The grinding stone

Yesterday I walked into the dining room and saw my daughter sitting at the table. It was obvious that she was talking on the phone with someone, however, the second she saw me she pretended like she wasn't talking on the phone at all. I thought it was kind of odd that she would just strike up a conversation with me and keep the person on the other end of the line waiting for a good 10 minutes. So, I said to her , “Aren't you talking to someone on the phone right now?” The look on her face was one of slight embarrassment. She said, “I am.” Then, she proceeded to get up from the table and leave the room. I told her to stay there because I was going to the supermarket anyway. Jokingly I said, “I'll leave you and your secret boyfriend to it.” As far as I knew, she didn't have a boyfriend and that comment was meant to be a tease.

I hopped on my bike and went to the supermarket. I woke up in the morning with a strong urge to make jerk chicken. Actually, I wanted to make a beer can chicken, which I had never made before. The recipe called for some kind of rub but I decided to use jerk rub instead. At the supermarket, I sort of regrated that decision because the jerk rub contains 13 different herbs and spices, which beats Colonel Sanders secret recipe of 11. These days, things are so highly priced in supermarkets that making a dish that requires many ingredients is extremely costly. You can imagine my surprise when I got to the register and heard the total from the cashier. I had bought eight of the 13 herbs and spices plus vegetables for salad, strawberries, grapes, sour cream, bread, cinnamon rolls, and two cans of beer. The chicken was already in my freezer. The total was a whopping ¥6000 which is roughly $55 US. I thought that was an insane amount. It's a sign of the changing times, I guess. It makes me feel like an old man to say this, but, I still remember when McDonald's cheeseburgers were only about $0.50 and their ice cream cones were $0.25.

I left the supermarket thinking about what a waste it would have been if my jerk beer can chicken did not turn out well. When I got home, I spread all of the groceries on the dining room table just so I could get a look at what ¥6000 yen buys. Seeing everything in front of me like that in such a small cluster made it even more unfathomable. In Japan, if you stick to simple things, you can keep a budget. Dishes that work the best are the ones that have one or two main ingredients plus one or two seasonings. In my photography class, I asked students to create a photo story depicting how they spent a Saturday. There were many photos of students’ meals. I was shocked to see how sparse they were. Most of their dinners looked like tiny snacks or appetizers to me. From those pictures, I understood how people could survive the rising cost of food and also how Japanese people managed to remain so skinny. They hardly eat anything.

I had already started down my jerk chicken road and I wasn't going back. As I was mixing together the various herbs for the rub, my daughter returned to the dining room from her bedroom upstairs. She wasn't on the phone anymore. Instead, she began to engage me in small talk. Since she's one of the most talkative people I know , she can carry on a whole conversation by herself as long as I chime in every once in a while, with “uh huh”, “oh wow”, and “that's nice”. It wasn't that I didn't want to listen to her. It's just difficult for me to focus on someone talking and focus on making a meal. I know myself too well . If I focus on the talking, I will most certainly ruin the meal.

There came a point in the conversation though where I had to stop everything I was doing and pay full attention. Out of the blue, she suddenly asked, “Do you mind if I invite someone over next week ?” I could see in her body language and in the changing cadence of her voice that she was nervous about asking me this question. Right away I knew the dreaded day had come. The secret boyfriend was no longer secret.

Throughout her childhood I often imagined myself meeting the first boyfriend for the first time. I would be sitting in a dimly lit room waiting for the boy to enter. In my imagination I'd have a grinding wheel that I could spin by pumping my foot. As the boy entered the room, he'd see sparks flying from a large knife that I was sharpening. “Come in.” I would say to him menacingly. I'd watch as he apprehensively made careful steps across the room to where I set grinding steel. At one point, I even searched for a foot powered sharpening wheel on Amazon.

There I was sitting at the table facing the reality of meeting my daughter’s boyfriend for the first time. It was a very strange feeling, one that left me with a sense of dread and confusion. Of course, she's not a child anymore. In fact, she's 21 years old and is free to do whatever she wants with her life. Still, there was this feeling inside that reminded me of the time I went bungee jumping. Every part of my being wanted to resist the foolishness that I was about to attempt. I had to use my intellect to override my basic instincts in order to take the jump. I did the same thing yesterday when I was sitting at the dining room table listening to about 40 minutes’ worth of description on how wonderful she thinks this dude is.

I am a bit nervous because he'll be coming over next week. Maybe there's still time to get that grinding stone.

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