Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sandwiches

TriPod11: bush ain't THAT bad...he kinda knows what he's doin
idaredbeet08: Please. Monica Lewinski had more President in her than George Bush ever will.
--bash

Well, the most important election in about thirty years has just broken the way that I wanted. Bush is down to 31% in the popularity polls, so he almost entirely hamstrung. The war in Iraq is, if not ending, moving to the "end of the beginning" that rational people have long hoped for. Rumsfeld has been brought up on war crimes charges. A variety of Republican-type people have been put in jail or lost elections that were mere stepping-stones to their 2008 presidential ambitions. Britney has kicked her retarded sperm donor to the curb, and she is now walking around New York sporting a rack that looks like the tips of thermonuclear missiles.

But the largest question on my mind right now is: what the hell is wrong with sandwich-makers in California??

In New York City, the sandwich-making protocol is exceptionally clear. You step up to the deli counter. The skilled sandwich preparer stands ready for your order, pen in hand. You specify (1) main ingredient (2) bread (3) condiments (4) additional ingredients. The skilled sandwich preparer both writes down and repeats back your order. Once you have assented, the sandwich is assembled with loving care. Food is important to most New Yorkers, and every store is keenly aware of all the alternatives consumers have.

Here are some sample sandwich orders that are syntactically correct: "I would like a pastrami on rye with mustard, with Swiss cheese." "Can I have a roast beef sandwich on an onion roll with Russian dressing, onions, lettuce and tomato." "I would like a grilled American cheese sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise." (Although appalling to me now, this last sandwich order was actually said out aloud by me, at age 17. My black friend from DC commented that it was the whitest food order he had ever personally heard.)

As a computer scientist and amateur linguist, there is much to admire in this protocol. It is clear. It is precise. In the event of misunderstanding, there's a certain way to catch most errors. If you place an order with the ingredients in a non-standard order, the preparer will likely repeat it back to you in the canonical form mentioned above. Clear, precise, effective. And it leads to the correct construction of highly desirable food items, so it is, above all, important.

This enlightened sandwich protocol is not followed in California. In fact, no one here has any standard way of taking a food order. They look at you glumly, you tell them what you want, and then they saunter off. You don't know if you'll get a fish in a hat, or the delectable corned beef that you've been fantasizing about all morning long.

A few days ago, I was ravenous for the roast chicken sandwich that the local deli makes so well. When I got there, I asked for a chicken sandwich, with both mayonnaise and mustard. To my amazement, when I got home, I had a chicken salad sandwich, which had both mayonnaise and mustard on it. What insane person would put mayonnaise on a sandwich made of a salad whose second ingredient is mayonnaise? This is like bringing a hot date to Hugh Hefner's mansion. And who would put mustard on a chicken salad sandwich? That's just craa-azy.

I mention mayonnaise, and I do like the stuff, in moderation. It's just egg yolks and oil, after all, emulsified using the tiniest bit of mustard. Homemade mayonnaise is divine, and it's really easy to make. Unfortunately, my wife was raised by wolves, and she has adamantly refused to heed the culinary call of two kinds of delicious fat blended into an ambrosial scrumptiousness. The thought of this condiment, in fact, makes her ill. Lengthy discussions have failed to persuade her of her essential error in this matter.

Consequently, she has never, in her entire life, asked for mayonnaise on any food, ever. She would sooner ask for anthrax jelly. In New York, that preference would mean that she would never, ever be served the mayonnaise — if for no other reason than the deli worker could accidently force someone to eat something that wasn't kosher. In California, it means that, for about every third deli sandwich, she's scraping the disgusting stuff off with a knife, muttering gently to herself. Somehow the word has gotten out across California that all sandwiches could be improved with a little mayonnaise, and that this is secretly what every customer wants, even when they explicitly say they don't want it.

The situation represents a real challenge for politeness. If you ask for the sandwich you actually want, you'll get it, plus a dollop of mayonnaise. If you ask for the sandwich you want and also mention, with a smile, "oh, and no mayonnaise, please!" then you have made the crucial mistake — in California — of reminding them about mayonnaise! So here it comes with thick lashings of the white stuff.

If you loudly, aggressively and repeatedly point out that, of all the things in the store, you would put mayonnaise at the very bottom of the list of things that you would want on your sandwich, that you would welcome a festive sprinkling of lawn clippings on your sandwich before that particular condiment, that you do not not NOT want motherfucking mayonnaise on your motherfucking sandwich, bitch; well, then in that case, you receive some remarkably sulky service. And sometimes a little extra mayonnaise, on all four sides of the bread.

California is a mystery to me, in some ways. Once I asked for a turkey and avocado sandwich at a store that had turkey and avocado sandwiches prominently on their menu. When I got back to my desk, I discovered that the young woman, apparently freshly arrived from the planet where they do not make sandwiches, had put an entire half of an unsliced avocado between the bread slices. It fit like a bear under a blanket. What possible thought processes could have led to this result? If this sandwich were a child, I would have called Protective Services on the store.

Ultimately, it is a sad state of sandwich-making affairs, one that would leave many New Yorkers shaking their head in bemusement. The only method I have found that works is to place the order, and then, watch the preparer like a hawk. At the crucial moment, their hand will reflexively reach for the spatula in the mayonnaise dish, and that's when you shriek out your warning, startling everyone. There's little dignity in it, but this is the price we must pay here in order to get the sandwich we actually want.


John Montague, immortal inventor of the sandwich

1 Comments:

Anonymous wrd said...

I'm with the missus: hold the mayo. Or double-up on the mustard.

Tuesday, 05 December, 2006  

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