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Monday, February 14, 2011

Suburban Sushi Blues, Adina Siperman

They met on the snow-covered sidewalk outside Ginza Sushi, greeting one another with a kiss on each cheek – the standard Argentinean way. “Where are you going so fast? Give me a hug. I missed you.” Miguel pulled Alexandra towards him. He smelled just as he had when she was a kid. Old Spice wafted from his graying beard.

They climbed the three steps to the entrance. Anyone could see that they were father and daughter. They held themselves the same way. It was often construed as arrogance. Miguel held the door open for her. Sure, Alexandra thought, he retains this notion of chivalry. Wait until the waitress does something to piss him off.

Upon entering the restaurant, Alexandra began to unbutton her coat and disentangle herself from her scarf. She was too sensitive sometimes. Last week’s lunch had ended on lukewarm terms. In Argentina it was acceptable to snap at the help. This Canadian sentiment towards broad smiles, hearty handshakes and endless words of encouragement was often more than Miguel could take.

Ginza Sushi’s interior designer had never been to Japan. The restaurant’s décor was based on scenes from Hollywood movies. A statue of a stoic samurai stood at the entrance, hiding the VISA and Mastercard stickers peeling off the glass door. Along the centre of the room was a sand garden, dotted with random bonsai trees. The music wafting from the speakers was not traditional Japanese lute music, but rather an instrumental version of “California Dreamin’.” A kimono-clad, Taiwanese hostess weaved amongst the bamboo tables to greet Alexandra and Miguel and lead them to their regular booth.

“And two orders of wakame salad,” Alexandra took a breath after reciting the long list of what sounded like Japanese dishes. She highly doubted that the Canadian Dragon roll – a grilled Atlantic salmon roll drizzled in maple syrup – was a staple on every Osaka menu.

Miguel interrupted her and said to the waitress, “Make that three orders. Your portions are always so small.”

The waitress scribbled some characters on a scrap of paper, bowed and backed out of the four-cornered dining room that lent the idea of privacy, but still had the sound of a screaming four-year-old blasting through the lotus-blossomed screens.

Alexandra tied up her long, auburn hair, stood up and said, “I’ll be right back. I’m going to wash my hands.” She stepped out of the booth and walked in the opposite direction of the rock garden-themed washrooms.

Ginza Sushi was but one in a number of sushi restaurants popping up in the quiet suburbs of Toronto. All-you-can-eat sushi was the perfect combination of gluttonous consumption behind the façade of cultural diversity. Of course, no one ordered the eel dishes. Eel was an object to squirm at, not possibly for human digestion. So while 11.8 million unagi rolls were served annually in Tokyo, deep-fried sushi pizza was the top seller at Ginza Sushi. Alexandra and Miguel ate at the Japanese restaurant once a week. Last fall there was a period when they went to Kamikaze Sushi in the plaza across the street. Miguel insisted that Ginza was not bringing their full order. He could not pinpoint exactly what was missing from his seafood buffet, but he suspected foul play.

What he didn’t know was that every time his elder daughter excused herself to go to the washroom, she was, in fact, approaching the waitress and telling her not to bring the three orders of deep fried sushi pizza. Miguel’s cholesterol was 241 and his blood pressure, 150/95. Deep-fried was the last thing his arteries needed.

The stint at Kamikaze ended shortly after it began. The first week, the restaurant, unable to anticipate the suburban dependence on raw fish, ran out of yellowfin tuna. Miguel’s comment: Now answer me this. What kind of restaurant runs out of tuna? They might as well become a fucking McDonald’s. The second week, upon examining the bill, Miguel realized that the staff had taken it upon themselves to add a 10% service fee, after taxes. The audacity. How do they know they even deserve a tip? Fuck this, we’re going back to Ginza. And so, they were back at the first plaza on the other side of Main Street. Alexandra returned to the table now set with colourful seaweed rolls, grilled vegetables soaking in teriyaki sauce and pickled, sesameed cucumbers. She snapped open her wooden chopsticks. Miguel swallowed a piece of yellowfin tuna whole.

“Provecho, Daddy.” Alexandra again tied her falling hair, stirred wasabi into her soya sauce and set a piece of pickled ginger on her plate.

“So Hermosita. Talk to me. Qué tal?”

“Nothing much. What’s new and exciting with you? Pass the salmon sashimi.”

Miguel reached for the mound of pink fish. “Alex, I told you that I hate when you ask that. We live in Cedar Oaks. The most excitement we see around here is when Starbucks adds a new Frappucino to the menu. Florence; now that is where things happen.”

She didn’t know what he had with Florence. One spring he took a few classes at the community college on the architecture of the Duomo. Ever since, Florence was the embodiment of all things exciting.

“Oh, here’s something funny.” Miguel had a way of saying the word funny and making it sound dismal. “Your aunt was arrested last week.”

Alexandra’s Aunt Gloria had at one time been a part of Hare Krishna. One day when she was banging her cymbals at the corner of Haight and Ashbury, she struck up a conversation with a newly converted Orthodox man. In the time that the conversation flowed from animal rights to dietary restrictions, Gloria decided to return to the Jewish faith. She renounced the Krishnas and pork, got married according to rabbinical law and began calling herself Leah. It was at that time that Miguel began calling her “your aunt.”

Miguel continued, “I guess she was in one of her moods. Your aunt can really be such a disagreeable woman sometimes.”

Gloria/Leah wasn’t nicknamed “Crazy Aunt Whatever” for nothing. Last September Miguel, Alexandra and her sister Lauren visited the family in Queens for Rosh Hashanah. It was a crisp and clear afternoon. The whole family had come back from a walk and was preparing to sit down for coffee. The table was set with a dish of fresh, buttery pastries, not the usual kosher kind with the drop of indecipherable jelly on top. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafted in the air. Alexandra was reaching for a napkin when Gloria/Leah stormed in with a fork gripped in her hand.

“This is a meat fork. Do you see that the handle is round at the end?” Gloria/Leah, holding the fork by the tines, shoved the rounded end in Miguel’s, Alexandra’s and Lauren’s faces. “I found this in the dairy dishwasher among all the other cutlery that is squared at the end. Clearly one of you used this fork for dairy. Clearly one of you does not respect this kosher home.”

The three sat on the sofa, speechless.

“If you are not going to respect my kosher home, you are not going to eat in my kosher home.” Gloria/Leah threw the fork on the handwoven Persian rug, took the coffee table by the edge and flipped everything onto the floor, the Costa Rican coffee soaking the rug’s delicate fibers. Gloria/Leah’s daughter Rachel stood up and walked away, unfazed by an ordeal she had seen countless times before with different details but the same irrationality. Alexandra and Lauren retreated to their room, leaving their father and aunt to yell at one another with Spanish profanities. They concluded that Crazy Aunt Whatever had always been crazy; now she just used the Lord as her scapegoat.

“What happened this time?” Alexandra gnawed through a tuna hand roll. "Don't eat that one with the mayo. You know you can’t.”

Miguel’s fork retreated from a plate of shrimp drowning in spicy mayonnaise. “To tell you the truth, I don’t know who is stupider, airport security or your aunt. We are living in a police state. No freedom of speech. No ability to stray from the herd. Stand in line, listen to Mickey Mouse on iPods with a mouth full of bubblegum and a fist full of Monopoly money. Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t wonder why.”

“But, Daddy…”

“The waters have grown and we are all about to get fucking drenched. The next time you open your eyes, you are going to be plugged in and mellowed out with nowhere to escape.”


Alexandra was used to these tangents he would go on—Bob Dylan quotes, candy imagery and distrust for anything registered and trademarked. He name-dropped Che, Gandhi and of course, Dylan, who he called his generation’s sole solution to governmental hypocrisy. Both Bushes received the title “fucking” as their introduction. And Evita vacillated between “the Latin dream” and “lipstick tyrant,” depending on how Miguel was feeling towards his motherland.

“Are you going to tell me why Aunt Gloria was arrested?”


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