Half-Priced Sushi: Unleasing my Inner Shark

Whenever I’m in San Mateo, my Bay Area home-away-from-home, my wife and I indulge in a blood-thirsty little habit that brings out all of our longing, lust and gluttony.

Half-priced sushi.

Not just that, but sashimi, grilled fish, hamachi kama, poki, bento, bluefin tuna, yellow tail and negri toro.

It’s a regular Friday evening feeding-frenzy, and beware to all bottom-crawlers, or any creatures lower than me on the sale-price food chain, who dare get in my way.

Step aside, lady.

I don’t think so.

Cuz, you know, that sushi is sitting there like chum in the water and I’m a fat shark swimming in to get his share.

Our nasty little habit started years ago, when one night my wife mentioned a Japanese market that had devised a sure-fire way to dispose of that day’s unsold catch.

A few minutes before closing time, a clerk enters the packaged fresh fish section and marks down every price sticker with a red slash — its significance to me as beautiful as a Picasso painting.

One half off.

Chomp.

Before COVID, the place closed its doors at 7 p.m. and we’d arrive a half-hour early to wait in line on the sidewalk outside.

In the winter, it was long after dark.

Still, we’d encounter fellow regulars.

Like the little Asian lady with her huge shopping bag.

You didn’t want to end up behind her in line.

Or the guy who was always on his phone, probably lining up deals to unload his newly-begotten load of fish for a fresh profit.

I hate to say this, but these were not my finest moments, waiting in line, salivating like some Pavlovian test dog, waiting for the attack bell to go off.

You plotted moves that involved sharp elbows, sharpened claws. The fish aisle at the front of the store is pretty narrow, so you need an attack strategy.

If you weren’t saavy, you could set your eye on a nice little morsel, but by the time you reached out, someone would had swiped it right before your eyes.

This was a California version of survival of the fittest.

So I learned to strike first and ask questions later.

After COVID, the place changed the rules: They now close at 4 p.m., not 7, and only let five people in at a time.

So a few nights ago, my wife and I made the call. For a successful half-price sushi score, you’ve got to think ahead.

We’d hit the Friday evening line and invite a few friends over for a feast.

As the hour came, I was already nervous.

I pulled up in front of the store, dropped off my wife and hurried to park the car.

There were already a dozen people in line.

They instantly became my competition.

My enemies.

At least the little Asian lady with the garbage bag was nowhere in sight.

3:30 p.m. A half-hour of tortuous waiting to go.

Suddenly, I felt foolish.

I turned to my wife.

“Why don’t we just go in there now and pay full price without all this hassle?”

“No,” she said. “This is fun.”

She sent me inside on a reconnaissance mission, to see what was displayed where and how much of it there was.

We did the math; As long as the people ahead of us didn’t surrender to their gluttony, we’d be OK.

Ahead of us was a woman on crutches, another regular. She had a New York accent but grew up in San Francisco.

We got to talking. She was cool. With a stylish flash of purple hair.

When the war began, I decided, she would be spared.

Then a friend of ours joined us in line.

The crutches lady turned around.

“Oh, so now you got three people,” she observed. “I like your strategy.”

I only hoped there wasn’t some kind of stampede, where the lady on crutches would be trampled to death like at that 1979 Who concert in Cincinnati.

Yeah, the old gal on crutches was a veteran half-price sushi angler. She described just how tight it got in the aisle and how this one guy leaned in so close she felt she was on her wedding night.

“If you’re not gonna kiss me,” she told the dude, “you better back off.”

Then our friend Gloria apparently ventured too close on the sidewalk.

Crutch lady raised one of her sticks to within an inch of her face.

“Stay back,” she said, “and I stay friendly.”

We were so close, we could all now almost smell the fish.

This was our strategy: I would go for the grilled fish, my wife for the sashimi and Gloria for the sushi.

At 4:01 p.m., the attendant came out to signal that the fight was on.

Five people in, we moved up.

The next five.

Now we were standing at the door.

You could look in the window and see a blur of moving hands, which reminded me of the lyrics of that Depeche Mode song.

“Grabbing hands, grab what they can, all for themselves, after all.”

It’s a competitive world.

Everything counts in large amounts.”

My wife shifted her feet.

“C’mon,” she said.

Then we were in.

Like the figure on the Heisman trophy, I made my move past the lady in crutches, grabbed my red basket and hit the grilled -fish section.

There was a woman in front of me. But she made a fatal mistake and hesitated, so I surged past her and began scooping — like a wide-assed fishing trawler, nets dragging the bottom, hoovering up everything in its path.

The rest of the hunt was a blur. You know how sharks push their eyes back into their heads at the moment of attack.

That’s what I did.

A few moments — or maybe a year — later, I was at the checkout stand.

The checker rang and she rang and she rang.

Two bags full of fresh fish.

My bill: One-hundred bucks.

When I walked outside, there were still people in line.

For a moment, I felt bad.

Guilty.

Downright piggish.

A man made eye-contact.

Glutton, his look said.

Dude woulda done the same to me, I reasoned.

Get here earlier.

The early shark gets the nigiri.

Then I spotted her, the little old lady with the shopping bag, still in line, the fresh catch vanishing before her eyes.

And then I didn’t feel so bad.

John M. Glionna is a writer and freelance journalist based in Sin City.

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