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Doctor recommended for optimal cerebral hygiene 

More than just munchies

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

You know how it is. It's 2 a.m. on a Saturday night. Last call has come and gone. Yes, there've been many identical nights like this one, out with friends sharing libations and that simple pleasure of camaraderie in our friendly neighborhood tavern. Yet, to call these evenings ordinary was to overlook the priceless value they brought - the hours together, leaning on each other through the trials and tribulations of young adulthood, trying to make sense of all the pressures we felt from a world of parents and professors demanding a commitment to discipline, only sure about a few things - we liked each other, Rock & Roll music, cold beer in a cozy bar, and talking, as long as we could stay awake, about all our dreams.

Last call always came as a temporary let down until one of us casually said the inevitable, "Who's hungry?"

There's a new film coming out called Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, described as a late night road movie, the adventures of two guys from New Jersey who get the munchies and are compelled to get to a White Castle restaurant at all cost. Being from New Jersey and having actually spent a few late nights in college making my way to and from White Castle, I couldn't hold off the rush of memories that came to me, though the more I read about the movie it is clear that, the similarities to my experiences notwithstanding, the film really has nothing to do with me and my friends. Beyond the obvious, that the two protagonists are from Indian and Pakistani heritages respectively, while we were all white, middle class, mostly Jewish suburbanites, perhaps the clearest difference lies in the real reason for finding a late night eating establishment after closing down the bar. It never was about the food.

A film that comes closer to what I remember would be Barry Levinson's Diner. A summary of Diner from that website goes like this:
Set in 1959, Diner shows how five young men resist their adulthood and seek refuge in their beloved Diner. The mundane, childish, and titillating details of their lives are shared. But the golden moments pass, and the men shoulder their responsibilities, leaving the Diner behind.

In preparing this post, I emailed some of my old friends, asking them to share their memories of our precious late night gab sessions over food. They'll hate this, but perhaps the years have caught up with them because their responses, more accurately a pathetic lack of responses, initially made me question my own rose-colored-glasses look backward. One friend who still lives in New Jersey wrote that he remembers waking up in the morning feeling terrible from having eaten at a greasy spoon called The White Rose System, popular for it's artery-hardening burgers and for being open 24 hours. It's true that we always blamed the burgers for how awful we felt the next day, in total denial that alcohol might have had anything to do with it.

Still I hadn't gleaned what I hoped from the old gang, so I had to rely on my own recollections. Fortunately, there are many fond moments and places to choose from - burger joints and pizza parlors after the bars, diners and Denny's after concerts in the city, dives from New Brunswick to Manhattan just shootin' the shit. Perhaps the reason why I didn't get a better response from my friends has something to do with geographical distance. Whereas we used to all live either together or within minutes of each other, we are now spread across the country, in New Jersey, Arizona, California, and Washington State.

Yeah, something tells me that if we were all together, sitting around a pizza pie and pitchers of beer, the stories would flood the place. That's what it was always about.