I don’t remember if I called it the tuck-in at the time, but I remember it that way now thanks to a line in Roald Dahl’s “Matilda.”
“I never eat anything when I get home. I have a good old tuck-in at the school lunch and that keeps me going until the next morning.”
When you’re 23 and just moved to a town to set the literary world on fire (and tie cleats on river boats), the availability of a free Sunday buffet at the bar down the block from you is just plain clutch cargo.
So, week after week when I wasn’t on weekend shifts, I would meander up to the Map Room in Bucktown to wait for a creepy old MGM stock player to load up the ribs and the barbecue chicken and the sausage platter with all the weird Polack mustards, horseradishes and cheeses.
And then I would have the thing I sort of remember once referring to as a tuck-in.
In retrospect, it’s embarrassing to be a broke white male with a social conscience. You realize so many more people have a greater claim to hunger, but that knowledge doesn’t put a damn dime in your bank account.
But your parents could, if you weren’t so damn hipster proud.
So you lionize yourself, even years later, for the hunger you did feel back when you were 23 and tasked with awaking the bellicose nations with your prose and making sure the Sunliner didn’t float into the Limited when it was lashed down for the night.
Then a decade point three passes. There are a couple trips to Ireland for a girl and you move away from Chicago and back and away and there’s a bit in Thailand and you start a blog and get various jobs and at 36 you find yourself wanting a soft, boozy spot to finish up a Ukrainian’s novel about a penguin.
And you end up back in your old neighborhood.
And you end up at your old haunt.
And the penguin novel ends and it was very good.
An older, creepier MGM stock player in a dark stocking cap starts loading up a table with the exact Polack mustards, sausages, horseradishes, cheeses and light wedges of bread you remembered from a decade point three before.
There are no ribs or chicken, and it’s no longer Sunday, but it was him and you are you. Thirteen years later and about a dozen lives since, the same rando bar is still distributing the sausage platter that used to feed you.
“That’s all I need really. As I told you, I have a jolly good tuck-in at the school lunch.”
Said Miss Honey in “Matilda.”
“Holy shit. Wouldn’t think they still did that.”
Said your best friend slash Map Room Era roomie in a text after your first plate of Polack sausage.
It’s not to say the bar hasn’t changed over the last years. It had been an early adopter of the every-beer-on-the-planet model, now ubiquitous. It seems to have also adopted a business model of white-haired white men plinking out novels on MacBooks in the decade past as well.
The scrawny 23 year olds in Chicago to set the literary world on fire no longer seem to be me.
It’s jarring to be part of the past, to have held onto “a tradition” when you think it’s just “a thing.” It’s jarring to know that sausage platters and weird mustards have continued unabated without you for more than a decade.
But it feels right.
Just doesn’t it though?