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junot_diazHere is a part of it from The New Yorker, December 25th 1995. Think of Diaz as a teenager somewhere in Jersey in the 1980s:

Dinner will be tense. You are not good at talking to people you don’t know.

A halfie will tell you that her parents met in the Movement. Back then, she’ll say, people thought it was a radical thing to do. It will sound like something her parents made her memorize. Your brother heard that one, too, and said, Sounds like a whole lot of Uncle Tomming to me. Don’t repeat this.

Put down your hamburger and say, It must have been hard.

It was, she will say.

She’ll appreciate your interest. She’ll tell you more. Black people, she will say, treat me real bad. That’s why I don’t like them. You’ll wonder how she feels about Dominicans. Don’t ask. Let her speak on it and when you’ve finished eating, walk back through the neighborhood. The skies will be magnificent. Pollutants have made Jersey sunsets one of the wonders of the world. Point it out. Touch her shoulder and say, Isn’t that nice?

Get serious. Watch TV, but stay alert. Sip some of the Bermudez your father left in the cabinet, which nobody touches. She’ll drink enough to make her brave. A local girl will have hips and a nice ass but won’t be quick about letting you touch her. She has to live in the same neighborhood as you do. She might just chill with you and then go home. She might kiss you and then leave. Or she might, if she’s reckless, give it up, but that’s rare. Kissing will suffice. A white girl might give it up right then. Don’t stop her. She’ll take her gum out of her mouth, stick it to the plastic sofa covers, and then move close to you. You have nice eyes, she might say.

Tell her that you love her hair, her skin, her lips, because, in truth, you love them more than you love your own.

She’ll say, I like Spanish guys, and even though you’ve never been to Spain, say, I like you. You’ll sound smooth.

You’ll be with her until about eight-thirty, and then she’ll want to wash up. In the bathroom, she’ll hum a song from the radio and her waist will keep the beat against the lip of the sink. Think of her old lady coming to get her, and imagine what she would say if she knew that her daughter had just lain under you and blown your name into your ear. While she’s in the bathroom, you might call one of your boys and say, Ya lo hice, cabrón. Or sit back on the couch and smile.

But usually it won’t work this way. Be prepared. She will not want to kiss you. Just cool it, she’ll say. The halfie might lean back and push you away. She will cross her arms and say, I hate my tits. Pretend to watch the TV, and then turn to her to stroke her hair, even though you know she’ll pull away again…

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Tick Tock Diner

The Tick Tock Diner (1948- ), “the King of the New Jersey Diners”, is a northern New Jersey landmark. It is an all-night place to eat on Route 3, one of the main road that head west from New York City. Jean Shepherd used to talk about it on his old radio show. He liked the sign in front that says “Eat heavy.”

There is a Tick Tock diner in New York City too. That is a different diner.

Its busiest time is from midnight to three in the morning, when party-goers are on their way home from New York and need a bite to eat. It is just down the road from the Meadowlands, the vast swamp where Giants Stadium stands, so it gets people coming back from a game too.

Because it stands near a crossroads it gets all sorts of people. Those who want or hold public office see it as a place to go to meet “the people”. Chelsea Clinton and Governor Corzine were both there in February 2008.

I see it every day on the way home from New York. But I never ate there till this week. We went at ten on a Wednesday night (March 12th 2008).

From the road it is very noticeable, so when you walk inside it seems smaller than you expect. And nicer too. So nice that while Verizon used the outside of the diner in a 2008 television ad, it did not use the inside. (It is the ad where a man is trying to use his daughter’s pink mobile phone.)

The food is good. Much better than what you get at IHOP, Bob Evans or any of those other roadside places that serve homestyle cooking. It is not as good as, say, Red Lobster or Ruby Tuesday, but the food seems more like home cooking. It is way better than White Castle.

The servings are large, larger than you get at most places, which is nice.

Our waitress was very nice. (No, my cousin does not work there. This is not that sort of review.)

It seems like a great place to eat with friends or family, but not a place to bring a date. It is nice, but not that nice.

The cost: A big dinner for a family of four – we ordered so much food that we were all stuffed and had to take some home – cost us $72.60 (four crowns). Not bad at all for what you get.

I had the soup of the day, a Black Jack Burger, fries with gravy, a chocolate shake, tea and a brownie with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. All great stuff. Even the tea was good.

The diner was built by Kullman, who built other diners too. It does have that Jersey diner look to it. But it has been built and rebuilt over the years. Only the clock and maybe part of the sign are from the old days.

See also:

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