Chopsticks

“You like sake!,” in heavily Japanese-accented English.
“Yes, I like sake,” looking into her eyes, showing mirth
Just short of smiling, trying to put some gravel in his
Self-diagnosed overly smooth voice. The third
Decanter. Tromacali hadn’t shown. She was undependable.
Hollywood. Waited for 2 hours after hitchhiking for
5 hours to get there, and she didn’t make the date.
He understood that it wasn’t because she wasn’t
In love with him. She was. But she lived more according
To ideas of things, of what she thought she needed
To experience, than by the way she felt in her heart,
Though nearly everything she thought she needed was
A hedonistic pleasure, with the limits ever expanding.

He had pretty much mastered the chopsticks now.
And he discovered that he liked sushi nearly as much
As he liked warm nihonshu. He had some cash from
Restringing a 7-foot Yamaha grand, so he thought he’d
Take Tromacali out bar hopping, but someone else must have
Invited her before he was able to get there. He walked
Up and down Hollywood Blvd. for a long while, stopped
At the big news stand and hit a couple book stores,
Then saw Japonica Japanese restaurant, a clean,
Well lighted place that seemed exotic. He decided
That this would be a good time to learn how to use
Chopsticks. Though he was under age, it was rare
For someone to ask him for ID when he bought
Alcoholic drinks so… “sake,” which he’d never tried,
Then awabi “barbecued,” on fire, sake
Flavor and abalone flesh, served in a conch
Shell, rice, lots of rice, anothel pot of rice, prease,
Ikura, salmon eggs, shii-take; tako with
Eight arms here resilient slices, possibly his
Favorite, uni, Italian delicacy for old men
To retain virility, gonads of sea urchin; tuna
Aka-mi, chuu-toro, o’o-toro; kappa-maki
Reminded him. Airline pilot, when Rhosonny
Had finished regulating his piano, brought out a
Tray of Johnnie Walker Black and toasted
Nori, both new to Rhosonny, both instantly
Liked, never forgotten. The pilot told him,
Though he’d never tried it, that the polite
Way is to eat sushi with one’s fingers, not
Chopsticks (though I believe this is now
Deemed “over polite”), so Rhosonny
Ate the sushi with his fingers, and taught
Himself how to use chopsticks
On the sashimi, tempura, and rice.

Rhosonny could consume large amounts
Of food without feeling full or gaining weight,
“The Human Garbage Disposal” his mother
Called him, for his habit, once everyone else
In the family had eaten, of finishing off all of the
Leftovers at the same sitting. And alcohol?
His introduction to whiskey was up in the hills.
Fred Cardsdale had come back from Nam without
One of his legs from the knee down, and with a new
Improved plastic throat from the day he got
Fragged on patrol. Once, when a cop was about to
Arrest him for public drunkeness, Fred unstrapped
His leg and threw it at the cop. In stead of arresting
Him, the cop decided to just give him a ride home.

Fred knew how to take advantage of a disability,
And Fred liked to drink. A group of high-school kids
Would pool their money and give it to Fred, who would
Buy several bottles of cheap whiskey and challenge
Anybody to out chug whiskey against him. Most kids
Couldn’t even get half way through a pint. Fred’s
Formidable plastic throat allowed him to pour
The stuff practically straight into his stomach.

Rhosonny decided to practice in secret. One night
He challenged Fred to a chug contest and (a game
Well attested in the Icelandic Sagas. Egil, if I recall
Correctly, lost such a contest because his hosts
Watered their own drinks but not his — and his
Hangover in the morning was unacceptable, so he
Killed them all – and Rhosonny was at least half
Norweigan) tied Fred for the draining of a
Fifth of whiskey (unknown brand), which meant
He who vomited first lost. Rhosonny
Had eaten an enormous pot roast dinner
While Fred had likely eaten little or nothing.
Rhosonny waited for Fred to puke, then
Immediately followed suit. He was proud that he
Had been able to challenge such a tough guy
By the tough guy’s own rules. He’d always felt
That he, himself, was too soft, too smooth, too feminine,
Too sensitive, too accommodating, too polite,
Not butch enough. But a few days later
He regretted it. Fred didn’t have much to live for.
Getting free whisky by illegal buys and chugging
Was much of his life, and it was the one place
He reigned supreme. Rhosonny regretted having
Hurt him in this way. But he could hold liquor.

That party they gave his mother at the American
Legion bar, drinking scotch and soda after scotch and
Soda… Everyone knew he was under age, but he was
Naomi’s son, so they let it slide but she asked the
Bartender to keep an eye on the 17 yr old boy.
Later she told Rhosonny, “I’m mad at him for giving
You too much to drink.” Rhosonny said, oh,
I didn’t know it would cause him a problem.”
Naomi said, “He said you drank them like water
And, since he couldn’t see any change in you,
He figured that they weren’t having any effect,
But I know how drunk you got.”

She should know. She’d had a hard day.
When he got home from school, she was
Sitting at the kitchen table with two
Fifths of light rum. “One of these is yours.”
It took them several hours, but they drained both.
He was 15. Now, only close friends could tell he was
Drunk. Even then, they would only conclude that
He was drunk by his dulled intelligence, not
By his speech, which was never slurred or distorted,
Or by facial or body movements, which he kept
Frozen in a stone bust or Noh mask: people only
Asked him if he was stoned or drunk when
he was stone cold sober.

Sake by sake, fish by fish, rice by rice,
Rhosonny learned to control Japanese chop sticks.
After the fourth decanter, after the plates were all
Empty, Rhosonny bowed and smiled politely
At everyone in the room, which was mostly staff,
Who also bowed and smiled big smiles and
Let him know that they would like him to come back
Anytime. Then he stepped outside and started
Walking toward the freeway on-ramp to hitchhike home.