It’s 2008 and once again I’m in hot pursuit of a new life-changing event. I remember as a child, I couldn’t understand why my grandmother Millie couldn’t just stay put. It seems she was moving to a new house every couple of years. But like I said, it was 2008 and I was a full-grown adult already and guess what? I certainly have the same DNA because I am doing the same thing. I SHOULD be happy living on the river, boat and pier in the back yard. My wife and I had a simply lovely home on the Chain-O-Lakes (Fox River) in northwest Illinois, just south of the Wisconsin border, but no. I started getting this unnerving feeling that the next chapter in our life was right around the corner and it was my job to find it.
So that’s why we found ourselves on some ubiquitous Thursday evening wondering the streets of Arlington Heights (AH). It was time to close the chapter on a boating life and begin a new one living in a high-rise condominium building. And Arlington Heights was the place to be. It had plenty of these buildings, scattered all over this cute little bedroom community village. Perfectly placed alongside a railroad stop just 25 minutes from downtown Chicago, if you were lucky enough to catch an express train inbound. And yet I digress again. Focus Mike, focus. It’s 2008 and I’m about to have a real go with a pair of chopsticks.
So, there we were in downtown AH. Thursday had just about run off the clock and it was late, but still early enough for some last-minute dinner. I looked at my wife. She didn’t want to leave the river, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at her. She was indulging for sure, and yet I think there was just a bit of curiosity, something kept her coming out here over the last few months, something was keeping her interested. Maybe our next visit would yield the perfect condo. However tonight, we were done looking and dinner was on the menu. I had done my homework. There was an exquisite little Asian restaurant near the movie house on the east side of town. Tucked around the right corner and in a corridor filled with some shops and boutiques, was where I was leading. If you know my wife, you will certainly know that she just lovesssssssss SUSHI! So, my treat for her this night, was dinner at Wildfish, famous for, you guessed it, sushi. Down the narrow corridor and to the restaurant we went. Holding the door open, I noticed that the restaurant looked inviting and the smile on my wife’s face proved it.
A young female maître-d’ grabbed two menus and ushered us into fairly empty seating area. The décor was Asian and quaint, underplayed, but authentic. She directed us to a large booth for four. It was squared off with two benches, one on each side. Oddly, on each bench were placed two identical plastic-looking orange seats. Imagine if you will, a simple seat just missing its legs. There’s a bottom and there’s a back, that’s it. Oh, and a cushion on top for the customer’s comfort. Ok, I’ll give it a try. Turns out after a few moments, I quite liked it. I discovered I could rock back and forth in the little legless chair sitting on my bench. Fun. But wait… I’m getting ahead of myself. I did not sit down yet. Truth be told, I had excused myself as we arrived at the table. It was Carrie who sat down first.
After hours of house (condo) hunting I was in need of some biological relief. So, I excused myself and after given some instructions, set out for the restroom in the back of the restaurant. Two minutes later with clean washed hands, I returned to the booth where my lovely wife was looking over an extra-large menu. I’ve learned over time that you can put anything in a sushi roll and this restaurant was checking all the boxes. She looked up at me and decided that I had actually had a good idea and dismissed herself to the back of the restaurant where she could find some much needed relief too.
So, there I was in the booth. And after the aforementioned chair rocking exercise was over, I found myself rather bored. And that’s when I noticed the chopsticks. A little segue here… I still find it funny that most of my life I have been able to walk up and down the octaves of any piano with the greatest of ease. I’ve written many songs in my life, some of them that are actually not that bad. Dexterity baby, that’s me. Then why the hell have I never been able to pick up a single piece of rice with those God-forsaken chopsticks?
I was bored and I had time. Well, let’s get a little practice in. I tore off the paper sheath and extracted the two sticks. Weird. They were connected at one end. Am I supposed to leave them joined or separate them? I don’t know. Something told me to rip ’em, so I did. Awkwardly, I fumbled them into my right hand. I’m right-handed so why not go with the better odds. Placed delicately in a mix of fingers, I decided that they looked quite close to what I’ve seen my wife do. She always took to these sticks effortlessly. Whatever. I can do it too. But the table was bare. I needed something to pick up. I looked around. Across and adjacent to our large booth was the restaurant bar. There was a young man, a bartender centered and guarding it, wiping glasses dry as it were. Apparently, the busy part of his evening had already passed. Suddenly out of nowhere, our waitress set down two glasses of water and a small plate in the center of the table. “Domo arigato gozaimasu“, ok, I know a little Japanese. Nestled neatly on the little plate were two perfectly rolled confectioneries, side by side. Wait, why did I think the rolls were sweet? Maybe they are savory. My preference, actually.
Still no wife. Time to test the sticks. I can do this. I know I can (I think). I slowly reached out towards the center of the table. It seemed like such a long distance. The sticks wiggled a bit in my nest of fingers. I sensed the bartender watching my movements. Focus Mike, focus! The two delicate little appetizers looked amazing. Pure virgin white, perfectly built. Identical. Sweet or savory? I didn’t care. One of them was mine. Hell, if she takes too long, maybe both. I’m sure I could talk the waitress into another batch. Hunger can make me quite a pig at times. But Food-Guilt was the last thing on my mind. I needed full concentration to get these sticks across the playing field and into one of those neat little Asian fluffy pillows. Contact. I touched it. It was firm. One stick slid down the front side, and the other after a bump or two, found its footing on the back side. Squeeze… yes quite firm. Now the moment of truth. Ever so slightly I began to lift…
OMG! I’m holding an Asian pastry, I’m holding an Asian pastry! In the air! Sweet? Savory? Who cares! I’m doing it. This is amazing. This isn’t that hard. Maybe we should eat more Chinese food, more Thai food, more Korean food. I am doing this!!! Ok, ok, focus… You still have to retrieve the treat and bring it in. Carrie should be here. She should be witnessing my talent. I’m so damn talented! She would be so proud! The trip back with the sticks seemed so much easier, faster. Probably due to my natural ability to seize my new found confidence and use it to my advantage. I should be bragging. Wait, I am. The bartender had completely become absorbed with this scene before him. Why I bet he has found new respect for the gentleman before him, clearly adapting to a foreign culture with so little effort. Yep, that’s me! Inch by inch, this is mine. Oh yeah baby, bring it in. It was time to engage my jaw muscles and open wide to receive this delight. I’ll take a small bite. After all, I’m civilized, right? I could feel the temperature of the white tubular treat. Quite hot. Oh, this is going to be good. The tube of delight touched my lips. It was now inside my mouth. Lips and teeth engaged. Hot indeed!
It was at that precise moment that the waitress passed by. I’ll never forget this. Without stopping… nay without even looking, she simply whispered out of the side of her mouth, “That’s a hot towel”. The bartender smirked. I dropped the towel on my lap leaving a moist impression, the second thing to suddenly feel embarrassed about.
A moment later my wife had returned. “How’s it going?” Mmh, ok, I guess.
I will never use chopsticks again. Never. You can always ask for a fork.