Saturday, November 24, 2012

No. 558 – Who’s Behind the Door?

Performer: Zebra
Songwriter: Randy Jackson
Original Release: Zebra
Year: 1983
Definitive Version: None

As I mentioned, when it comes to rock, I have a pretty good ear. I usually can tell right away whether someone is going to big. I knew the first time I heard U2, as I mentioned, that there was something going on there that went beyond the sound of the time. The same was true of Pearl Jam.

The only time I’ve been wrong, really wrong, was Zebra. The first time I heard this song, probably on MTV, I thought this band was going to be huge. They just had this SOUND. It was the closest new thing I’d heard that sounded like Yes or Zeppelin. I never heard the rest of their debut album, so maybe this song was a big aberration. It happens. It’s still a great song, though, and could rank higher, I suppose. No. 558 out of all the zillions of songs out there isn’t bad.

This was a big Hawaii song, so big I put it on two different mix tapes before we went. I had to have it readily available at any moment.

When we were in Hawaii, we didn’t just go to the beach all the time. I mean, we did—we were in Hawaii after all—but we did do other things that involved wearing street clothes. We did the Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor and hiked around Punchbowl, the military cemetery. We went to the Pali Gap and hiked to the top of Diamond Head. (These were different days, of course.) And … then we went to the beach.

One night, we went to Laura’s favorite Chinese restaurant for dinner, well, not all of us. Jin and Scott weren’t interested, so they had McDonald’s or Burger King (I can’t remember which) and stayed home to watch TV while the adults went out. A year before, I probably would have been with them.

When Beth and I started to date, my palate was meat-and-potatoes bland. The first time Beth asked me to take her to her favorite restaurant—the Blue Lotus—in 1983, I blanched. The Blue Lotus was a Chinese restaurant, and I didn’t like Chinese food. Beth thought this was incomprehensible; it’s good, trust me. I did, but I knew what I liked, and I didn’t like Chinese food.

Now, you have to keep in mind, this was at a time when restaurants in Columbus—at least the ones my family went to—didn’t do ethnic cuisine, except basic Italian. The sum of my experience with Chinese food was the La Choy chop suey that Mom made. Anyone who has had the same experience knows exactly where I’m coming from when I say I didn’t like Chinese food. La Choy canned chop suey? Bleah!

Beth finally persuaded me to go, and she instructed me to get the beef broccoli—about as straightforward as you can get. I took a bite, and … hey, this is pretty good. By the time my plate was clean, I loved it. In one meal, I realized I’d never really had Chinese food before, and the Blue Lotus became a regular dinner spot for Beth and me. It was good and cheap—two prerequisites.

So I was more than ready to have Chinese in Hawaii. I mean, it was in the Chinese district of Honolulu; it has to be good, right? I don’t remember the name of the place now; it was something like House of Hunan. I definitely remember that it was in a strip shopping center and appeared to be a hole in the wall lit by bright overhead fluorescent bulbs, like a high-school classroom. (The Blue Lotus was fairly ornate.) It was next to a Long’s Drugs, where everyone went to buy their wine or beer—my first experience at a BYO restaurant.

Laura and her mom, who is full-blooded Japanese, did all the ordering, and they brought about half-dozen dishes to our table, which had a lazy susan in the middle. We spun the wheel and took a bit from each plate. The restaurant didn’t look like much, but the food was phenomenal. It gave me a whole new appreciation for holes in the wall.

The funny thing is … I’m not really a big fan of Chinese now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still good, but I’d rather have Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese or even dim sum … pretty much anything but the Chinese that Beth introduced me to all those years ago. In other words, anything that I barely knew or didn’t know existed back in 1984.

But your palate has to start somewhere, and thanks to Beth, I had my eyes opened enough to new cuisine to not be afraid when presented something new.

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