Have you heard of a movie called Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle? Of course you have. Not a great movie, but a perfectly good movie – nothing wrong with that. A “stoner, gross-out comedy,” according to Stephen Holden of the Times. Does some interesting stuff with stereotypes, plus it’s just funny. But you knew that. When did you first see it? At a family party, upstairs – or perhaps in the basement, if it was finished – with your parents’ friends’ older children? Accidentally, when you were watching TV late at night? As the result of your undying devotion to Neil Patrick Harris? Did your mother know?
It was August, right before they were all to head off to college, and they realized that none of them had ever gone to White Castle. Their mothers had certainly never taken them. An idea, at first little more than a joke, gradually gathered steam. Everything fell into place: yes, they were starving; yes, there was no more beer; yes, no one had anywhere to be; yes, Phil wasn’t drinking that night; yes, they all knew, White Castles were open all night long.
“Hey Siri, where’s the nearest White Castle?” Phil asked.
“OK, I found this on the web for ‘spite vassal.’ ”
“Goddamn it, Siri. You fucking idiot.”
“I don’t talk to you that way, Phillip,” Siri responded.
“We could just order pizza,” Adam suggested.
The nearest White Castle was at least half an hour away in Spring Valley – across the Hudson on the Tappan Zee, up the Thruway, and onto Route 59. Maybe more like 40 minutes, especially considering that this was when they were still doing that construction on 59 by the Palisades Mall. Adam’s mother had mentioned a Vietnamese restaurant in Spring Valley before. Really authentic, apparently.
Before they knew it, the six of them were piled into Phil’s mother’s Volvo station wagon.
“This is gonna be so awesome,” Claire said. “Just like Harold and Kumar.”
It took a few blocks for Henry to pack a bowl and take a hit.
“Dude, blow out the window. This is my mom’s fucking car.”
At the next stoplight, Henry leaned over from the passenger seat, held the bowl to Phil’s mouth, and lit it for him. It wound its way across the backseat – Walker, Sophie, Claire – back to Henry for more weed, and finally to Adam, crammed in the back. Adam made an attempt to exhale in the direction of a window. Luckily, Phil didn’t notice. Adam recalled that in Driver’s Ed they had learned never to drink and drive, and to try not to smoke and drive – or at least that’s how it seemed. Every once in a while wasn’t so bad, he reasoned. Animal Collective played in the background. Phil would often discover a band a few years later than everyone else and play them incessantly.
A few days later, Phil’s mother found a cigarette butt and a dime bag on the floor of the backseat, and Phil wasn’t allowed to use the car for the rest of the summer. She was South American and very strict. Everyone felt really bad, but they all knew it was probably Henry who didn’t know how to throw away a cigarette butt.
The bowl was followed in its rounds by a bag of Haribo Fizzy Cola, Claire’s favorite candy. Kids and grown-ups love it so.
“Where are these from anyway?”
“Japan, I’m pretty sure.”
“No, they’re definitely European.”
“Yeah, they’re from Spain.”
“I thought they were Dutch.”
“Haribo? Sounds fucking Japanese.”
“Jesus Christ, they’re not Japanese.”
“You’re all wrong. I just looked it up, and they’re German.”
“Stop looking shit up. Put your fucking phone away.”
“Hey Claire, can you pass me the Haribo?” Adam asked.
Soon they were crossing the bridge in the far right lane. A motorcycle passed them and swerved right in front of them, followed by another, then another, then another. All of a sudden, the interior of the car was bathed in pink neon light, like a Nicolas Winding Refn movie. These weren’t Harleys or anything; they weren’t choppers at all. These were sleek and all black – Yamahas or something. The riders were dressed in black from head to toe – glossy black helmet, reflective black helmet visor, black leather jacket, black leather pants, black leather boots. Phil was already swerving a little out of the lane, and this didn’t help. Anyone would be a little scared. But no one mentioned the mysterious riders. Adam began to question whether it had really happened. It was like the cheetah in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.
It was around two when they arrived and the restaurant was completely empty. Behind the counter were two employees: an older woman about their mothers’ age, and a younger man about their age. “That little Yorkie’s ‘bout to make me start drinkin’ again,” they heard the woman say to the man. Now that you mention it, she was probably at least 10 years younger than the youngest of their mothers, even if she didn’t look it.
She glanced at them and could tell they needed more time.
“Just turned one. Had a little party, but we couldn’t keep a hat on him,” she continued, while they puzzled over the menu.
It was like a foreign language: Chicken Rings, Fish Nibblers, Hash Brown NibblersTM, Buy ‘Em By The Sack®, Castle Pack 8, Crave Crate®, Cheesecake on a Stick. Chicken Rings, they giggled to one another. Adam had made little headway when he noticed a sign behind the counter: Consider this your starter Craving kit. Four Original Sliders, small fries, and a small soft drink. Calories: 910. Nutritional information based on a small Diet Coke®. Perfect, he thought.
Feeling brave, he was the first one to approach the register. The woman turned to face him and set her phone down on the counter. The phone’s wallpaper was a poorly framed screenshot of a poorly formatted online Bible. Colossians 3:23-24, he managed to make out. He tried to read the rest, but the screen went dark. He thought he already knew all about the strange things that happened when older women were combined with phones. He once received a postcard from his grandmother with the word “ ‘phone.” He liked to imagine her internal dilemma: As a rule, I disapprove of slang, but I would like to save space.
If he wasn’t quite so high, or if he was better at reading upside down, or if the screen gave him just a little more time, or if his mother hadn’t traded in Christianity for yoga, he might have been able to read the rest: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Something about work, he gathered.
“Uh, can I have the Original Sliders Combo, please?”
“Uh, no, that’s all. Thank you.”
He fumbled with his wallet, and it took him what seemed like a good minute before he succeeded in handing over his credit card.
“Uh, sorry.” Does she know I’m fucked-up, he wondered. At the time, it didn’t occur to him that she had a lot of experience with fucked-up kids. Charity, her nametag read.
Walker also had the Original Sliders Combo. Claire and Sophie split a French Fries and an Onion Rings. Phil just had a chocolate shake. Henry ordered ten sliders for himself. No one tipped. Henry ate hunched over his sliders, wordless. He quickly developed a system: remove little paper box from big paper bag, remove little hamburger from little paper box, lift little hamburger to mouth, bite twice, chew, repeat. He finished before everyone had their food and began to complain loudly.
“That was probably the single grossest meal I’ve ever had.”
None of them enjoyed the food. The 2” by 2,” 100% beef patties were gray. The steamed buns were stale. The pickles were indistinguishable from the onions. The French fries were room temperature. They weren’t like Adam’s mother’s hand-ground beef chuck burgers, to say the least. But the rest of them would never have said anything about it. Charity pretended that she could not hear them, but Adam noticed her peeking in their direction.
He moved to a table across the aisle to eat by himself. He wanted to both disassociate himself from Henry and attract attention to himself. Claire and Sophie laughed to each other. Adam decided that this had to be a promising sign, and smiled to himself even as he tried to swallow another bite of slider.
“Just fucking disgusting,” Henry continued. “Like, seriously. Have you ever had a worse burger?”
The poor people that made this, Adam thought. Claire pulled out her phone and took a photo of him. He secretly hoped it would end up on Facebook the next day. It didn’t.
He had also hoped that Claire would have sex with him before they left for school, but Phil dropped everyone off at their own house that night. And that was that – the next week, she was off to Minnesota and he was off to Maine. Harold gets the girl at the end.
So yeah, it wasn’t all that much like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. At a certain point you just have to give up and stop trying to draw connections. You can add some stuff here and take out some stuff there, but it will never be the same. Still a good movie, though.
Anyway, I thought about shooting Claire a text the other day, but decided against it. I still see her when everyone’s home for Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and all, but, fuck, it didn’t end up the way it was supposed to. Like always. Does that kind of shit happen to you?
-Luke Warren, class of 2016