Can I Get This To Go?



Neighborhood: East Village

Can I Get This To Go?
Photo by Alicia Griffin

As someone who was born and raised in the famous “city that never sleeps,” it comes as no surprise that I have suffered from insomnia since the age of thirteen. Not a believer in medicinal sleep aids, I experimented with every natural sleep remedy suggested by friends, store clerks and of course, the internet. I drank warm milk, counted sheep, ate lettuce and even wore five pairs of socks to bed (did you know that warm feet induces sleep?) Unfortunately with a mind that is constantly in overdrive and the sounds of the city streets harmonizing outside of my bedroom window, sleep proved to be an impossibility.

One sleepless night my freshman year at NYU, my roommate Caroline (a fellow insomniac) and I threw our coats and boots on over our pajamas to go grab a post midnight snack at one of our favorite late night spots, a diner on second avenue near our third avenue dorm. The diner was bustling with other hungry sleep rebels, some tipsy, others engrossed in deep conversation. Feeling particularly hungry and generally prone to late night stress eating, I ordered both the mac and cheese and a side order of french fries.

“Why don’t you just order a plate of grease?” Caroline remarked sarcastically.

It was true, I had a palette that favored the fast and fatty, but I relished in the idea that Caroline would be filled with secret envy when her beet and goat cheese salad arrived. We sat and chatted about the usual: exams, overbearing professors, how much she detested the new glasses her boyfriend wore, until our food arrived.

I was preparing to dig into my fast food feast when a woman passing by tapped on the diner window. She appeared to be in her fifties, with disheveled gray hair, black thick-rimmed glasses and an oversized tie-dye t-shirt. I ignored her and she tapped again.

“Aren’t you going to respond?” Caroline asked.

“I mean, she’s probably just going to ask for money or something,” I said as I heaped ketchup onto my plate.

“I think she’s coming inside.”

I paused and placed the ketchup bottle back onto the table. What did this woman want? Did I know her from somewhere and couldn’t remember?

“Excuse me.” She was standing beside our table, lips pursed, her unevenly applied lipstick protruding from the corners of her mouth.

“Can I help you?” I tried to say as inoffensively as possible.

“Are you really going to eat all of that?” She said nodding towards my two plates of food, placing an accusatory emphasis on the word you.

“I’m sorry?”

“Let’s be serious, you’re not really going to eat all of that food,” she said as she scanned my scrawny frame. “Why don’t you give it to someone who actually needs it.”

I sat there stunned, waiting for the hidden cameras to pop up from behind the diner counter at any moment. I felt an overwhelming need to defend myself to this woman even though I had done nothing wrong. I had stepped into a diner and ordered food, an action I had performed dozens of times before, one that everyone else sitting around me had performed as well. I didn’t know why she had decided to target me and I certainly didn’t know what to say.

“There is a homeless woman around the block,” she continued, “I’m sure she would really appreciate this food. I think it would be nice if you let me give what you’re not going to eat to her.”

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly, “but I was planning on eating what I ordered. That’s why I ordered it.”

“Really? All of it?” This time the emphasis was on the all.

I couldn’t believe what she was saying, I had never heard of this kind of thing happening to anyone that I knew. I could feel my defensiveness mutating to anger and I quickly spit out the most aggressive response I could think of, “Listen, if you feel so bad for her, why don’t you just buy her something to eat?”

Emphasis on the you.

She stood there with blank eyes as she slowly tightened her pursed lips. She was trapped. I had answered her question with a question she did not have the answer to.

“I just think wasted food is a real shame,” she said snidely, stomping her foot as she turned her back to the table and quickly rushed out of the diner.

“You see,” Caroline said jokingly, “this is why I order the beet and goat cheese salad.”

Caroline and I sat there and began to eat our food. I ate all of mine, just as I had all of the other nights I ordered it, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as those other times. We sat there wiping our mouths and the waiter brought us our check.

“Actually, do you think I can get one more thing?” I asked the waiter as he began to walk away. “Can I get another mac and cheese and french fries? To go?”
The waiter returned twenty-something minutes later with the food in a plastic bag. Caroline and I put on our coats and walked out of the diner. As we walked towards the end of the block I wondered if I should have ordered the woman something to drink as well.

We turned the corner and I began to unwind the hands of the plastic bag from my wrist.

No one was there.

Sofije Brija is a native New Yorker, blogger and poet. An NYU alumna (2013), she continues to write about her experiences and observations on a daily basis, email her at /*' + username + '@' + hostname + '') /*]]>*/ "> with any questions, comments or literary tidbits you would like to share!

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§ 2 Responses to “Can I Get This To Go?”

  • Joseph Rauch says:

    I really enjoyed this story! It’s always a shame when you decide to do something nice and then the effort ends up being wasted.

  • Saïd Sayrafiezadeh says:

    This is a great story with plenty of themes packed into a small space: insomnia, college, invasion of privacy, homelessness…. There are some really good twists and turns, including the ending. Only in New York City.

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