Eight years ago, I was a new college graduate on a date with a cute (older) boy. We were eating sushi. I was terrified — not of the fish, but of the chopsticks resting innocently on the table.
Before I moved to that quaint, restaurant-heavy section of Brooklyn, my limited exposure to Asian cuisine included fried rice from Benihana and the occasional chicken and broccoli dish brought home from my town’s sole Chinese restaurant. But as a 22-year-old tasting true freedom for the first time, dating in New York was my top interest, which luckily meant (fast) exposure to new food and new restaurants.
T was 28; older, more accomplished, used to dating and to living in the city. He had a dog and a great apartment. He drank Scotch, not the cheap and disgusting mixed drinks he’d sheepishly order on my behalf (Malibu and Diet Coke with a cherry, please!). He picked great restaurants to visit. And he was an adventurous eater, having convinced me to try such foreign concepts as octopus and tripe with little coaxing.
Now, here I was, sitting in a small sushi restaurant with tanks full of humongous goldfish in the window (that still unnerves me), sipping on a sweet blue cocktail in a martini glass waiting for a plate of something called edamame and later, eel and raw tuna. I looked again at the chopsticks. Surely this restaurant offered forks. Why weren’t they on the table? Would I have to ask for one? What would T think of me? I’d already made too many rookie mistakes — like the time I rushed home and ate dinner at 7:00 before our first lets-meet-for-drinks-and-then-dinner-if-I-like-you date two weeks earlier. He asked me if I wanted to go eat dinner and I answered with, “Oh, I already ate. But you can if you want.” Two weeks hence, a newly-seasoned dater, I knew I’d made a faux pas. Yet here he was, happily paying for my Malibu and Diets despite my stupidity.
A waiter dropped the edamame on the table. “Oh, this will be easy,” I thought to myself, eyeing the innocent green pods.
“You’ve had edamame before, right?” T asked. I answered yes. It was, of course, a lie.
Then, oh horror of horrors, I picked up a soybean pod and took a huge bite, chewing on it like a cow on its cud.
He smiled. I knew instantly I did something wrong. My face was flaming hot. He picked up a pod and expertly ate the beans out of it, discarding it in the bowl. I flushed harder. In a moment that otherwise would’ve broken the tension, the waiter arrived with our shared dishes, meant to be eaten with chopsticks.
I was already down a move, and needed to redeem myself, fast. I watched T trying to cover up his smile, but confident, young, stupid me thought I could recover. I sat back and took a sip of Blue Cocktail. He was looking at me, almost daring me to touch the sushi first. I stalled and poured some soy sauce into its dish and added a touch of that green paste after watching a nearby diner do the same.
“You know, I’ve never had eel before...” I started. He took the bait, gracefully picking up a piece of eel roll, dipping it in sauce, and popping it in his mouth. I thought about getting up and running to the bathroom but my fate was inevitable. I gave myself an internal pep talk. I wasn’t a true chopsticks virgin; I had held them a few times, but never managed to actually feed myself.
It was time. I awkwardly grabbed for the utensils, holding them tightly in a balled fist. I pried them apart with my middle finger and gingerly approached the eel inside its rice wrapper. I squeezed, hands back into a fist. Success! I lifted the eel roll off of its plate and nearly made it to my mouth (forgetting all about the soy sauce) before it broke free and landed on my own plate.
T’s eyes laughed. I tried again with the same archaic fist-prying tactic, and this time, the fish made it into my mouth. I triumphantly reached for a second piece. Fist-pry-fist-mouth success! After repeating this routine for half of the eel roll, T took my hand and repositioned the chopsticks into a more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing arrangement. He replicated the motion I’d need to (properly) pick up pieces of sushi.
Through my Blue Cocktail haze, I thought I’d fooled him. A week later, he confessed he watched me eye the chopsticks nervously the entire time, and wanted to see how my chopsticks showdown would go down. Or, at least, waiting for a good laugh that only 22-year-old innocence (or idiocy) can provide.
Our romance was short lived, but my now-honed chopsticks skills remain. Thanks for helping me out, T.