When I moved off-campus junior year, I was excited by the prospect of frequenting New Haven’s diverse eateries. I imagined the city as my tasting platter, though in fact my budget limited me to Mamoun’s and Basil and attempts to light my gas stove. Each feebly cobbled-together meal came to represent my march towards a nebulous adulthood, causing me to slow down and savor the caloric bites all the more.
Indulgence! is how I will remember college. Yale itself was a guilty pleasure. My parents had reluctantly allowed it, and they sensed, rightly, that I would choose all the indulgent paths: the English major, an extracurricular that doubled as my steadfast academic scapegoat, a career for energetic masochists — ahem, if The News Industry is a burning building (and it is), I’m giddily running into the fire.
On a clear night last October, I found another deplorable passion, one that required less energy but offered almost equal satisfaction. In short, I found Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen™. The glowing white and red sign on Whalley Ave. at once whetted my easy appetite and stirred my Canadian pride. I have been to the restaurant over a dozen times, and my order is always the same.
I crave things that make me feel like I’m somehow cheating; wanting to be a journalist makes me feel like I’m skipping past a generation in the immigrant narrative. I imagine that, when my parents brought my five-year-old self to Canada, they expected me to be “practical,” to choose the healthier option. The salad on the menu taunts: You were supposed to be the moneymaker, a lawyer or doctor. Let your kids be the dumb artists with no stable future in sight. But no one goes to Popeye’s for salad, and I guess I didn’t come to Yale to fit into some racial myth. As Eddie Huang, renowned glutton and the model to my minority, writes: “Asians like myself ate our hopes and dreams by the grain burnt at the bottom of a seasonal stone bowl,” or in this case, perennial Popeye’s take-out box.
Good metabolism is a cheater’s tool. My dad, who is as slender as a plank, will eat entire bags of Lay’s chips without glancing down at his girth. He also inadvertently tested into the most prestigious university in China. I’ve inherited only half of this genetic power, which means that I stay up late and rush assignments and finish all my fries, expecting few consequences and getting mixed results. We Yalies love to tempt fate, as if striking gold once meant we’ve got all the world’s luck on lock.
Sometimes we really did feel like nothing could contaminate our dining hall spa waters. I walked with friends through Gothic courtyards at all hours, stayed long past closing time in the JE buttery. We humored each other’s absurdities — classes and friendships alike were a stumbling race towards our closest approximations of truth. Sometimes, like on the first real day of spring, Yale is exactly what we were sold as precocious high school seniors. We have lain in hammocks, met personal heroes, put out student newspapers. Nobody deserves this. When you get an extra packet of barbecue sauce for free, the proper response, after examining the expiration date, is gratitude.
Imagine if every time you headed towards the exit, somebody asked you, “What are you going to order next time?” What are you going to do next year? It used to be that when I reached the last tender of my order, I felt dread. The food would soon be gone, the fatty bits of joy so quickly consumed and the container flung into a trashcan. But as a senior, I’ve learned to separate my anticipation of loss from the singular joy of a full combo before me. In these remaining weeks, I won’t think about closing time: midnight on weekdays, 2:30 a.m. on weekends, May on my college life. I’m just going to indulge.