Thursday, 11 a.m. at Koreana Plaza Market was quiet. The fish-stocker went about his daily routine, organizing the freezers and cleaning the crab tanks. An elderly couple, a man and a woman, shuffled their way to the ice-filled buckets laden with the fresh catch of the day – wide-mouthed catfish, red-eyed snapper, slimy black eel.
The couple had a mission: To find the perfect salmon. As the fish-stocker nestled jars of clam meat into the ice chips, the woman began inspecting the specimens, prodding at the belly with her fingers, carefully lifting the gills and testing the firmness of each fish’s cheek.
The man stood back, mumbling commentary as the woman moved from one option to the next. In a matter of minutes, the couple had decided on the big one in the middle with plump bulging eyes, clean white belly fat, and a lack of the fishy odor that too often comes with an aged catch.
The man held open a plastic bag, ready to assist them in claiming their prize. The woman carefully tried to lift the heavy body out of its frozen bed, but it was of no use. Her hands were coated with fish slime and she could not grip the animal’s slick frame in her small fingers. Time seemed to freeze as everyone around the ice-filled buckets watched the glistening salmon smack the floor. Drops of fishy blood spattered on the plastic bag and the ground; the couple groaned, their vision of dinner ruined.
The scene looked grim, but the rubber-gloved fish-stocker came to the rescue. He picked up the fallen fish by the tail and rushed it to the sink to clean it off, helping the couple reclaim their evening meal. The couple opened a new plastic bag, a fresh start for a fresh fish.