Tags: Fish Mall
Comfy in Jordans
I'm not sure what I had planned for today's dinner but it certainly wasn't eating a violently-gutted, fried yellowtail and throwing back Japanese import-beer with a guy I hardly knew before; but that's how it goes when you fail to make dinner plans: sometimes you're surprised.
Before this afternoon I'd been exploring the Bay by some combination of bus tires, metro tracks, and my comfy, off-white jordans. I've worn these things every day for at least two years now, even navigating Tokyo almost exclusively in these reliable boots. They fit very well now and though I fear I may need to retire them soon (see: worn holes in the inside-fabric) they may just get replaced with another pair of Air Jordans.
However, today I added "by-car" to my list of transit methods around the Bay; I rode passenger around Berkeley and up toward the El Cerrito area with a guy I hardly knew. The Berkeley area is entirely devoid of good food, says he, and there's maybe one "authentic" restaurant in the whole area and it's entirely too much for its worth; we were headed to a little chinese tea shop in Richmond, which is maybe 10 or 15 minutes from Berkeley, depending on the traffic.
The ride up there was something else: sudden stopping, sudden starting. Just the usual traffic, he says, but it's such a new feeling for me so every jump and pull (happening at almost every traffic light between Berkeley and Richmond) is startling. But he seems to know how to handle the traffic, so I trust him to not obliterate the poor people in front of us in the big SUV; this SUV could hold at least 9 people (and seemed to stretch at least 15 feet away from the front seats) but presently there were seated only two of us.
We merge onto the 580 and we're well on our way: even though it's 4:58PM he says traffic doesn't pick up until later when the traffic jam's had its chance to work its way out of the city and onto the highways, maybe settling down by 8PM; I can hardly discern what he's saying over the rattling bass and treble of the SUV speakers, the trap that he's playing being amplified as we pick up speed on the highway and the wind (coming from the window-side ear) mussing my hair: my existence became a roar of wind and bass on the 580 as we still pick up speed.
We exit the highway and pull into a small asphalt lot in front of a mall; it seems the mall specializes in imports from China as the mall name is written first in Han and then in Roman letters; I've seen maybe a few stores which sell Chinese ingredients and imported goods but never a full mall.
We jump from the SUV onto the pavement; I have a little trouble with the door because it's the kind you pull and I've never owned a vehicle which requires you to pull the handle down and in to get out. It's breezy and hot today, pushing 90 Fahr.; the Berkeley hills wave at me in the distance and I wave back: we're not too far away from home, after all. From here I can see just how many houses there are on those hills.
Entering the mall I notice that almost none of the stores have people in them. Maybe there is a family here or there wandering around but nobody seems to be actively buying anything: it reminds me, fondly, of the dying Randolph mall in Asheboro, NC, near my summer-time job as a power-systems engineer.
We push further inward until we reach the tea shop; the tea shop is set inside one of the many retail spaces, recessed into the inside of the mall. The cashier is a pleasant young guy, maybe my age or maybe a year less; he seems really sincere so after ordering my starfruit bubble-tea (and after him warning me that it might be, curiously, a little salty) I drop the dollar and some change he hands me back into his tip jar. As there is nobody to help him, he busies himself now making my tea, combining the pearls and tea and starfruit in a glass in a ratio he measures with an absent-minded accuracy that betrays how long he's worked here. Starfruit was an unconscious decision; I have no reservations about starfruits but as soon I read its name on the menu my mind launched into the melody of Cornelius's Star Fruits Surf Rider. I sip my tea and ruminate on the pearls for a moment. It is keenly salty; not off-putting, just something to notice, like seeds in a watermelon or clouds in the sky.
We take our teas and separate ourselves from the shop, wandering over to a grocery store opposing the tea store. This grocery store has the most people in it by far, and seems to sport 10 or 11 grocery-aisles; it is by far the largest establishment in the mall and seems to command the rest of the mall around it, as if this store were the place keeping the mall alive, like a vital organ, maybe a lung or the heart.
Just as I begin thinking about stores and shops being like big organs, there in front of me are suddenly the innards of fish. Fitting. The smell hits me moments later and all I can think of is that slimy little asian supermarket back home with the fish in the back; it's a familiar smell, the smell of fresh (and not so fresh) fish.
Luckily the fish is always in the back of the store; this is no exception.
The guy I'm with (who's been sipping his yellow-ish tea at a pace which matches mine) hovers over the fish and touches his face thoughtfully, tracing an arc behind me as he inspects all the fish on my left and on my right. He motions to a sign with pictures of all the things you can request of the people behind the counter. Numbered one through six, there are pictures of a fish being cleaned, its head removed, cut into sections, all in a very cartoon-ish manner; the last two illustrations show the cartoon fish being tossed in what appears to be a deep-frier. This is confounding.
You can order them fried, he says; he's done it once and it was really good. If I'm feeling a little hungry it might be worth it to split, he says. We order the yellowtail, pointing at last picture on the sign to illustrate to the man behind the counter, clad in rubber gloves and an outfit that would better suit a hazmat worker and who seems to speak neither English nor Chinese that we'd like our yellowtail deepfried.
After taking the raw fish back and hacking at it, he tosses our beloved friend, who we took more than a few minutes to pick out, into the deep fryer; then a few minutes later he retrieves the fish and sloppily bags it, pointing to the front of the store and motioning as if that's where we pay for it.
We walk to the front, picking up a six-pack of Orion Japanese import beer on the way out. Then, laying out our fried fish and ample drinks on the plastic table, we begin our lunch, indulging in eachother's stories and thoughts until we've finished both sides of the fish and drained two of the beers.
I'll preface this with: I don't drink beer much; it makes me feel far too full and damn if there was ever a moment where I felt too full it was here and now. My conversation partner slugs another one while I finish my half of the yellowtail.
After wandering around the mall for some time, going into and out of candy-, import-, and retail-stores we finally quit; he drives me back home and I give him the rest of the beer, partly as a gesture of fraternity but mostly because I shouldn't have more than a can every so often anyway.
I chat on the phone with my boyfriend for an hour, reclining onto my back across a park bench, staring straight up into the cloudless above.
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