This is not a salad.

It’s placed before you in a mockery of modern gastronomy. A wet handful of almost-translucent iceberg with two wrinkly cherry tomatoes, a  half a teaspoon of canned black olives,  and a sad flick of carrot shavings. Thank God you asked for dressing on-the-side; it jiggles suspiciously in a  mayonnaise-esq fashion. You stare up at the waitress: an oval-shaped brunette with curls piled high like chocolate whipped cream. She asks you if she can get you anything else Hun. You shake your head. It’s not her fault.

Here in the center of the universe, you’d think they could find some spinach or at least some decent looking onions. Hell, you’d settle for a chickpea.

New York can murder (in a good way) a hot cheesey slice, or a falafel, or a deli sandwich, and a hot street dog like no other place on earth, but don’t order a salad.  You will get a watery mess that looks like it came out of a cookbook from 1972.

You’re used to mountains of  farm-fresh fluffy California sprouts and mixed greens dusted in Parmesan and garlic toasted pine-nuts…not to even MENTION the avocado. All of it barely drizzled in a sweet-sour vinaigrette  and topped with fresh cracked black pepper. Most likely served in one of those thin wooden bowls that can double as a hanging macrame planter.

Everyone else at the table spreads the dressing and digs in, like they are NOT looking at the funkiest joke of a salad you have ever seen. If Nora were here you could at least exchange bemused eyebrow-raises. When she comes by again with the water your ask what the soup of the day is, and order a cup of the Italian Wedding. So much for getting your veggie on, another bloated night lies ahead.

Okay, so there is ONE place in the New York City metro area where you were pleasantly surprised by the deliciousness, selection, and value of a salad. Park Slope Ale House is a mere 15 minute walk through the lamp-lit brown-stone streets, and nestled on the corner of 6th ave and 5th streets on the first floor of an old house, it has probably been there forever. There is a long dim wooden bar, some booths and a surrounding out-door patio. Wooden benches and tables crowd underneath a sagging overhang lit by christmas lights. They serve their salads in wooden bowls, and they are not half bad, and they come with grilled chicken for a dollar extra. If you get there before 5 on a weekday you can catch the 50 cent wing special, or just stick to the 3 dollar Yuengling beer (which is NOT an asian beer, it’s actually from Philadelphia, contrary to its exotic name).

What you sacrifice for geography seems to cut a piece out of you, and it not just the salads. You gave up a lot just to be in a place with a famous name and a terrible reputation for struggle. You gave away a lot of things material, and otherwise.  Maybe just to prove to yourself, or to prove to everyone else that you are independent and nothing can hold you back. It seems like a funny thing to want to prove to anyone though. Maybe it stems from that famous image of Ben Franklin walking down the streets of Boston with a loaf of bread and a “shilling” or whatever. For some reason they drilled that principle into us in American history class. The highly western and specifically American idea of doing everything yourself, and struggling by yourself with no help from anyone seems to be the only acceptable way to come about success. This why young rich kids OD on heroin at the age of 17. They have no way of ever proving to themselves or society that they are worth it. Instead, they being a cycle of highly destructive behavior to prove to the world that they don’t value their life, that they know they aren’t worth shit. Then, when they die in a speed-soaked car crash or on a couch in their parent’s house surrounded by stoned friends we say that it’s a “shame, they had so much life to live.”

We put such high value on the struggle of “making it,” while most of us sit around and hate ourselves for not muscling through some socio-economic barrier to become a secretary or a senator or a guest on Oprah.

Nobody even respects rappers that come from middle class families, because we think that you have nothing to say or brag about unless you grew up on the bottom floor of a brothel in Harlem.  You are not a success unless you sacrifice everything, alienated yourself, and struggled from the very bottom to get to the penthouse at the W. What ends up happening is people start lying and you get the James Frey’s of the world. The audience is obsessed with memoirs and testimonials (i.e. Jared from Subway). Creative Non-Fiction has become a section at the bookstore because of this obsession.

America is way too proud of the Declaration of Independence. We all take it to heart somehow, when really a bunch of angry slave-owning white dudes in wigs were just being arrogant and angsty emancipated minors. Strutting around blowing shit up and ignoring Cuba just to prove we can. Just to prove that “We don’t need you mom and dad, look at us, see France thinks we are cool!” (cut to the civil war).

Last night you actually dreamed about the smell of the Pacific Ocean. You were sitting at the top of the tan cliffs at Point Dume and crying because you could smell the ocean. You could actually smell it. And when you woke up you could hear someone in the kitchen frying noodles or something.  But you carried it with you all morning, that sharp cold salt smell that makes your hair stiff and curly, and  your skin get that sticky feeling.

You like to be really hard on yourself, and sacrifice things you love because somehow you feel it will validate your easy existence. Somehow if you can prove you are just as deserving of life as a Sudanese orphan who is a classical piano prodigy then you can enjoy things, and sleep easy and not berate yourself.  You hate being told you are beautiful, and you hate being told you are talented, and you are not really sure why. Life is a series of choices starting with “soup, salad, or fries.” If you are ever in New York, get the fries.