It was 1966. I was 21. I was new to California culture, having been brought up back East. I had come west to stay with an aunt and uncle in San Francisco, after I divorced my first husband.

I eventually landed in Santa Cruz. Those were the hippy days – lots of pot and acid, UFO sightings (yes, we saw lots – and no, we weren’t high when we did see them), and the beginning of the rampant development of the crafts. That’s when I became a potter.

My BF at the time decided to introduce me to his favorite Japanese restaurant. Eating Japanese food back east wasn’t particularly common, so I had no clue what I was getting into. Along with several of his close buddies, I met him at the restaurant, where he had reserved one of those fancy, private, sit-on-the-floor-under-a-low-table rooms.

All was going fine – we had some lovely miso soup, some shredded pickled veggies, and a bit of tempura appetizer …

when in came this freaking enormous platter of sushi and sashimi, with a few lumps of finely-shredded mild white radish, and piles of thinly sliced pickled ginger, and seaweeds of various kinds.

Now this I could enjoy! I loved the seafood I ate as a kid – we lived on the coast and had all sorts of great fish, clams and other underwater delicacies. It all looked absolutely divine to me!

The only thing that disturbed me was that there was only a couple of teeny-weeny piles of guacamole, one at each end of the platter.

Thinking to myself, “I’m so hungry, I’m gonna grab one before anyone else can get it!”

I stabbed one of the wee green piles – which had obviously been squirted out of one of those cake decorator tubes – how weird was that! – I mean, who makes tiny piles of decorated avocado? – and hastily plopped the whole thing right into my mouth.

You know those moments where an absolutely exquisite moment of silence descends upon a space before everything erupts into chaos all around you?

Yeah. That. Everyone around the table gasped. They dropped their chopsticks, spurted their miso soup, halted talk mid-sentence – as I, wasabi-virgin that I was, felt my mouth explode in gouts of unimaginable fire and brimstone. I watched as from an odd distance, as my nose replicated a fire-eating dragon, spewing that same liquid lava from both nostrils, as rivers of sweat spontaneously sprang out of every one of my pores.

But of course I had to Maintain, right?

Even as I realized that I had made a Mt. Everest-size mistake, I knew I had to act as if I had done this on purpose! I was 21. Cool, and hip. Right?

I smiled (grimaced) and closed my mouth (scorched lips), as the magma-like substance devoured my tongue, engulfing it in invisible flames, seared my throat and incinerated its way all the way down to my belly.

I smiled as each person watched me, hour-by-hour as the century/seconds passed, as I held my ‘cool’ and acted as if nothing was wrong.

As soon as the first person broke the spell, gasping, “I can’t believe she just did that,” under his breath to his neighbor, I launched my body out of my chair and ran to the loo, to spend at least a week washing my poor mouth out.

No one said a thing when I came back to the table. They had saved some of everything for me, and graced me with not saying a single thing about what had happened.

On the way home though… Oh the roasting! And wouldn’t you know, if there was only one kind of food left on the planet, I’d choose Japanese!

Original – acrylics on canvas, 20 x 16″

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