Emergency Biscuit: Help, I Suffer from Diner Indecision
Introducing our new breakfast advice column
Are you in a breakfast conundrum? Do you have deep-seated, unresolved feelings for brunch? Are you at a loss in front of the smorgasbord of life? Because so often breakfast is about feelings, and relationships teeter on the edge of the morning meal table, Extra Crispy editors Kat Kinsman (Bis-kat) and Margaret Eby (Bisc-gret) are here with Emergency Biscuits, our new breakfast advice column, to dole out hopefully not half-baked counsel and recipes for life. Got a question for the Biscuits? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The day before I started my freshman year of college, my dad took me out to lunch. We went to a diner near campus, one famous in pop culture for appearing on Seinfeld and locally for having plentiful disco fries for hungover students. Over the meal, my dad dispensed some wisdom for staring down the next four years of classes and late adolescence, and I listened, because he’s a former Eagle Scout who likes to whip up experimental pies, and once, when I queried him about whether he liked my date to a high school dance, said I like him like a farmer likes a chicken, a response that I quote back to him to this day. But of the advice he dispensed over tuna melts that day, the thing that stuck with me was this: Don’t get paralyzed by potential.
Potential is a funny thing. As humans, we want the chance to be and do whatever we want within reason, and to select our favorite kind of ice cream from the fridge of many flavors. But we also kind of hate it, because potential also comes with downsides: What if you waste it? What if you make the wrong choice? What if what you decide leads to failure or disappointment? It is paralyzing. And so you can find yourself stalling out in the ice cream aisle, as I have, weeping into your hands about whether you should get mint chocolate chip or butter pecan or pistachio or someone just tell me which one is right.
At the root of the menu dilemma is the very real conundrum of humans, which is that we can’t see the future. That’s why we look to reviews and (ahem) advice columns, to psychics and soothsayers and wise older cousins. We are fragile, and we don’t know much. We can’t really know which choice is right. (At least in contexts of menus. Some things are a little clearer: Murder is not the right choice, pretty much always.) Being overwhelmed is a completely rational reaction to the unbearable entropy of life.
But here’s the secret, which is also unbearable: There isn’t, necessarily, a right choice. There is no such thing as winning at a diner menu. There is not really such thing as winning at school or at your beach vacation or at life, no matter what Instagram tells you. There is only trying as best you can to make the choice that feels correct, and following through on whatever it is. There is only trying to own the inevitable mistakes and messiness and fragility. There is only moving forward, the best you can, with the information you have.
So close your eyes and feel what it is you’re hungry for, rather than what you think you should get. Maybe it’s just the fruit cup after all, and there’s nothing on earth wrong with that. Maybe, even though people in your party discourage you from getting a salad at a diner, that’s what you want, damn it. Maybe it’s pancakes and an omelet and bacon. So get it. Don’t choose to win the invisible stakes of life, or dining. Choose because that is what you want the most. In diners, as in life, there is ample opportunity for course-correction.
Before we get to the meat of the matter—if you’re in a New Jersey diner and coffee is not placed in front of your pillow-rumpled face within a nanosecond, leave and walk the 30 feet to the next diner down the road. You deserve better.
So can we perhaps reframe your scenario, just for a moment? You are in a diner, in the state that has the best diners. You have summoned the wherewithal to apply clothing to your person, exit both your bed and your dwelling, clamber into an automobile (dude, you didn’t walk there), and furthermore managed not to perish along the turnpike or be thwarted by a mysterious bridge closure. And you acquired seating and a menu! Not easy, Holland. Not easy. You have achieved so many things this morning already—anything else is gravy. Especially gravy. Or fruit cup.
But you speak of it so dismissively, Holland. Why? Did a fruit cup pants you in front of the cheerleading squad, deliberately scratch your favorite record, or reject your promposal in a sassy fashion? Did a fruit cup break your heart? You default to fruit cup time and time again, so there was clearly something between you and fruit cup at some point—something nourishing and comforting—but now you are dissatisfied. What went awry between you? Can you learn to find pleasure in it again, or has your palate grown numb to its charms?
Before you seriously contemplate indulging in other breakfast pleasures and dallying about the jelly caddy, I think you should resolve your feelings about fruit cup once and for all, for the sweet or the bitter. If the former, huzzah! You crazy kids go off and spoon. If the latter, well, you will learn to breakfast again. It may seem daunting, Holland, but I believe in you. Close your eyes if need be, stab a finger at the menu, declare “I’ll have that,” then slam it shut. Try to appreciate the unique qualities of whatever comes to you next. It may or may not hit the spot precisely, but at least you’re no longer waffling.
Got a question for the Biscuits? Email email@example.com.