by Andrew Goldberg

Sunset Strip was bumper to bumper that night. It was 1982 and my buddy Brad and I drove the side streets trying to find a place to park. Since he was behind the wheel, I took the opportunity to take a hit off a joint I’d rolled earlier. We were going to dinner at Sushi On Sunset, a trendy spot we’d heard about on the Strip. After going up and down the same streets for the third time with no luck, Brad headed back to Sunset. It was bumper to bumper so we had to wait to merge. You could tell that this was typically where traffic came to a halt, by the hooker stationed on the corner. She had a captive audience, and took full advantage of it.

“How you doin’ tonight, baby?” she said to me because I was sitting on the curb-side of the car.

“Good”, I said, hoping to end the conversation.

But then she saw the doob. She didn’t hesitate to come right over to the window.

“Give me some of that, baby” she said, and reached right into the car to grab my joint. I was so surprised I gave it to her. She took a deep hit, held it for a good two-count, then exhaled orgasmically before handing it back.

“That’ll be ten dollars.” she said.

“Ten Dollars?” I was incredulous. “For what?”

“I just partied with you, didn’t I? I’m a workin’ girl. I don’t just give this away for free”, she said as she slid her hand down over her hip.

Luckily, there was a momentary break in the traffic. Brad leaned across the seat.

“Okay, we got to go”, and he gunned it and made the right onto the strip.

I looked at the joint. “Well, I guess I’m done with this baby.”

“Yeah”, Brad agreed, “I’ve never heard the term - clean as a hooker’s mouth”.

When we finally got there, the restaurant was packed. We asked the hostess how long the wait would be. She told us about forty-five minutes but advised us that we could try the second floor where it was seat-yourself. As we walked across the room to head upstairs, we checked out the scene. All the seats along the sushi bar were filled with very young women, all about the same age, except for an older gentleman seated in the center. I didn’t have to look twice. It was Andy Williams. I’d been a big fan of Andy Williams when I was in high school. I wanted to have a show like Andy William’s, I tried to sing like Andy Williams, I ever held the mic like Andy Williams, and if the blond hottie next to him was his date, then I just wanted to be Andy Williams. But a closer look and some quick math put him to be in his mid-sixties and her in her early twenties, if that, making the age difference pretty vast even by Hollywood standards. But you never know. I conjectured she might be his daughter celebrating her birthday and the other girls were all her friends, and if that was the case, then, I suddenly no longer wanted to be Andy Williams.

The groovy second floor featured the most casual dining I had ever seen. There were low couches with even lower tables to eat off of. Actually it looked a little uncomfortable, but the hipness, and the chick-hotness factor overshadowed it. We spotted a couple just paying their bill and hovered until they left. The table also happened to be adjacent to a pair of intimidatingly good looking but otherwise seemingly eligible ladies.

But instead of saying hello when we first sat down, essentially next to them, we did that thing where we all pretended to completely ignore each other even though we were within breathing range. Our couch was directly across from theirs. We shared the table that ran between us. At some point I know they snuck a quick peak. But women have a keen knack for checking guys out really fast and then going back to whatever they were doing. Guys, on the other hand, if they think the woman is attractive, will linger and stare and possibly drool before turning away.

If any of us had even made eye contact we didn’t acknowledge it. We had blown the free pass hello, the complimentary ice-breaker, the chance to, however briefly, make contact.

And now anything I thought of to say sounded phony in my head. How’s your sushi?

So, Brad and I made some inane conversation about the Dodgers trading Geoff Zahn and Eddie Solomon to the Cubs for Burt Hooton.

Eventually, a young Asian waiter took our order.

We continued to make small talk and less that subtly check out the girls. I had decided I preferred the more petite of the two girls, never mind the fact that I was pretty sure she had forgotten I was even in the room.

“How’s the Mackerel tonight?” I blurted out. I tried not to make it sound like a lame come-on, but as if I were doing research for my own order.

“What?” said the petite girl, as if she had never been so bothered.

“How’s the Mackerel?” It hadn’t been a good line the first time. Repeating it didn’t help.

“Fine.” she said, though in fact she looked like she had just tasted some bad fish.

Awkward. Where was that food? At least if the food came I would have something to focus on other than a girl who clearly had no interest in me. Plus by this time I was starving.

The waiter finally dropped off our platter of cut-up, inside/out spicy tuna, yellowtail and salmon skin rolls, laid out beside our broiled and drizzled fresh water eel. And he was able to do it, remarkably, without even stopping. I didn’t even have time to realize there wasn’t any ginger.

I like the ginger. Maybe they had run out of ginger because Andy Williams and his pubescent entourage had eaten it all; or maybe they were just stingy with it. I determined it was intentional when I looked more closely and also saw how little fish was tucked between the rice. I tried to get the waiter’s attention before I noticed a whole jar of ginger on the girl’s side of the table.

“Excuse me…” I said, “Can we borrow your ginger?”

“It’s not ours”, said the one I had been willing to give to Brad, and they stood up to go.

I waited for her to pass it to me, but when it was clear she wasn’t going to, I leaned over to get it.

And then, before they left -

“We saw the waiter sneeze on your food.” she said and they both giggled.

“What!?”

“When he was bringing it over to you.” They tried to suppress their amusement.

“Are you joking? You’re joking right?” I begged to know, looking up at them in their three-inch heels towering over us sitting practically on the floor. And without answering, they just turned and left, giggling and clopping on their way.

Brad and I looked at each other. We had barely touched our food. I picked up a piece and inspected it, like I might see a booger sitting next to the avocado.

“They were joking, right?”

“Who knows? We could ask the waiter.”

“Yeah like he’s going to admit it.”

“So you’re going to eat it?”

“We could go to Pinks”. Brad suggested half-heartedly.

“I didn’t order twenty dollars worth of fish to go eat a chili dog. It looks fine. It’s not like it would be the first time we ate food somebody had sneezed on.

“First time knowing about it.”

“Allegedly. Oh, fuck it.” I slathered on the full sodium soy sauce particularly heavy “I’m eating it.” And I popped a piece of a roll.

Brad watched in anticipation.

“Tastes like sushi to me.”

About nine minutes later we’d cleaned our plates. The waiter came over to collect them.

“You want anything else? Dessert? Tea?”

Brad and I exchanged a glance, but I said “Just a check.”

“Okay”, said the waiter who had a funny look on his face. And as he turned away from the table he couldn’t – stifle a sneeze. And because he was carrying them, he couldn’t help sneezing on our plates. We assumed for the second time.

Brad and I looked at each other.

“Well, a hooker’s spit and a waiter’s snot”, Brad summed up the evening. “We’ve got to come to Hollywood more often.