A Fish in Water

One thing you don’t know about me – I’ve always been afraid of looking like a tourist. I actually refuse to come across as appearing like I have no idea where I am, asking for directions when I could easily figure them out myself, or doing all the dorky predictable activities when I travel somewhere.

Have I visited the Statue of Liberty? Of course! But did I figure out how to ride the Subway to get there? Yes! You see, I’m cool. And cool people always maintain their cool, even when traveling (note: sarcasm but still true.)

When I was in college, my then boyfriend (and now husband) and I traveled to Huntington Beach from our college campus in Iowa to visit his sister and her family. She welcomed us with open arms and had a slew of fun activities and recommendations planned for our trip.

On top of all the fun my sister-in-law had planned (visiting the pier and the cheeseburger and shake restaurant at the end of it, touring beautiful neighborhoods in nearby Newport Beach, riding bikes on the boardwalk) you know I had to do some research of my own. You know, find something cool and local to do. This was around 2001 (and I realize this next part sounds hard to believe) but sushi restaurants were just becoming mainstream and super trendy. That’s right, they weren’t always.

So, I found a sushi restaurant in downtown Huntington Beach that my husband and I could walk to that was owned by … wait for it … the drummer from Korn. Lol. Korn was pretty popular at the time. We weren’t big fans but we knew some of their songs, my husband is a drummer, and we wanted to try sushi for the first time, so it just felt right. And cool. Don’t forget the cool part.

I remember ordering a beer or something with alcohol and getting carded right at the start of our first sushi experience. The young waiter immediately noted we were from Iowa based on our IDs. Iowa, huh? (I swear he sneered while saying it.) Shit, my coolness just went down like 10 points at least. Oh well, we persevere as humans and keep moving forward in the face of loss of coolness, that’s what makes us human, you know?

We ordered Philly rolls I think cause they had cream cheese (Midwesterners) and a few other things. When everything came out it was lovely, I’d say exhilarating even because we were going to use chop sticks. Yes, chop sticks. Now, you must know I had used them many times before at Chinese restaurants, so I was semi-pro but still, it added to the excitement.

There was a lot of decoration on the plates when they arrived, and I couldn’t completely discern what I was supposed to eat and what I was not. But I noticed right away a small pile of light green guacamole. If you know anything about Californians, you know we’re obsessed with avocados. During our trip, my sister-in-law made the best guacamole I’d ever had. Now, don’t get caught up in the fact that guacamole (Mexican) typically has no place in a Japanese restaurant because I certainly didn’t.

I took one of the ends of my chop stick and heartily dipped it into that little pile of guacamole and shoved it right in my mouth. I started to chew a bit and then my mouth was engulfed by the fire of at least 10 suns. My nasal passages got so clear they started burning and my throat suddenly so dry I started half coughing, half choking. That’s right, I’d downed at least a teaspoon of wasabi all in one bite. For the first time.

Desperately not wanting to draw attention to myself (we confirmed the drummer from Korn was sitting at the bar) I handled my choking, red-faced, first dance with wasabi with the grit of a Clint Eastwood character. You see, when you’re cool, you can’t let people see you sweat. (Or know you’re some kid from Iowa who’s never had sushi before.)

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