Wednesday was my niece’s fifth birthday. She’s an adorable and precocious child—which is wonderful to be around… for a very limited time. I’m too immature to be around others who are just as immature as me—we fight over toys too much (it’s not me: they won’t share).
We arrived at my brother’s house and the L’il Tyke (LT) was so excited, she ran out and immediately bypassed anyone not physically holding a gift. She eventually said “hello” after being prompted. She’s five and adorable, so she’s forgiven… sort of.
She burned through the gifts in about 40 seconds: She’d rip open the package, pull out whatever was inside, shout “neat!” and then tear into the next package: “Neat!” and then she’d tear in to the next package. Guess what she said then? “Cool.” (Kids—they keep you guessing.)
She opened the stuffed dog that my sister and I bought her (along with a cute little dress), and immediately wanted to name it “Princess.”
“But, honey,” I said, “you name everything Princess…” (She does. Which makes it hard when she’s crying and wants “princess.” There are 637 items in her roomed named princess—including three pairs of sneakers and her dresser).
“Princess!” she commanded.
I picked up the dog, turned it over and smiled, “But he’s a boy! You can’t name himt princess.”
My mother, immediately started in, “She wants it to be a girl,” she said with her death stare (meaning: she wants it to be a girl, so goddamnit, it’s going to be a girl!”)
I pointed the dog’s crotch towards my mother and said, “What do you call that?”
“The label, Mr. Smarty, now don’t be obscene and put it down.”
Eventually, my LT decided to name the dog Karina… which everyone immediately blamed me for. Apparently, it’s a little too close to the tragedy in New Orleans… (what’s the emoticon for eye-rolling?) Karina is not Katrina, so back off! If she remembers the name in a month, no one else will remember the hurricane. Seriously, how many people have stopped naming their kids Andrew since Hurricane Andrew practically wiped the East Coast off the map in ’8? What about Hugo? Camille? All still very popular kid’s names… (or so I would assume… how would I know?)
Anyhow, the dog was named so, my sister-in-law announces we are going to a “Japanese restaurant” for dinner, because LT liked Japanese cuisine. She’s freakin’ five, what does she know about cuisine? And Japanese? She’s a sushi expert at freakin’ five?! At five my menu choices would be either hamburger or hot dog.
I should note that I have a slight aversion to fish and sushi in particular. By “slight” I mean that fish—the smell, the taste, the mere concept of—makes me ill. I have been known to eat tuna… if it’s smothered in tons of mayonnaise, a dab of mustard and a little pickle relish and anything else that will completely obliterate any notion that it was once eating, swimming, and pooping in some sort of body of water.
Now, I have also been known to go to a “Crab Feed” at a club with my father once a year. First, it is ONCE A YEAR. Two, they serve plenty of alcohol, tons of raviolis and a good Cesar salad with no anchovies in the dressing… and (I can’t state this enough) plenty of alcohol. Also, they have a strong tartar sauce that can completely take away any notion that the crab was once eating, scuttling, and pooping about the bottom of the ocean. (Seriously… scuttling, eating, AND pooping just don’t mix people!)
My sister-in-law assured me that the restaurant was not a sushi-bar, but a Japanese restaurant serving “all sorts of Japanese fair.” I’m not sure what “Japanese fair” is, but I hesitantly agreed, after all, it was my adorable niece’s fifth birthday.
“What’s the name of this place?” I asked innocently as we walked out the door.
“Zoom-o Sushi… I think. I’m not sure about the ‘Zoom-o’ part…”
Son of a…!
So, we load my parents into the car, which is an adventure in itself. First, because my sister has an SUV (mind you, it’s a Honda Passport, not a Ford Excursion or some other giant SUV) and my parent’s grunt and groan as they struggle to figure out how to get in the car. It’s a car, you’ve been doing this for your entire lives, why is this such an effort?
I jokingly offered to help them with their seatbelts… which turned out not to be a joke. They couldn’t pull the seatbelt far enough without it locking, so they had to pull as much belt as possible out. Then they spent the next five to seven minutes trying to figure out how to lock it in. They grunted and groaned… “Just go… I think they’re broken,” my father kept muttering, which was the perfect idea: two 70 year-olds, unsecured, in the back of a moving vehicle in rush-hour traffic—safe as kittens!
So, I had to turn around in the front seat, and in 4.5 seconds managed to get the “broken” seatbelts to work. And we’re on our way!
We arrived at “Somesortofplace-o Sushi” in probably the rattiest strip mall in the county—and, mind you, we’ve got a lot of ratty strip malls. However, it is just past the only Del Taco (home of the “Macho Nacho!”) in the valley, so I thought I might keep that as an option in case it all turned horribly, horribly wrong. As we walked in, I noticed a number of large posters—all with freakin’ raw fish (chopped, sliced, diced, beaten, crushed… everything except cooked. Things had suddenly turned horribly, horribly wrong (I’m not sure if they were ever right, but I thought I would sound like I was making an effort.. .which I clearly wasn’t).
We removed our shoes—which excited LT until the moment I removed my shoes… yeah, it was pretty bad. It didn’t help that I had a big hole in my sock, so the big toe on my left foot was exposed…
The seating was something that only a sadist would design and a masochist would enjoy sitting on. Picture a solid, rectangular-raised platform/bench , about three feet high, tucked into a corner with a table rising out of the center, leaving a space in the center where one could put their legs… if one climbed up on the platform and crawled around to the other side. Already this was fun!
We sat down and they handed us the menu and page after page of uncooked items were listed, each of them more repellant and less appetizing that the last. I began to wish I had charged my cell phone before I left, because I wanted to place my to-go order at Del Taco immediately.
My brother felt that singing “Turning Japanese” at the table would be a terrific idea, which instantly put my moral outrage into high gear. The day was getting better and better…
The adorable Japanese waitress started taking our order—my brother immediately ordered two bottles of saki, some Japanese beer, and some wine for the folks. Oh, alcohol can only improve things…
Every time our waitress came by and graciously took our orders, my brother was saying something either vaguely offensive or outright offensive to the Japanese people. At one point, he sensed my extreme embarrassment, so he masked his bigotry by making comments in a German accent (I shit you not). “Oof,” he attempted in his lame accent, “zee saki is here! Das is gud!” Our waitress thought my brother was either an equal opportunity offender, or a complete idiot (I hope she caught my oh-so-subtle ‘crazy circles’ I was making with my finger by my head).
Salvation came when I noticed on the back page of the menu, in fine print: “Teriyaki Chicken.” Hurray! Everyone was ordering some sort of sea creature, my sister-in-law ordered “Sashimi,” which she thought meant tuna. It didn’t. She was incredibly disappointed when some sort of fishy thing arrived that was not tuna.* I was glad she was not enjoying herself as well. Now if only I could find a way to get the rest of the table to hate their food, they’d all have an idea of what I was going through. (I do not like suffering alone.)
Soon, the orders of fried, battered and beaten fish arrived. I kept chanting “Macho Nachos… Macho Nachos” as the food practically swam up to the table and flopped onto the plates.
The food was very good (according to those fish-loving types) and my Teriyaki Chicken was really good as well. It’s amazing what a little heat and a lot of sauce can do to something. Maybe they should try that on the fish?
My father got Shrimp Tempura, which my mother kept “trying” and eventually finished off. I’m not sure what LT or The Nephew ate, because they were hardly at our table—they spent much of the evening jumping off the platform/benches and tumbling precariously close to the birthday cake.
My brother kept the steady flow of alcohol coming, so I’m not sure if he got less racist (or as he said, “Am I being lacist?”) or I was getting more drunk. Either way, I didn’t care anymore—those benches made my ass hurt and I kept thinking of the Macho Nachos just steps away.
And then it happened: LT got too jumpy too close to the cake and it landed perfectly upside down. Oh, the tears! The kitchen staff running over to see if someone cut off a finger because the scream was so loud! Hey, I was really looking forward to that cake… a few tears were in order. Oh, and LT cried a bit too, I’m not sure, I couldn’t see through my tears or hear through my sobs.
We then ate our smashed cake in near silence. My mother attempted to save the day with, “Oh, I think it tastes much better like this!” Great mom, even a five year-old didn’t buy that. Someone had to do something bold to get us back on track, “Sushi shooters!” I cried! (Oh, right… like I’d do that).
Since The Nephew is ten and I’m still operating at a ten year-old level, I flicked a bit of cake at him and he immediately laughed and flicked a bit back in retaliation. LT saw that this and wanted in on it, which meant everyone else wanted to get in on the cake flicking. Even my mother flicked a bit of cake around the table and we were all quickly laughing. All was well and everyone was happy again—including me in a Japanese restaurant.**
So what lessons have we learned?
1. Fish sucks
2. Karina is a pretty good name for a stuffed dog…
3. Any restaurant with the name “Sushi” in the name can’t be trusted.
4. Never take my brother to any ethnic restaurants***
5. Del Taco’s Macho Nacho is the greatest nacho ever
6. Food fights always save the day.
*Like it makes a difference: it’s fish…
**The waitress wasn’t happy at all. “You people no nice! You cra-a-a-z-zy! Why you do this? Wait… why I talk this way? I American! I born in Campbell! I no talkie this way! You lacist! You lacist!” [I offered her a $20 if I could write her that way and she said for an extra Hamilton I could even have her say “me love you long time”—God bless capitalism!]
***I fear for the folks at The Olive Garden (not for my brother, but in general… because it’s such a bad restaurant).
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