Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Sandwich King

On the morning of the first teacher day back to school, I found myself in a light conversation with Marcel. Picking up an itinerary from the office counter, he seemed worried that we might not have enough time to set our rooms up for the first day of classes.
"The day is jam packed."
Reassuring him that we always find a way, the stress of it all already showed in his brow.
"I'm just one of those people who likes things done. I don't want to leave anything to chance."
"Just here, or are you like that at home too?"
At this, Marcel shed a grin and offered, "The weekend before this day is my favorite weekend of the year--drives my wife crazy--but, yeah, I like things done at home too."

He baited me, "What happens on the weekend before school?"
"I make my lunches for the year."
We turned into the auditorium. Inside, teachers milled through the aisles and reached over rows to shake hands, offer hugs, and exchange kisses. Summers were recapped in short bursts and the overall spirit was convivial and loose. Some dress the part of the professional, others still cling to summer attire with the excuse that we don't want to get work clothes dirty moving boxes and books.
"What do you mean--"
"Well, this is the part that drives my wife crazy: I buy a  twenty-five loaves of bread."
The palpable mix of astonishment and disbelief pulled my eyes open as my lower lip dropped.
"We only have two small cars so I have to make a few trips to get the other stuff. It takes most of the morning. She goes out for the day--she wants no part of it."
His eyes shifted away from me and he his imagined must have spread the whole scene before him. He was lost in the memory. As people nudged by us to their seats, patting us on the back, we remained in the aisle as Marcel continued.
"You only get about seventeen slices a loaf and I don't use the ends so I buy a little more than I need. When I get them home, I stack them on the counter--facing out towards the dining room table--and then I fold the paper bags, not plastic, paper holds more, and store them in the closet. Then, I take the car and drive around town buying lunch meat, peanut butter and jelly, and a several jars of different kinds of mustard and mayonaise. Then, I usually have to go back out to buy small paper bags, wax paper, and I go out again to buy a few cases of those small snack packs of chips."
Dumbfounded, my mind raced and I couldn't choose one question to be the first question--the obvious question being "WHY?"--so one just fell out of my mouth on its own.
"Marcel, where do you keep them all--you created your own homeless shelter!"
"Oh--we have a old refrigerator and freezer in the garage. That's right--I usually thaw that out the weekend before and wash it really good so it's ready."
My fingers had been combing hair from the stress I felt and I hadn't noticed it until his eyes flicked over to me.
"I lay out as much bread as I can on our dining room table--all of the spreads are open--no squeeze bottles--all of  the lunch meat is open and spread around the kitchen counters--I bet walk ten miles--and I just start making sandwiches about sixty at a time. I just about fit sixty--I have to use a couple dining room chairs to get to sixty. Has to be sixty.
We had started shuffling down the aisle to find some seats. I couldn't see or hear anything else.
I asked, "Why sixty?"
I really wanted to ask "Why sixty, Rainman?" but didn't think he'd find that humorous.
"Then I only have to do it three times. Three times sixty is one-eighty."
"You make exactly one hundred and eighty sandwiches?"
photo credit: Jerome Espy
The ease and pride in his response felt as if he was discussing how he got an old car to run again or solved the compressor problem in an air conditioning unit, "Yeah, it goes really quickly. The hard part is the shopping and getting everything open and in order--well, the wrapping isn't all that great either. I'm not really good at judging wax paper so my pieces are all over the place."

I normally wouldn't sit with Marcel--not for any reason other than I normally sit with the people I have a friendship with outside of school, but I was compelled to see this through to the end. So, we sat.
"I put all the spread down first--a row of mustards--a row a mayos--a row of dry--a row of a different mustard--until I run out of rows. Actually the row of dry is layed first but I compose it last--thats for PBJ--I try not to mix that in with mayo or mustard--so, after all of the spreads are down, I start laying cheese. I put cheese on everything. And I go back and start layering different meats. It goes really fast."
The administration started milling around up front--this conversation was almost at an end. I knew I couldn't reengage him in it afterwards. So, I egged him forward.
"So, did you bring one today?" He bristled.
"No, I made a separate one for today this morning--today isn't a part of the count. I have to use up the leftovers."
"Every morning you grab a frozen sandwich?"
"Yeah, on my way out the door. I have everything I need stored together on shelves in the garage. Even napkins. I put my gym bag down--take a brown paper bag from the shelves next to the freezer--drop in a sandwich--drop in a bag of snacks--a napkin--put it in my gym bag and then I'm off to school."
He turned away from me--the vision left him--and an administrator started the convocation.

Note: the above story is complete fiction....BUT it is a story I told in the faculty lunch room one day about one of our good-natured colleagues who was not in the room at the, the names have been changed.  Many in the lunch room believed me...because "Marcel" seemed like the kind of guy who might make 180 sandwiches in one day. The funny endmark on this story is that the joke lingered. One of my colleagues who fell for my tale caught Marcel in the office a couple of weeks later and asked him, "Hey Marcel, tomorrow morning grab an extra sandwich for me, eh?" Unsure of the meaning, Marcel stared back and tilted his head. "Marcel, you know, you can spare a sandwich--you have 180 of..." And at that point he knew I had him.


  1. OK. This is hysterical. You had me too...and the part where you nearly addressed him as Rainman -- I was totally thinking the same thing! You have an incredible gift for unfolding a story like your reader is right in the mix. I saw everything and felt your surprise, disbelief, and wonder... Good one!

  2. I sat here, reading this, wondering how 180 sandwiches would survive in the freezer. Even though I don't know "Marcel," I know Marcels. Thank you for a delightful story. You had me all the way through!

  3. You have published work, right? I wanted to meet this guy! I haven't read any other of your slices, and I think I might now.

  4. "the stress of it all already showed in his brow"..."shed a grin and offered"..."He baited me"..."The palpable mix of astonishment and disbelief pulled my eyes open as my lower lip dropped."...Brian, I could go on and on. I LOVE your language. So purposeful and effective! Your choice in describing every moment makes me imagine it, feel it, keeps it real. I have to write some of your words in my notebook for future lessons...and even my own writing :) the end we find out this is fiction. Wow! You are a brilliant writer! This is my favorite piece I've read since beginning SOLC. Thank you for sharing & inspiring me :)

  5. The post line hooked me and you reeled me in for sure. What a perfect post for St. Patrick's Day.

  6. One of my all-time favorite stories and you told it beautifully. And it's even better because I know the real characters!

  7. I was trying to imagine if I knew anyone who could do this. Perfect story!

  8. Oh my goodness!!! I want so badly for this story to be true!! Oh, how I wish this was a true story.

    You're a brilliant and talented writer.

  9. I was beginning to be concerned about this guy. I was stressed about the expiration date on those small bags of chips. Perhaps there is a bit of Rainman in me too. What a relief to find out it is fiction. You sure painted that scene vividly. I enjoyed the format... that the whole story is really a conversation set during a moment. The background you weaved into the conversation is just right to set the stage.

  10. Fun story. I kept thinking: ick. But I couldn't stop reading. Thanks for the laugh.

  11. You did it again Brian! You had me totally believing every word. I wish it was true. I wish it could be done! Making lunches every night always causes me stress. I've even made five salads on a Sunday night so I don't have to worry about it later on during the week. The lettuce doesn't always taste delicious later in the week though. I absolutely admire your story telling. Love the dialogue. I was so engrossed. Couldn't wait to hear what he would say next to you. Looking forward to reading more tomorrow.

  12. This is certainly believable Brian. I was just worried for the guy about the monotony of sandwich after sandwich, day after day! Great piece.

  13. I totally fell for it, as a matter of fact started thinking..hmmmm...not a bad idea! Well, maybe not 180, but still! I love reading your blog! You have me hooked with your stories!