I Ate Some Fishy Balls

Trip Start Apr 01, 1979
1
27
78
Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Friday, April 21, 2006

It was a Russian restaurant and he was certainly a Russian man. He was a great bulk of a person, standing over six feet with a round, hulking presence. He was mostly bald and his sausage-like fingers had numbers tattooed on each middle segment. I turned to my companion and speculated that they represented the number of people he had killed. She concurred, her ample bosom bouncing as her head nodded approval. I said in my finest Russian accent, but only after he had long departed and even then in the slightest of whispers, as I dared not draw his ire, "He is big like Russian bear." The subsequent growling was nevertheless confined to my stomach. We then went about the process of telling this man what we wanted. He was, after all, the bartender and was standing there at the table to take our order. As I surveyed the room and the menu before me, I gleaned that vodka martinis were the fashionable choice, and I was never going to be on the opposite side of what was a la mode. He suggested the best Siberian 'wodka' they had, and when a man like that speaks, people listen. Then, sensing that I should perhaps grab a snack, I glanced down at the menu, noting the caviar section in the lower left corner. "Ummm," I pointedly began, "We'll also have an order of beluga."

"Beluga?" he asked, swaying his girth to the left so he could look down on me directly. His eyes were dark and cold. I couldn't see his pupils at all, so I quickly tried to escape his gaze, glancing towards the girl across the way. She seemed to be lost in thought, perhaps planning her next self-manicure or leg waxing extravaganza.

"Yes, beluga." My response was curt. I had heard of beluga before, and it was supposedly good. I'd never actually tasted it, nor any caviar for that matter, but the name counts for a lot. It reminded me of when I first me my friend Mehmet. I liked Mehmet immediately because he shared a name with a famous soccer player I knew. The name, often, is the first and most important part. Beluga was a known quantity, a good name, and a fine menu choice in my all too humble opinion.

After some time spent sipping martinis and regaling my companion with stories and charms which I'm sure had her counting the moments until she could either, a) have a roll in the hay with me, or b) call for a cab and see if there were still a chance to salvage her evening after letting me buy her dinner, the beluga arrived. We ate quickly, disdaining the spoon made from shell and instead using the clumsy, large fork to spread our delicate fish eggs around. It was good, in fact great stuff. I reveled in my socially aristocratic feel. My 9 to 5, which paid me almost enough to write those big checks to my landlord every month for the tiny studio apartment that I purported to call home, was not glamorous. Tonight, though, I felt like being glamorous. I felt like rising above my trailer park-like existence and upbringing. I felt like being somebody. I mean after all, I was here in this fancy lounge of a fancy restaurant. Chandeliers were on the ceiling, a fake fired burned nearby, and the sharp smoke of an expensive cigar swirled at the bar. This was the place to be more than I was, and I reveled in it.

A few minutes into our martinis, and amongst my many evening jokes, I looked across at my lady-friend and deadpanned, "You know that caviar was market price, so it's probably going to cost like fifty bucks or something." She thought this was funny. I did too. In my head I was prepared for the bill if it was indeed that expensive. Yes, I was poor, but it's only money and in the end it would be fun to talk about me spending fifty dollars on an ounce of caviar.

After the fish eggs were depleted and our martini glasses dry, I asked my great bartender friend for the bill. He returned shortly and placed it before me. I slowly opened the leather bound notebook, and peered down directly at the bottom line. It read flatly, "$213.95." I blinked and looked again. The number remained. I scanned the room, no one was laughing. It was not a joke. I was prepared to send it back when I checked the itemized listing. Beside 'Caviar - Beluga' sat these solemn five numbers, "$170.00". My face reddened. The sound in the room quickly faded away. My senses were completely dull. My reality became only my own breathing and that number who stared up at me from the white receipt. The zeros, perched beside the one and seven, seemed to be laughing. I joined them. It was all I could do. I held out my credit card, and a great paw from the bear swept it away. Lesson learned.
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