Lunch counter solitude

I regret becoming a social eater. I wasn’t always. It happened when I worked at the Chicago Options Exchange after high school–and I don’t regret that situation of becoming a social eater, I just regret how it took away some of my capacity for solitude in public places. Over time, I lost all of them. I no longer go to movies by myself, something I did without stigma throughout high school and my freshman year of college and even a little while during my extended break between freshman and sophomore year. I no longer go sit in a park on lunch and read James Joyce or Thomas Pynchon or Charles Bukowski. It was a trait I found admirable in myself. Some of it is just being around other people, being married, having a cellphone. Having a cellphone is the big one, especially now. Before deciding to write about this sensation–sitting and having lunch by myself, something I undoubtedly did over a hundred times in my late teens–I checked in on Twitter. Better than playing some 8-bit nonsense game on a flip phone, obviously, but still a bit of a betrayal to the idea of solitude. What happened to sitting and reading? Or sitting and writing? Sure, I’m sitting and writing now but I’m writing about sitting and writing. I’m present in the moment, not lulled out of it by the situation. It’s a strange sensation. I don’t think I’ve eaten alone in a restaurant, at least not one where I was getting hammered, in a decade. I travel with my wife, so we eat together. The one time I wasn’t traveling with her, I was on the train and seated with people in the dining car. I regret my internalization of pointless societal norms.

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