After two days of door-knocking for Hillary Clinton in southern New Hampshire, my girlfriend and I decided to stop off at Manchester’s Red Arrow Diner before driving back to Brooklyn. It had come highly recommended (the diner, that is, not the door-knocking, which I knew would be a drag, and which I did only under the duress of a white nationalist becoming president).
The Red Arrow Diner was established in 1922, and it has gone through its ups and downs over the years. There’s a pledge on the far wall as good as any promise I heard this campaign: “To Create, Cook and Serve, with Consistency and a Smile, the Most Palate-Pleasing Diner Eats Known to Mankind.”
We took our seats at a long counter, pressed up against a crew of twenty-something white guys eating burgers. I felt a little skittish, since the day before a similar-looking group of dudes had spotted my girlfriend’s Hillary sticker and helpfully announced, “She’s a criminal!” while pointing accusingly; they’d literally left the restaurant chanting “Trump Train!” (True to form, they waited until I had gotten up to use the restroom before engaging in their three-on-one voter outreach.) The entire weekend felt vaguely menacing—we had also been yelled at by Trump supporters in a passing truck—and we had sunken into ourselves somewhat.
Our waiter was young, wiry, and full of good cheer. His voice was as large and bright as the diner, which meant you could hear any conversation he had with any patron. My mind went where it always does when interacting with a stranger on the eve of an election: who’s this guy gonna vote for? He seems friendly, and the diner’s menu is all about local ingredients, and he’s young . . . he’s gotta be a Hillary supporter, right? On the other hand, this is New Hampshire, not New York. You can’t assume anything, especially when hunger is clouding your keen analytic mind.
Our menus were colorful and thick, like old Rand-McNally road atlases, and I worried I was coming down with a terminal case of the paradox of choice, until I flipped to the first page and saw one of the Red Arrow’s specials: THE TRUMP TOWER.
The Trump Tower is, I kid you not, a hamburger whose buns have been replaced by grilled cheese sandwiches. A deep-fried mac-and-cheese glob serves as an onion ring. Basically, it’s three unhealthy meals in one. And it comes with a side of fries.
Nothing came to mind that I wasn’t afraid to say out loud, in that diner, after that weekend.
Needless to say, I ordered it. First, because I assumed it was named ironically in homage to the fathomless, artery-clogging tackiness of its namesake . . . and I thought eating it ironically would be a nice capstone to our weekend in Manchester, a private joke to savor without ruffling any locals’ feathers. Two, I figured my body was already fatally damaged from election stress (as well as its attendant coping mechanisms), so I might as well go out with a bang.
Friends, it was delicious. I ordered the patty well done, per our waiter’s suggestion. I ordered the fries extra-well done, per my longstanding belief that french fries should look and taste like slivers loosed from charcoal briquettes.
It wasn’t until I had cleaned my plate that the waiter showed his cards somewhat. After asking me what I thought of the burger, he explained its provenance. It wasn’t a subversive political statement by the Mazel Tov-cocktail throwing radicals of the “Red” Arrow Diner, alas. It was named in Trump’s honor, after he ate one during a campaign stop earlier this year. “All the politicians who come in here, he’s the only one who actually ate something.” “Did he leave a good tip?” the guy beside me at the counter asked. “Yeah, it was a pretty big tip.” My mind raced for the perfect follow-up, a mot juste that would convince these locals to switch their allegiance from Trump-the-burger-eater to Hillary-the-Benghazi-slurper, something so cutting and clever their minds would be blown, something about his inflated finances, or history of stiffing contractors, or lack of empathy, or fear of brown people, or colossal ignorance of everything beyond his immediate stupid appetites. Of course, nothing came to mind—actually, let me be honest: Nothing came to mind that I wasn’t afraid to say out loud, in that diner, after that weekend.
We paid our bill and left.
I will always hate Donald Trump, and I will always hate myself for not jabbing my fingers down my throat in a dramatic gesture of principled, explosive emetic theater.