Words and Photos by Michael Manzon
Freshman Woes, Online Personalities, and the Death of Banana Boy
Freshman year I was, to put it kindly, not the most socially adept boy in the world. I had friends from orientation, but as is often the case, we drifted apart rather quickly. I would text my high school friends nearly every day, so I didn’t feel much of a need to put myself out there.
In other words, I was complacent and scared.
I would spend much of my time on social media, immersing myself in meme culture and cultivating an online personality. I was a performance artist, and Facebook Live was my medium of choice. I struck gold, or so I thought, the Fall semester of my sophomore year. I had three bananas, an hour of free time, and a virtual identity to construct. This was the birth of Banana Boy, an iconic character that performed feats of banana consumption.
Needless to say, this was a rather embarrassing era of my life. When I would return home, people from high school would reference my livestreams, taking my online jokes and making them far too tangible for comfort. My greatest hit was “I Put an Absurd Amount of Gel in My Hair While Wearing an Ill-Fitting Jacket”. I do admit that that one was comedic gold, but I made a conscious effort to become a bit more social and not gain satisfaction from online clout.
Just when I thought I was out, however, they pulled me right back in. A friend, who shall remain unnamed, added me into the then-somewhat-new Northeastern University Meme Collective. I was in awe, slightly ashamed, but most of all confused. This person had not spoken to me in a year or so, but here he was, dragging me into the wretched bowels of Northeastern meme culture. I figured, “Hey, why not make the most of this opportunity?”
Then came my fateful first post:
“Let’s get Brunch.”
The Birth of Brunch Boy
It would be misleading to say I came up with the whole brunch shtick. A Facebook friend, who at the time went by the name Annie May, had created a group entitled “Let’s Get Brunch”. This group consisted mainly of people posting pictures of clearly non-brunch items, accompanied with a query: “Is this Brunch?” By the time I was added to the Meme Collective, I had been part of the brunch group for a week or so, inspiring my debut brunch offering.
I had made the post half in jest, but my plan was to really find someone with whom to get brunch. Incredibly, someone jumped on the opportunity. After winter break, at the beginning of the spring semester of my sophomore year, the two of us got brunch at Trident Booksellers and Café. The entire meal was livestreamed on Facebook, and it was an incredibly surreal experience. It was my first time meeting this person, but our brunch-based friendship quickly blossomed into a brunch-based friend group. Before the end of the semester, I had brunched with more than twelve people at about eight different establishments. I still brunch with some of these people to this day.
I had used brunch to force myself to become more social. If I wanted to get to know someone better, I would ask them to brunch. I figured there would be two possible results: they accept enthusiastically because they love brunch, or they weren’t worth knowing to begin with. Unfortunately, as I had feared, some people took this proposition to be a date. While awkward in the moment, these brunches still resulted in lasting friendships. From these experiences, I decided to make a Tinder account with the sole intent of finding new brunch-buddies. I tried to make this explicitly clear in my Bio: “Who the frick wants to platonically brunch? (Serious inquiries ONLY)”. Unfortunately in that context, seriousness and clarity are often mistaken for sarcasm and jest. I have since abandoned that outreach project, but have retained the account to show people my dedication to the brunch arts.
Brunch as a Conduit for Socialization and Exploration
There is something about brunch, with its playful mix of irresponsibility and class, that just engenders congeniality. There are also numerous types of brunch establishments. If we want to be classy for the day, we can go to The Beehive, or, if I hadn’t spent a single dime in weeks, Cultivar. A more casual meal can be found at places like Milkweed or Trident, which are close to campus and enticingly affordable. Unless reservations are needed, the time is often negotiable and malleable. I’m quite an early riser, but my friends tend to sleep in on the weekends. Some of them insist on brunching after noon, but that is where I draw the line. Past noon, you’re just having a late, hefty lunch. This is the hill I will die on, foolish as it may be.
Brunch was also an impetus for exploration. Prior to my brunching habits, I did not explore Boston very much. My Boston experience was centered around campus and a bit of Back Bay. This limited scope made the borders of my college experience condensed and impenetrable. I would often long for New York, the city I frequently paraded about prior to college. Seeking out new brunch experiences, however, opened my eyes to how much more Boston has to offer than I had thought. The Beehive, Gaslight, and The Elephant Walk ignited my love for the South End. Alden and Harlow, Mamaleh’s, and Henrietta’s Table enticed me to explore Cambridge and revealed to me a personality which was similar to, yet distinct from, Boston’s.
Today, my brunch reputation precedes me. It can be a bit unsettling, but I can’t help but feel a bit of pride when a completely unknown face asks me to go to brunch. As the king of brunch, what can I do but accept? I also try to act as a repository of brunch knowledge. When my friends are forming brunch plans, they will often come to me for recommendations. My love for brunch had first emerged as a joke, evolved into a persona, and finally bloomed into genuine passion and expertise. It has also produced a lasting network of true friends, with whom I remain connected throughout Northeastern’s unique variety of schedule disturbances: co-op, study abroad, and scattered graduations, to name a few. Brunch has kept these connections going, and I believe it will hold these friendships strong long after graduation.
Appendix: Brunches of Note
Often times, brunch portions are also far too large for a man of my fortitude to finish. A simple solution is sharing food, but today, with my years of brunch-based experience and wisdom, I tend to gravitate towards a relatively recent trend: tapas-style brunch. My first experience with this form of brunching was at Barrio Costero in Asbury Park, New Jersey. I remember the meal clearly, as well as my obligatory brunch bathroom selfie. Despite its location in a beach town, Barrio Costero managed to conjure the eclectic atmosphere of a dark, backroom cocktail lounge. Lighting was minimal, effortlessly creating the effect of light just barely leaking through blinds. The décor and artwork on the walls were heavily inspired by the surrealism of Dali and Bunuel. Needless to say, I was in my element. I selected the masa pancakes, topped with sweet plantains and an almond dulce de leche cream. As tapas was the dining format, I also ate a bit of what everybody else had selected. My selection was by far the best, as one would figure with my title of Brunch King.
A turning point in the career of any great brunch aficionado is their first boozy brunch, with mine being no exception. My indoctrination into this age-old tradition was within the walls of The Beehive, a metropolitan restaurant known for its live music. . My sister was visiting for my 21st birthday and wanted to take me somewhere special. The Beehive (reservation practically required) definitely fit the bill. The basement was gently filled with the Latin jazz simmering from the stage next to the bar. Open and relatively bright, The Beehive presented an atmosphere of both relaxation and sophistication. My entry into the world of brunch cocktails was the Violette, a bubbly cocktail rounded with a light infusion of crème de violette. For my entrée I ordered an asparagus and goat cheese quiche that was approximately the size of a brick. Firm yet creamy, and with a base so buttery I couldn’t bear thinking about it, this quiche showed me my destiny: that of a bougie boozy brunch regular.