real flames in which everyone flees the building. Then I could pull open my can of sardines, enjoy them by myself, and not worry that someone would return to the building and comment, “What’s that funny smell? The building’s burning and it smells like sardines in here.”
The fact is, the smell of sardines permeates a room faster than Chanel No. 5, but few women, except perhaps some enchanting Norwegians, dabble essence of sardines behind their ears to attract a man. The best sardines are a Norwegian product, unfortunately the best always costs the most. There’s nothing like two-layers of tiny sardines packed in olive oil inside a can of King Oscar sardines, but they cost as much as a gallon of gas. On the other end of the spectrum is Bumble Bee sardines, with the cans filled by five plump fish that look like they may have come out of Cranberry Lake. Since sardines are eaten whole and uncleaned, you want the tiny ones. I usually settle for the Napoleon brand, available at Bartell’s, which substitutes soy oil for olive oil. They’re almost as good as King Oscar but only half the price.
Purchasing the sardines is only half the battle. The challenge is figuring out where to eat them. I’ve never seen two people eating sardines together, nor have I seen anyone eating them alone, except myself. Even purchasing sardines is done in a clandestine manner. In all my years of shopping I’ve never seen anyone place a can of sardines in their cart. One day I hung around the sardine shelf hoping to witness a sardine purchase, but nobody would buy any knowing I was in the vicinity. Eventually the store manager, suspecting I was one of those perverts who take pictures of sardine cans and posts the images on the Internet, asked me to leave. “Next time I’ll call the cops,” he said. I imagined the reaction of other prisoners if I broke open a can of King Oscars in a crowded jail cell, so I followed the manager’s advice and left the store.
I must have developed a taste for sardines as a youth, as my Scandinavian parents were proud of King Oscar. It was always King Oscar sardines and Prince Albert tobacco. We fulfilled our dreams of royalty by purchasing it in a can.
Today I keep an empty Prince Albert can as a memory of my youth, but I keep eating sardines whenever I find myself in a place where I’ll be alone for a long, long, time. The last time I tried is was when my wife went into the bathroom with various hair products and a hair dryer in hand. Aha! I thought. At least 30 minutes alone with a can of Napoleons. I finished the can quickly and when the bathroom door opened many minutes later the first words I heard were, “Have you been eating sardine?”
“Nope,” I said. “But I did give some to the dog.”