by Fidel Gastro
Among my many colleagues of various circles I remain an outlier, an outsider and a pariah. It's true, you wave your hands and deny, but I reaffirm that it is so. And why should it be? Why should I be ashamed and made to feel ashamed and shamed by actions no court in the land would deem shameful? It is by my reticence to join the 'party' so to speak, my refusal to drink the Kool-Aid, that I shine the garish light of doubt on the enjoyment of the many.
You see, my friends are all food enthusiasts. They sit at tables marveling at how one food has a texture worth remarking on, how flavors in another dish scintillate or how some element of a third obscures some other palatable delight, all of which are obscure to me. When this happens, I say humbug, I. Shenanigans! It is shenanigans! The emperor wears no clothes; it's just food man! Here's how you know food is good:
1) It provides your body with the nutrients and calories that it needs to function.
2) It isn't poisonous (for once!)
3)... Well I have competing examples for 3 but none of them measure up to the weight and heft of one and two. Three might be any of the following: it's not ruinously expensive, it doesn't taste bad, it won't immediately spoil and can be kept for days, it doesn't produce an offensive odor in the house, it doesn't make your bowel revolt, it does no harm. Three is open for debate, but I think calories and not poison pretty much sum it up.
Now, you can ask me about sandwiches and I can tell you straight away that the best sandwich ever is two graham crackers with canned frosting smeared between. True story – you can make probably five dozen of those gentlemen for under $5. You know how many friends you'll make on the bus with that kind of offering? Now my food-enthusiast friends will scoff at this. They will point out that the frosting is from a can, the graham crackers from a box. I dunno man, at this point in American history industrialized cuisine counts as a folkway! It's an honest to goodness cultural institution. The guy who made Graham crackers wanted to invent a kind of human-dogfood, a food that was all you'd ever need to eat ever. It was to be a permanent meal. Now in the past I, like a lot of people, have experimented with permanent meals. Minestrone soup was good; I had that twice a day during my stupid vegetarian years. Then I ate rice for supper. For a while I had two or three cheeseburgers a day as a permanent meal, with Dr. Pepper to wash it down. That sickened me quickly though and I had to correct myself with the minestrone solution and the stupid vegetarian years. One summer I didn't eat at all! I drank those half-gallons of green juice made of broccoli and spinach and more apples than they probably want to admit. That was healthful I suppose. I felt like a spaceman the whole time. It was great.
Now? I don't care. I want my friends to enjoy their exotic tastes of the far lands. It’s fine. But if you ask me about sandwiches, there's really only two or three worth commenting on: the club, the Monte-cristo and the Reuben. Of these I nominate the Reuben as king.
Why? First of all, it fits the national character. It was invented in a competition (capitalism), it's made of industrial products (corn fed beef, mechanically separated cabbage etc.) and it incorporates elements of different European cultures (corned beef & cabbage, swiss cheese, rye bread, Thousand Island dressing) and makes them all much, much better. Now you might be asking yourself this: “what's this praise of a noble breed of sandwich got to do with your longwinded and frankly irritating preamble?”
Oh I'll tell you – I'll set you straight at the same time, too. See, here's my thing. You go to McDonalds. Or maybe you read a food blog and don't go to McDonalds. I don't drive so I rarely go there myself, (despite the quality of their coffee). But say you go there. You get the Big Mac because, hey, it's McDonalds and it's after breakfast. You know how at some McDonalds you're in a kind of crummy neighborhood and the people are sloppy about making your Big Mac but they're also over-generous and you get three meat patties instead of two? Or how if you're in some dingy suburb after dinner has been served and the lazy teens give you a Big Mac half melted from the heat lamp? Or at the truck stop – where you get the platonic ideal of the Big Mac – and feel as if you've entered the big leagues of the fast food franchise business where excellence (such as it is) is the only option. See there are the kinds and types and...well at the end they're all forgettable and equivalent and the same. They're all Big Macs – all prepared with more or less consistency more or less competence. They're the same. You see yellow (they're not gold, never were) arches – you know what you're going to get.
Now, I see my eating venue of most frequent choice and that is the diner. They have coffee all day and it's always fresh. There's a lady who is always, always about 10 years older than me (regardless of my age through the years) and she's pouring the coffee like it'll make me love her (it will). She comes by for my order and I have to consider carefully between sauerkraut balls and fried pickles, but when it comes to the main course, it is the Reuben. This is my permanent sandwich. I will follow it (follow it) follow it wherever it may go (oooooo). Now, a diner is a diner is a diner. It can be called anything, and it usually is; they can have TVs blaring (I discourage this practice), they can have the radio going, there can be a jukebox, they can be crowded, empty on a main road, on the highway, at the Shaker RTA station, greasy or clean, but whatever it is, you have a certain expectation. You expect rye bread (toasted), swiss (melted slightly), meat (not too lean, but not too fatty), and it should be a tall sandwich. Saurkraut should be gently applied but consistent; you want a bit with each bite. You will have thousand island dressing in a plastic cup on the side. You will note the pickle.
Now you'd think this isn't a hard thing to fuck up.
Well, enter the idiotic food-enthusiasts. I dunno, are you guys invented by the internet? I mean, now you're seeing balsamic saurkrauts or, God help you, coleslaw. Have you ever ordered a Reuben and it comes with coleslaw? Or turkey! This happened to me once! It was served on thick slices of white bread smeared with mayonnaise and coleslaw and it was just turkey. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. I mean, what is it, Thanksgiving? Who eats turkey? Or maybe you've had something with some kind of elaborate bread , because the best thing since sliced bread is...slicing your own bread? Cutting off big unpalatable hunks of some over-wrought bread idea? Or they're playing around with the sauces or they're somehow – and I defy you to explain this – excluding the pickle.
Now, I've blamed food enthusiasts, and maybe that's just mean talk, but I see the fingerprints where I see them and I point and blame you! I do! I mean, diner is a diner is a diner – you expect to get the big-mac of diner sandwiches, not some kind of french-fry stuffed concoction of forlorn ingredients slowly soaking into one another. You don't want that; nobody wants that. Nobody should have to have carrots in their sandwich without specially asking for them. And anyone who does should be stared at, and mocked behind their backs. And yet, without a word of apology, I've been served a sandwich with carrots in it by the purveyor of something called - but not matching the definition of – a Reuben. Consistency is the one thing you can demand and expect of food in our time. Factories make it! Exult in the liberty that you are afforded by the mechanization of food! It's cheap, it's commonly available, and it's everywhere. We should all be so lucky that we have enough to play with our feelings about it.