And I feel like I’m never going back again, never going ba-ack again!

The Destination: Saddle Brook, New Jersey
The Date: May 29 – June 1, 2009
The Occasion: Salwon’s Wedding

Salwon and I met in high school during the year I spent in Houston. We were both on the swim team together and in the midst of some awful set our raging fatass tyrant coach concocted, I made some weird joke about death metal band Cannibal Corpse. Having only been at school a week, I suppose this was a tactical error in my effort to make friends because nothing says, “Hey, would you like to be friends?” more than making a joke about an obscure band with song titles like “I Fuck the Dead” and “Entrails Ripped from a Virgin’s Cunt.”

Amazingly, Salwon got whatever horribly tasteless joke I made and we became fast friends. And even though we haven’t seen each other in person in about four years, we’ll still call each other just to say, “Hey Mark, you play a mean guitar! Too bad you have to die!” from the movie Empire Records. So when he asked me to haul my ass to New Jersey to be one of his groomsmen, it only took me about a half second to respond, “Hell yeah!” So Lady E and I packed up, headed to the Garden State, and partied our asses off. Here’s what transpired.

I’ve broken this up by destination and rather than focus on a strict timeline, let’s examine this by individual location. We’ll start with the best meal of this field trip, also known as, E Dagger eats his way through the tri-state area. (Also note: This post is 4,000 words long so only read it when you have time. No need to get fired over this… Do some real work for once, ya’ bastard.)

Manhattan, New York

Suck it, Spiderman! We’re higher than you.

Salwon’s not a real detailed oriented person, so when I asked him what the schedule was for the weekend, he said, “Well, the rehearsal dinner’s Saturday. The wedding’s Sunday.” Ahhh, that’s very helpful. Thank you. I couldn’t have divined that myself. Glad I asked.

So Friday night he tells me we’re headed into the big, scary city with the rest of the boys for a lunch of steak the next day. I can’t recall the last time I’ve had steak for lunch, but I was in no position to argue, so I happily accepted. There was the small problem of what to do with Lady E since I had promised the day to her, but when I told her what was up, she said (peculiarly sounding like Bill Cosby I might add) “Have fun eating your steak,  and drinking your beer, and taking about farts, and whatever…”

The closer I get to the wedding the more certain I become that we’re going to be just fine forever. Every other lousy shrew I’ve ever dated would have shoved spoonful after spoonful of guilt in my face for leaving her alone in a new place until I either acquiesced and passed on the lunch, or emasculated myself completely and asked if she could tag along. And God forbid I find my sack and actually go, I would have paid for it the rest of the weekend. None of that bullshit was necessary and Lady E merrily took the opportunity to have some girl time in Manhattan with CJS Regular Roxy while I headed to renowned steakhouse Peter Luger and proceeded to have one of the five best meals of anyone’s life.

Some other quick notes about Manhattan: I’d never been there before, and when I told Salwon that, he said, master of understatement that he is, “Eh, it’s just like Denver but bigger.” That’s easy to say when you lived there for three years, but I’ll tell you this, it’s nothing like Denver. Manhattan is wall to wall people all the time, streets begin and end with seemingly no rhyme or reason whatsoever, the buildings are monstrous, and it feels like you’ve been shrunken down and inserted into an active bee colony. The city buzzes with life and the energy blasts through every nook and cranny infecting your very being. It’s like no place I’ve ever been before, and I’ve been to London.

Also, if you see a huge grouping of what look like apartments all clustered together near the bridge in Brooklyn, they’re not apartment complexes like I thought, those are projects. Yeah, calling the projects “apartments” will definitely make you feel like a rube.

Salwon’s dad drove us all through Manhattan before and after lunch picking up Lady E, and I was grateful because I hit a ton of must-see sights on the way – Yankee Stadium (the  old one and the new mausoleum), the New York Times building, Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, a billboard that says “Crack is Whack,” and more I’m forgetting now. Granted, I only saw them from the car, but at least I’ve been there now.

I don’t dish out praise for driving prowess all that often because most people drive like shit. Keithage is one of the only drivers I know I’d actually praise, so what I’m about to say has that much more gravity. Salwon’s dad driving through Manhattan was an absolute virtuoso performance. Watching him negotiate traffic in one of the world’s most difficult cities to navigate was like watching Yo-Yo Ma play a Stradivarius. I wanted to give him a standing ovation after we returned to the hotel, but I couldn’t figure out how to do so without seeming like a condescending dick. And besides, the driving was actually secondary to the main reason I wanted to applaud this man: Peter Luger.

Peter Luger Steakhouse – Brooklyn, New York

Awaiting your presence to serve you the best meal of your life.

Rated New York’s #1 steakhouse 24 years in a row, Peter Luger is a New York institution. It was established in 1887, it adheres to the maxim all great restaurants should: Find something you do really well, and focus on that. Take a look at this menu and ignore the luncheon specials because, really, are you going all the way to a world renowned steakhouse in Brooklyn to eat chicken or sole? Skip down the USDA Prime Beef section. That’s right – Steak for One, Steak for Two, Steak for Three, and Steak for Four. That’s the entrée menu and that’s all you need to know. There were six of us, so we got two orders of Steak for Three cooked rare. Rare! These guys knew how to eat steak and I was pleased as punch to be dining with gentlemen of this caliber.

But first, we all ordered a piece of bacon. I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, yeah bacon. Big fuckin’ deal. I eat bacon all the time, and you’re ordering just one piece?” But this was no ordinary bacon. This was bacon that might as well have been cured by the hand of God himself. Each piece comes out the size of a stapler cooked to perfection. I actually ate it with a knife and fork which is unlike the 200,000 or so pieces I’d eaten in my life previous to that. Dipped in Peter Luger’s famous steak sauce, I now understood why Burgess Meredith only eats bacon in Grumpier Old Men. Hell, I was ready to join him if there wasn’t the promise of massive steak ahead. I could have sat there all afternoon chowing this bacon with a half dozen Amstel Lights if left to my own devices, but I’m glad I didn’t because of what came next.

We sat nervous with anticipation for our steak because several of the guys I was with had read about Peter Luger beforehand and were filling us in about their many awards and praises. Sitting there hearing tales of these delights was what I imagine it’s like sitting ringside before a big fight. The air was thick with expectation, plates of delicious looking red meat passed around us to other tables, and we were ready to pack an aorta.

Finally two big platters filled with four kingly porterhouses arrived cooked to absolute magnificence. They were each an inch and a half thick, seared on the outside with glorious tender pink heaven on the inside. I may have blacked out and spoke to Jesus when I took my first bite, I can’t be sure. But I can tell you unequivocally this was the absolute best steak I have ever had in my entire life. The outside had just a touch of crisp from the searing that held in the juices and flavor perfectly. The inside melted in your mouth without being chewy and you could almost cut it with a fork. The very middle was just the faintest bit cool which matched with the heat of the outside flawlessly. We ordered a side of fries just because the waiter wouldn’t shut up about ordering a side, and I’m glad he did because the fries added a nice texture contrast to the meat.

I stuffed my belly with red meat and sat happy just to be alive. Salwon’s dad had the line of the day when he said, “Y’know, I had a massive heart attack last year and if you told me that eating this might kill me… I’d probably eat it anyway.” I couldn’t have said it better myself as this meal is worth whatever trip you have to make to eat it. We ate all four steaks in their entirety and probably could have put away another one, but if we had, I’m guessing Salwon’s dad wouldn’t have been the only to suffer a heart attack that day.

There was really only one thing left to do: Order a high quality cocktail to cap off the meal. I got a Glenlivet neat and Salwon’s brother-in-law fashioned himself a Grand Marnier. I had successfully covered all five essential man food groups that day in beer, bacon, fries, steak, and scotch. And now, no matter what happened the rest of the trip, I had no choice but to call it a success. When that happens so early in the process, it’s a good thing. The scene was so good – good buddies hanging out eating amazing food, telling dirty jokes, having a few belts, absent of all their women for a couple hours – I almost felt like I was going to get whacked like in The Godfather or something. Things were so perfect it was almost begging for tragedy, but thankfully, none ever came and we rode back to New Jersey fat, happy, and in the proper frame of mind to get married.

The next time you’re in New York, beg, borrow, and steal your way into Peter Luger. Just don’t do something stupid like ordering your steak medium, and I promise you won’t be disappointed. It will likely be the best meal you’ve ever, ever eaten. What the fuck am I talking about “likely”?

Searching for a Liquor Store – Bergen County, New Jersey

Even McLovin had better luck than us.

Remember nearly a year ago we wrote about the end of Sunday liquor sales prohibition in Colorado? You can find that here and here. Well, outside of Utah, Kansas and Oklahoma, we didn’t think liquor blue laws even existed anymore. I mean really, what’s the point? A drinker is a drinker and no matter the roadblocks, he’s going to find his way to some booze regardless of whatever antiquated bullshit Puritan regulations stand in his way.

Apparently, laws governing liquor vary by county in New Jersey, and it just so happens New Jersey’s most populous county is also its biggest bastard in terms of blue laws. No booze in grocery stores, none in convenience stores, and the one liquor store within 10 miles of us closed at 10:00. Naturally it was 10:15 when we wanted to buy a couple 12-packs, and when Salwon asked a grocery clerk where we could buy some beer, he said, “Beer? (Like he’d never heard the notion before) Well, you can go to a bar.”

Gee thanks, dipshit. A bar! Why didn’t we think of that?

With no other options, that’s exactly what we did until 1:30 running up a hefty tab which could have been avoided had Bergen County officials not been such a group of assholes in drafting their liquor regulations. This whole incident reminded me of how happy I was to see Sunday liquor sales repealed last year and made me actually want to return to Colorado for a brief moment. Blue laws, who needs ‘em?

Dunkin’ Donuts – Saddle Brook, New Jersey

Right by the hotel, yo. That’s excellent planning.

More on this tomorrow, but I’ll just preface by adding another fast food joint to E Dagger’s Road to Obesity. Remember in Tucson when I wrote about the In N’ Out Burger sitting right next to the Chik-Fil-A and how if they added a Big City Burrito to that strip, I’d be likely to gain 30 pounds within a year and die of cholesterol poisoning? You can add Dunkin’ Donuts to that list too because every time I go east, I remember how goddamn good donuts are and get the desire to stuff my face with them until I look like Morpheus in the 3rd Matrix movie.

And don’t come at me with an argument about Krispy Kreme either. Krispy Kreme is fine, but Dunkin’ Donuts are what donuts are all about. Krispy Kreme’s yeast-risen glazed donuts are good, but taste like higher quality deep fried bread like the fucking Joads used to eat living in Hoovervilles on their way to California. Dunkin’ Donuts makes primarily cake donuts (i.e. made with batter, not yeast), giving the donuts superior sweetness and better texture. I’ll take a cake donut over a yeast risen donut any day of the week and did just that all the days I was in New Jersey.

And one final note before tomorrow: Salwon is like the Gandalf of walking through drive-thrus. I don’t know how he does it. The only time I’ve successfully walked through a drive-thru was at a Taco Bell in Austin with him after a night on Sixth Street. This trip he and his best man managed to do the same at the Dunkin’ Donuts next to our hotel at 2 in the morning. How the hell does he do this? I want to take him to the Gestapo joints in Fort Collins to see if his powers work there or if he just hangs out in more relaxed places unburdened by the frustration of suburban boredom rendering everyone at fast food joints wildly unlikable. It’s mystifying.

The State of Common Western Politeness – East Coast, U.S.A.

You may have hated his policies, but damned if he wasn’t a friendly-looking SOB.

In a recent Monday Confessional, Deuce said that “there is a distinguishable difference in people’s attitudes out West versus back East… people in the West tend to enjoy the littler things in life more (for whatever reason).” Based on the limited amount of time I’ve spent in the Eastern United States, I agree with him completely. Whenever I’m in the Eastern Time Zone, I feel like I’m constantly on the go and have less time to sit back and drink it all in. Not sure why that is, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that it gets late so much earlier there, you feel like you have less time in a day.

And any time you feel harried, you’re bound to be a bit more curt with everyone. You’ve clearly got things to do, you don’t need some laid back motherfucker shooting the shit with you slowing you down even further.  And any time someone does show even a hint of basic courtesy, everyone stops to take notice.

So that’s why I’m telling you, you can disarm anyone on the East Coast with basic Western politeness. I was in the Dunkin’ Donuts picking up a few things before we headed off to Peter Luger and needed a drink caddy. I noticed the lady behind me in line needed one as well, so like the polite guy I am, I grabbed one from the stack next to me and handed it to her without her even asking. You’d think I’d just restored her 401k to pre-crash status based on her reaction. I don’t think she’d encountered such random consideration from a stranger even that minimally in months. I could have fathered this woman’s child if I wanted to, and it was all because I handed her a drink caddy at the donut shop. Unreal.

And then I was at the Men’s Wearhouse where a bunch of obnoxious dickheads who looked like the Icy Hot Stuntaz were trying on some of the most laughably awful tuxedos I’d ever seen for prom. Aqua vests go with pinstripe suits and derby hats, right? Anyway, I engaged the sales clerk, called her by her name, smiled when she looked at me, said please and thank you, and was naturally polite like always. Needless to say, I could have fathered this woman’s child as well.

At the wedding I tipped the bartenders, learned their names, and shook their hands at the end of the night. The result? I always got served first when there was a line, an extra kick of alcohol in each drink, and a smile unlike the icy scowl everyone else got. I always tip bartenders (hosted bar or not), but I suspect this isn’t true everywhere.

Based on all of my interactions, I think I could be governor of any state in the Northeastern United States. So for you Westerners, remember your manners out East, and you’re like the second coming of Jesus. It’s fantastic. And the best part is, you likely won’t have to change anything you do, you’ll just do it naturally. But it’ll feel brand new because of the contrary disposition of nearly everyone else. I love the East Coast for this reason.

The Venetian – Garfield, New Jersey

About like this, only bigger

So the day of the wedding finally arrives, and we have to show up at 9:30 in the goddamn morning for pictures. That meant I had to wake up at 8:00, which meant it felt like 6:00 fucking o’clock to my body that never adjusted to the time change. If you want to see unhappiness, make E Dagger wake up that early while on vacation to put on a tux and get pictures taken. Bring on the Pissface!

Luckily I got over myself fairly quickly, but seeing Lady E lounge around in bed and knowing that she didn’t have to go anywhere for two more hours didn’t help. I had my flask filled with Johnnie Walker Black (a groomsmen gift from Salwon) in my inside pocket, so within the hour, we were likely to have the edge taken off easily.

However, when I got to the reception hall, I started chatting up the other groomsmen. I asked Salwon’s brother-in-law, “So you got your flask?” And he says, “No, I forgot it. Do you think I should have brought it?” Uh yeah, you boner. What did you think it was for? I asked his best man the same question. “No, it’s in the car. Should I go get it?” Another groomsman, exact same response as that one. Who ARE these fucking guys? Have they never been to a wedding before? Did Salwon stutter when he gave the gifts to us at the rehearsal dinner the night before and said, “This is for tomorrow.” It was amateur hour, and I was embarrassed for them.

The flasks serve a dual purpose. One, it’s to help relax everyone during pictures and keep the mood elevated. Liquor keeps everyone from tightening up and thus, everyone has a better time during the interminable and seemingly endless picture taking. Two, Salwon filled everyone’s flasks with different types of alcohol so when he started to get nervous, he could take pulls off different flasks and keep his mind occupied during the biggest day of his life. It’s not entirely for our benefit, it’s for his too.

So, since I was the only one who knew what the hell he was doing, Salwon repeatedly came to me for a drink. And naturally, once it got on to 11:00 a.m. and the other guys convinced themselves it was okay to drink, they did too. Nice work, fellas. Just please do me a favor and remember this day for the next wedding you attend, so you can pass along the karma and be the one who’s annoyed by everyone.

The wedding itself was fine. We all had to wear yarmulkes which was new on me. I always wondered how they stay on the head, and like everyone I’ve ever asked that question to says, it just does. The ceremony was short, Salwon got to step on a wine glass at the end, and it was off to cocktail hour.

The only reason I bring this up is because the buffet spread provided the most staggering display of food I have ever come across. Normally at a wedding cocktail hour you hang out, there’s some cheese and crackers, a few passed hors d’oeuvres, and that’s it. By contrast, this spread looked like it was provided by Caligula. It was literally an orgy of food.

Here is a sampling of what was available: High quality meats and cheeses, a raw bar, brick oven pizzas, lobster risotto, five different carving stations, sushi bar, a mini-burger grilling station, shrimp cocktail, a caviar station, and an ice luge for martinis. Between Dunkin’ Donuts, Peter Luger, the rehearsal dinner, this jaw-dropping collection of hors d’oeuvres, and the meal that followed, I don’t think I have ever eaten more in one weekend. It was an embarrassment of riches, it’s more than a week later, and I’m still full.

Salwon and his new wife entered, took their first dance, did the father/daughter dance, mother/son dance, and then it was onto manic Jewish fun! If you’ve never done the circle dance and the chair dance, you haven’t truly lived. We picked up Salwon on his chair and paraded him all throughout the room. He looked down at me at one point and said, “Hey, don’t look up my dress.” We put him down after the lengthy room tour and Salwon says “That was the best moment of my life.”

I couldn’t blame him. I loved carrying the chair, I can only imagine how awesome it would have been on top. The rest of the night progressed as you might expect – great food, plenty of ridiculous dancing, E Dagger hitting the free Grey Goose, and Lady E and I alienating the conservative crowd by rocking out to the Scissor Sisters. But most of all, Salwon was married, and everyone had a kickass time at the wedding.

All things considered, this was a perfect weekend. Drinking at sea level means not only are you a Viking in terms of how much you can put away, it means no hangover either. The Newark airport is surprisingly user-friendly, you don’t pump your own gas and feel like a king, and we filled our weekend with good drinks, better food, and new friends.

And while I may have cried at the end of my first trip to the Garden State (I watched the movie stoned with Lady E and may or may not have embarrassingly blurted out “You can never go home again!” through a face full of pot-fueled tears), this trip ended on a decidedly happier note. And while I may never be able to re-create this trip (i.e. “never go home again”), I won’t have to.

Because this one created enough memories to last a lifetime. And failing that, well, one thing always remains true.

“Hey Mark, you play a mean guitar! Too bad you have to die!”

“Hey, Mark…”