The Fourth of July every year brings with it many great traditions: hot dogs, fireworks, partying to excess with friends and family. And every year I have partied with high school friends in a way that embraces all of these observances.
My high school friend Steve and his wife Paige put on a great 4th of July party that brings in friends from far and wide.
Steve is the center of our social circle among most of my Connecticut friends. When we were in high school, his mother’s house was our central meeting place, and Mrs. Q was a second mother to a lot of us. She is missed. Steve and Paige’s house has become a second home to many. They have helped many friends and relatives who have needed places to stay. Even friends with perfectly good homes of their own nearby wind up spending a lot of time at Steve and Paige’s house.
The day of the party, circumstances delayed our departure until after 2 p.m. Driving on I-95 in Connecticut is its own special hell, and a Saturday on a holiday weekend it was an infernal misery of traffic. A two-hour drive became a three-hour drive, and since our kids had already napped at home, they screamed and cried for much of that three-hour drive. When we finally pulled onto our friends’ property, it was after 5 p.m.
I didn’t have time to make the stop for fireworks like I normally do. The forecast called for rain.
Once we got there, it was great to be among friends again.
Steve is a very handy person. He turned his one-story house into a two-story home and constructed his own out-buildings to keep farm animals on his property. He got me into hunting, gave me good advice on how to move about the woods, and helped me field dress my first deer. He also introduced me to the works of Arthur Schopenhauer and we’ve debated both the immutably dark nature of human existence until the wee hours of the morning.
Steve and I were both financial journalists for a while. After being laid off and being without a regular job for a long time, Steve began working in shipbuilding by helping to renovate the historic Amistad. He has since began working on boats in Newport, Rhode Island. More than a year ago, he told me he could not go back to working behind a desk. At the party he said he hated having to be away from his family for so long for his job, but that he loves his job. He wakes up every morning and looks forward to going to work. It was something I had heard about but didn’t think I’d see.
A man who loves his job today is rare. I expected to see Bigfoot or get kidnapped by a UFO before one of my friends told me they loved going to work every day. Even though he loves to play the part of a curmudgeon, he looked sincerely happier than he’s been in the past. It was great to see and I can’t think of someone who deserves that more than Steve. He brings a lot of good thoughts and much-needed perspective to a lot of his friends. I know I’ve been better for having had long conversations with him and I’m far from alone.
He’s been writing a lot of good poetry lately as well and posting his poems online. He’s getting to see new things, and be inspired by his work with ships. “In so many ways, sailing is freedom like most of us can’t even understand.” He messaged me at one point.
A while into our time at the party, I found Steve sitting on a lawn chair in the back of his pickup truck. With him was our friend Jay. The two were perfectly content to sit with their beer there and observe the party from their perch. But they soon began to attract a crowd. Everyone wanted to stop by and enjoy the conversation. In between searching for and wrangling my children and stuffing my face with food, I discussed poetry with Steve.
We agreed that two men sitting in the back of a pickup truck was good fodder for a poem and we decided to each write a poem with this as the theme.
The party continued and despite my not being able to contribute to the supply of ordnance, there were still plenty of fireworks. My twin girls asked to be brought inside and skip the rest of the barrage after getting a bit too close to the pyrotechnics. Inside Jay was making his outstanding jambalaya, and we got a peek at the culinary genius at work.
We stayed late and got on the road for home after 11:30 p.m. Someday we’ll stay overnight in a tent on our friends’ lawn like my wife and I did before we had children.
It was a great way to celebrate Independence Day. The national politics evolves and devolves, and no matter your perspective, it’s easy to become discouraged. The strength of our country lies in the bonds we form with friends and neighbors, and at Steve and Paige’s house, a strong community thrives on its own.
At a proud moment last year, I won the Literary Open Mic competition hosted by my comrade-in-arts and Renaissance man Filthy Phill Lentz at The Cobra Club. I decided to celebrate my victory with a late-night snack before heading home. I drove to where my navigation system indicated was the nearest White Castle, only to find a construction site in its place.
It is at least the second White Castle to be purged from the popular and overrated borough of Brooklyn. The much-valued Castle in Williamsburg on the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Humboldt Street was closed nearly two years ago to make way for more overpriced apartments.
Before I got married, I made sure my bachelor party ended with a visit to White Castle to cap off an evening of Yankees baseball, strippers and punk rock. When my band plays shows near a White Castle we are sure to stop by for some sliders on the way home.
I wouldn’t advocate eating junk food regularly, and I limit my White Castle visits to special occasions and balance with attempts at a healthy diet and regular exercise. But after a night of victorious effort, whether that be in producing great art, achieving a career or personal victory, or otherwise exerting yourself above and beyond the call, it is suitable to indulge with some excellent excess, and you should be able to safely do that in multiple locations around any major American city.
New York City has fallen behind in its White Castle Index, meaning that low-cost good food at all hours is increasingly unavailable. Williamsburg was once a haven for artists; it’s now home to the $150 doughnut. Williamsburg managed to strike it rich and still slide into the sewer.
I prefer White Castle, and I’d be happy to expound on its excellence both culturally and calorically, but there are other options that are similarly convenient and meaningful. Regionally there are many differences and the White Castle chain does not ready many parts of the U.S. But every region should have its own version of White Castle. Waffle House often fits the bill in many parts of the country. It is open 24 hours a day and has plentiful offerings of quickly made indulgent food at a relatively low cost (it might be useful to call this the Waffle House Index in the Southern U.S. I don’t know any Waffle House restaurants north of Pennsylvania). And diners are a great American institution that are being priced out of existence as well.
Everyone should be able to have an all-night restaurant that they can go to relax among their own kind (leaving it up to each person who counts as “their own kind.”)
If the all-night party isn’t available at an affordable cost, then something is wrong, and we are getting to the point in New York City where only the extravagantly wealthy can afford to live life to the fullest. That leads to a decline in the character and long-term viability of the city. Without strong, vibrant, working and middle classes, the cultural and physical rot of its society becomes evident very quickly.
The world’s best artists do not emerge from the pampered class that looks down their noses at the common people. The arbiters of taste and culture should not be people who’ve never waited tables, washed dishes, or dug a ditch. With fewer and fewer working Americans able to find a rewarding life in our urban centers, cities will cease to be engines of creativity and genius.
As goes the working class, so goes our city. Luckily, there are still numerous White Castles to be found in the outer boroughs. I’ll see you at one.