I walked in as normal, being greeted with a few hellos and the characteristic, “What are you reading today?”
I carry a book everywhere, even if I can’t read over lunch. My habit is acknowledged at my Thai spot around the office corner.
Usually I don’t take a menu because I order from a list of six things. I get the question what will it be unless I bring students or friends, and then the menus come for them. That day it was the steamed vegetables without rice.
My server brought my dish and a set of chopsticks. In four years, I’ve never eaten with them. They asked at first and I declined. I did this for a few visits. They stopped bringing them.
I looked at them and accepted them, saw them as an invitation. I was up for it, but the change of ritual stuck out.
I ate my lunch. I thought how glad I was that I didn’t order rice. I know how to eat with chopsticks but I’ve never learned how.
The difference for me is that you know how to eat with chopsticks when you can navigate broccoli florets and bell peppers cut in squares the size of your thumb. You’ve been taught, tutored, and educated–you’ve learned–when you can navigate rice.
I know how to eat the plate of vegetables. Four of six of my personal menu, I can eat with chopsticks. I pulled it off and had a pleasing, nourishing plate. But the educator in me thought of all the people who have tried to teach me how to use those sticks and how I couldn’t learn from them.
They were patient people, gracious people, kind people. Vivian, Gerald, Peter, Angela, Grace, and a server at a spot in the great Chinatown restaurant that Monica and Conway sent me to around the time they were wedded.
I thought about the first Chinese (not Thai) restaurant I went to with Bishop and Laurice for Laurice’s birthday, when I was introduced to hot mustard and to Chinatown and when we saw Cage. Gosh, was I ten? Did Reese turn nine then?
There are some things you’ll do without truly being educated. You can get by. You can pass. You can eat. But you’ll know that the nuances are lost on you. You’ll know that, in a different deep way, you have failed. And you’ll be okay with that failure. You’ll be okay with getting by.
Because next to you, at your left, as is on all the tables of your Thai spot, is a fork wrapped in napkin for people who have never learned how to eat rice with chopsticks.