I’ll be posting a few more days of haiku from a wonderful reading last week. But today is prose–memoir–from a rather difficult book I’m working on. Difficult how? Well, it seems that telling secrets simply and directly might not be as easy as I’d hoped. Still, this one works for me.
At the corner of Church and Market, on the south side of the street, was a small restaurant we just called “the sushi hole.” It had a real name in Japanese, but no one used it.
Zen koans are full of mean waitresses.
The young monk asks the tea lady: Can I order some cookies and macha?
She says: Show me the self that is hungry and you can have cookies and tea.
He stands there like the doofus he is, mute.
At the sushi hole, there was the fierce looking chef behind the bar and the small bossy proprietress in front. There was usually a wait to get in, but a short one. They were fast. Sometimes you didn’t get what you ordered. You might want yellowfin, but they’d serve the catch of the day. Or the proprietress would decide you “needed” something in particular.
One day when I was having a late lunch and the place was quiet she said to me: “What you do?” She practically yelled. It didn’t sound like ordinary chit-chat.
Good question. I hadn’t the slightest idea. I had a small massage practice, mostly Zen students with sciatica. All I’d ever wanted was a boyfriend and now I had a serious one—a husband, actually. I wanted to be a poet and I certainly was trying—writing, reading, avoiding a suburban life.
“You!” Now she was yelling. “Concentrate!” At the time I thought she was noticing how much I was trying to focus. But as time passed, it see med more and more like advice.
Thirty-five years later I was sitting on the floor in the great Narita train station outside Tokyo. I was sobbing. I had just arrived in Japan and was jet-lagged. I was starving and had to pee but had been told “stay with the luggage” by my daughter and son-in-law, who were my guides on this trip. I was beyond culture-shocked.
My daughter Isabel found me, and in one look ascertained the situation. “I’m going to get you some little sandwiches,” she said in a coaxing voice. “I have yen from my last trip so I’ll do that right now, before I change my money. Nice little sandwiches, you’ll like them. With no crust. They come in packages of three. Do you want egg salad? It comes with cheese and pimento ones.”
I had taken the self who was hungry half way around the world. Maybe I still couldn’t show it, but the person I had fed as a baby could see it.
“Yes,” I said.
The sandwiches of course were delicious.