A grim rationalist patronizes an international sandwich franchise.
I’m waiting in line between equally depleted customers, the time bomb of a lunch break clicking down, idly eyeing the menu for options better than our precedent choices, though we resort to the latter. A group of socio-economically disenfranchised people, usually of the same nationality — in this case Filipino — wear head caps and latex gloves, as if the flayed sandwiches before them were some surgery gone bad. The dim glazed look in their eyes is somewhere in between “I don’t give a fuck,” “[what] the fuck,” and “need job.”
The “6-inch Sub” is perhaps an incidental sandwich derived from the more aggressively marketed “five dollar footlong,” implicating the faith Subway has in their employees’ bisecting abilities, though I am less than certain. I, per the social contract of amicability, order with a rhetorical question: “Can I have a 6-inch tuna footlong on a honey oat?” I’ve answered enough follow-up questions in the past to include the main protein constituent and type of bread with my order. I closely watch my random Filipino perhaps too confidently cut a 12″ bun into two theoretically 6″ buns — key word “theoretically,” because it’s really, from my vantage point behind the glass shield, like a 5?” and 6?” bun. And yes, because God has been against me since that overcast afternoon I was born, I get the former, shorter bun. “I ordered a six inch sub, not a five-and-three-eighths-inch sub,” I hear myself saying inside my head, that place of warm solo regard. I just look over and smile.
The woman in front of me asks for extra slices of American cheese, saying don’t worry she will pay for it. The Filipino (at least I think they are Filipino, and no I will not apologize for this) puts an extra layer of cheese with the “the fuck” look. Meanwhile, my guy asks if I want my inferior-length sandwich toasted, to which I answer “sure.” Toasting will turn a “to go” sandwich into a “for here” one, incurred the latter’s surcharged tax. This is okay. I only live once, a fully employed bureaucrat who deserves warm and toasty.
The stress test comes at the end, where one is asked to select the toppings. I feel sorry for the person at this station. Raining meat in the valley of bun is easy. Toasting is nothing. But this shit is getting complicated. Many people, including me, employ the subtractive exclusion method (i.e. “everything except [items not to be included].”) Of the choices lettuce; tomatoes; cucumbers; bell peppers; red onions; sliced pickles; black olives; pepperoncinis (also, oddly, known as “banana peppers”); and jalapeños, I choose everything except black olives and jalapeños. It’s hard to explain. Everyone is different. I just feel the olives are rubbery and without any flavor; and I find the heat of the jalapeños distracting. The pepperoncinis are spicy enough. I’m not fond of lettuce, especially their bun dampening capacity, but I like to get my money’s worth.
I am surprised and disappointed when the “extra cheese” woman in front of me remains reticent about said extra cheese when she tells the cashier what she ordered. The particular Subway I patronize operates under a “faith based” system where the customer dutifully reports the type of sandwich to the cashier. Besides the obvious length, the internal constituents which affect pricing (i.e. toastedness, cheese, the excessive “extra meat”) are securely wrapped and visually obscured. This is less a generosity of Subway towards their patrons than negligence on the part of their employees, who are probably instructed to relay facts about the sandwich which have fiscal implications.
“Toasted 6-inch tuna,” I say to the cashier, pointing out the tuna just for good measure, if she were curious. The change falls down in a tiny whirlpool from the automatic change machine — a collection of nickles, dimes, and pennies — which goes directly into the tip jar, sadly just a reappropriated large styrofoam cup. The coins make a shallow clink, for there isn’t the buffer of bills to mask the cheapness of the preceding customers. The cashier looks at me with a kind of learned hollowness that came from too many years of not being looked at. Her eyes are soured and hurt, but still warm, and I hold onto that. Waiting at the crosswalk, I hold my small transparent bag, sporadically tinted with their logo, by its weak handles rendered from two simple holes. The bottom dollar is smoothened out by tired hands. Hunger is a great industry. Every Abraham Lincoln is a possible footlong. America is doing just fine. I carry my 5?” sandwich back to my desk, carefully unwrap it, and proceed to turn it — as I have been doing with my entire life — into a kind of warm personal shit.