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Weekly blog-about: Sitting on Top of the Sushi World; Worms Can Save a Broken Heart

The Fish Story

Sitting on Top of the Sushi World; Worms Can Save a Broken Heart

Things are surely slow out there, so it’s a perfect time to write about my great sushi dinner saga. It began with a totally crazed, albeit brilliant, housemate I had out west. I’ll call him Nelson, a professor. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent – who might read this segment.)

Nelson is a dual Ph.D. and speaks more languages than the UN. Back when, I often served as nearby comic relief for him. He, in turn, did the same for me since Nelson was as weirdly off-rocker as it comes.

But to my sushi saga.

One of Nelson’s innumerable quirks has always stood out in my mind. When invited to dinners – and he went to an endless stream of sit-down soirées, which he relished – Nelson would first stuff himself. I always knew he was prepping for a dinner engagement when he was scarfing down food while dressing to the nines. It was a seemingly insane action considering the advanced food-fare served at most of the events he attended. But, as I would learn, there was kick-ass method in his madness, which I would admire years later.

Fast forward to my being invited (through a distinguished friend) to a dangerously well-peopled sushi ceremonial dinner. Taking place in a palatial Callie home, the exotic dinner would be saturated with elite-afied folks, from Hollywood heavies to Los Angeles entrepreneurs. The main attraction was a flown-in Japanese sushi chef master and his entourage of preppers and servers. This was right as sushi was beginning to boom on the Left Coast.

Readying for the spooky event – and inexplicably – Nelson’s maniacal eat-first strategy came to mind. Then, the genius of his stratagem hit home. I was going to this event not to eat, but in hopes of simply surviving, praying that I would go faux pas-free until the final bell. Hell, the less I had to worry about the actual act of eating, the better my odds of going error-free – and unnoticed. Little could I have guessed that Nelson had actually launched me on a course to center stage that bizarre evening.

Background: A high-end, sushi-serving ceremony is literally an hour or two of slowly served, ultra-small sushi and sashimi presentations – artistically hand-delivered to each guest by traditionally garbed Japan folks. Some offerings are so small one is tempted to peek under the plate to see if there’s more to it. It is the antithesis of the American style of devouring a meal as if a competing American family might burst in at any instant to pinch the food.

Upon arriving, I had no clue about the pomp, circumstance – and escargot pace – of this type of dinner. Apparently, neither did the other 40-some over-heeled guests.

From the first serving, sideways glances began, as guests – accustomed to dinners where food is backhoed upon their plates – all but glared at pea-sized sushi portions, as if waiting for the punch line.

But not me. I couldn’t care less that a magnifying glass should have accompanied some helpings. Thanks to Nelson, I fully lacked the prevailing look of gluttonous impatience on all but the visiting sushi chef’s face.

The 80-something chef was a sushi idol in Tokyo. Standing aristocratically at the head of our table, he would first announce and explain each arriving dish, via a translator.

Silver-haired and elegantly robed, he oozed excitement over every arriving micro serving of sushi, detailing the meant-to-be-tantalizing ingredients and preparation. Worked for me. Hell, I was truly mesmerized by the sagas behind each sushi. Of course, I was more than helped along by the fact I was gill-full and couldn’t care less about actually eating the goofy-looking things he was talking about.

By the third or fourth long-winded serving, the host’s enthusiasm was lost on the gathering. I could almost hear their whining. Helping the cause was the dislike for the warm sake that came with each setting. I faked sipping the dreadful rice wine, though I’d occasionally catch the eye of another diner and lift my tiny cup, as if offering an “Um-um good, eh?”  They tried smiling back – and reluctantly took a sake sip on my behalf. Buncha dumb asses.

My intense listening and minor toasts quickly caught the eye of the host. Further, my admiring of each morsel, as if it were a Gauguin original, set the plate for my becoming that evening’s height of Asian epicureanism. Never mind the fact I was merely biding time, begging my belly to make just enough room for another fingernail’s worth of fish and maybe 10 grains of rice.

Other guests soon assumed that I had taken the lead in marking the proper path of sushi etiquette for all to follow. That might have been more than partially due to the fact that the increasingly exasperated host had moved directly behind the one soul who seemingly wanted to go the respectful and traditional sushi dining route – i.e. me. Now, with each plate and accompanying explanation, the host personally served me first, and then literally leaned over to watch my every facial feature before having others served. I’d buy some digestive time by leaning my head left and right to feign a better sushi visage. I’d then use a chopstick to slightly lift the raw seafood portion to get an appreciative underside view. When I knew I couldn’t buy any more down time, I’d nod my head approvingly, chopstick the sushi, hold it out at arm’s length to take one last look, and in it went. I gained a few seconds’ time by issuing scrumptious sounds before swallowing.

At one point, I examined a newly presented sushi and leaned to the millionaire businesswoman next to me and offered, “Notice the way the tuna gonad slices are positioned on the rice.” I knew they weren’t really tuna gonads, but the gal had already mouthed a couple items and discreetly emptied same into a handkerchief, secreted in her left hand. She didn’t fool me. What was she even doing at a sushi dinner?

By the by, I love sushi, so I sure as hell wasn’t shy of any and all raw seafood that evening. And, yes, there are absolutely some famed gonad sushi presentations, mainly via sea urchins. Not served that night.

Despite being a to-myself type, I kinda took a liking to being in the lead at this classy meal. It helped knowing that nary a soul in the large party had a clue as to the subtleties of Japanese ceremonial sushi dining – especially me.

While a goodly few in the room likely wanted to wring my laidback neck, a slew of the higher-ups were soon impressed with my apparent sushi sophistication. Gospel truth, I had nearly everyone meticulously following my fully contrived, pre-consumption sushi admiration ritual. I varied the ritual a bit with each serving – just to keep everyone honest. Hell, I coulda jumped up and done a little Texas two-step over a particularly hot-looking piece of raw octopus and everyone, including the host, would have followed suit. I guess it is good to be king – even for an evening.

To say things went smashingly would be an understatement. After the affair – which, by the way, filled everybody to the gills, as I knew it would – I could barely break away from the host. He even forced me into the kitchen to meet all the chefs. They assumed I was the highest of the high. They were all but shaking in their weird rubber footwear as they were ordered by the host to display their sashimi slicing talents. Frighteningly, I was offered some tastes but made a gesture like “I can’t eat another morsel.” As the night would have it, that just happened to be the ultimate compliment you could offer after a sushi dinner. Hell, maybe I was, like, a samurai in another life.

To Nelson’s absolute credit, I have never tasted anything so insanely good as those slow-motion, under-sized sushi offerings. Sure, I was stuffed to bursting, but – thanks to me – there was a whole lotta time between swallows.

WORMS WITH HEART: I dig worms, both literally and out of profound interest in things that slime about in bay mud. In fact, I used to labor absurdly hard in search of fairly valuable “bloods” – as in bloodworms, not punk-ass gangstas.

Jersey’s bloodworms aren’t huge, like Mainers, but are very adept at fooling local winter flounder. That season starts soon.

My minor bloodworming business consisted of me, my trusty spading fork (the Martha Stewart model was the best I ever used) and hours of brutal mudslinging. I sometime got 10 dozen small to medium worms during a single low tide. When I was done, it looked like a trenching machine had lost its mind in the mud. I was the proverbial energetic digger.

My company was forced to hole up with the arrival of Draconian winter floundering regulations. The demand for “Jay’s Own Flounder Worms” went south. I’ll still dig, now and again, just to stay in touch with the bloods in the ’hood, but my spading fork is now mainly a clothes hanger. I have a weird room.

But back to worms in general. I came across a newsworthy advancement in heart surgery that was close to my worm-appreciating heart. A story in the journal Science Translational Medicine tells of a cardiac surgeon who is developing a biodegradable adhesive that can patch a hole in the heart like Superglue on steroids. As you likely guessed, the adhesive has a worm angle.

Pedro Del Nido and his colleagues long studied the California sandcastle worm, which produces first-class, glue-like stuff during the burrow-building process. We also have marine creatures that make some seriously sticky substances.

Technically, a worm’s adhesive stuff is a polyphenolic protein, but who talks like that nowadays? For us, it’s simply akin to common cyanoacrylates, albeit natural.

Anyway, this new worm-appreciating adhesive could someday be a lifesaver for us boomers – oft inclined to need a bit of heart help, much thanks to lives of fast food and Entenmann’s.

The first tests have shown that a mere dab or two of Del Nido’s worm-like adhesive works like magic to instantly patch a critical hole suddenly showing up in a pig’s heart. OK, yes, the critical hole was sorta purposely poked into the pig’s heart. And People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is already having a bird over what amounts to a poke in a pig. But their conniption fit doesn’t take into account that this research could soon save random lives – not the least of which is mine. Damn pig-heart huggers. I’ll take worm-hugging any day.

So, getting to the heart of the matter, a heart patch glue fix is short, sweet and safe. It could soon replace iffy dissolving catgut sutures.

Per Del Nido, “A glue is the holy grail for repairing hearts. Right now we use sutures. Every time the needle and thread enter normal tissue, they do a little bit of damage. Usually it doesn’t matter. But I repair children’s hearts. For those, this damage can really be a problem.”

BTW: The term catgut, as in catgut sutures, is likely a shortened form of the word cattlegut – and has nothing to do with cat, as in meow cat. The reason is simple. Catgut strands are made from the intestinal lining of cattle – and sometimes goats and sheep.

If you’re a vegan and have to get stitched up, silk sutures are sometimes an option, though they still have the living, breathing silkworm component to them. You gotta be one helluva devout vegan to be emotionally violated by the use of what is essentially silkworm spit. Amazingly, I know a couple folks just that veganized.

ON THE BEACH: An unusual amount of coal is washing up in Brant Beach. Not tons of it, but quite a few pieces and chunks. Most of the coal pieces are tumbled smooth from rolling in the swash, likely for decades on end.

Could they be from the Brant Beach sand replenishment? Not likely. Some of the pieces seem too large to have gotten through the screens being used by the dredge. Still, the dredging action out near the Harvey Cedars Lumps might have something to do with the loosing of the coal.

I’m guessing the coal might have originated from LBI, way back in ye olde coal-burning furnace days. There’s also a fair chance that it’s from steam-powered vessels that shipwrecked off the Island.

Some folks with modern coal-burning heaters/furnaces use the washed-up pieces.

BONEY BEACH: Along those same washed-up lines, an unusually large number of cattle bones are showing along the beach, particularly the south end.

The cattle bones make the biggest beachcomber splash when they contain toothy pieces of jaws. The teeth are often ugly and yellowish, but they harken from days prior to teeth-whitening products. Huh!?

Our beach bones are surely from the two “bones wrecks” off Barnegat Light. Both vessels sank more than 100 years ago. Tons of bones escaped, despite efforts to round up them dogies.

The give-away that bones are from the wrecks is the sawed ends on many pieces. They were hacksawed and readied for rendering in New York, yielding bone meal and fertilizers. The teeth were used for, uh, … did you know that a cow has fewer teeth than other mammals? It’s true. In fact, they don’t have enough front teeth to grab grass, so they use their tongues to wrap around the grass, drawing it into their mouths to let the back molars and grinding teeth do the work. Just sayin’.

The LBI beach bones are sometimes black upon first hitting the beach. It’s the effects of chemicals, such as hydrogen sulfide, when buried. The black indicates long-buried bones that have recently been exposed, usually by wild storms. Even the blackest ones soon turn off-color white when dried.

Back in the day, cattle bones were carved or scrimshawed, even on LBI. Through the years, I’ve seen worked cattle bones done by decoy carvers. Smells like drilling teeth when being carved. Yes, I’ve tried. Turns out it’s easier to just drill a hole in a big chunka cow bone and wear it around your neck. Hey, it might catch on.

Interestingly, one of the bone wrecks was the Remedios Pascual, which was a steamship, possibly burning coal. This could make a cool connection between the coal and the bones.

COLD COULD BE COOL: I was asked what advantages the bad winter might offer wildlife. We’ll sidestep the obvious disadvantages of a cruel-ass winter, like the freezing solid of some over-shallow hibernating creatures. Wildlife is not beyond being suckered into complacency by years and years of mildish winters. I’ll instead offer some wildlife highlights the coming spring might offer, noting for the umpteenth time that the double-deep freezes might have killed off some invasive bugs that had been harassing the hell out of Pinelands vegetation.

An upbeat read on the wicked winter recently came my way via the folks of forest fire fighting. They say that the pressure of ice and snow on the underbrush actually makes for a reduced wildfire threat this spring.

Sure, the Pines need fires, but they’re most useful – and animal friendly – when timed (winter) and controlled (N.J. Forest Fire Service).

Admittedly, nothing can help suppress spring wildfires if we were to suddenly get horrendously hot air temps and howling west winds. That’s not impossible, despite our current frigidity. Local belief: Oppressively cold winters give way to horrifically hot summers. If the vicious heat follows ferocious cold, in short order, we can concurrently venture to answer the age-old question of “fire or ice.”

Come on; let’s spend a literary moment together, via the incomparable Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

That wasn’t half bad, right? The library is right around the corner.

Anyway, for me, the most positive wildlife factor coming out of this negative-temp winter will come via vernal/springtime ponds. Those spring water holes – and even puddles – thrive after cold and wet winters. The rest of the year, those same areas are often dry as molecular sieve zeolite desiccants.

Vernal ponds are entirely essential to amphibian reproduction success. The success of spring spawning amphibians leads to the success of many other creatures that feast on frogs, salamanders and such. A good amphibian spawn is an eventual joy for the entire ecosystem. So love your local vernal pond.

For more, see  http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/vpoolart.htm, or Google “NJ vernal ponds.”

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