“This is America”

“This is America”

“This is America,” acclaimed sushi chef Atsushi “Art” Hayakawa said with emphasis a second time. “This country gave me a life. A wife, a family, a restaurant. I want to give something back.”

I’ll reveal as to what was that gift back to the country he now considers his home because it was one of the many surprises of an unforgettable night in Atlanta, GA. Like the glorious meal of Japanese sushi delights my camera team and I enjoyed with relish and smiles, this chance dinner at a sushi restaurant tucked away in a strip mall off Buford Highway had all ingredients of a dish you never forget.

It was the manner in which Chef Hayakawa said “This is America” that made me listen with such respect. In an era where our elected leaders are determined to dictate as to whom they feel should be deemed an “American,” this accidental meeting nearly brought me to tears. It was that emotional.

Chef Hayakawa’s journey began at the age of 14, when he shared a sushi meal with his father. Like the potent wasabi that burned his nostrils and other senses, he knew sushi would be his life, a culinary art that would be his passion. At 15, he left school to study with a sushi master and for nine years, he studied and refined his craft with commitment and drive. At 24, he left his native Sapporo, Japan for the United States, much to the chagrin of his sushi master, who chose not speak to former student in response to his departure.

In 1991, Chef Hayakawa landed in the southeastern part of the country, beginning a new journey in Atlanta. He paid his dues, earning the sponsorship that would lead him to a green card, that time-honored golden ticket to the American Dream. In 2008, Chef Hayakawa opened his own establishment, Sushi House Hayakawa. In 2017, as the restaurant hones in on its 10th anniversary, the affable Hayakawa, is now considered to oversee one of the 12 most authentic sushi restaurants in the United States. And tonight, several cultures clashed in a communion of conversation, laughter and happy tears brought on by his trademarked wasabi bombs. (For the record, we ate three orders. He gave us one with an extra layer of that potent green goodness as a gift.)

IMG_3488

I couldn’t wait to get back to my hotel room tonight to document this evening in some fashion. And while I know this reads like, “Dear Diary, guess what happened to me tonight?” I don’t really care. Today was a good fuckin’ day to be alive, despite the current events on Capitol Hill as we enter a new political era that was only on view on “House of Cards” or “Veep.” I can’t help but burn with anger over a coterie of privileged “leaders” determined to turn their backs on the many men and women from overseas who have contributed mightily to the American Way. How can we disavow what is the true face of the American, a nation built on the backs and with the blood of so many immigrants?

But I digress…

How did we find Hayakawa? It was chance. We had wrapped a great day of interviews on the set of a film in its last days of principal photography. It was nearing dinner time and I declared sushi was in order. My audio tech conferred our digital oracle, The Google, and Sushi House Hayakawa was deemed the closest place. Little did we know we’d be heading for Tokyo, Japan in the process.

Instead of the usual Sapporo-fueled meal of spicy tuna rolls and tempura, we were treated to an experience that has a devout cult of loyalists, from Japan and elsewhere. An intimate dining spot of few tables and modest bar, Sushi House Hayakawa is an expert study of tastes, flavors and a near religious adherence to the art of sushi. Cell phones are not allowed. Reservations are requested. This is meant to be a personal experience to savor and enjoy without distractions or noise.

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 12.35.02 AM.png

Photo: Men’s Journal

Chef Hayakawa’s crisp white uniform was punctuated with a red terry cloth slash of read from the towel wrapped around his head. His hands had the delicacy of touch reserved for piano masters or surgeons, so skillful was his preparation of each piece of sushi. Our incredibly knowledgeable waiter, young, precise and absolutely American, treated us with respect and care. Yet, it those damn wasabi bombs he recommended that made us reach out to Hayakawa with a boisterous “Thank you.” His response? In addition to telling us the now-trademarked menu item was borne out or a prank, he gave us one more round with even MORE wasabi. Once dinner was over, I asked our waiter to see if Chef Hayakawa would pose for a picture with us. And this culinary master, who promised not to break my camera phone, posed and laughed and opted to stay with us for nearly an hour after closing time.

IMG_3484

I love telling stories for a living, but the narrative Hayakawa shared with us had us wrapt in attention. That wonderful crooked smile. His self-deprecating wit. His not knowing that he was serving Harrison Ford one memorable night. Or the bittersweet encounter with a smiling Paul Walker one week before his untimely death in a car accident. He was a trove of anecdotes, all delivered in a heavily accented, but warm voice that had us in his thrall.

Our meeting Chef Hayakawa reaffirms the incredible fortune one is gifted when they take to the road for work. We see and hear so much as we move from location to location, meeting a gallery of folks that represent all that can be wonderful in this world. Chef Hayakawa’s loyalists go back to his restaurant because he endeavors to give them an experience unlike any other. The demands of populist sushi cuisine were excised nearly two years ago from his menu. Gone are the California Rolls and other Americanized offerings found elsewhere. (And no, the spicy tuna roll is NOT a Japanese tradition.) Tucked into this mini mall, surrounded by Korean-owned establishments in the traditional American south, we found a true Japanese experience. It was a rare chance to be part of a narrative that was spun organically and without expectations.

IMG_3487

As we prepared to leave, Chef Hayakawa asked us to offer our support of his new, full-time sushi chef, a southern American named Terry. We noted that we were surprised to see Terry behind the bar. He told us he’s worked with several different Asian apprentices from all over, but Terry was truly unique. He “got it” and after a year and a half, he’d promoted him to full time not too long ago. But it was his saying, “I don’t see race” that caught our attention, too. Because “This is America” and he wanted to give something back. It would be Terry who would now benefit from his teachings, taking his art further into the world in a new way.

What a privilege meeting Chef Hayakawa tonight. I’ll never forget how he ran out to us in the parking lot with cold bottles of water. He was worried since beer was consumed, we would be subjected to the strict DUI laws of the area.

Now, about the sushi master in Japan who refused to talk to Chef Hayakawa for over 20 years? The former student, who makes a point to go back to Sapporo every two years, would call on his master each time to no avail. But five years ago, on one particular trip, master and student were reunited. He showed at the appointed hour and for 45 minutes, no one spoke. They sat in total silence…until the moment the master pulled out a bottle of sake and poured two glasses. “Drink,” he said in a gruff tone. Drink they did. And then he said to his former student, “Good job.” He’d been made aware of Hayakawa’s success in the U.S. The student cried, nose running, tears flowing. He was overjoyed. As for his master, he merely added, “Drink” in the same gruff tone. And drink they did.

I think of my father and mother, Mexican immigrants who also designed and curated their own version of the Dream. far from home and without the resources of family or government assistance. I think of the many immigrants who continue to work their guts out to ensure a better life for those in their care. I think of our often painful history in treating those we have labeled “The Other.” How can we reward these legacies with walls, internment camps and ideological terrorism? All we need to say to those who have made such a difference in so many lives is simply, “Good job, my fellow American.”

None of us know what’s in store as we venture into dark and uncertain territory. But tonight, four disparate lives were brought together in the name of friendship. New loyalists were born and we hope to bring back friends and family to Chef Hayakawa’s restaurant without hesitation. As to those ignorant many who need to be reminded of the beauty of such occurrences, I say:

This is America.”

 

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Day 5 — “Weight and Sorrow”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Day 5 — “Weight and Sorrow”

Day 5

256.7 lbs.

Glucose Reading: 176

It goes without saying that I am having a better week than #PresidentBabyhands. I’m down six pounds in five days. Sugar readings are dropping to numbers under 200 from a record 401 a few weeks ago. What more could a person want? A little peace and sanity for starters.  God, what a week. At least He/She rested on the 7th day. I’ll be glad to look out the window on Sunday and know that we’re not living in the atmosphere on a plutonium cloud.

Driving to an appointment with my boss today, I chatted with my boss about my progress with this weight loss program. One of the things we discussed was he correlation of food and our emotional states. He said, without hesitation:

“The only things we gain in life are weight and sorrow.”

I knew exactly what I was going to write about the minute he said it.

Update: He would like to contextualize his statement by saying, “I was kidding… thanks for the brutal attribution, hermano.” However, given my state of mind for a while, I found it rather poetic and true.

Depression triggered my desire to eat myself to death. The burden of sorrow caused by the loss of people close to me coupled with the current state of society was killing my desire to care about anything. The clarity that is replacing my previous opaque view of the world is certainly being challenged at the moment, as it is for many of us. Yet, it is also giving me reasons to speak up, or write up as it were, shedding the many layers of ennui and selfish woe in the process. If I allowed life to make me gain weight and bury me in sorrow, this same life can also inspire me to shed the pounds and reclaim my own contentment. Nothing has changed around me. My family, friends and livelihood are still very much in place and no less supportive and loving than before. It is my lexicon for living that’s changed. Now I want to live.

The Talking Heads have infiltrated my mental iPod of late because I have been fixating on this theme on the power of words and literacy. Since the media is suddenly obsessed with the concept of facts of late, check out this lyric from the Talking Head’s classic track, “Crosseyed and Painless.”

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don’t do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out
Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things
Facts don’t stain the furniture
Facts go out and slam the door
Facts are written all over your face
Facts continue to change their shape

In the last week, this new age of American Chaos has given way to the irrational normalization of “alternative facts.” I refuse to accept such a conceit, not when facts are being twisted into pretzels and salted with mendacity. Taken further, alternative facts do not exist in the fight for better physical and mental health. Ingesting meds for diabetes does not mean I can eat a chocolate cake. I know enough to push it away because it is bad for me. So how the hell is it good for any of us to hear Kellyanne Conway, that Consort of Lies, crow on television how calling out #PresidentBabyhands as a liar is “dangerous to…democracy?” We’re a sick nation, lady. What you and your ilk represent is the chocolate cake that can kill us all.

img_1634

In this visual age, where people prefer to digest photos to reading text longer than 140 characters, we must scrutinize the words that are being hurled at us by the nanosecond. Education, literacy, these are our defenses to protect our civil liberties and a free democracy.

As I put down the fork to stop anesthetizing myself from the world, I am putting down TMZ and the gossip sites from my own information diet, too. Being educated and literate doesn’t mean you want to better than someone.  It means you can best understand when any figure, political or otherwise, is trying to tear you apart for their own personal gain. It has nothing to do with you – only them. I compare it to having a bad boyfriend/girlfriend who only talks shit and makes you feel bad about yourself.  Is is possible we really hate ourselves as a nation to let such people rule our lives?  By that token, if we are able to dump such partners from our lives, why the hell are we standing behind leaders who want nothing else but bring us down?

#resist

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Day 4 — “Resist”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Day 4 — “Resist”

Day 4

End of Protein Days

257.7 lbs.

Glucose Reading: 199

Despite booking first class, luxury passage on the Love Train yesterday, I was a bit reluctant to get out of bed this morning. Maybe it is the fear of knowing what democratic pillar #President Babyhands was going to decimate next. Perhaps it is the effects of four protein days messing with my head. I wanted to write some pithy little riff on how Lindora protein days are a privileged, overfed person’s descent into hell, but I lost the desire. Instead, I’ll let this little clip of an otter happily chowing down take its place. That’s going to be me tomorrow when I get to switch back to a regular menu of poultry, fish, vegetables and fruits again.

The notion of living in a parallel universe is starting to grow in my brain. I have these moments where the only thing I can do is shake my head. I joke to myself that all those years of reading post-apocalyptic fiction, watching nuclear war films and those dystopian epicsof yore like “Logan’s Run” and “Soylent Green” are actually going to pay off! I’m ready for whatever happens next! Then this fear grows in the pit of my slowly shrinking stomach. I have to remain and fight back the fear of letting it spread  further so I don’t just lock the door and never leave the house again. .

Today, #PresidentBabyhands basically unleashed a round of “Mextortion,” proposing a 20% tax on all Mexican imports. Comedian that I am, one thought that flashed in my mind was, “Since I am in the process of losing weight, this could be a very good thing!” But really, it is not. Crushing an economy because they won’t fund your windmill from hell, Don Quixote, is tyranny at its worst.

IMG_1629.JPG

Political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz (of “La Cucaracha” fame) posted this image promoting a “California Resistance,” which is the lead photo of the diary entry. “Resist” is a powerful word for us all right now. It has taken root in my mind, from resisting the urges to consume things that can hurt me to resisting the urge to go full Howard Beale in public with rage. I can tell you this. I am losing one battle and it isn’t with food.

Restraint has never been a word I’ve been able to incorporate into my lexicon for living. Not as a kid, even less so as an adult. I am finally aware that “more” can kill. As we try to process the events of this week, more challenges will be brought to the American public in a way that will divide us and conquer other principles that must be defended to the bitter end. So, what does any of this have to do with a diet diary, you may ask? Plenty.

We are what we eat, people. And I am not going to subsist on a steady diet of lies and tyrannical chaos just because so many Americans hated having a black president for eight years. You ingest in trash food, you get toxic refuse that leaves your body in shock and prone to diseases that can kill you. The same applies to the Democratic process. We are what our elected officials represent. It is no coincidence that President Babyhands is an orange-colored menace. Cheetos are just as bad for me, too. Neither requires my attention to be healthy and strong, all the better to fight back.

#resist

fullsizerender

Why the Bully Pulpit will not make America great…

Why the Bully Pulpit will not make America great…

I firmly believe that America is great, but it is also a shining example of the best and worst of human nature. The Bully Pulpit has its demagogue and that many are left in its thrall shouldn’t surprise us anymore. The Trumpian Dynamic has tapped into a populist rage so great, even the great writer Paddy Chayefsky (”Network”) would be shaking his head in sadness and regret.

I know this New York Times video currently making the rounds doesn’t reflect the nation as a whole. However, that these images have been captured and unleashed makes me take pause. We are a broken nation and the divisiveness is only going to get worse before it gets better. Sometimes, I wonder if the “United” in “States of America” is just a fever dream. But, we have to try. We have to be better. We have to be stronger together before we destroy our place as the greatest nation on Earth — and become a smoldering, toxic wasteland  of chaos, ignorance and hate from which nothing positive can grow.

Watch and strive to be proactive. Vote. Don’t let Trump and his woeful disciples dictate your future!