I was on a date…I think? I’d met this guy – okay, no: this man – while working at Barnes & Noble in Kalamazoo. I looked up a book he was on the hunt for. He hung around and was in the cafe when I took my lunch break. We struck up a conversation.
He was twice my age, wearing motorcycle leathers, and was in town for a few days. He asked me out.
When he called the next day, he suggested we get sushi, and asked where we should go. I said I’d think about it, and when I got to work that night – this time at Water Street Coffee Joint, also in Kalamazoo – I asked my boss where one goes if one is going to eat sushi. He was stumped. This was discouraging, because he was the closest thing I knew at the time to a ‘foodie’, before that was a term, and so I was sure he’d be able to help me. Finally, he said the Hibachi place also had sushi. And so, that is where the handsome stranger and I went.
I’ve never liked admitting that I don’t know about things, or how to do things. Wearing glasses has always made me look smarter than I am, and I’ve learned to capitalize on this assumption. Unfortunately my date was actually smart, though, and caught on right away that I hadn’t quite mastered chopsticks yet. “It’s fine to use your hands to eat sushi,” he told me.
I was relieved.
As we warmed up with conversation and flirtation, I began to relax a bit. We laughed, our soup came, I sipped it and put it aside to cool. As he told a lengthy story about sailing around the world, I casually picked up my chopsticks. We made smiling eye contact while I put the chopsticks into my soup to stir it, and I kept the eye contact with him, nodding along with his story, as my stirring caused the bowl to tip toward me, spilling hot miso soup into my lap; I didn’t even flinch. If my eyebrows raised, I passed it off as being impressed with his story.
I broke eye contact to pop a too-large piece of nigiri into my mouth, moaning “mmmm!” more loudly than was necessary. Especially considering he was still talking.
Only when I realized he would notice the large, wet stain with bits of tofu and seaweed on my skirt when we stood up to go, did I break down and explain what happened. I was embarrassed and felt like a foolish girl next to this world-wise, mature man. But I still laughed at myself, because come on: this was too much.
His expression as I told him about the soup and showed him my skirt was one of concerned horror – “oh my god, are you okay?” he asked. “That must have hurt like hell! Why didn’t you say anything?” And then he, too, laughed while gathering every napkin he could find from all of the nearby tables, helping me wipe away the soup and bits, mumbling “these napkins aren’t very absorbent, are they?” as we worked.
We did, however, keep in touch. And when he rode through Monterey after I’d moved to California, he stopped in to visit, arriving with fresh fish and oysters on which we feasted for hours, with no hot soup in sight.