I’ve recently become a big fan of Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s blog Writerhead, which is directed at expatriate writers, but offers inspiration for anyone. Once a week, there’s an interview with a writer. (Click here, for Kristin’s spotlight on me) and every Saturday, there’s a writing prompt. I wrote the following in response to the prompt “The first time I…”
I had sushi for the first time in Columbia, South Carolina with a guy named Keith. This was back in the 80s, before raw fish on vinegared rice was cool. Before you could buy California rolls at
Keith had been born and raised in the state. He’d never lived anywhere else, and he had no aspirations to move away. Me, I was from Michigan. I’d moved down south for my senior year of high school, but I didn’t plan to stay for long. From way back I had dreams of settling in New York City or Paris or maybe someplace in Australia. I wanted to have adventures, to see the world.
We didn’t have sushi in the small northern town where I’d grown up. But Keith knew a place. It was out in Forest Acres, on the edge of the capital city. The storefront was non-descript, the parking lot
dirt, and I took it to be something of a dive. Inside, it was dark. We settled in a vinyl booth and a Japanese waitress with dyed blonde hair came to take our order.
I let Keith do the talking. He’d worked in restaurants and he knew how to cook. Even in his early twenties, back before the age of celebrity chefs, he was something of a foodie. Anyway, he knew his
sushi and his sake better than I did. I knew nothing.
A little while later, the neon-haired waitress, who knew Keith from previous visits, brought platters of sushi to the table. I pinched a morsel of maguro on rice with my lacquered chopsticks and
took a bite. Oh, how it melted in my mouth! And that dab of wasabi – so exciting! The glistening salmon roe, like small ruby beads, burst in my mouth. It was like nothing I’d ever tasted before. And the warmed sake was like liquid bread infusing my limbs.
Not long after, I moved to Japan to teach English. I’ve now lived on the island of Shikoku for twenty-three years. Here, of course, sushi is readily available, and probably better in quality than the
first sushi I sampled inland. But sometimes I get stuck in a rut. These days, I often go for weeks if not months without trying something new.
My friend Keith left this world the other day. In his obituary, he was described as a lifelong resident of South Carolina. That makes him sound kind of boring, like he never went anywhere or
did anything special. But I know different. Keith was the kind of person who could find adventure just around the corner, who knew that life was right in front of you, waiting to be seized.