Friday, January 15, 2010

Memories of My Favorite Fat Cats....

The other night I was catching up on old episodes of Man vs. Food. Came across the episode where Adam Richman visited New Brunswick and Rutgers University, my alma mata.

Brought back a rush of memories and thoughts about my time there, my health & lifestyle while I was living there, and my own place in the history of American food.

It was nice to see that the Grease Trucks were still there on College Ave. I remember when they lined College Ave. When the order came for all of them to circle up in that parking lot nearby the main cluster of frat houses, there was a wail that reverberated throughout the main campus.

Little did anyone know (least of all the University administration) that they were creating something wonderful. Putting all the trucks into a circle ended up concentrating all the drunk and hungry college kids together in one spot. It inadvertently added to the warmth and stupidity of the late night drinking experience.

It was also disturbing to see how everything has been supersized. When I was there, there was only one Fat XXXXXX sandwich. It was the Fat Cat -- the double cheese burger, with bacon, fries, and other fixin's. At the time it was considered to be the most greasy & sinful thing you could eat after several beers -- except for a giro with no veggies, extra meat, and onions.

The fact that the Fat Cat spawned all these evil off-spring -- mind boggling.

Then there is Stuff Yer Face.

When I was there, the four and a half inch stromboli was the standard. The nine incher was considered excessive, only for the most hardy eaters. Eighteen inches -- unheard of. The fact that the nine incher is now the AVERAGE, the four and a half incher the KIDS SIZE, and the 18 incher the LARGE ---- nuff' said.

Another thing I loved about the episode -- Richman never goes into it -- take a close look at everyone he talks to there. One of the things I loved about Rutgers, and will always love, was just how ethnically diverse Rutgers was, how flexible ethnic & cultural identities could be there, if you chose to take advantage of the the situation. This tiny little college town taught me just how big the world was, and just how much else there was outside of where I grew up.

Decades later -- its probably even more diverse -- and an even better place to get that first foot in the door to a bigger more beautiful world.

Then there's the health issue.

In the time since I was there, Rutgers has gotten onto the map for several things;

- Football;
- Famous alums (Tony Soprano, Ally McBeal, Mario Batali, etc.)
- Junk food

While I was there, I put on 30 lbs from all that late night junk food at the grease trucks. I got so much sh#@ from my family for it, it was incredible. I eventually lost it.

But here is thing. All that weight I put on -- it put me in touch with a cultural & historic moment in both the history of American food and of Rutgers itself. I'm a product of all those Fat XXXXX sandwiches. Those high caloric nightmares that Adam Richman glorifies now -- I was part of that. In my early 20's, this was a source of shame. In my late 30's, its now a source of pride. Also -- the point that the Rutgers got onto the map of great places to eat in America was (in retrospect) a turning point in some many other ways.

Lets use the Fat XXXX as a kind of pivotal moment.


- Rutgers is the school in NJ nobody in NJ wants to go to because its too close to home.

- Bon Jovi is still a source of snide NJ bashing humor to people out of state.

- The only famous Rutgers alums are obscure academics (who gives a rats ass about Chaim Waxman and Milton Friedman).

- American food culture sucks ass.

Post-Fat XXXX

- Rutgers becomes a national football sensation.

- Bon Jovi becomes the stuff of legends;

- Rutgers alums invade popular culture;

- The Food channel & Travel channel begin trumpeting the glories of American regional cuisine.

Looking back on it -- the Freshman 20 (and the Sophomore/Junior/Senior year 10) might have been worth it in the end, since I got to be part of a moment in the cultural history of modern America.

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