Maybe I’m too sensitive. Okay, I am too sensitive, but it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.
I like Japanese food. If fact, it may be my favorite. If Lonzerotti’s or El Rancherito starts serving sushi then maybe I’ll change my mind, but until something happens to dissuade me, I’ll keep stomping about in the land of soy sauce, noodles and MSG. And I’m also a fan of the hibachi grill, those horseshoe-shaped seating arrangements with a griddle in the middle. The hibachi chefs are always highly trained and even though their jokes get old, they provide a little entertainment with the meal and they make groups happy with their banging, clanging and tossing shrimp into tiny mouths. It’s the closest thing to dinner theatre that we have in Central Illinois. The word hibachi means “Fire Bowl” and there are always plenty of flames to delight the youngsters and frighten any lady at the table that has used hairspray that evening.
The patter is the same from restaurant to restaurant and this is the cause of my complaint with these places, including the new Fujiyama restaurant in Jacksonville. It began several years ago at Springfield’s first hibachi place called Tokyo of Japan, then continued at Osaka, one of Springfield’s new hibachi restaurants. I had taken a group of my older students there to experience the fire and food show for the first time. Our smiling waiter started happily tossing food around the table in a losing attempt to hit our mouths. The girl beside me he called “Blondie.” One of the boys at the table becomes “Strongman” and as he moved around our area he made up a name for each of us. When he got to me he said, “How about you, Grandpa?” Okay, that was funny for perhaps the first twelve times, then it began to grate on me.
I was “Grandpa” at Tokyo of Japan, I was “Grandpa” at Osaka, and now at Fujiyama I became “Grandpa.” Last week there were at least four grandmothers at our table and none of them were called “Grandma.” Had the hibachi chefs done that then even the wicked chopping cleaver in their hands would have not provided enough protection. I kept thinking, “Go ahead. Just try it. Try calling one of these ladies “Granny” and see what gets chopped before tonight’s meal.
I’m not denying that I’m old, but is it polite to remind me of that? Especially when I’m paying the bill? What if I opened my own restaurant and my customers were all hibachi chefs and their families? Could I get away with the same sort of insensitivity?
“Hello! I’m Ken! Your hibachi chef! You all look alike! Are you related? Ha! Ha!
Ha! Okay, who ordered the shrimp? You? Old lady with front teeth missing? Here! Open up! See if you can gum this one down!”
(A bit of squirming from the diners. The lady, their aunt, just had reconstructive surgery on her mouth and this was her first trip out of the hospital.)
“Me again! Happy Ken! Let’s see … who had the Sodium Fu Yung? You? The young man with the extremely large ears? Can you hear me now? Ha! Ha! Ha! No, don’t open your mouth! I’ll just toss this in your ear! Ha! Ha!”
As I chop away at the veggies and hunks beef while talking about killing baby chickens every time I crack an egg open, I look around the table for someone else to insult and my gaze rests upon a little girl. “Hey sweetie! Yes, you with the slightly crossed eyes! Try to catch this mushroom in your mouth unless you’re seeing double!” (I clang my spatula on the grill.) “Ha! Ha! Ha!”
It’s bad enough when they automatically give me the senior citizen discount at Taco Bell just by hearing my voice over the drive-up speaker. I don’t have to be reminded of my age when I put in my false teeth and try to chew on a piece of rice at the hibachi insult grill.
The Scottish poet, Robert Burns, said, “Oh the gift that God could give us, to see ourselves as others see us.” I won’t be asking Robert to my house any time soon. I’m not sure I want that gift. Most of us look in the mirror and still see traces of that long-ago teenager and I regard that as a sort of blessed myopia. And I know, I know … the world is getting carried away with being offended at every little thing but the difference is that they’re being too picky and I’m right.
My quandary is this: I really don’t wish to be called “Grandpa” again, but I do love Japanese food. I’m considering a Justin Bieber mask.