There's always a "reason" for surprise hangovers. You didn't drink enough water, the drinks were stronger than you thought, you must not have eaten enough, the moon was full, your hormones were off, the year was ending, absinthe was employed. "Those drinks must have been spiked with something!" you say, later. Yes, they were spiked with something: alcohol.
Extenuating circumstances aside, I had only myself to blame when last Sunday found me incapable of travel, or even walking upright, after a night out in New York City. Unfortunately this meant much more time in the lobby of Times Square's Muse Hotel than I would have liked. "I'm too old, too old," I moaned, fairly certain that this was the worst hangover I'd ever had. The rugs and marble floors of the Muse swayed in agreement.
It's tempting to digress further on the subject of aging, Times Square and the revelation that it can, in fact, be too late to save yourself with a meal after three extinction-level-event cocktails on a virtually empty stomach. The point here is to set the scene for day following my hangover, New Year's, when I had finally stopped shaking and was able to digest solid food. Revelling in my newfound stability, I was ready for breakfast.
"We're going to an awesome place. It's like a retro diner, only the food is spectacular," I was told. Given this endorsement, my confusion was understandable when we arrived at the front door of Schnäck in Brooklyn.
I had been dreaming of the previous day's visit to Cafe Luluc, where I could only down three bites of crispy-yet-fluffy pancakes dusted with confectioner's sugar, before sadly pushing them away. I was ready for those pancakes now, but we would have to meet again some other day. Instead, four of us (three adults and a toddler) sat down to a menu full of burgers, sausages, eggs, gratuitous umlauts and smugness. The room was dingy and festooned in '70s memorabilia, the waiter a study in nonchalance, the music collegiate, the soda selection random (no Coke or Pepsi). I frowned. "You took me to a hipster place," I said. My companions couldn't argue and gave me half-apologetic looks.
The table offered a coloring page with crayons. But instead of kid-friendly art, it was a finely drawn scene of diner apathy: scenesters slumped at booths and tables, cool and unsmiling. On the flip side of the page, a smirking soda-jerk accented with facial hair and an earring held up a milkshake. Grrrr. I took out the crayons and started drawing soul patches on the patrons.
Meanwhile, the other toddler at the table was restless -- but unlike me, he couldn't be entertained by the coloring page. He left his grilled cheese untouched, while I contemplated my scrambled eggs with purply-black onions and chewy smoked salmon, smeared with sour cream. Even the food here was ironic. Tofu Reuben or a Camelia Grill Chili Chz Omelet, anyone?
To be fair, the fries were good, and it was probably a better experience if you love kielbasa. But I was done before it started. And so was the toddler, who was wrestled down in his third attempt to make an escape, and in the process, smacked a full coffee mug off the table. It shattered on the floor, and the restaurant got noticeably quieter -- even more so when the offender got treated to a hearty, old-fashioned, over-the-knees spanking. The crying got louder. It was officially a scene.
I've never known what to do when witnessing parental discipline (especially a controversial version of it). Do you look away and pretend it's not happening? Try to soothe the child? Try to cheer the parent? Bow your head in silence and pray it will be over soon? I mostly opted for the last tactic, with some sympathetic glances for the child.
The waiter came and swept up the coffee mug, and we paid the check. The dad here was as visibly upset as his kid, and I felt sorry for them both. But for the grace of God, it could have been me and my kid (who doesn't and may not ever exist, but that's yet another digression). One young couple had smiled kindly at us as we left, which surprised our dad friend. "When you go on the subway, that's when you really see who likes little kids, by the way they react to them," he said. "Usually it's the hipsters who hate children."
"That's because they're mad somebody else is getting the attention," one of us said. We laughed and continued to deride the invisible hipsters some more. The whole scene -- the whole weekend, even -- amounted to one conclusion: We were old.