Monthly Archives: January 2013

Everything you ever wanted to know about sushi

One of my friends is a sushi chef. I’ve been begging him for forever to please teach me the secrets of making sushi. At first I thought he was brushing me off because he was nervous, worried about me becoming a better sushi chef than he is. I told him there’s no reason to be afraid, that I’m not after his job. But he kept telling me stuff like, “Go search on the Internet,” or, “Just look at some Youtube videos.”

I thought he was just being an asshole, but finally, one day after months of nonstop asking him, every single day, he agreed. Apparently this is the first test in becoming a sushi chef, constantly begging, not stopping the begging, not even for one day, even though your requests are flatly denied. It’s like getting into Fight Club, but much more annoyingly.

Sushi is an ancient tradition that stretches back thousands of years. I didn’t know that. Did you? My sushi teacher told me it on day one of my training. There would be a lot of history lessons. Like, for example, do you know what sushi means in Japanese? It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just the name of the guy who created sushi, thousands of years ago. Mr. Sushi. He used to just call it “food,” not in English, obviously, but in Japanese. But over the millennia, his name, sushi, became synonymous with his style of cooking.

Too many lessons. “When are we going to get to the sushi making?” I whined and complained. Finally my sushi sensei took out his knives, big knives, little knives, a spatula. Wait a second, a spatula? “Since when do you need a spatula to make sushi?”

I didn’t realize that, according to the thousand year old technique of learning how to be a sushi chef, one cannot learn the art of sushi without first learning the art of hibachi. “Why?” I asked. I didn’t want anything to do with hibachi. I didn’t even have a hibachi grill. But apparently the guy who invented sushi, his brother invented hibachi. You know what his name was? Yep. While Sushi was a better chef, Hibachi was better at passing things down from generation to generation. And so, riding on the coattails of his brother’s successful culinary style, he insisted that anybody wanting to learn how to cook sushi had to first master Japan’s second favorite type of food, hibachi.

Hibachi’s rules are exacting, demanding. Even more lessons. Did you know that every house in Japan has at least one giant hibachi table per kitchen? It’s a law. I didn’t believe it, but it’s true. Also shocking, even homeless people have hibachis. That’s a law also. You’re basically not allowed to do anything in Japan unless you have a huge hibachi grill.

As my sensei patiently taught me the time honored Japanese tradition of quickly chopping up a white onion and layering it on the grill to look like a volcano, I would ask questions, like, “What if you’re living by yourself and you want to use the hibachi, do you have to go through the whole juggling of the salt and pepper shaker? My teacher stood there, nodding. Exactly. Every single time, the traditions must be honored.

I finally passed the hibachi final exam: by using only my spatula, I had to skin, season, and expertly grill five jumbo shrimp. But that was the easy part. The hard part was using a spoon to leverage the spatula into a sort of catapult. And then I had to fling each shrimp into my sensei’s open mouth. Mild applause. This is what history tasted like.

Finally, finally it was time to start learning about sushi. I learned everything. The rolling. The cutting into sushi pieces. The art of placing it on a wooden serving boat to feed large parties of people. I learned about all-you-can-eat sushi specials. I learned how to combine that special with the celebrated tradition of all-you-can-drink sake-bombs. I can’t overemphasize the importance of a strict two hour time limit. Also, if you break any of the glasses, two dollars will automatically be added to your bill. Fatty tuna’s going to cost you a little extra.

Did you know that the city of Philadelphia was actually named after the Philadelphia roll, and not the other way around? I didn’t know that. After I mastered the perfect Philadelphia roll, there was just one more challenge I had to conquer before I could join the ranks of the sushi chef. “Your final test is,” I was really nervous. I didn’t know what was in store for me, “A wasabi-eating contest with me, your sushi chef.” And he took out this grapefruit sized ball of wasabi.

After I destroyed him, we both sat there on the floor, nursing our wasabi burnt stomachs. “Rob, you’re one of us. You did it. Welcome.”

“Thank you, sensei.”

“Just remember, use this information wisely. Keep it secret. We’ve been honoring this pledge for thousands of years. Do not tell anybody else about how to make sushi unless they can pass all of the trials you have completed here today. Don’t mention it. Don’t talk about the tests, about any of this. Understand?”

And that’s when I was like, “No way buddy, I’m telling everybody. This stuff is crazy. I couldn’t have made any of this up if I tried. Sayonara sucker!”

And so, yeah, I went right home and wrote this all up.

Night vision goggles

I wish I had a pair of night vision goggles. I wish I could see in the dark, without night vision goggles. I wish I could see in the dark, without night vision goggles, without even having to open my eyes. I wish I could see everything, regardless of what time of day it is, without having to open my eyes, without even having to be in the same room as what I’m seeing. Also, I get to choose what I want to see. And I don’t have to be looking at it, obviously. I wish I could think of something and have it appear right in front of me, just by thinking about it. Or anywhere. I wish that I could think of anything, anywhere, and have it instantly appear right in front of me, or anywhere else. And not just one of whatever I’m thinking of. I wish that I could think of anything, in the dark or in the light, and then think of ten or fifteen or twenty places where I wish a copy of that thing would appear, and it would happen. Like night vision goggles. I wish that, if I wanted to, I could think about night vision goggles, and then think about twenty pairs of night vision goggles appearing instantly in twenty different locations. Or split up. What I mean is, like, fifteen pairs at one spot, and then three pairs at another spot, one pair somewhere else, and one pair for me. But that’s just an example, one way of divvying it all up. It could be any number of pairs of night vision goggles.

Actually, I wish that I could think of something, and then have it appear somewhere else, but then alter the timeline of the place around it, so it would be like that thing was always there, like it didn’t just appear there, but it had been there. Forever? Maybe not forever. I wish that, when deciding where I’d like to place an object, I can also place it anywhere in time. Five, ten, fifteen years ago. Or fifteen minutes ago. Or any amount of time ago, not necessarily in units divisible by five, I just keep suggesting units of five. Like I could make an object – any object – appear somewhere ten minutes ago. Or ten seconds ago. I’m really hung up on the fives. I can’t shake it. But rest assured, any number. Any non-five number.

Also, I wish that I could place anything in the future. Like a pair of night vision goggles ten years in the future. For me. Even though I wouldn’t need them, because I can see anything, anywhere. I won’t even need eyes. I wish. I wish I wouldn’t even need eyes. I can just see without them, wherever, however many things, in the future, in the past. And why would I have them in the first place? What would I do with the night vision goggles? If I can see in the dark, would it be in full color, as if there were a light source? Or would it be in just green and black, like a permanent night vision? And would I be able to shut it off? How would I be able to go to sleep if I were busy with a constant stream of visual stimuli?

I wish that everybody else had night vision goggles, everybody except for me, and while everybody else is stumbling around in the black and green dark – there wouldn’t be any other lights, there couldn’t be – I’d be free to look at the world as if the sun were out. As if it were high noon. And so, what would be the advantages? Do night vision goggles run on some sort of a power source? Maybe I’ve …

Maybe I just want the night vision goggles. Maybe all of that other stuff is a little much. The duplication powers. The time powers. What would I feel like with all of those powers at my disposal? Would I still be me? No. Probably not. I’d be corrupted. Very easily. I think probably just night vision goggles would be enough to corrupt me. With or without power.

I’d really just like super strength. Maybe a night vision monocle.

Saying the same thing over and over and over

I’ve gotten to a weird point here. I’ll sit down to write a couple of these essays every day. Usually I just kind of set my mind to shuffle, like I’ll to clear out all of the excess chatter until something close to an idea emerges, and then I just barrel through. But lately I’ve found myself questioning the whole process. Namely, every time I have a good idea, I think to myself, have I already done something like this before?

I don’t want to keep saying the same thing over and over again. I don’t want to be that guy that keeps repeating the same jokes. But sometimes, I don’t know. Sometimes the basis for one of these blog posts will be something out of real life. And here’s where it gets tricky, because in real life I’m constantly making the same jokes and saying the same things over and over again.

It’s kind of lame, yeah, it totally is. But if I think of a joke, a good joke, a bad joke, whatever, something that I find even slightly amusing, I’ll want to share it. Maybe that’s fine, maybe that sucks for whoever I happen to be around, I can’t really tell. But I know that, for example, at work, if I come up with something funny, I’ll try it out on one person. If I get a good response, or any response at all, I’ll feel better about it, but I’m not satisfied. What if that person was just being polite? What if that person was looking for a quick way out of the interaction, and decided that a quick laugh would be just the trick to stroke my sense of self-satisfaction long enough to make an exit?

So I’ll say it to the first person, and then I’ll do it again. And then if I deem the joke or the story or the prank or whatever a success, then I know I’m in a good spot. Like I know at work, where I work with like thirty or forty other people, that that’s a lot of potential for some solid joking around. And so I’ll say it to one person, and then two people, and then five. And then after that I’ll have the joke down, like it’s in my head. And maybe it’ll be a situational joke. But situations will arise and, because the joke is so in my head, so at the tip of my tongue, I’ll be finding ever more ways to lay it on.

And after ten, fifteen times, I start to have doubts, specifically, how many times have I told this joke, and to who?* After a while, maybe the laughs will die down. Or maybe they won’t die down, but I’ll detect something, a fakeness to the laughter, a willingness to leave abruptly after I’ve told the joke. Or maybe somebody won’t think it’s funny at all, and I’ll ask them, “I’m sorry, have I told you this already?”

And maybe they’ll laugh and say, “Yes, Rob, you’ve already told me this.” In which case, we can both have a laugh at the joke’s expense, at its overuse. And maybe that’ll be a sign that I should pull back on that joke, maybe put it on pause for a little bit, save it for times when I’m only around certain people who I’m positive haven’t heard it before. And I should probably make sure that they’re not friends with people who I’ve told the joke to, just in case they’re both talking one day, and one of them says to the other, “Hey, Rob told me this great joke the other day,” and they’ll share it and the other person will be like, “No way. Rob said the same thing to me weeks ago. Jesus, that guy really needs to come up with some original material.”

If things ever get out of hand, like say I tell two different people the same joke, two times each, obviously everybody will think me a one-trick horse, like I’m just starved for material, totally full of myself, overestimating my joke and storytelling abilities. In this case, to kind of turn things around, I’ll start really upping the joke, telling it even more times, at a much greater frequency and intensity. I’ll do it to the point where I’ll totally know that other people have heard it. And I’ll start telling it in a way as to catch the people off guard, like I’ll be really serious about something, and I’ll lure them in with my sense of sincerity, only to reveal that I’m going about the same old joke, the same old same old. At which case I’ll start fake laughing, over and over again, like I’m crazy.

What I’ve done here, see, it’s not about the joke anymore. I’ve taken an overused joke and wrapped it up into one big joke, the joke being the multiple repetitions of the same joke. Get it? Isn’t that funny? Are you laughing? You’re totally laughing. I get it. I don’t mess around here. What was I talking about? Something about repetition. Something about worrying about writing about the same stuff over and over again. But, whatever, this was somewhat original, writing about worrying about repeating myself. I could probably write about this a few more times also, like a month from now, and then three months from now, and then I could wrap all of those up. Yeah, it’s funny, come on, maybe not funny, but it’s something. And if you’re reading this sentence, you read it, right? The whole thing? I can’t imagine anybody coming to this page and only reading the last sentence.

*Microsoft Word, in sentences like this, always tells me to write whom, and while it’s probably grammatically correct, I’ve never heard anybody say “whom” in real life**, nobody I’d ever want to hang out with anyway.

**Except for the Metallica classic, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” of course.

Happy Kwanzaa!

I want to start celebrating Kwanzaa. There are a number of obvious challenges here, like, for starters, I don’t know anything about Kwanzaa at all. Actually, that’s not true. Around December, if you ever watch regular TV, in between commercials there are always those really cheap “Happy Holidays” type announcements, “Here from all of your friends at Channel 4!” And there’s always a Christmas Tree, a Menorah, and then that other Menorah looking candleholder that’s associated with Kwanzaa. And the only reason I know that it has something to do with Kwanzaa is because when they programmed those little holiday graphics, which you can tell that they just picked out from the most basic Clipart collection, the Kwanzaa candles say, “Happy Kwanzaa!” right underneath. But now the holidays are over, and I’ve wasted another season not celebrating, not even doing anything to make Kwanzaa a part of my life.

I guess I could just look up the significance on the Internet. But that’s so demoralizing. Whenever I don’t know something, it’s now just like this automatic response to start looking it up online. And I don’t know why, but I go through the same automated song and dance here. I always open up a new tab on my browser and I start typing in, “,” which is already mostly unnecessary, because as soon as I type the G of Google, it knows I’m going to go to Google, it shows me it knows. But I finish typing it out of habit. And even going to the Google homepage is a waste because in most browsers, all you have to do is start typing whatever you want right in the search bar, as if it were Google, and it’ll always take you right to the Google results.

Which is also very unnecessary, because I guarantee you that if I typed “Kwanzaa” into Google, the first thing that would pop up is the Wikipedia page. That’s how it is for ninety percent of all of my searches. I type something into Google and the first result is always Wikipedia. And I always wind up going there, out of habit, for lack of imagination. What am I holding out for? Why go through all of that extra work? I guess I’m always just hoping there will be something else, something unique.

Something unique enough for Kwanzaa which, from my perspective, it has to be the most unique out of all of the major holiday season holidays. Well there are only three I guess. Ramadan happens at different times every year, right? I hope that’s right. I’m not doing any research for this at all, and so I’m hoping that I’m not just making stuff up.

And I hope you don’t think I’m being disrespectful of Kwanzaa. I’m not. It’s just that, and I feel like I try to make an effort to know what’s going on, in my life, in the country, but I haven’t been touched by Kwanzaa, not even once, not even indirectly. And you could attribute this to a number of things. Like I went to a Catholic school. Or I grew up in a suburb with mostly white people. Not a lot of Kwanzaa going on.

But it’s more than that. I see it on TV. Or I see people saying “Happy Kwanzaa” on TV. But even after I left home. In college, there was no mention of Kwanzaa. I’ve worked several jobs with all different people and nobody has ever brought up Kwanzaa. No coworkers. Nothing. This could be a reflection of me living an insular life, oblivious to the world right in front of me, refusing to look up stuff on the Internet. I should just look it up. This is probably coming across as very insensitive.

But maybe Kwanzaa needs something to help really kick it up to the mainstream. Maybe I could be part of a Kwanzaa revival. OK I’m worried about coming across as offensive. I swear I’m not trying to be. All right, I’m just going to look it up real quick.

OK, Google, yeah, Wikipedia, yup. OK, African-American culture. Black nationalism. OK, Pan-Africanism, African Diaspora. Yeah, there’s nothing that specifically says I can’t be part of Kwanzaa.

I also just feel bad because the only people I ever hear say “Happy Kwanzaa” are those people I was talking about earlier, the faceless TV announcers. I’d love to be able to wish a Happy Kwanzaa to somebody celebrating Kwanzaa. But I feel like if I went up to somebody and asked them, “Hey, do you celebrate Kwanzaa?” I just can’t see that going over too well. You know what I mean? We’ve got to figure this out.

I figure I’m about halfway to knowing how to do everything

I know I often talk and act like I’ve got everything figured out, but there’s so much that I don’t know how to do. I’m almost thirty, so assuming that I’ll probably live for another ninety years or so, if I calculate all of the things that I know how to do now, and how much time it’ll take me to learn everything else, then, yeah, I think I can still get it all done before I die. Obviously I wasted a lot of time when I was a little kid, learning how to talk, how to read, how to spend five years straight playing Super Nintendo. Everybody has to learn how to do the basics. I just wish it didn’t take so long. Two years to figure out how to get potty trained? That seems a little long.

But computers. I know how to use basically every computer. As long as the language is in English. You guys ever have one of those friends that takes your cell phone when you’re not looking, changes the language to Cyrillic, changes all the settings, makes the default brightness at the very dimmest, so you can’t see anything, turns it on mute, and then takes out the SIM card? Yeah, I’m not talking about those types of computers. And come on, that was a funny joke. They fixed it for you at the cell phone store, right? Well sorry you don’t know Cyrillic.

I don’t know Cyrillic. That’s another thing that I’ll have to learn. That and every other language. OK, maybe I’ll need to start living a little longer. Maybe I can just write off the language requirement. I mean, nobody knows every language.

Wait, wasn’t I talking about computers? I don’t know how to do any computer programming. But isn’t that just another type of language? Yeah, I don’t need to know programming. I figure once I learn business, once all of my business skills are in order, I’ll be able to pay a bunch of programmers to program anything I want.

Tennis. I’ve never even played tennis. I’m pretty good at Ping-Pong. That’s close enough. I was about to say that I’ve never even so much as picked up a tennis racket, but that’s not true. I think I was at a sporting goods store one time and I started playing around with a tennis racket on display, taking a tennis ball and bouncing it up and down like … what do you call those paddles with the string attached to the ball? And you’re supposed to bounce it up and down over and over again? Is it paddle ball? Those things are so lame. Just a total waste of the earth’s resources, making something so dumb and cheap. But yeah, I guess I really don’t know how to use those either. The sporting goods tennis racket story didn’t end well, by the way. It was a huge mess.

Now that I’m writing it all out, maybe I’m biting off a little more than I can chew here. I’m starting to panic. And the panic is only making me realize that I haven’t even begun to master any of those relaxation techniques I’ve read about online. Meditation? Medication? I’d go for either one right now. Just got to take deep breaths, drink a glass of water. But my back molars are so sensitive. I don’t remember eating ice cream and drinking cold water being such a chore. I always hear about old people and when their teeth fall out and they get dentures, how all of the sudden they love ice cream and cold water again because they’ve lost that dental sensitivity. And they come into restaurants by the dozens, immediately complaining about how it’s too cold in here, but then alternately complaining that the water isn’t cold enough, to bring them an extra glass of ice on the side.

But that doesn’t make any sense because I have great teeth. Some of the best. No braces. Barely any cavities. I say barely because I’m not counting the cavities I got when I was a little kid. Little kids are always too busy being defiant and not brushing their teeth and eating way too much candy. At least I was. I never learned how to do dental work. But do I have time to go to dental school? I’d have to fail out of medical school first. Ba-dum, ching!

Jokes. Check. Typing. Check. Internet. Check. Man, maybe I’m not going to be able to master everything. Should I just give up? Should I just try to focus on what I’m already good at? This has been a real eye-opener, this reflection, this self-assessment. Wait a second. Did I just learn and then master self-assessment? I think I did. There’s still hope. Maybe it’s not mastering everything, maybe it’s all about half-assing everything, learning just enough of everything there is to learn, the bare minimum spread out across an entire lifetime. I actually think I’m over halfway there. Maybe I won’t need ninety years after all. I mean, if I’m alive, that’ll be great. Bonus time to sit here and rub it in to everybody else how much I know, about life, about everything, literally every subject imaginable.