The trials of a left-handed sushi lover

By Bill Colvard -

If you have a child who is showing signs of being left-handed, congratulations and mazel tov. We left-handers are capable of great things, but we’re also a lot of work.

A combination of old wive’s tales and research reveals that lefties are far more likely to excel at creative pursuits. We’re also more likely to be serial killers. (The word “sinister” after all, derives from the Latin word for left, or so we lefties are often told.) With any luck, superior parenting will prevent any tendencies toward multiple murders, so like I said, we’re a lot of work.

Not to mention the process of a right-handed parent teaching a left-handed child manual skills is a big old mess, beginning to end. You’ll show your kid how to hold a fork or a pencil the way you do it, he or she will move the implement to the left hand, but without mirroring the movement, and voila, you’ve got a crying jag in the making. You’ll try it left-handed and it will feel so bizarre you can’t believe it’s right, and from there, it’s a toss-up as to whether you or your child will be the first one to throw up both hands in disgust and break down in tears. Which makes one wonder what the stats are on parents of left-handers indulging in serial homicide.

This dismal process will be repeated with every new manual skill learned — catching a ball, throwing a ball, batting a ball, using scissors, using flatware — until you land at the last frontier, lacing shoes. Teaching a left-handed kid to tie their own shoes is why right-handed parents day-drink, I should imagine. It’s probably their only recourse to keep the homicidal frustration at bay.

Like most of my left-handed brethren, I ultimately cobbled together a way to get through life. I managed to feed myself, albeit by wielding a fork as one would imagine an Amazonian wild child raised by jackals might do it. It wasn’t until I was 10 or 12 and a compassionate left-handed teacher took pity on me in the school lunchroom, and at long last, showed me how to handle a fork without posing a threat to everyone else at the table. I finally got a left-handed baseball glove and my ball-throwing improved considerably.

Around the time the kindly teacher took pity on me and my table manners, somebody spun me around to the other side of home plate and for the first time, I hit the ball past the pitcher.

With the purchase of my first pair of left-handed scissors upon entering design school, I thought I had put all of the challenges of the left-handed life behind me, but I was wrong.

What I hadn’t been able to see coming was the 1980s cultural juggernaut of sushi — sushi restaurants, sushi bars, sushi take-out — by 1985, it was starting to feel like, that in New York City — a city famous for having everything — the only thing that couldn’t be found was a fish that had been cooked.

And if you think it’s difficult to teach a left-handed toddler to tie his shoes (it is), try teaching a left-handed twenty-year old to use chopsticks (it’s impossible).

I literally could not learn. A couple who were friends of ours trained their kids to use chopsticks by tying the two chopsticks together with a rubber band, converting the chopsticks into something more akin to salad tongs or tweezers. When the kids got the hang of that, the rubber band came off, like training wheels, and before long, the kids were working those chopsticks like pros, throwing sushi down their little hatch with wild abandon. The first time I saw the tots with their training chopsticks, I was amazed at the ingenuity of their parents. The first time those parents saw me wrestle a piece of yellowtail, they started digging around to see if they had another rubber band for me. It helped, but I was never able to successfully leave the training wheels behind.

I have never quite understood why it’s considered perfectly okay to eat Chinese food with a knife and fork, but not sushi. Maybe because even the most uncoordinated, left-handed American should be able to manage getting a California roll down his gullet with two sticks, but newsflash, it’s not true.

So last night, I ended up at dinner with a friend and two of her friends whom I had not previously met, and you’ll never guess what we had for dinner. Yep, sushi.

I got there a little later than everyone else, as I was coming directly from work, and they were finishing up when I sat down, but there was still plenty of time before the movie we were going to see started, so I ordered and they continued to chat.

I knew it was not going to be pretty, especially now that everybody was going to be basically watching me eat. But what I hadn’t expected was the disposable wooden chopsticks that were stuck together at one end, which I had never used before.

What fresh hell is this, thought I, wrestling with the infernal things, that were somehow incredibly frail and yet impossible to wrench apart.

By the time I get them torn apart, all eyes are upon me, I see that the previously joined together end is kind of clunky and boxy, unlike any chopstick I have ever seen before. The ends look, in fact, like tiny little shovels, which I decide are a decided improvement on the pointy knitting needles on the other end.

So I reached out to grab my first California roll, using the wrong end of the chopstick, the baby shovel end. They kind of grabbed on to the sticky rice, and I was able to get the roll to my mouth without dropping it or shooting it across the room, both of which have happened many times in the past.

Someone helpfully suggested I had the chopsticks turned the wrong way, and my friend laughed that she couldn’t take me anywhere. A younger version of myself would have been mortified by the faux pas, but as I sat there, chewing on the best California roll I’ve had in a long time, I just laughed and said I found the shovel end easier to work with.

And wasn’t the least bit embarrassed. There aren’t too many perks to growing old, but finally reaching a point where I’m unashamed of my congenital awkwardness with eating implements is definitely one of them. But that doesn’t mean you parents shouldn’t teach your left-handed children to eat with chopsticks while their tiny minds are still absorbing fresh information. Don’t make them wait until they’re in their dotage to be able to enjoy a spicy tuna roll without shame. That’s where serial killers come from.

By Bill Colvard

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.