Or, Radishes: a recollection
I can’t remember, really, if it was the first time I’d ever had the simple snack, but it’s certainly my most vivid memory of raw radishes and coarse sea salt. It was at Mike’s house, over a year ago, I think, it had to be over a year ago because I was still sleeping on Emily’s couch at the time, so that dates it to be, oh, sometime in February 2008. It was one night Mike invited me and that new character, Bennett, to his place after work. Steve was away, somewhere in
I'd been loud and raucous with Mike before, but that was always somewhere else: a bar, or Kate's house, or behind the dishwasher at work. Never at his house, though, and the Night of the Radishes was no exception. Mike, so magnetically verbose and brazen with the bottle in so many places, would transform into the calmest, most patient of drinking partners in his own home. Instead of breaking out the leftover gin from his and Steve's annual Christmas party, he gave us each a bottle of beer, which we each sipped prudently, me following Mike's lead, Bennett, I'm sure, following mine.
He also set out, by way of classic (and classy) good hosting, a bowl of raw radishes, freshly rinsed, with their tiny green tops sliced off, revealing a startling white below the red skin. Along with the radishes came a small bowl of coarse sea salt, nothing more, nothing less. Mike sat down, opened his bottle of Sam Adams, and began to ask questions.
My love for Mike comes in many ways, one of which is the way he can, painlessly and effortlessly, extract deeply personal information from strangers within a matter of minutes. The first time I met him, after ten minutes of conversation, he found out: how and why I dropped out of college two years before, what I'd done in the meantime, how much therapy I'd gone through, and if I was on any medication. I dismissed that last part with my right hand: "Oh, god," I said, "I prefer to self-medicate." Mike and I became great friends, very fast.
The Night of the Radishes, I think, was simply a chance to spend some quality time together. It had been a long time, and there is something special about sharing a drink together after work, no matter what line of work you're in. It also provided a good opportunity for Mike to exercise his people-probing skills. As the three of us dipped radishes into salt, Mike asked Bennett question after question, and I learned many new things about this new boy I was newly dating. Between crunchy bites, Bennett explained that eventually he would like to work as an actor (!), and that his move from Tallahassee to DC was only a stepping stone to New York City (!!). I remember being very quiet that night, and Mike, too, normally so brilliantly voluble, spoke little more than phrases ending in question marks.
Bennett and I took a cab back to Crystal City that night, to his place just outside the District. (Emily's couch, poor thing, would have to bear the night without me.) As we passed the monuments, just before merging onto 395, I told Bennett, "I'm sorry if Mike was bothering you with his questions. I always find him so impressive, how he gets answers out of people, but I can understand if it makes you uncomfortable."
He looked at me, and said frankly, "I didn't mind. I figured there were a lot of things you didn't know about me, either, and this was a way you could find out."
It's funny, to me, to think about what people remember, and what they forget. And how they remember. For instance: I remember moving from Mike's kitchen table, a few radishes left forlornly at its center, to his living room. Bennett and I sat on the couch, one cushion seat apart, and Mike sat on a chair to my left. Do we all remember this setting? Does Bennett remember being to my right? How did we look to Mike, our awkward pairing, still a little shy with public affection? (How did I not know he wanted to be an actor?)
Two night ago, I put out a platter of raw radishes and coarse salt. It was immensely pleasurable, the rinsing and slicing and casual arranging on the wooden cutting board. When Bennett came home, he saw them and smiled. It was one of those Oh Do You Remember? moments, a happy bubble of collective memory. I think, for some small reason, the Night of the Radishes was very big for Bennett and me. And I think, for no small reason, that Mike knew exactly what he was doing.