|The Guy Who Didn't Eat Fish.
I pushed open the door to the Dim Sum restaurant and I was immediately struck by how much it resembled a rowdy high school cafeteria. The metal tables looked like park benches, fabricated with the seat attached to the table so they could not be stolen, moved, or made comfortable.
Judging by the décor, the food had to be fantastic because no one was returning solely for the ambience created by the Hello Kitty pictures taped to the walls, or the severe lighting that flickered constantly in one dark corner. I always worked on the assumption that if the restaurant is brimming with life and Osama could comfortably survive undetected for months on end, then the food must be good. The smell of gluttony was raw and the enveloping aroma of uncooked food hit me like an abrupt punch to the face. My olfactory senses told me, emphatically, that I was not going to enjoy this experience at all.
My friend Cain, took it upon himself to be my Dim Sum Tour Guide. You could see how agitated and distracted he was when we sat down at a table that wasn’t sufficiently close to the kitchen entrance.
We plonked ourselves down on the cold metal planks. The ridges ran horizontally down the length of the seat in sets of three, the type of ridges that left indents on your arse cheeks, even if you only sat down for thirteen seconds. The only conceivable reason that these ridges existed was to offer grip, as they did nothing for the aesthetics. Before the addition of these ridges, there must have been people sliding off the seat at any time throughout their meal. One minute you’re enjoying the company of friends, then without warning, you are being carried off on a stretcher whilst your friends pick the shattered remains of your teeth out of the edge of the table.
I asked Cain, my Dim Sum tour guide, if many of the dishes are seafood. He stopped and grinned at me, knowing why I asked.
“Yeah, most of them are. Why do you ask?”
“Because I don’t like seafood” and as I said that, a freakish lull in the restaurants workings allowed everyone within ear shot to hear me. My friend Belinda then asked what everyone else was now thinking
“You don’t like seafood? Then why did you come to Dim Sum?”
The crowd that was now listening continued their silence, heightening my already rising feeling of awkwardness.
Everyone then resumed their hurried feasting while Belinda just flat out laughed at me. She is one of those magical people in life that laugh at whatever you have to say, whether I am trying to be funny or not. My ex girlfriend also laughed at whatever I said, but her laugh was acidic and rarely genuine. I think Belinda laughed a lot because her husband Gareth, one of my very good friends, is completely unfunny. If he manages to string some decent jokes together, you can wait for up to three months before he makes a joke that doesn’t crash horribly, leaving everyone stunned and bemused. He makes up for not being comically funny because he is a male demigod and seems to be ageing backwards much like Benjamin Button. I am the opposite of Gareth and seem to be ageing exponentially, my hair greying since the age of twelve and my body starting to make old man noises, often without me prompting them. Therefore, when courting women, I have to rely heavily on a sense of humour, that and a female’s poor judgement and low self esteem.
Dim sum often consists of a small asian lady pushing around a tiered cart of food, like an air steward burrowing down narrow corridors of people, showing no mercy for the careless who leave an outstretched leg in the aisle. She then stops at tables, often at gun point, and you get to guess what dishes she may or may not have. There is no menu, leaving you with no idea about what you are about to eat and even less of an idea of what it will cost you when you get to the register.
A lady named Suyin stops at our table, and Cain starts asking questions about food dishes that I could never have imagined existed even in the most horrific of my dreams. By the sounds of the dishes being named by Suyin, they were only invented this morning when the resident chef threw handfuls of left over ingredients together in a hurried effort to feed the starving and frenzied crowd, waiting anxiously outside his door.
“We are out of all edible food!” The kitchen hand exclaims in a panic.
“Doesn’t matter.” The Chef says waving his hand dismissively, “See those fish brains there, boil them and stick them with those chicken feet we threw out earlier today.”
Who doesn't need a nibble on boiled fish brains to help get you through the day? I keep some in my desk drawer at work to curb such cravings. The stench also wards of would be stationary thieves so it’s a win-win situation for me.
Suyin and Cain start laying down plates of soggy looking food until our table has no actual table top left. All of the dishes look as though they have passed through the digestive tract of the local cow, which I imagine is now shifting around nervously in its paddock at the news that chicken feet had been used in a dish that very afternoon. Cain then reluctantly asked Suyin if there are any non seafood dishes. She stares blankly at Cain, who in turn points at me aggressively, as if I had just gotten him into trouble and he was dobbing in the ringleader to save his own skin.
“No, we just have seafood!” she snorted and she then shoots me a look of disgust, as if I had just told her that I skimp on my child payments.
I sat there motionless, thinking that if I do not move then perhaps no one can see me. My head hung low, weighed down with guilt like a dog that had just urinated on the new family sofa. Pretty soon there were three Asian ladies, all talking and looking for non seafood dishes amongst their own individual carts. It’s quite a commotion and soon enough, people not even at our table are helping by suggesting seafood free dishes.
The sheer embarrassment made me want to run for the door, not caring whether it was open or closed. What on earth did I do to deserve this cruel treatment? Was it the little audible groan I made when we first entered Dim Sum? Or was it because my face soured instantly whenever the trolleys rumbled past?
You could feel the pity in the air, hanging just below the roof in a thick invisible plume. A little girl of approximately seven walked up to me with a plate of Pork Buns and you could see her family over her shoulder, grinning proudly, as if she was helping a helpless elderly person.
Cain however, was in his element. He had strewn plates everywhere, nimbly moving his hands backwards and forwards like a classical pianist. If only he was as graceful, I think I saw an entire octopus fall as from his mouth as he feverishly shovelled food in. It was no doubt still alive and making a final break for freedom, reminiscent of the last ditch effort that the victims of serial killers make in movies, right before they are gruesomely murdered. I was watching Cain try to eat his entire bodyweight in food when Belinda asked me why I didn’t eat seafood. I started to answer Belinda’s question.
“If given the choice I would rather be stabbed in the eyeball with a dining fork than eat fish.” I say.
“Whilst having a fork viciously penetrate my eyeball is a stupendously unpleasant thing to have happen, it is none the less preferable to eating fish in my opinion. When I was around six or seven years old I was deeply, deeply traumatized by the movie jaws. I refused to swim at the beach or pools even, thinking I was a perfect chubby size for those pointy, biting creatures called sharks. The floor of my bedroom was covered in a blue shag carpet and at night it resembled the deep colour of ocean water. I used to think that my carpet was infested with sharks and I wet my bed while I lay in bed, not wanting to walk on it for fear of death. In my young mind, it was either wet my bed or risk being eaten by a magnificent imaginary shark. My mother never understood.”
I claim that it’s actually a form of Post traumatic stress disorder.
“I still remember seeing the movie on the TV. I was at my Grandmas' house because my parents had embarked on yet another selfish attempt to develop a social life. All I had to do was stay up past Grandmas' bedtime, thinking back it was only 6pm, but once she fell asleep I could watch whatever I wanted. This was every young boys dream.”
Cain casually choked on something. It was quite possibly the carcass of a blue whale, but it was hard to tell as he had already ingested it. People rushed over preparing to apply the Heimlich, but I knew better as this happened approximately three times a meal. He had to learn and what better way than a near death experience in a horrible dank restaurant. I ignored him and his cries for help and kept going.
"My uncles used to give me a hard time when I was growing up. I wasn’t a smart kid, and they took full advantage of my gullible nature. They would always get me Christmas presents, perfectly wrapped in expensive paper. Unfortunately, the presents would turn out to be dog turd’s in empty matchboxes. Even the dog expected it, but not me. Every year, they would go on a fishing trip to a place called Dongara and they would bring back a wildly vast assortment of fish. It never occurred to me at the time, but the fish was most probably store bought now that I think of it. The aromas, textures, and aesthetics filled my mind and senses. And as a six year old, it left me with a morbid fascination of everything oceanic. I thought they were the best fisherman in the world and looked up to them. The whole family would wait for them at Grandmas' and when they returned we would be regaled by tales of heroism and stories about the one that got away. Of course they would lie. My biggest fear was the Jaws music. Once I heard that anthem of terror I would become instantly frightened and I didn’t even need to be near water. If I ever meet John Williams I would shake his hand, only to then punch him squarely in the nose for causing me to sleep in pools of urine as a child. The year after I had been traumatized by jaws and its music, my Uncles played a trick on me. The catch, which resembled some sort of exotic fish morgue, was always tastefully displayed on the kitchen table for all to see. Right in the middle sat a six-foot Blue shark. Straight away I was engrossed by it's sandpaper rough skin and powerful ammonia stench. One of my uncles walked up behind me and gave me a little nudge towards it as I bent in closer to get a better look. My hands shot out into its snout to brace myself from falling head first into the gaping mouth. I ran to my mum crying like a little girl and my whole family was laughing apart from my mum, who was pulling my face into her stomach so I could not breathe. My uncles then started the Jaws anthem.
Dur nup -- Dur nup -- Dur nup.
This was enough to send me into hysterics and I screaded with them to stop, which is just pleading at an excessively high volume. They both picked up the shark, one underneath the fins and the other holding the tail, keeping the Jaws anthem going while slowly increasing the rythym. They chased me around the house for what seemed like an eternity, with me wailing like a police siren. This is why I dont eat fish.” I say with an emphatic finish.
It seemed like the whole restaurant had listened, apart from Cain who was now following Suyin around. Belinda and Gareth had long since finished eating and were engrossed in my story. The owners should make up a little plaque commemorating my visit and stick somewhere on the dust covered walls. It couldn’t make the place look any worse. “The Guy who didn’t eat Fish.”
Gareth, Belinda and I went to the register to pay, leaving Cain to talk Suyin out of filing a restraining order against him. My bill came to eighty cents and the cashiering lady shot me an untrustworthy look.
“Why bill so small? You not eat food?” She said in her broken English.
I said that I didn’t like seafood and she replied with
“You don’t like seafood? Then why you come Dim Sum?”