Common eatting establishments found throughout the state of New Jersey, frequently owned by a single family for a few generations. New Jersey houses about 99 percent of the diners found throughout the country. Breakfast, lunch or dinner can be ordered at any hour and one can find virtually anything on a diner menu (and if they don't have it listed, chances are they can make it for you anyways.) A favorite "diner food" choice of New Jersians is a taylor ham and cheese sandwich on a hard roll. Some prefer to have a cooked egg included in the sandwich also. 24-hour diners rarely close, one exception being Christmas (yet some diners will still remain open!)

Just back from the casino. He's down $50, me, $65 - American. Sixty-five dollars my unemployed ass won't be getting back, except for pity handouts from my mom, or my new career move of writing crossword puzzles, professionally. I was five words into my first one; fitting "basso continuo" with "zither" was proving difficult. Month two of my three-month "non-traditional employment" quest, and I was already resorting to casino tactics. I had just dropped out from university and moved back home; he, only a month away from starting studies of his own. Our Venn Diagram intersected that summer, only briefly, for a glorious two months.

The short, pockmarked, deeply creased truck stop wench takes our order, month 147 of her 292 month food-services stint under her leather belt. She exudes all the enthusiasm one could muster at 4:00 am while describing the thick, juicy, rich back bacon that adorns the O Canada burger. It's 1:40 am. I get the O Canada burger, no pickles; he gets the O Canada burger, double fries (to put inside the O Canada burger, you see). Now we wait, starved and broke, while the various Heinz condiments taunt us, daring us to down them a la carte.

In retrospect, crossing the border with a nine-month growth of beard and a healthy tan is a poor idea in this post-9/11 world. But these, like employment, were worldly concerns not relevant to my staggering intellect, and I took a sort of detached, martyric glee when the mustachioed border services guard took one look at me in the back seat, and ordered us to "pull over". Which is a synonym for, you will sit on a bench and stare at a remarkably well colour-balanced portrait of George W. Bush while we disassemble your vehicle with a series of mini-screwdrivers, each more mini than the last. I was hungry, and came close to asking our friendly border services friends for some al fresco dining opportunities; my friend held me back, likely sparing me the indignity of having my starfish intimately viewed by a part-time reservist.

I suppose when the border guard shimmied out a Colt Mild from the Jeep's velcro padding was when we should have turned tail and got the flying fuck out of this anal, retentive, anally paranoid post-aristocracy, but the bright lights of the Mohawk casino promising us Anowarako:wa-style hospitality proved too tantalizing to refuse. The Wheel of Surprise penetrated us back-ways, though, and our attempts of redemption on the slots were spat back in our faces. We emerged from the bright, pulsating lights and rapid sonic dinging shells of men; having wagered our hard-earned money in the hopes of prosperity, we each had a paltry green bill to our names for the ride back.

Enough left for a meal, though.

We received our respective burgers, his as ordered, and mine with pickles. Each satisfying, grease-infused bite sent a rippling wave of contentment over our brains which washed out the shitty night. We chatted, nonchalantly, under the diner's fluorescent glow. I glanced to my right; there, sitting at the bar, was my mom's landlord, sitting with two X chromosomes he was not betrothed to. I pretended not to see him, and he refused to acknowledge my presence in turn. He, sitting there with a hooker; me, in a Jihad beard and stained, torn shirt; a gentleman's agreement, if ever there was any.

My friend dropped me off home, sated, in his van. "See you later?" I yelled.

A nod and a big grin. "For sure, man! Definitely!" He took off with a squeal, no doubt to pack and get ready for the big move into adulthood. I didn't see him again that summer.

I turned around, sighed, trundled up the steps to my mom's apartment and slept on her couch.

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