My brother Bill, as a young army private, was shipped off to Germany in the 1950’s. Even as he stepped off the bus in Heidelberg, he was recruited on the spot for his unit’s slow pitch softball team when someone had phoned ahead that he was a pretty good athlete. His captain, the worst athlete on the team, insisted on being the pitcher, which may have contributed somewhat to the story.
Later that summer, playing third base, the “hot corner,” in a tournament in Karlsruhe, with the bases loaded, a huge player blistered a line drive (that my brother confessed he didn’t even see) which smacked into his glove for one out. He then stepped on third base to force out the runner who’d left for home, the second out, and tagged another man sliding into third to complete a rare unassisted triple play.
After the game a colonel coming down out of the stands called him over and said, “Corporal, that was the most brilliant play I’ve ever seen!” To which my brother replied, “Thank you, sir, but I’m a private, not a corporal.” “You are now,” replied the colonel.
Brother Bill has since said that if he’d been promoted at that rate forever, he would have become a General of the Army!
I spent six grueling months learning the art of sandwich making at the Sandwich Institute of the Americas. After graduating at the head of my class, I was sent to a very ritzy location to ply my trade. I stood at the beginning of the line and my very first order was a bologna and American cheese on a wheat roll.
I proudly presented my first creation to the customer. After paying for it,he unwrapped it and took a big bite, and to my surprise, he spit it out onto the floor. He said, “What is this crap?”
I said with hurt pride. “That is my interpretation of your order!”
“Well it tastes, ahhhhhhh, like you know what!”
“Do you realize that I graduated first in my class,and earned the coveted title of Sandwich Artist?
He threw my creation on the floor and demanded his money back. He said, “What is on this bread? It is nothing like I have had before, and I eat at least three times a week at this place. Where did you say you learned to be a Sandwich Artist?
“I am an Abstract Sandwich Artissssst, you swine! You are not worthy of my creative genius. You demand a paint by numbers sandwich!” I yelled.
He spit the remaining food in his mouth out and it flew everywhere. Other customers started to back off and get away from this unfolding altercation.He picked up the remaining food and pulled it apart and looked at it with disgust. He asked in a disbelieving voice, “What have you done? It looks like baloney and cheese with cold anchovies, olives, pickles, sardines with barbecue sauce, mustard, and what is this slim stuff that stinks?”
You insult my father, my mother, and you are a swine who has no class, no palate, and no sense of adventure. I give you a creation…just for you…and you degrade it like a common gutter rat.”
In a softer voice he replied, “Look, I just wanted what I always have had. Not something unexpected.”
“That is apparent! You would probably spit out the best wine and rather drink muscatel from a brown paper bag standing in an alley with urine beading up on the tips of your shoes and a wet spot on the front of your pants,” I snarled.
“Hey that’s a bit out of line. I was surprised. Not ready for something so challenging. If you would have warned me, or given me the option….”
“You…you harm my confidence…my sense of creation…my freedom of expression has been permanently damaged. I may never have the fortitude to go where no sandwich artisssst has ever ventured. My sense of self has been compromised!”
“What if I ordered another sandwich?”
“That would be a step in the right direction. That would renew my sagging spirits.”
“Then let me order a meatball, cheese, and whatever you feel would be a creation only for me.”
“Are you sure?”
“I demand a second chance to show that I am a patron of the arts, if you would be so kind?”
The other customers got back in line. There was a chorus of voices saying that they, too, would like a sandwich designed only for them. I smiled and twirled my mustache, cocked my beret just above my right eye and rose to the occasion…to the challenge! That was twelve-years ago.
When people see me on the street they smile, wave, and their children run around my legs begging me to tell them my story…that there is no right or wrong way when it comes to art. Many a beautiful lady has asked me to allow them to twirl the ends of my mustache. People line up for hours when my turn comes to stand behind the counter and serve an individual gourmet work of art just for them.
I became “Abstract Sandwich Artist of the Week,”…of the month, of the decade, and if I live long enough…of the century. My creations sit in the freezers of the rich and powerful, and collectors of rare wine vintages. I now teach a course at the Sandwich Institute: “The Abstract Sandwich Whose Time Has Come.”
I remember that first day. And I am now celebrated as the “Father of the Abstract Sandwich.”
[Ralph Gonzales is a frequent contributor to "Columnist With a View." He lives in Morgan County, West Virginia.]