I have a mouthful of sushi–cool avocado explodes on my cheek. Beads of rice tucked under my upper lip, the sting of ginger on my tongue, toasted sesame seeds, the bounce of raw salmon. I’m sitting on a red stool in Rice Bowl surrounded by loud-talking girls. Yum, cucumber too. A cell phone rings, a gust of cold air as delivery man exists, fistful of bags, hat drawn down covering his eyebrows. Gloves thick. A black-haired Drew Barrymore type wipes down fake wooden tables with a square rag, pushing in chairs, a red bandana on her head, almost a nurse hat, saving the floors from crumbs. Her pants are too long, dragging on the long wooden floors. Her walk is a shuffle. When does her shift end? Does she only clean and serve, or is she learning to cut razor thin slices of ginger, pink and translucent like the insides of ears. Tempura shrimp in a metal tin beneath heat lamps, lined up like rows of gondalas in Venice, stuck in the light, waiting to be chosen. Too bad he’s married, mister black cashmere overcoat, designer glasses, cute smile, dimples. I saw his ring when he pointed to the brown rice. He takes his meal to a nook, in the front, stooling it facing out onto the street, at the wall of glass. The steam from his tea fogs up the window. I see his reflection. I love this about New York. How I can find a space and make it mine, in my head, it’s safe and I’m suddenly an observer, and I can see families and friends, and the guy eating alone, facing the street with the taxis and the woman running in next door for her quick pick ticket. Even the ugly girl sitting under me, on a regular chair, slurping her noodle soup, telling the ugly man she is wild about the new man she is dating. Even ugly people date. And it’s New York, and I’ll be having tea soon, and suddenly, it’s okay. None of us are alone in this.
A daughter sits with her divorced father. Braces, clean-faced, green knitted hoodie, she eats chicken off a thin stick. Dad rubs his hands clean with a napkin, like he’s removing a stain from the carpet. Perhaps she’s telling him about school, asking if she is old enough to date or shave her legs. I’m too far away to hear, but they look happy, even though they’re not at home, at a kitchen table with a mother, even though they are broken. I’m getting full.
Beneath the “Salads & Sushi Here” sign is a make your own salad bar, except it’s not make your own, it’s pick your own, and they make it for you. Toss. Toss. A cafeteria lineup. Metal tongs, appear to be floating wishbones, are plunged into bins of shredded carrots, diced celery, quartered beets, marinated tofu squares. I love avocado.
I want to go home, nurture my inner compass, make myself a cup of tea, call it a spot, crawl under the covers in my cashmere socks and write. Time for the gloves, the scarf and the coat. Time to leave Rice Bowl, and go to my home, to make dinner for Linus, to let him lick up my nose. Time to go home.