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Our Secret City

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If I think of him now, I think of the smell of sweating White Castle hamburgers. I lived in Clinton Hill, in Brooklyn, around the corner from a White Castle, a place I had never considered entering because of its vaguely white supremacist name. But he didn’t make the connection, and so when he would come to my apartment to drink and smoke and have bumbling conversations about politics, what passed for a relationship between us, he would bring the bag of hamburgers. “You want one?” he would ask, every time.

“No, thanks,” I would say, willing myself to ignore the grease smell and giving him more vodka so that when we finally did make out, he wouldn’t taste like a burger.

The White Castle stood on its own on Atlantic Avenue. I think we went there only once, late at night, on a hot July evening. I remember that while he ordered, I put a quarter in the toy vending machine and got a small, cloudy plastic egg. When I opened it at home, later, inside was a third of a roll of police tape, screaming the word “caution.”

“You don’t see how messed up this is?” I said to him. “Forget not even knowing where this restaurant got this. You don’t think it’s messed up to act like this is a toy for children?”

“You’re overthinking it,” he said.

Which, perhaps, tells you everything you need to know about why that relationship eventually ended.

The White Castle is still standing, just abandoned. It’s covered in torn dirty fabric that sways in the wind and pieces of the sign are missing, but every time I pass it now, in the car with my partner on Sunday morning errands, I say, “I used to go to that White Castle —”

“With that jerk you dated;........

© The New York Times