I have a foggy recollection from many, many years ago. It was back when I was working with Rand (yeah … that happened), and we went to get lunch at a convenience store.
God, there are so many problems with that last sentence, but the important take-away is this: I once voluntarily ate a convenience store hot dog.
In what should be absolutely no surprise whatsoever, I spent the evening in the bathroom, where all manner of unspeakable things took place. It was awful.
What’s even more horrifying is that this wasn’t the dumbest thing I did during that time (I haven’t even touched on what my bangs looked like. They were chunky and jagged, as though they’d been gnawed to their present length by a pack of wild gerbils).
I think I was 21 at the time, which, as those of you who have long passed that milestone well know, is a terrible age. So much responsibility – you can vote and drink and live by yourself and make decisions that will impact the rest of your years on this earth – but really you are still just a stupid kid who shouldn’t be allowed to KEEP CUTTING HER HAIR LIKE THAT.
I suppose that’s what your twenties are for. You make mistakes, you live, you learn. And that night, I gained a bit of wisdom that has followed me ever since: never eat at a convenience store. Hell, never eat at a place that has a neon sign in the window.
Some dozen years later, I feel like it might be time to revise some of those lessons learned.
Rand and I went to Vancouver with sushi on our minds, drunk on our recollections of trips past, during which we ate piece after piece of raw, delicate fish until we could barely stand. We’d little hope of finding those restaurants again – their names are casualties of our imperfect memories – so we took to the internet and found a well-reviewed place just a few blocks from our hotel.
Zero One Sushi (sometimes called Sushi Zero One) sits nestled in the middle of a block, adjacent to a pizza place. Each eatery has a neon sign out front, with generic and grammatically-specious proclamations: “SUSHI” and “FRESH SLICE PIZZA”. My hard-earned lesson of the past causes my eyes to glaze over at places like these, and so we walked right by Zero One Sushi not just once, but twice.
Rand finally pulled up a map on his phone, wrinkled his brow, and looked at the restaurant in front of which we were now standing.
“Holy crap,” he said. “This is it.”
He stared warily for half a beat before declaring, “I’m not eating there.”
“We should at least check it out,” I said, not because I believed it could be good (the sign was neon, after all), but because if it was truly horrific on the inside, we’d leave and have a good laugh about it later.
We stepped inside the door, and were hit with a blast of chilly air. The A/C was pumping full force, and the tiny little restaurant was immaculate and brightly lit. A woman near the back was wrestling with a massive piece of fresh fish, and a customer at the counter – a regular, it seemed – was picking up a to-go order.
I gave Rand an imploring look – had with him the sort of wordless conversation that only those who know each other well can have.
Should we stay? I asked, without uttering a word.
Well … he soundlessly replied, looking up at the menu. It’s way less sketchy looking on the inside, isn’t it?
It totally is. And the reviews are great. I could eat here. Could you?
“Sure,” he said, this time aloud. “Let’s try it.”
And so we sat at a tiny table, and placed an order. Rand got the chirashi and I got a yellow tail roll, and we each ordered a piece of white tuna nigiri.
Our food arrived promptly (we were the only customers dining in, though a few came to pick up to-go orders) without frills or fanfare. Rand’s chirashi was served in a plastic bowl; my roll and the nigiri arrived on a paper plate. Despite a slight pang of guilt from my eco-conscience, this was fine by me: we didn’t decide on Zero One Sushi for its ambiance. We’d heard that this place was good.
And, holy cats, it was.
The yellow tail in my roll was fresh and tender, paired with a bit of spicy pickled ginger before it was wrapped with seaweed and not-too-vinegary rice. Rand offered me some of his chirashi and I didn’t hesitate to take a few bites. Even the scallop – which I normally hate – was wonderful. Not slimy and mushy like so many of its predecessors that I’ve eaten, but firm and flavorful. Nor was the shrimp rubbery, as it so often is, nor the fish bland. Everything was perfect, both in texture and in taste.
I scooped up some of the masago – the tiny orange caviar – that sat on the side of his bowl, and popped it into my mouth. Each little egg ruptured with a burst of flavor. Pop, pop, pop. Yum, yum, yum.
This was very, very, good.
We each saved the nigiri for last, the fishy dessert to our afternoon snack. It was creamy and buttery – it barely needed to be chewed, and more melted with the warmth and pressure of my tongue against the roof of my mouth.
“Oh, man,” Rand whispered, and I realized it was the first time in a long while that either of us had spoken, so absorbed were we with our food.
We finished our meal, smiled brightly at one another, and walked out.
On the street, I looked back again at the facade of Zero One sushi – so sketchy, so … neon. I’d been so quick to dismiss it, based on what I had learned in my twenties. I started to wonder if maybe this is what my thirties are for: to question the knowledge I’d accrued in the decade prior. To realize that there are exceptions to every rule. To accept that I still don’t have a clue, that I’m still just trying to figure everything out.
Some of the things I learned during that tumultuous decade still hold true. Hang on to the boy who loves you even after you’ve defiled his bathroom. Don’t get a haircut that looks like it was administered by Freddy Krueger on a bender.
But other lessons need to be revised. Ambiance isn’t everything. A neon sign in a restaurant’s window isn’t a sure indicator that the cuisine therein will make you wish for death. Sometimes, it leads to a lovely, if unfrilly, meal with that same boy who loved you in your twenties, and, miraculously, still does now.