Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sushi surprise

What I'd expected to be a boring, routine evening was transformed by a phone call. Friends offered to treat us to dinner at their favorite sushi restaurant. Could we meet them there at 7:00?

Well, our dinner plans had been to rustle up some leftovers or a frozen chicken pot pie, so it was quite a pleasant surprise. But it complicated things a bit, because our clunker car was in the shop; our mechanic had delivered a grim diagnosis, and we had a decision to make. But - oh well. We decided to keep the rental another day and take our friends up on their invitation.

I drove my own beater car across town, met [The Man I Love] in a central location, and then we carpooled to the restaurant.

We had enjoyed dinner with our friends at this place before. The food is exquisite. The service impeccable. The company was wonderful. On this evening, one gentleman at our table was a celebrated international architect, who told us of his current projects in Europe. The last time we'd been there, while talking to our host I glanced over his shoulder a few times at the blonde woman at a table beyond, and after a few minutes realized it was Reese Witherspoon.

And on that day, the restaurant's staff gave our table more attentive service than hers. Our hosts were more valued customers than a Hollywood movie star.

When the meal was over, I drove my old car home, dents and all. It was 11:00 pm. We were out of milk, coffee, and we hadn't picked up the mail. And how much would that transmission repair cost?

A few years ago, we were standing with another group of business associates after an event, on the sidewalk in front of an L.A. restaurant, waiting at the valet stand. A couple of young guys walked by with flyers, and pressed one into the hand of our dinner companion, a mild-looking elderly gentleman. "Come hear our band!" they said, "We're playing a gig this weekend!" They were full of enthusiasm and optimism. "Our manager says a guy from a major record label is gonna be there!"

We wished them luck, as they moved down the street. Our friend smiled. He knew a little bit about the music business. Before he retired, he was CEO of one of the largest record companies in the world.

And this is the kind of cognitive dissonance that every day seems to bring. Last week at work I was asked to analyze the comparative cost of toilet tissue my company purchases from various vendors. Later that same day, I stood in a Beverly Hills restaurant, chatting with a venerable sex symbol movie star (yes, he still has the sizzle.) At work I eat microwaved ramen noodles or hot dogs at my desk. Then later I'm sipping rare imported sake with an afficionado.

In these settings I'm rarely the center of attention. Often, I hardly speak; usually I just listen while the people talk at me, over me, around me. I don't take offense - I listen. It's fascinating. I could be a character in a spy novel. Mild-mannered middle-aged lady with jujitsu powers, a hidden past, and un-exploited connections. (except for dinner - ha ha ha )

Sometimes it's brought home to me that I'm not the only one experiencing this dissonance. One evening I nibbled hors d'ouevres at Spago, and chatted with film and theatre artists. They were from the former Yugoslavia, and just a few years ago had gone through a war I could hardly imagine.

We all live with trouble and with blessings. Tribulations and unique experiences. Bureaucratic tedium and brushes with creative genius. It also comes with opportunity - and the thing that brings you out into the big world. There are so many days when I think how lucky I am, or when I wonder whether, as a kid growing up in an Ohio suburb, or in the days when I scuffled for work in New York City, I would ever have imagined myself in these scenarios.

It's a reminder how mobile American society is. It's also a reminder that the only way to expand your own horizon is to reach outward - or, at least, to walk through the doors that open to you. And - as my new Yugoslavian friends remind me - there may come a day when your comfortable world splits apart, and your life changes in the other direction. When the glitter turns to grit.

But mostly, it's a reminder not to forget what you left behind. Is there a doorway you're not exploring? Are you playing it too safe? Is there something that intrigues you, that you're afraid to explore? What could you experience if, instead of driving by that sight that piques your interest, you took a turn around the block, found a parking place, and went in to check it out?

Then expand it outward. It's not just about places - it's about people. If you can move beyond your origin, so can anyone else. So look around yourself. If you don't think you can explore for your own, how about helping someone else do it instead? Is there a person you're taking for granted? Someone who needs more motivation? Is there a kid who's got an idea that first looks foolish, but might end up taking hold?

I'm not talking about philanthropy right now, but in fact, the reason we know our friends, who treated us to sushi, is because of their philanthropic efforts. They did not come from rich or privileged origins. They worked hard, and now, they are giving back. Perhaps it's because even after they were successful, they were able to remember what it was like to struggle. They are an inspiration for us to follow - but even if you don't end up as successful as they are - take their example.

What do you think?


Gilly said...

Unless we give back more than we get, then we are unsuccessful! "Loving our neighbour" means just that. So many just grab and never give. What good is wealth, love, happiness stashed away? Given out it will multiply in places we will never know and and couldn't guess.

But you are right, we should stop, explore, look, listen, or our life will become a tiny, closed circle of regret. It doesn't need money to explore the world we live in. Just our own towns can give us all we could wish for!

And I to love just listening to groups of people. Sometimes what you hear is so unintentionally funny!

Tristan Robin said...

another thoughtful post with important observations...

cactus petunia said...

I think that was amazing! Thanks, as always, for your insight. Sometimes we all need to be reminded to shut up and listen!

And I love that shot. Is that the Pacific Design Center in the background?

shrink on the couch said...

I think I'd like to hang out with you on certain evenings. I'd turn into wall flower, though, so maybe you and I could amuse ourselves.

Unknown said...

I think it is wonderful the way you soak in life all around you. Very wonderful!

I think it is WONDERFUL that your hosts at the restaurant were treated better than a Hollywood movie star!

I think it is wonderful that you care about people and you have a big heart.

That is what I think : )

PS I hope the car works out ok. Gary's truck has been giving him so much trouble lately and he is very stressed about it.