Culture Watch: Land sakes alive, how I remember that $24.95 diner cheeseburger that I never had!
Illustration by Gary Taxali
For the benefit of those to whom it has never occurred that someday they may look back nostalgically on that cheeseburger at a diner on 57th Street that cost $24.95 as, you know, a cheeseburger at a diner on 57th Street that cost $24.95, I present the first paragraph of Ian Frazier's "Shouts and Murmurs" piece, "Of Younger Days," in the March 16 New Yorker:
When I was sixty-three, a cheeseburger at a diner on Fifty-seventh Street cost $24.95, you could ride the Staten Island Ferry for free, and a kid could get a pretty decent college education for a quarter of a million dollars. Life was slower then, partly because of my newly acquired hip problem, but I did not know enough to appreciate the leisurely pace. I was always wanting to hurry up, to go faster and farther, to cross the street before the “Walk” signal ended. Now I wonder—why in the world was I in such a rush, back when I was sixty-three? Obviously, I did not want to get hit by a car, and there never seemed to be enough time to get across all twelve lanes of Queens Boulevard, the “Boulevard of Death.” But now I often have trouble remembering what else seemed so almighty urgent to me back then.Now I'm not going to swear that the rest of the piece lives up to this auspicious start, but then again, I'm not going to swear that it doesn't. This is a matter that only each individual can decide for him/herself. I will, however, tease you with this bit of advice vouchsafed by the 64-year-old narrator to his "naive" 63-year-old self -- in the event that "some genie granted me the power to reverse time and meet up with" him:
[W]hat advice would I give him? I might say, “Sixty-three-year-old, hang on tightly to experience while it’s in your grasp, especially the sales slips. And don’t be afraid to try new outfits, which are what you’ll later need the sales slips for. . . . .There's actually more to this advice. In fact, there's even a hypothetical response from that 63-year-old self. But again, I'm going to check out here and leave that to your individual discovery and reckoning.
I think I'm just going to bask in the glow of that $24.95 diner cheeseburger. The one I don't think I'd have been able to get down even if somebody else was paying for it.