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Fish breath 

There are certain qualities--practices, values, attitudes--that distinguish true Chapel Hillians from every other species. Not that one must subscribe to these things simply to live in Chapel Hill, but to be in the inner circle ... to be recognized on the street or in a living room as the quintessential Chapel Hill stereotype ... ah, that must be earned. I don't profess to know all of these qualities, but here are some: You should drive a Volvo or one of its cousins; shop at Wellspring, er, Whole Foods, or Weaver Street; be in awe of your children, and follow them around with your tongue hanging out; work as an "academic"; be politically, socially, fiscally, and fashionably liberal; and, you should eat sushi.

I've been striving to meet these expectations--well, some of them--since I moved here in 1989, and I'm now three for six. I won't tell you which, but I will tell you two things: First, I could never be in awe of someone who says things like, "But, Barfy wanted to fly out the bedroom window" or "Mom, let's have a booger fight! Pow!" Sorry. Awe is not even a remote possibility here. Second thing? I am now a proud sushi consumer.

Not that I jumped into it. My first exposure to sushi was a few years ago at a party. Watching people pour soy sauce into teeny bowls and mix in the wasabi, dunking veggie rolls with delicate chopsticks, and then topping them with the pickled ginger ... something came over me. Sort of a yearning for my Asian roots--which should come as quite a shock to my Italian and German parents. I tried one. It was molto bene!

My favorite sushi restaurant is Akai Hana, on Main Street in Carrboro. I especially like two waitress-sisters there, Vicki and Susan, not just because my name is Vicki and my sister's is Susan, but because they always stop to talk--this has really improved my Asian vocabulary, which consisted of two words, kamikaze and Mitsubishi--and they always bring us extra ginger. And, I really like the hostess, Terri, because she lets me try all the new plum saki before I actually order it. She also has curly hair like mine, so we have the shared-self-pity thing going.

Mostly, they just have the best sushi on the planet, and I've become a wiz with a chopstick, which is not easy, and I have the ruined outfits to prove it. Anyone who's anyone eats there--I've seen Carla Overbeck, Dean Smith and Mayor Mike Nelson! Don't tell me how to pick a celebrity hangout. The only teeny drawback is one particular piano player, out of a pool of very good ones. This guy is on the learn-as-you-play plan, but I haven't seen him in a while, so hopefully he's somewhere like Patty's House of Piano, studying up.

We go almost every Friday night. Lately, people are bringing well-behaved (i.e. asleep) dogs with them to sit on the patio. Next week, I'm bringing mine. We'll sit under a Japanese umbrella, sip plum saki, make gushy noises at the puppy--who I do follow around with my tongue hanging out--and eat Crunchy Shrimp rolls until I pass out ... I am sooo Chapel Hill.

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