The Parable of the Sushi Counter, or: Young People Aren’t Stupid.

Being a connoisseur of sushi, I can tell you from extensive observation that each and every sushi counter you visit will be always be tended by the same three men.

The first man tending the sushi counter will be the Venerable Old Man Behind the Cash Register. He’s the owner; the thin hunched wrinkled patriarch with the bald head and sharp features and narrow sleepy eyes of a turtle in bifocals. But trust me: this ancient one might be slow of body, but he’s very quick of mind, and he’s watching everybody at once to make sure they don’t rob the till. Yes, you sir, in the far corner. He’s watching you. And you, madam. And you, person of indeterminate gender. But especially YOU, you long-haired dope-smoking rum-swilling hammock-swinging Birkenstock-wearing FIRE-blogging Early Retirement Dude.

The second man tending the sushi counter will be the Small Frantic Son, a smiling if stressed-out middle-aged fellow with patchy sideburns who’s very fast on his feet and very fast with his hands. He’s everywhere at once—greeting the guests, seating them, fetching them drinks and order slips, retrieving the slips, making the sushi, serving it to them, refilling their drinks, accepting their money when they’re done, taking said money to the Venerable Old Man Behind the Cash Register, returning with the receipt, bidding them goodbye, and wiping down their tables when they’re gone.

To the casual eye it might seem the Small Frantic Son works so hard because his father, the Venerable Old Man Behind the Cash Register, is continually reviewing his performance and the Small Frantic Son is anxious to please him. But the truth is that the Small Frantic Son is working out his frustrations: he wishes the doddering bastard would blow a gasket and die already. He’s WAY too cheap to hire wait staff, even though by doing so he’d spread out the workload and greatly improve the Small Frantic Son’s quality of life. And to add insult to injury, every year he tells the Small Frantic Son there’s not enough money for raises.

The third man tending the sushi counter will be a youth: the Monstrously Big Dull-Witted Kitchen Apprentice. He was struggling to find a job until the Small Frantic Son out of desperation placed a LinkedIn ad for, you guessed it, a Monstrously Big Dull-Witted Kitchen Apprentice who was willing to work for low pay and long hours in exchange for vital experience. But to sweeten the deal he could have all the sushi he could eat.

At first the Venerable Old Man Behind the Cash Register was pleased with the bargain the Small Frantic Son had struck. Cheap labor! But now the Venerable Old Man Behind the Cash Register is fretful and ill-tempered with the deal because every day at lunch they practically have to back a dump truck up to the Monstrously Big Dull-Witted Kitchen Apprentice’s mouth and pour cubic yards of sushi into him. And seeing all that salable sushi being given away for nothing breaks the Venerable Old Man Behind the Cash Register’s miserly heart.

But despite what the Venerable Old Man Behind the Cash Register thinks of the Monstrously Big Dull-Witted Kitchen Apprentice, the Monstrously Big Dull-Witted Kitchen Apprentice is actually the most important person in the whole establishment. If not for what he does, the sushi counter couldn’t function. So let’s go and meet him, shall we?

Well, it’d be nice if we could go and meet the Monstrously Big Dull-Witted Kitchen Apprentice, but we can’t. The kitchen’s a secure area. Nobody’s allowed back there without an RFID badge.

We can hear him, though, or at least the commotion he’s making: a great deal of THWACKing and THUMPing. The THWACKing is obviously the reduction of a larger thing into smaller ones. But the THUMPing? What the hell could that be? So even though we’re not supposed to enter the kitchen, let’s sneak in there anyway.

The Monstrously Big Dull-Witted Kitchen Apprentice has his back to us. He’s wearing a fish-spattered apron and a far-too-small hairnet, and he’s standing in front of a great round slab of a chopping block. In his right hand he wields an enormous deba, a fishknife with an atom-keen edge. In his left he brandishes exactly the same kind of hammer Ye Samurai of Yore employed to bash Yon Shite out of one another.

You and I are standing behind the Monstrously Big Dull-Witted Kitchen Apprentice, so we can’t see what lies on the chopping block before him. Perhaps it’s Schrödinger’s cat?  But whatever the thing might be, he swings the deba and cleaves it in twain with a mighty THWACK! Then he swings the hammer and mashes it flat with a mighty THUMP!

And so it continues: THWACK! THUMP! THWACK! THUMP! THWACK! THUMP! until the Monstrously Big Dull-Witted Kitchen Apprentice stops and sets his implements aside and peers down at the chopping block and prods the fruits of his labor with a large fish-scaly finger and nods, satisfied.

Edging closer and peeping around him, we spy a stainless steel vat beside the chopping block. The vat holds many gallons of water, and the water holds many gallons of octopi. And behold! The mystery stands revealed.

The Monstrously Big Dull-Witted Kitchen Apprentice reaches into the vat and snatches out an unlucky octopus and squeezes his head to stop him from squirming and pins him to the chopping block and THWACKs him to bits with the deba. Then, because raw octopus is too rubbery to eat without being tenderized, the Monstrously Big Dull-Witted Kitchen Apprentice THUMPs the still-twitching bits with the hammer.  THWACK and THUMP: of such is the symmetry of the universe.

Gotta love the Monstrously Big Dull-Witted Kitchen Apprentice. He’s much smarter than anyone gives him credit for. Viz., he unhurriedly pounds away in the back office kitchen, MAKING THE ACTUAL GODDAMN FOOD, while out front the Venerable Old Man Behind the Cash Register and the Small Frantic Son worry themselves to death over money and business deals and work-life balance and the approval of their notional superiors.

I hope the Monstrously Big Dull-Witted Kitchen Apprentice will soon realize the power of his position and tell the Venerable Old Man Behind the Cash Register and the Small Frantic Son to go fuck themselves. But until then, hey…recreational weed has just gone legal in the state, and free sushi’s a better perk than the Peet’s Coffee gift cards they gave out at the last place he worked at, so…

Author: ER Dude

Sick of your job? After a thirteen-year career, Early Retirement Dude fled corporate America for good. You can do it too! Visit or email

6 thoughts

  1. Thanks for the behind the scenes sushi story…

    I thought you had stopped updating this website, glad I stopped by to check and found this nugget.

    1. Hey, man…good to hear from you. After over two years of flogging this thing, and after ending up as the main mod on for most of the year, I got burned out on the FIRE movement. Not FIRE itself, mind you…just the movement. Anyway I got some new mods in place and resigned my position and I’ve been doing other stuff for the last couple of months. Still around, though…just not being an activist for the moment.

      1. I hear you, FIRE is about having the independence to enjoy life… even doing something you enjoy with your free time you have to balance it so you don’t get over committed and burned out. Sounds like you took steps to put that back in balance.

        I am still living the cubical life and know that burned out feeling all too well. I am foolishly still climbing the corporate ladder here, since it the right thing to do???? Part of me just wants to coast for my final 4 1/2 years of work until my FIRE date.

        Somehow I keep getting pushed to run for the cheese in this rat maze…

  2. >Somehow I keep getting pushed to run for the cheese in this rat maze

    That metaphor gets right up my ass and oughtta get right up everybody’s. We are NOT rats, there is no cheese, and the maze…well, in Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace wrote something like, “The first step in escaping a cage is surely the recognition that the cage exists.” I find it so sad that so many people think life is merely the circumstances they find themselves in. That said, I don’t think that applies to you. 4.5 years? Get after it, man…

  3. Yes I see the maze (cage), so I completed the first step in my escape… I should check out that book from David Foster Wallace.

    You are right the metaphor of the rats (workers), maze (daily grind in the office cubical world) and cheese (salary dollars) is not the most positive one to use about one’s work.

    That is something I am constantly working on, trying to stay positive!

    Just read something about there is only 12 days until the end of the decade. Wow, if time passes that quickly I guess my 4.5 years will be over sooner than I think….

  4. lol…LinkedIn ad. But seriously the old man is the most important person since he has the location of the sushi restaurant. In a purely online digital world maybe the Monstrously Big Dull-Witted Kitchen Apprentice would be the most important but not today.

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