Journey to Temple Canteen

I’m constantly in search of novel experiences. The more obscure, the better, particularly if they’re inexpensive. Walking has been my most-utilized mode of transportation since moving to New York. Firstly, it costs no money.¹ Secondly, it’s more visually interesting than other modes of travel (driving, bussing, subway riding). Not horseback riding, though. Horseback riding is visually interesting and generally more efficient. Thirdly, being cooped up, like when I’m Ubering or wedged on a train, raises my blood pressure enough to disrupt my entire day.

I said all of those things to arrive at the perhaps unimportant point that I heard about an Indian restaurant in Flushing, Queens² called Temple Canteen, while reading a novel called Lake Success, which was written by an author named Gary Shteyngart. The novel is very good, by all accounts. It’s about a hedge fund manager named Barry Cohen, who abandons his wife and young autistic son, and embarks on a cross-country Greyhound trip to find his old college flame. The book has been well-received by the liberal media, owing, at least in part, to the fact that Shteyngart satirizes the excesses and self-delusions of a Republican Wall Streeter.

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Ben Stiller, not Gary Shteyngart, in a YouTube trailer to promote the book Lake Success.

Anyhow, after reading about Temple Canteen, I decided to walk there on an otherwise lazy Saturday. Sort of a poor man’s Jack Kerouac thing. According to Google Maps, the walk would take nearly three hours. According to Google Weather, it would be more than 25 degrees Celcius throughout. According to me, this would make for a good challenge. Thank god for my iPhone and the ability to instantly find data for everything.

The walk began innocently enough. I left my apartment in Bushwick, belly full of Muscle Milk and two bananas, carrying a to-go cup of coffee. My first meaningful observation of the trek came as I walked past Rust Street. The street name felt perfectly literary, since the industrial neighborhood is spotted with greasy mechanic shops and graffitied concrete walls. I felt strangely compelled to take photos. Not that I have any knowledge of photography or architecture, but I noticed some “cool” angles.

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Overlooking Rust Street.

I feel a bit guilty about taking photos on my iPhone. The technology is so advanced that even an amateur can snap competent photos without sophisticated equipment. Not to mention experience, passion, or effort, which are essential for elevating the banal into the domain of artistry, in my opinion. By leveling the playing field, technology has made “artists” largely inconsequential, and paved the way for everyday people to make “art” with minimal effort. By taking these photos, I’m reducing the value of real photographers, and bastardizing an entire industry in the same way that hacky blogs are cheapening the value of journalism.

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Manhattan in the distance.

Fuck it. I took a photo anyway. They’re embedded in this blog post and probably enhance the reader experience. I walked farther, exited the industrial zone, and encountered an area called Maspeth, where there was a touching and thoroughly patriotic memorial for local victims of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. I was all but 8 years old, living in Calgary, AB, when the globe-rattling event happened. I remember my class gathering in the coatroom to discuss the airplanes hitting the towers in faraway New York City. My family visited Ground Zero in the months that followed.

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In this photo, you can see the back of the memorial.

After trudging for quite some time down 57th Avenue until it eventually met Queens Boulevard, I was confronted by The Queens Center shopping mall, which happens to be a hideous white dome. It reminded me of this mall that I went to in Riga, Latvia, which was a disgusting city. The place was comprised of phlegmatic accents and cigarette-colored buildings. That mall in Riga was something of a local attraction, though, which is the first indication that a city needs to invest in more cultural infrastructure. Maybe a museum or something.

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An ugly mall that reminded me of Riga, Latvia.

Beside the mall, there was a White Castle. I was hungry at this point, and, with more than an hour left in my pilgrimage, I figured it would be clever to fuel up on some sliders. After all, White Castle was a figurative and literal holy grail for Harold and Kumar, so it made sense to stop there during my journey. I ordered a combo. That came with two double-decker burgers³, fries, and a fountain pop. I also ordered a strawberry-banana smoothie because I’ve been on a bit of a smoothie streak lately. The total was $11.19, including tax. Being there reminded me of an old story. Really, it’s my only White Castle story.

My dad and sister were at a White Castle, once. They were starving and short on cash, stuck in the middle of nowhere. So, they ordered only a few dollars worth of food, scraping whatever they could out of their pockets, to tide themselves over until my dad could get a wire transfer from a bank. Then, after they paid for the food, a bunch of lights started flashing and some confetti fell from the ceiling.† They had won a free meal! So, after ordering hardly anything, my famished family members were comped four dollars worth of terrible food from a cut-rate fast-food chain. I think my dad made some plea for them to throw in some extra burgers. Those bastards didn’t budge.

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White Castle, an aspirational location for Harold and Kumar, and a locus of comedy for my family members.

Blood sugar levels a bit higher, I forged onward. After a bit more walking, past a parking complex and a residential neighborhood, I arrived at Corona Park. At this point, I called my sister on the phone and informed her of my recent visit to a White Castle. She’d forgotten the story that involved her and my father, unfortunately. I reminded her and we had a good laugh. That was cool.

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Corona Park.

Upon crossing a bridge, I realized that the US Open Tennis Championships were underway at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which is located in Corona Park. I thought, Right on, I’ve always wanted to watch the US Open. What a serendipitous situation. Perhaps I’ll just walk over and grab a day pass? That way I can watch some of the crumbier players compete on the side courts. Nothing special. Maybe the 73rd-rank whacking it back and forth with the 57-rank. I’m not greedy. How much could a ticket cost, anyway? Well, apparently $275. So, after a lame attempt to purchase a pass from a group of people exiting the stadium, I just decided to keep moving toward my original destination.

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Low-key entrance to Temple Canteen.

Eventually, without much resistance, maybe just a few red lights, I arrived at Temple Canteen. The restaurant – or is it a cafeteria? – is in the basement of a cultural center. I’m afraid to say what I actually thought of the food, but I’ll reveal that the quality didn’t warrant a three-hour walk. Nor was it worthy of mention and praise in the pages of a Gary Shteyngart novel. Let’s leave it at that.

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Food.

Here, I’d like to draw some parallel between my journey to Temple Canteen and Barry Cohen’s journey across America. Perhaps I was walking to escape some niggling problem in my personal life, much like how Barry left his family, fund, and adult responsibilities while in the throes of a mid-life crisis. After some reflection, I found no correlation, despite the fact that another literary observation would lend meaning to this otherwise irrelevant blog post.

Then, I walked home, mostly unsatisfied. I made it back to the Latvian-esque mall and decided to call an Uber.

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Statistics.

Footnotes:

I stole the idea for footnotes from Gilbert Sorrentino’s Imaginative Quality of Actual Things. Obviously, I’ve seen other authors use this technique (i.e. DFW), but I just so happen to be reading Sorrentino right now. 

Unless, of course, you believe that time equals money, then, since walking takes a lot of time, it also takes a lot of money.¹

Not toilets, silly.²

Not entirely sure it was meat.³

I’m employing a bit of my imagination here. Not sure if there were lights and confetti, but it makes for a stronger image.†

 

 

 

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