Stick a Fork in It


"Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it." It seems, in fact, that absolutely everyone can do it. Everyone except me, that is. I am, of course, talking about eating with chopsticks. Here I am, a decent representative of the species homo sapiens, occupying the highest rung on the evolutionary ladder, yet I have apparently not developed the manual dexterity of an educated flea. Likely not even that of an uneducated one. How is this possible?

How can my fingers, which perform so competently in many other situations, fail me so thoroughly when I try to manipulate two simple slivers of wood? I stare at my fingers and they look so normal, so functional. And, indeed, they do function quite nicely in many other ways. They have yet to meet the pimple they couldn't pick or the mosquito bite they couldn't scratch to the point of infection. They point, snap and twiddle with grace and ease, with true mastery, I dare say. And their ability to silently and efficiently communicate a message is unmatched. Each finger moves in perfect coordination to signal everything from "OK" to "bye-bye." (And sometimes, on a really bad day, one finger has acted alone to communicate my feelings quite accurately.) Yet, deposit a pair of chopsticks in my grip and suddenly all that expertise goes out the window. My fingers might as well be sheathed in boxing mitts for all the grace and coordination they display.

Why can't I do this? I have watched everyone from toddlers to centenarians effortlessly move all manner of victuals, from a single grain of rice to an oversized dumpling, from plate to mouth, with nary a slip or a drip. Not fair! Everyone in my family, the American and Italian and Colombian sides, can handle a pair of chopsticks with no more effort than it takes to pick up a pencil and jot down a phone number. I have even witnessed my former internist, a man famous for having fingers like five fat sausages, wielding a pair at Panda Express with pinpoint precision. Those sausage hands could barely pick up a scalpel, much less perform surgery with one, yet somehow magic happens with the chopsticks.

Awhile back I decided to give the chopsticks one more try, in preparation for my lunch with a group of my adult ESL students from Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Talk about performance anxiety! I didn't want to look like the stupid American and embarrass them at the restaurant, so I practiced every day for a week. I even got my neighbor from Thailand to tutor me. Finally, luncheon day arrived and I swear to you, I tried. I really, really tried. First, the chopsticks fell completely out of my hand. Then, they crossed like scissors, sending a bean, a cashew and a glob of sauce shooting across the table. Exasperated, humiliated, and really hungry, I was about to put one stick in my fist and stab my food with it when one of my ever gracious students leaned in and gently asked, "Miss Lee, would you like a fork?"

"Yes, oh, yes," I replied, grateful and relieved. "I think that might be best for all concerned." I savored every remaining bite of that exquisite meal.

I may be tempted to try the chopsticks thing again sometime in the future. And knowing myself as I do, I imagine it will go something like this: After two or three futile attempts to pick up a single morsel, my hunger and impatience will get the best of me. I'll then throw down the sticks and declare in frustration, "Oh, fork this!"

Photo: Elnur_ via depositphotos