I've been visiting the Strangelands for a while now, after reading a post where Ray (who I don't know, aside from his writings) wrote something to the effect of being worried about the place turning into his personal blog, I decided I would go ahead and post something to maybe ease his fears.
The Sanctity of the Sandwich and Other Sacred Truths
by Derrick Cummings
Her hips shake from side to side with every sexy step. With every click of her heels, I know that I love this ankle-charm-wearing, quick-talking woman. She’s carrying drinks to our table, a whiskey sour in one hand, a margarita with a neon red crazy straw in the other. Red is for passion, I tell myself, quietly, as not to disturb the crooning of Frank Sinatra belting out “Summer Winds” on the jukebox.
She saddles up to the table and gives me her look, this we’ve-got-a-secret-and-it’s-me-and-you-against-the-world glance that makes my toes curl with ecstasy and rapture. Her ankles tap the beat of our love out to the rest of the bar, a forceful rhythm to catch any strains of discord and force them into this eternal harmony of peace and joy.
She is my Cinderella, my fairy princess, my mighty Aphrodite, perfect in the flesh. She pulls the crazy straw out of her drink, turns her glass up and drains it. She is my saving grace, my one great shot, my shining angel. I catch her hands in mine, squeeze them tight, and say those three magical words.
The smile on her lips drops like a lead balloon, like Adam after his apple. “Shit,” she says, “this isn’t going to work.”
My angel is tentative, scared, afraid to give her heart away. Don’t worry. I’ll be your prince charming, your knight in shining armor, your Robert Browning. “We can make it work.”
Her brown eyes look down at an empty glass. She picks my drink up and drains it. She dangles the crazy straw in her mouth, setting off her dark lips. Red is for everlasting love, I tell myself. She mouths something to me, but I don’t want to hear the words.
“What?” I say.
Tears are dripping down her face. She wipes her eyes and a good bit of Mascara comes off on the bar napkin. “I’m fucking someone else.”
She sits the crazy straw down in my glass and walks away.
Red is for blood.
The music stops playing, or at least I don’t hear it anymore. I sit there alone, thinking. I’ll be your cuckold, your tormented cupid, your slack jawed fool.
Two days later, I sit with my friend at some crazy Italian bistro poking at chips you can probably find anywhere in the world, but are definitely more expensive here than anywhere else. The waitress brings us our drinks and sitting in each of them is a crazy straw. Mine is red, but it looks faded, like it’s been used before, washed out and put back into circulation like nobody would notice or care.
My friend is a roofer, and he is talking to me about his job, about how no one cares how hard he tries, about his struggles to keep the rain out because he is one of the few good roofers left doing honest work. He’s halfway through a story when he stops and says, “Look, you can’t mope about these things forever.”
The waitress comes and sets our plates down on the table. She takes our drinks to refill them, but makes us take out our straws until she returns. Red is for heartache. I’m about to take a bite of my sandwich, a double-meat-chicken-breast-sub on honey oat bread with sweet onion sauce dripping over the cheese, when my friend throws a napkin at my face.
“I can’t let you do that,” he says.
“That right there is a beautiful sandwich.”
He sighs. “Your heart’s not in it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the sanctity of the sandwich!”
I’m all blank stares.
“You see, when you came into this place, you signed an unwritten contract with the bistro, with the artist that made that sandwich.” He picks up my plate and holds it away from me. “Look at it, the bacon’s sizzled to perfection. The meat to bread ratio is in awesome proportion. Truly, this sandwich is a work of genius and art put together solely for your enjoyment. If I let you eat this sandwich thinking about the woman who left you, then you’d violate one of the most important things in this world, the sanctity of the sandwich, and I’m too good of a friend to let you waste something like that on something as trivial as your broken heart.”
My stomach rumbles. “Um,” I say, “can I have my sandwich back? I haven’t eaten today.”
The waitress sets our drinks back on the table, and my friend turns to her. “Let me ask you a question.”
She blushes nervously, but nods her head.
“Is this the kind of restaurant where you’d go merely to cram sustenance in your mouth to avoid hunger? Or is this the kind of place where a pious man can get a properly religious sandwich experience?”
She giggles a bit and looks at me. I shake my head as my friend continues.
“Because I was under the impression that here you serve more than just food. I was under the impression that my hard earned money could buy me a piece of salvation served with my choice of cheeses, meats, and sides.”
The waitress smiles real big, grinning at me with her perfect teeth. “Did ya’ll boys need anything else?”
“Maybe a pulpit for the reverend here,” I say.
The waitress about falls over she’s laughing so hard, and it’s this big infectious guffawing with stitches of snorts and chortles, and before long, I’m laughing too. And we laugh until our faces are red, and we keep on laughing, right there in the middle of the bistro. When we finally stop, the waitress smiles real big and says, “Well, let me know if you need anything else.” And she leaves.
My friend sets my sandwich back down, smiling, motioning for me to hurry up and take a bite. I sink my teeth into it, ripping out part of a tomato in the process. Apparently, red is for delicious. “Well,” he says, “what do you think?”
“Wow,” I say, “I feel closer to God.”
“Hallelujah!” shouts the reverend, “another soul’s been saved!”
And, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes, my sorrows are dropping like so many breadcrumbs on the floor, and I sit at the table, hungry for what lies in front of me.