Mar 172014

My friend Patty had a birthday dinner on Saturday at Hokkaido Seafood Buffet. At first, I thought I was not going to be able to attend because of my tattoo appointment at 5, but luckily, it was an early dinner that started at 3! Old Folk Supper Time, get into it.

I know Patty from work. She’s friends with Gayle and when I did the whole serial killer desk thing two years ago for Halloween, Gayle made Patty come down to see it (Patty works on a different floor, hence the need for her to COME DOWN; try to keep up, you guys). And then Gayle made me and Patty be friends. It probably would have happened anyway, because we have a lot of mutual friends in the horror/haunted house community. Because we’re awesome. Duh.

Gayle was the only other person I knew who was attending the dinner (other than Henry, but he doesn’t count because we never talk to each other in public), so I was all panicked when we arrived before her and actually, god forbid, had to walk in and talk to people. Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and ask, “Erin Kelly, what the fuck happened to you?” Because I was never this socially indigent before. Or was I?

We quickly said hello to Patty and then I raced to the end of the table before anyone could make eye contact with me, grabbing a chair two down from the last person sitting on our side so that Henry would have to sit next to a stranger. Then I claimed the chair on my other side for Gayle. I needed to be flanked with familiarty. It’s how people of my ilk survive. (Barely.)

I started doing that thing that I do, which is pretend like I’m not staring at people when I’m definitely staring at people, because I was mostly certain that I went to high school with the guy I made Henry sit next to, who was currently immersed in a conversation with Patty’s fiance Tim, so he didn’t notice me creeping the side of his head. Then Patty came over to talk to us and I whispered, “Hey, is that Dan—-” and she cut me off to holler, “HEY PALSO, IT’S ERIN KELLY!” So then Dan was all, “Ohemgee!” and we stood up and hugged like people do on the television while Henry just sat there and smirked because watching me do the whole paint-by-numbers social dance is hilarious to him.

So…that was really cool! I hadn’t seen Dan since 1998 at the rib fest! I mean, we’re Facebook friends, but does that even count for anything these days? Unfortunately, I didn’t really get to talk to him at all after that because, well, food. I was practically banging my knife and fork on the table, because NO ONE WAS GOING UP TO THE BUFFET. Finally, Gayle arrived and I kept asking her, “When can we go up? Can we go up now?” But she was in no hurry because she hates seafood. Then Henry was like, “Patty is up there now. Let’s do this.” And at first, I felt like an asshole because everyone else was still sitting at the table, but you know what? It’s a buffet and I came to eat my face off.

(Actually, I did NOT come to eat my face off. I kept a steady pace because I didn’t want to eat 19 plates of sushi and then sit in a chair for 3 hours getting tattooed. I’m sure my tattoo guy wouldn’t have appreciated that very much either.)

Buffets and I don’t get along. I know it’s hard to believe, what with my lifelong BMI-struggle, but I actually cannot eat that much in one sitting. And I have a hard time matching up the labels with the food below, so it’s basically me following Henry around like a puppy, asking, “What is this? Will I like it? Have I had this before?” Mostly, he steers me in the right direction, except that I’m pretty sure I accidentally ate chicken because he told me it was a biscuit. After my own instincts failed me on a spoonful of “mango salad” (which was savory and had shrimp in it), I mostly just stuck with sushi. I’m surprisingly OK with sushi.

On my way back to the table, I passed the dessert portion of the buffet and no one was there to supervise me, which is how I ended up plopping banana pudding on one of my sushi rolls because I didn’t know there were little bowls at the end of the buffet, perfect for spooning banana pudding into. But there was a sign on our table that threatened an $8 charge for unfinished food, and after already having straws thrown at me by the mean waitress, I wasn’t about to press my luck. I ate everything on my plate, pudding-sushi and all.

Then more people arrived and sat across from us, triggering my rusty social cues.

“I am going to ask this girl questions, BUT NOT UNTIL SHE HAS FOOD IN HER MOUTH,” I thought to myself, and that’s what I did, too. So the poor girl (Lauren; I actually remembered a name!!) had to hold up a hand while she finished chewing before she could tell me how she knows Patty. I am so awesome at eating food and talking to people in public places.

“Wow, you really do know how to use chop sticks,” Gayle said, clearly in shock as she watched my deft sushi capturing skills. At first I was really offended that this would come as such a shock to her, but then I remembered that I’m basically helpless with most things in life, so who could blame her.

Meanwhile, waitresses were standing in a row near our large party table, watching everyone with blantant suspicion. It brought back memories to this one time in 1999 when an ex-friend and I went to pick up her friends at a Chinese buffet. They weren’t done eating yet, so we went and sat with them at their booth, which obviously was a huge mistake and NOT MY IDEA. The waiter kept coming over and accusing my ex-friend and me of eating crab legs off of their plates. First of all, in 1999 I was still a very strict ovo-lacto vegetarian: no seafood for me. Second of all, ew: I barely knew the girls we had gone there to pick up so fuck if I’m eating anything off their stranger-danger plates. Meanwhile, my ex-friend was (is) a disgusting pig, but even she wasn’t eating their crab legs. The waiter kept poking his head around corners, pacing up and down parallel aisles, before finally coming back with the manager, who proceeded to ESCORT US OUT. It was humiliating. I felt like the biggest piece of white trash ever, like I might as well just go straight out back to the dumpsters and give blow jobs for meth.

It was really hard not to think about that night when every time I looked over at Dan, he had another fresh plate of crab legs. He was pounding those motherfuckers with panache. Even Henry was impressed.

Patty came back down to visit and she was telling her friends about my serial killer Valentines, so Gayle held up a finger and then pulled out a stack of my non compos business cards from her purse and began doling them out. Henry smirked at me because I literally NEVER have any of my business cards with me and it was hilarious that someone else did. Later, Gayle said, “She also takes beautiful pictures!” and I was like, “GAYLE I’M BLUSHING YOU CAN STOP NOW.” But really, how nice to have someone actually be proud of the things I do. What a foreign feeling.

After letting our stomachs settle for a few minutes while getting to know our table-neighbors (such lovely people, for real! Lauren’s boyfriend Robert has an incredible Hitchcock’s Birds tattoo on his arm that I am 100% jealous of), Gayle and I decided it was time to hit the dessert bar. There was a chocolate fountain that we wanted to try, but some old lady in a wheelchair and another old lady, not in a wheelchair, were idling in front of it, staring at it with cocked heads. I paced back and forth in buffet basketcase fashion, because GIVE ME CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN. Gayle reacted like a normal person by opting to see else was there instead of doing the pee jig and hissing about wanting to dip thing in the fountains, which is what I was doing. I kept making eye contact with Henry, who was sitting at the table, watching me intently. Because it is not often I stray and I’m sure he was bracing himself for an accident. I kept shrugging and making huffy pantomimes to illustrate that I wanted to use the chocolate fountain but two old bags were too busy looking at it.

Finally, Gayle went over to assist them.

“You have to put something on one of these skewers,” she was saying. “And then you stick it in the chocolate.” She was so patient! So calm! Not even a NOTE of condescension in her voice. I couldn’t believe it.

“Does it have to be fruit?” the lady in the wheelchair asked. “Or can it also be a marshmallow?”

My skin felt like fire ants were using it as an Electric Slide dance floor. I took a jetpack ride to my alternate reality where I released the kickstand of the lady’s wheelchair and gave her one mighty push back down to hibachi town. But instead, I just stood there holding my tongue (and my plate of bland consolation cake-sponges) while the old broad held out a skewered banana just out of reach of the chocolate waterfall. Seriously! She just kept holding it there like she was waiting for the chocolate to somehow defy physics and splash itself onto her stupid rotting banana.

Finally, I cried uncle and retreated back to the table, just as Gayle was explaining to them that they needed to actually put the stick into the chocolate in order to get the chocolate onto their food.


I sat down in a pout and started to rant to Henry about the chocolate fountain.

“It’s like they’re chocolate fountain tourists and I just can’t.”

Henry said, “Oh, I was wondering why that lady was just standing there watching the fountain.” There was a small wall separating the buffet from the restaurant-area, so Henry couldn’t see the chocolate fountain-dunce in the wheelchair. This and the fact that Gayle was the accidental fountain expert was highly amusing to me and I couldn’t stop savoring my new inside joke with myself.

In an easy effort to finish my meal off in a disgusting manner, I served myself a scoop of “wood ear soup.” Yes, this was supposed to be a dessert; I mean, it was right by the tapioca and jello squares. I knew without even trying it that it was going to be another failed Asian attempt at “sweet.” And it was! It was like placing paper-thin sheaths of cartilage in my mouth; some kind of texture in between “crunchy” and “chewy” and my lower jaw actually just quivered a tiny bit at the memory of my molars bearing down on this junk. Everyone at our end of the table was following along with my wood ear soap opera, and Lauren’s sister Erica said, “I’m pretty sure wood ear is a type of mushroom…”

(Meanwhile, another of Patty’s friends had arrived and was having his goatee stroked by Gayle. It was THAT kind of a party, you guys.)

20140317-154531.jpgThat red thing tasted familiar. Not sweet at all, and weird. I have no other English words for it, but it was ultimately just a really uncomfortable after-dinner option in a bowl. Finally, I broke down and googled “wood ear soup” and learned that the red thing tasted familiar because it is a red date and one time a few months ago, I made Henry buy an entire package of those things from Oriental Market even though he said I wouldn’t like it.

“And did you like it?” Gayle asked.

“No,” I said, and then Gayle laughed really hard in front of everyone which is what I pay her for.

Anyway, Google also taught me that “wood ear soup” is a real thing that people willingly eat. There are recipes for this shit. It calls for wood ear mushrooms, red dates and a blowtorch just to make certain that you have no tastebuds going into this.

I couldn’t get anyone else to go up there and try it, and Henry wouldn’t finish mine, which made me panic because was I going to get charged an extra $8 for not licking that bowl clean? Everyone said I was probably fine. And I believed them. They made me feel strong, which was how I found the strength to help some little girl get soap from the automatic soap dispenser in the restroom.

(This is how it happened: Her: *holding hands under automatic soap dispenser; nothing squirting out*

Me, in an annoyed tone: “Yeah, maybe try the other one…?”

Her: *tries other one; classic hand-washing success story*)

Then it was time for Henry and I to leave (totally dined and dashed and felt terrible about it; we were having a good time!) which created an awkward tizzy of “DID YOU HAVE LUNCH OR DINNER?!!?” interrogations from the meanest waitress I have ever encountered. (The same one who chucked straws at us.) Honestly, it made the whole experience even better.

Anyway, after we left, I realized that I’m Facebook friends with someone else who was there, but had no fucking idea because I have never seen her in real life. (We’re friends because of zombie and horror events, and I’m pretty sure she has bought cards from me.)

As usual, I didn’t eat my money’s worth at the buffet, so halfway though my tattoo session, I was so hungry that even the subtle stench of my own burnt flesh was making my stomach growl. Henry, on the other hand, was sick from his 45 plates of meat so I spent the rest of the night “accidentally” punching his stomach.

GOOD TIMES. Happy birthday, Patty!! Sorry I missed the cake. (Which she brought with her, so it probably didn’t have mushrooms or squid broth in it. But, you never know. I don’t know Patty that well.)


  6 Responses to “Socializing Over Wood Ear Soup”

  1. I <3 you so much!!!!

    AbbyS a/k/a Gayle

  2. I never in my life could have eaten something called wood ear soup! You are braver than I. And I totally would have pushed that damn wheelchair out of my way. You never stand in the way of me and a chocolate fountain. I even had one at my wedding reception. Best idea ever.

  3. Was that the Hokkaido near the Waterfront? Because I’ve def seem them wheeling carts of food and ice from the white janky house behind the restaurant down to the actual restaurant. I’ll just let that settle for a few moments.

    • I worked for 4 years at a place that distributes meat to restaurants all over Pittsburgh and after the stuff the delivery drivers told me they saw (and definitely not just in Chinese restaurants), absolutely nothing surprises me.

  4. “hugged like people do on the television while Henry just sat there and smirked because watching me do the whole paint-by-numbers social dance is hilarious to him.”

    I feel your pain and would not have smirked.

    “Henry, on the other hand, was sick from his 45 plates of meat”

    That’s his payback for smirking!! You went to a buffet and Henry ate meat.


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