An excerpt from "Other People's Money: The road to heaven paved with bad intentions"
The characters in this scene are:
Charles, the president of an acquired company, Healey Abrasives
Dave, a partner is the acquiring private equity group OPM
Dave’s wife Jill
They are together on a company sponsored boondoggle to California, but having vastly different experiences—Charles, the books anti-hero, is in the midst of an unusual redemption involving prayer, an affair and strip clubs; while Dave, forced to hang out with his wife, is despondent from having attended a day long lecture on fashion shows. Jill, a minor character to this point, is about to throw them all a curveball. The scene begins as the trio tries unsuccessfully to decide on a restaurant for dinner, until eventually ending up in a sushi bar.
Back at the table, Charles, Jill and Dave were making no progress determining where to eat since Dave just wanted to drink, Jill wasn’t hungry, and Charles wanted to get to the party and see Anne as soon as possible—going nowhere to eat was his first choice, followed closely by McDonald’s due solely to the speed of food delivery. For lack of a decision, they finally just hopped a cab to Stanford, planning to then walk up University Ave towards the party, hopefully finding something that struck their fancy along the way.
The walk turned out to be considerably longer than any of them anticipated—Charles, irritated it was taking so long to get to the party, led the way, while Dave and Jill brought up the rear. Dave slouched along while Jill, serving as an anchor to slow Charles’ fast pace, continually wanted to browse the various expensive boutiques along the way, much to both men’s dismay. After about twenty minutes of stop and go walking they came to The Working Person’s Boutique, where Jill again held up forward progress by venturing inside. By this time even Dave was getting hungry.
“Come on, Jill,” complained Dave. “These places are a pain in the ass—the stuff all looks the same, like you’re planning to explore the Amazon or wrestle alligators here in Menlo Park, plus it costs a ton.” Pulling a pair of pants off the rack, he continued, “Look at this bullshit. These pants look like you could wear them on Mount Everest and they cost $600. Where are you planning to wear something like this…..in the elevator at home? I know we live on the 58th floor so you might get frost bite from the altitude. Maybe we should pick up an oxygen mask too.”
“Dave,” came the exasperated reply. “You just don’t appreciate fashion.” Jill pulled a pair of $800 camouflage pants and short sport coat from the rack. “Wouldn’t I just look adorable at your next work party?”
“Only if I enlist,” was the grumpy reply. “I’ll bet there’s a restaurant coming up soon we’d all like.”
“I’m sure I’ll like it,” chimed in Charles. If the next restaurant served cold, week old hot dogs he’d vote for it, as long as it was fast.
“Oh, look at this,” exclaimed Jill, holding up a $500 pair of peasant pants as the clerk came over to help.
“That will look so good on you,” said the clerk. “It makes you look sophisticated, but like a working class person. Maybe like a college professor from a wealthy family on sabbatical and working with her hands so she can write a book about how poorly the working class is treated by the rich.”
“That’s exactly how I saw it,” concurred Jill. “I’ll take them, plus that camouflage suit. I just want to try them on, to make sure they accent my figure without being too sexist.”
“Of course,” replied the clerk. “I know just what you mean. I hate it when men stare at us.”
“Me too,” said Jill as she pranced off in her high heels to the changing room, her tight jeans strategically pre-worn in the rear near the bejeweled back pockets, below the Roberto Cavalli label.
Twenty minutes later and two thousand dollars lighter, the trio re-emerged onto the street. By now the sun was setting, and the street was lighting up. Immediately across the avenue from them was a sushi bar.
“Oh,” said Jill excitedly. “I love sushi. Let’s go in there.”
Charles, not being an adventuresome eater, had never been in a sushi bar, but as he really had no say in where they stopped, and at least it was somewhere, so they could eat and then keep walking, said, “Sounds good.”
“Didn’t know you liked sushi, Charles” laughed Dave.
“I’ve never had it,” replied Charles matter-of-factly.
“Don’t worry. I’ll help you order,” said Jill.
After being led to a low table behind a screen that required removing their shoes, the waitress, a small Japanese woman, appeared.
Dave ordered first since he was hungry. “I’ll have two orders each of tuna, yellow tail, and salmon sushi, plus a spider roll and a big Kirin beer.”
“I’ll have the same, but just one of each” said Charles, playing it safe.
“Oh Charles. Don’t order what Dave does. He always orders the same thing, and has no sense of adventure. Let me order for you.”
“I think I’ll stick to what Dave ordered.”
“No, I’ll order for you. We’ll both get the same thing and can split it,” went on Jill. “Life’s no fun if you never take a chance. Dave’s no fun—he never wants to do anything different or daring.”
“Switch my beer to a Saki, a big one” said Dave.
“I’ll have one of those, too,” said Charles.
“That’s better,” said Jill. “You can get beer anywhere. I’ll have a Saki too. I love that warm feeling it gives you.”
Jill studied the narrow sheet listing the various items available, pencil in hand. She checked off a number of items, then handing over the paper to the waitress saying, “Charles and I will split our meal. We’ll have Uni, Kohada, Ikura, Hotate, and two orders of Hon Maguro sushi. Put extra wasabi on the rice with the Blue Fin.”
“Bon appétit”, Charles,” laughed Dave, finishing his fifth tiny glass of Saki, emptying the bottle. “Ummm. That’s good. How about another round?” he said to the waitress.
“The Maguro is quite expensive, madam,” said the waitress. “Blue fin tuna is selling at record prices.”
“That’s not a problem…it’s really quite tasty, I’m sure.”
Charles sipped on his Saki, wishing the food would hurry up. How strange could it be? Dave’s showed up first, with the second bottle of Saki, and looked reasonably normal—slices of fish over rice, and cooked soft shell crab rolled in rice and seaweed. It even looked pretty good.
“How do you eat that stuff?” Charles asked Dave.
“It’s an acquired taste—you’ll like it soon enough. At our age, we’re so used to everything, like food we eat, even a good steak, that we’re happy when something different comes along, even raw fish. You’ll like it.”
“Thanks, but that’s not really what I meant. I meant really, how do you eat it? Do you just use a fork?”
“No, no, don’t use a fork,” said Dave. You’ll use either chop sticks, which are kind of tricky, or just use your fingers. You use the ginger—that thin, pink stuff, to clear your palate, and then you dip the sushi into this little bowl here, that has soy sauce and wasabi in it. You mix in a little wasabi, but not too much. It’s really hot, so you don’t want to get too much. Jill likes a lot of it, but me—I go light on it. It burns my nose if I get too much.”
Now Charles was actually looking forward to his meal’s arrival since Dave’s looked so good, especially the spider roll, which from its name had been hard to even imagine anyone consuming, let alone paying for.
“Here, Charles. Try a bite of the spider roll,” Dave offered.
Charles took a bite, grasping it with his chopsticks, using them like pinchers. It had a great taste, which he washed down with more Saki.
Just then Charles’ meal, so kindly ordered for him by Jill, arrived. Charles just stared at it while Dave chuckled. In front of him sat an order of sea urchin, salmon eggs, gizard shad, raw scallops, and thankfully, the Blue Fin tuna with extra wasabi.
“Dig in, Charles,” said Jill gleefully. “Doesn’t it look just wonderful?”
There’s no way I’m eating this shit. “Well, it certainly does look unusual.”
“Come on, Charles. Take a bite,” heckled Dave. “Jill sure ordered you a taste experience. Maybe you can have some freshwater eel for desert.”
“Stay out of this, Dave,” said Jill, turning her attention to Charles. “Really, you just have to try it. Just pick something.”
Charles, peering at the odd assortment of sushi on the counter in front of him, chose what looked the most normal, the maguro. “I guess I’ll try this.” He picked up a piece of the Blue Fin tuna, dipped it lightly in the soy sauce with just a touch of hot Japanese green stuff, and took a nibble off the end. It was delicious, so he took a big bite, stuffing it all into his mouth, including the extra wasabi skillfully hidden between the fish and rice by the sushi chef.
At first he detected just the delicate flavor of the very expensive, highly prized Blue Fin, enhanced by the soy sauce, but then the wasabi began welling up inside his mouth. “Arghh,” he gasped, as the wasabi burst into full bloom, permeating his nasal passages, blasting from his mouth into his nostrils like a WWII flame thrower. His eyes began to water, then overflowed with tears, while his mouth hung open as he grabbed for his water. He swallowed the $50 Blue Fin sushi whole, then pounded back more water. It didn’t help, so he took a swig of Saki, nearly knocking the bottle over in the fog of tears clouding his vision. Although he couldn’t speak, he could hear Dave laughing beside him.
“Lucky Jill asked for extra wasabi, wasn’t it?” Dave said unsympathetically. Then, turning serious, he asked. “Charles—Are you OK? You look like you’re having a heart attack.”
Charles couldn’t respond, but nodded his head that he was OK.
“Wasn’t that good?” asked Jill, no trace of sarcasm in her voice. “The wasabi adds a whole new dimension to the eating experience.”
“What in God’s name was in that?” rasped Charles, his nasal passages still burning. Strangely, it had been good, now that the vapors inside his nose were dissipating, but he had no desire to go through that experience again. It was like crawling across a hot beach to enhance the pleasure of a cooling swim in the ocean.
“That’s wasabi-- Japanese horseradish,” replied Jill. “Isn’t it fabulous?”
“That may be the worst thing I ever ate,” Charles finally managed to say. “I thought my nose was going to burn off.”
“Oh, you’re no fun. Here, try something else.” Jill pushed the gizzard shad in front of him.
“Maybe I’ll try this instead,” said Charles, picking up the Salmon eggs. It didn’t look too good, but at least he recognized it from his fishing days, and Jill hadn’t ordered it with extra wasabi. He tentatively took a nibble, and although it was better than he expected, the nibble was plenty.
“Dave, can I have another bite of that spider roll?”
“Sure, go ahead. Finish it. Jill can eat that great stuff she ordered.”
“I’m not really that hungry. I ordered it for Charles. He’d have liked it if you hadn’t discouraged him.”
“Oh, OK. I’ll encourage him….Go ahead, Charles. Try another bite of that Blue Fin Tuna. There’s $200 worth of it there so someone ought to eat it. There are kids starving in Africa, you know.”
“Forget it,” said Charles.
“Very funny,” said Jill. You’re always making fun of me.”
Dave sat fiddling with a chopstick at the table while Charles, having given up on chopsticks, ate the Spider Roll with his fingers. Dave, having had enough sushi and Saki, decided to kill some time as he waited for Charles to finish--looking serious, he leaned forward on his elbows and asked Jill, who was across the table from him,. “Now I’m not being a wise guy or making fun of you, but what do you like so much about fashion shows?”
To his surprise and mild annoyance, Jill didn’t answer immediately. Rather, she pondered her response a moment, hesitated, and then said, “It’s something different—just like you were saying about the sushi. When you get to be our age, the same old things seem boring, no matter how good they might be. Like you said, even a great steak can be boring if you’ve had them often enough.”
“So you need a different hobby, and you want to learn to design clothes, and learn about fashion? That’s certainly understandable.”
Jill wasn’t usually too honest or open with Dave, but after two bottles of Saki was feeling all warm inside and trusting. “That’s not really it, Dave. Really, what it is….,” She hesitated again, “is that I like to watch the women walk on the runway in their beautiful outfits.”
Dave, missing the point, replied, “So you like to see the new clothing styles and how they look?”
“No, Dave. I like to see the women. I actually imagine them walking up there with nothing on under their clothes.”
This got Dave’s attention. “Charles—switch seats with me, will you? You can eat the rest of my sushi. It’s normal stuff.” Then turning back to Jill he continued, “You mean you imagine the women wearing no underwear?”
Charles, who had been concentrating entirely on getting the food into his mouth in one piece while trying to determine what was edible, changed seats with Dave; He also started paying attention to the conversation.
“That’s it Dave. I find it very stimulating.”
“Stimulating in what way? You mean you like naked women?” asked Dave incredulously, and loudly enough he could have been heard at neighboring tables, had it not been for the curtain.
“I’m not sure, but I think so. I’d like to try something new.”
“You mean you’d like to have sex with a woman?” This time the neighboring tables could have heard him through a foot of insulation. Dave couldn’t believe it, but it had his undivided attention.
“Shhh—you’d better keep your voice down…..I think so. I’m not sure.”
“Would I be there too?”
“Of course you would. I wouldn’t want to be there by myself.”
Dave was seeing Jill’s interest in fashion, and his attendance at fashion conferences, in an entirely new and much brighter light. “What would I be doing, exactly?”
“That would be up to you. Do you think it sounds fun?” she asked, unsure of herself.
This caused Dave to pause. It sounded fucking terrific, depending of course on who the other woman was—if she looked like a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers that would be less fun--but he had to be careful not to act too enthusiastic about it and make Jill think he was tired of her, and get jealous. “Gee, I don’t know. It seems pretty wild.”
Jill then said what Dave had been hearing multiple times a day for years, and what he was praying he’d hear at least one more time: “You are just too set in your ways. You never want to try new things. You need to be more adventuresome.”
“I’d be willing to try it, if you want me to, but I can’t guarantee anything.” He felt himself stirring as his mind imagined the possibilities.
“Oh, Dave. That’s so understanding of you,” Jill cooed. She wrapped her arms in front of her, tight across her breasts, and leaned into him.
Dave’s slouch was now completely gone, his attention focused like a laser beam. It was a dream come true, out of nowhere, or worse than nowhere—from a fashion show. Maybe there would be willing women at the party tonight. “Well, we’d better head for the party. I’m afraid we might be running late.”
This comment perked up Charles, who was still starving but terrified of the odd assortment of strange foods in front of him, providing hiding spots for lurking Japanese horseradish, ready to attack his unsuspecting nasal passages. “I’m all done,” he announced. He’d certainly had enough sushi, and whatever that damn green paste was called, and was eager to get this show on the road. There were bound to be appetizers at Anne’s.
“I’m ready,” said Jill, grinning slyly at Dave. Apparently she had the same idea he did.
“Let’s go for it,” boomed Dave, pushing his chair back and standing up abruptly. “Could we have the check, please,” he asked the nearest oriental woman, who may or may not have been their waitress. As they exited the sushi bar, there remained approximately $400 of sushi uneaten on the table, though the Saki bottles were empty.
The remaining distance to the party was covered in record time, this time with Dave leading the charge, holding Jill’s hand, nearly dragging her, as he strode purposefully down University Ave, heading for what he hoped was the sushi equivalent of new experiences for his marital sex life. Charles, bringing up the rear, watched them go, and hoped, for Dave’s sake, there wasn’t any wasabi hidden in the experience.