I have just been to the most wondrous and strange place. In the middle of the country that I call home, there exists an area, though sometimes hilly, that proves that the world is flat, humid, and small.
In this place, a number of individuals, seemingly indigenous to the area, reside. They form tribes. And though these tribes live in close proximity to each other, they maintain their own identities. The identities between tribes seems strikingly similar to the untrained eye, but the differences are vast, encased in the crystalized boxes of memory of the residents therein, to be pulled out in common conversation between one tribe township and the other, a mere fifteen minutes away, across a river – two lands joined by a stocky, utilitarian bridge.
For instance, the tribe of Quincy, Illinois, frowns upon the coffee shop tribal council of Hannibal, Missouri while the Hannibalites laugh with derision over the questionable quality of life that most Quincerians lead.
Yet, a few open-minded, adventurous souls will cross tribal boundaries in order to meet for coffee, during which time, they discuss politics, and argue over whose land is fairer and why.
Imagine my jubilation, dear friends, when on what is likely my 99th date in my 15th state for my comprehensive study of dating rituals across the land, I was invited to add a 16th state: Illinois. This 16th state represents the benchmark of 34% of the United States dated. Of the approximately 56,000,000 unmarried male North American residing individuals, less, of course, those under 30 and over, say 60, and less those who are not interested in pursuing relationships or dating someone of the opposite sex, less those who are incarcerated, in a relationship, or deeply infatuated with a Victoria’s Secret model, I suspect I have had the pleasure of studying what would easily add up to 34% of the single and available population of North America.
For the purposes of this study, we’ll assume that there was no previous relationship with my Quincy date, nor did I eat brunch with him in St. Louis that very morning. For, how well do we ever really know each other? We are virtual strangers of infinite angles and dimensions, changing every moment. Environment determines nature. So, it would seem that a Joe in Hannibal might be a Joseph in Quincy. Or a Josephine, if the wind blows that way.
There were no ribs to be had in Hannibal on that fateful Sunday night. There seemed no choice other than to cross the bridge and investigate Quincy’s finest restaurant: Fuji Sushi and Steakhouse Authentic Japanese Hibachi Grill and Lounge.
From the moment we slid into our booth at the nebulously decorated spot with its Polynesian feel, and I opened the five-page laminate menu, I knew I was in for a culinary experience.
“America’s Got Talent,” played without sound on every television so that no matter one sat, one watched Americans with talent. It was as if to remind me, in America’s heartland, that we are one country, under God, indivisible, except for in matters of politics, sports, morals, ethics, along social, economic, racial, and religious lines, and with exception to views on human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, the rights of all races, and the rights of migrant workers and animals, in particular those raised and working in industrial complexes and treated with extreme cruelty in the name of consumerism.
I could not help but feel the proud swell of Patriotism in my breast as I leafed through the restaurant’s tome and watched another American, my brethren, singing a song.
It had been a day or two since I’d tasted a leafy green and I badly craved a vegetable, so I ordered what some might think of as a safe bet, a vegetable soba noodle soup with tempura on the side. My date, looking from his phone to his menu and back again, chose beef teryaki, an epic plate of meat and sauce. I was met first with a huge plate of batter fried vegetables, tender, nay, mushy, and dripping with grease, followed by a ramen noodle soup with three strands of wilted carrot shavings. Though I do make it a policy to try my food in foreign lands, no matter the ingredients, I found the soup inedible.
“Why?” asked the waiter, with a heavy Malaysian accent.
“Well, it’s not very good,” I explained. “And, soba noodles are usually made from buckwheat. These look like ramen. Lastly, I ordered a vegetable soup. This tastes like beef broth.”
“Yes. Our vegetable soups are cooked in beef broth,” he confessed, proudly.
And I nodded. “I see,” I said. “Surely, you can understand my confusion.”
He whisked away the offending dish and replaced it with a mean looking dragon roll. The monster’s eyes watched me carefully as I devoured its body. As if it knew I was not from there. That I traveled from a distant coast and crossed the water to feel the breeze of conditioned air on my virgin skin.
“Are you going to stop playing with your phone,” I asked my date.
“Are you going to stop watching the television,” he asked me.
But, on a pedestal in every corner, there was woman in chains. In a bathing suit, submerged in a pool of water, struggling to get out. An escape artist. An American. An American with talent.
And so we ate. Amused and distracted by the illusion of the outside world.
Try as I might, there are things I’ll never understand about this world, or the next. They include fried bananas and bad ice cream, cherry tomatoes shaped like bunnies. That I live in a country where we’re all considered felons and enemy combatants, many times over for our every day actions. That fully armed agents of the DEA will close down a child’s lemonade stand. I’ll never understand why someone would sacrifice the health of their teeth to crystal meth. Or how I can both admire and admonish that bombastic fool, Bill O’Reilly, for his wicked ways.
And, I fear, I will never understand where sushi and the midwest meet.
Now, dear friends, I will not be writing this next week. I will be in Seattle, hoping to secure a breakfast with the Queen Whale.
yours in adventure,