Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year’s Sushi Hell

When we first returned to Hawaii in 1972, I had no idea what was to be in store for me come New Year’s Eve each year. Every year. Every single year.

It was the soon-to-be dreaded … SUSHI HELL!
We returned to Hawaii from Los Angeles in 1972. Our first couple of years back, I didn’t participate in sushi-making on the last day of the year. The wife’s family owns a local-style delicatessen, and took orders for maki sushi (black rolls), inarizushi (cone), and oshizushi (pressed), along with other food that people would serve on New Year’s Eve or Day.

Then, one day they asked me to help by manning the front and packing up customer orders. So I did that – very boring work, except when the production people in the back fell behind and the waiting customers piled up.

The situation got worse and worse over the years, the number of orders picked up, and soon there were dozens of eyes staring at me for minutes, then hours (turning irritated after long waits). It began to get on my nerves, so I learned how to roll sushi, in order to stay in the back, away from those eyes, and at least keep the sushi rolls moving out to the front. This was at the end of 1978.

I got to be a pretty fast roller, picking up speed year after year. At the top of my form, I was able to roll one sushi every 20 seconds or so (two a minute). Unfortunately, I HAD to do that in order to keep up with the order-packing going on outside, for the orders kept growing and growing.

I’d get there at 6 a.m. Dec. 31, and finish around 9 p.m. Eventually, it became a 2 a.m. to 11 p.m. job punctuated by aching hands, sore arms and shoulders, a painful back, chafed buttocks and thighs, and numb fingers and feet. It was hell, pure hell.

Finally one year, I could swear I was having a heart attack, but the pressure to continue was relentless. I remember that night like it was yesterday – I had a splitting headache, my eyes were blurry, my left arm was numb, my neck hurt, my brain was swirling, I couldn't concentrate, my right wrist had stabbing pains, I hurt all over, my heart was palpitating, I couldn’t sit down without hurting, I couldn’t lie down without hurting, and I couldn’t stand up without hurting. Probably the only way I would have been comfortable was to lie in a bathtub filled with warm water.

I’d gotten there at 1 a.m., and got home a few minutes before midnight. It was all I could do to stand in the shower, brush my teeth, shave before the New Year, and drop painfully off to sleep.

That year, I had hit my record for rolling – 750+ rolls (I can only estimate because when I finished my 15th package of nori, I went into numb-mode and may or may not have made a few more). And, I daresay, nobody has matched that number of rolls before or after I accomplished it.

That’s when I made a vow never to subject myself to that kind of personal hell again. The next year on, I refused to get to the deli before 10 a.m., and made it a point to leave at about 8 p.m. And, I slowed down considerably. They had to bring in more help, I’m sure, because my production fell to about a third of that stupid record night.

The last time I rolled sushi on New Year’s Eve was on Dec. 31, 2001. The following two years, I attended corporate meetings that week on the mainland. Then, the family gave up the ghost and stopped taking New Year’s Eve orders for good.

Good riddance, I say. No wonder I have been grouchy every New Year’s Day in Hawaii.


casch said...

No one should have this much fun! Glad you could "back off"

Bevlove said...

Do you eat sushi now that you have rolled so much of the stuff?

Toyoki said...

I love sushi. I just can't stand making them any longer.