My friend and I are in one of those ironic restaurants where everyone wears dark-rimmed, nonprescription eyeglasses and the sommelier fills wine goblets to the rim. On our table is a steak served on thin, waxy cardboard accompanied by a fork and casually tossed chef’s knife; two sweet potatoes snuggled in a brown paper bag; a china bowl filled with an unidentified cream sauce; and a pile of rock salt that the waiter threw onto the table before strutting away to the beat of the techno remix that accompanies our meal.
“I don’t have any silverware,” I whisper to my friend. “I don’t know what to do here.”
He laughs, tears the bag open, and breaks off a corner chunk of the sweet potato. He dips it in salt, then the sauce, and hands it to me. “Eat it.” I replay lessons on dinner table etiquette as I comply.
“Good?” he asks. Warm, smokey-sweet sensations soothe my social anxieties. I’m in Israel with one of my favorite people eating one of my favorite foods. I am happy. I nod and enjoy another bite.
“I should Facebook this,” I think, but that timely process will take me away from what I really want to do, which in this case is eat. On the other hand, a part of me wants to let everyone know that while they were waiting for delivery, I was eating something that was probably a descendant of a sweet potato Jesus ate.
Sometimes my Facebook is this self-controlled paparazzi that transforms every detail, every opinion, every meal of my life into the news the people need, and I wanted those people to feel the twinge of self-loathing that comes with reading statuses like “I am doing amazing things with my life, have just been named ‘Most Amazing Person in the World,’ and had kale for breakfast. #humbledbyhowamazingiam” I realize how that sounds, but before you judge me, consider that the Ten Commandments condemn jealousy, and not gloating.
In Infinite Jest—which I might be mentioning so you’ll be impressed that I’ve read it—David Foster Wallace’s character confesses a similar obsession with fame to his teacher. “You burn for a hunger that does not exist,” his teacher warns. “To be envied and admired is not a feeling. Nor is fame a feeling. There are feelings associated with fame, but few of them are more enjoyable than the feelings associated with the envy of fame…Do not believe the photographs.” Photographs convince us that if something happens in a forest and no one liked it online, it didn’t happen, that the value of our experiences can be judged by likes and retweets, and that food never gets cold. However, no evidence proves that internet recognition changes the taste of a sweet potato, the way the sunset dances with the surface of the water, or the comforting company of a friend. The world was created without any thought to and without ever receiving a hashtag, and it was called good.
Just outside the restaurant, my friend and I prepare to wander the streets of Tel Aviv. “So did you like it?” He reaches out and takes the hand that would have held my phone if I could have found it in the black hole that is my purse.
“Yeah,” I answer.
I smile with the feeling of this single, physical like far exceeding all the virtual likes in the world.