22 July 2012

a portrait of the sandwich artist as a young man.

Rerun. From February 12, 2008:

After months of unemployment, during which time my job search consisted of applying at one independent book store and waiting nine weeks for a call-back, I finally decided I'd been jilted and applied at Subway. I was nineteen years old--well past the age, in my own estimation at least, when anyone not a prostitute or a hopeless retard should be delivering the question, "Six-inch or footlong?" to perfect stangers.

Sure, preparing approximately healthful sandwiches might be a career calling for some, like maybe intravenous drug users, cult members, and the elderly, but I was a vital young man. I couldn't subject myself to the existential suspense of locating the precise twenty-three second interval wherein a phallic loaf of bread was neither too under nor overdone. It was a precarious balancing act, to say the least.

The sad thing is that I only got this job because the manager knew my aunt, a prissy, neurotic woman who probably instilled in this gruff man a ridiculous faith that I would tend to a lettuce bin with tender, maternal care. Conveying his reluctance to hire a skulking, uncommunicative goth with a plaintive sigh, he begrudgingly enlisted my services and wasted no time showing me how to mop a tile floor and to mix a basketball-sized glob of mayo and tuna in a giant metal bowl using only my bare hands. 

I worked nights at first with an emaciated woman in her thirties named Stacie. You know the type, even if you don't: skin like naugahyde, stringy hair, British-style teeth, probably born with a cigarette dangling from her mouth. She had heroin-addict written all over her. More to the point, she was obviously on the fast track to career advancement within the Subway hierarchy because she dispensed with each and every ribbon of lettuce as if it cost her, personally, a dollar of her hard-earned wages. On the back of the prep counter, you see, there was a diagram of sorts describing the quantity (often in weight) of each topping permissible on a sandwich with no additional fees, surcharges, or tariffs. Stacie, despite her ignorance of who the vice president at the time was, knew instinctively how a given number of ounces of any sandwich topping felt in her ungloved hand, and she was far from reluctant to get in a full-on huff with customers who accused her of excessive frugality. She would point to the proscribed weights and the accompanying graphics as if they had descended from Sinai and would, promptly and without remorse, upcharge any neanderthal who dared to ask for an additional black olive.

On my second night with Stacie, a morbidly obese woman and her somewhat less obese daughter approached the counter. The mother was nearly snorting and revving her hooves like a bull spoiling for a fight. Her oatmeal raisin cookie, she claimed, and not without much indignance, was overdone, dry, and crumbly. Being for the most part averse to confrontation and not really giving a damn about my job one way or the other anyway, I attempted to be conciliatory by offering the woman either a refund or an exchange for a moister, more acceptable cookie. But Stacie, fuming in the back veggie prep area and always on the verge of a bar fight no matter where she was, overheard this and would have none of my liberal sentimentality. She had baked that particular batch of oatmeal raisin cookies, with a pride of craftmanship unimaginable even to the most propagandistic of old-world communist agitators, and she flatly told the woman,"There is nothing wrong with this cookie." Then, for dramatic effect, she broke the cookie in two and took a bite of it herself. I was, meanwhile, looking in one of the laminated cupboards for Kafka. The confrontation ended in a trailer-window-to-trailer-window style shouting match. The coup de grace came when the customer swatted the cookie evidence out of Stacie's bony hand and bid a smoldering retreat. Stacie's final words were not "Have A Nice Day"--as encouraged by the training materials--but "Get the hell out of here before I call the cops!" I was hiding in the back pretending to rotate stock. Stacie joined me and acted as though nothing had happened. Business as usual.

Another thirtysomething woman named Cathy worked the day shift. She wore pink blush as though she were auditioning for a Human League video every day of the week, but she was exceptionally friendly--too much so. When she discovered that I was working on my English major, just as she was, she looked like a lioness eyeing a gazelle over the Serengeti. She started saying I should come over to her apartment and we could study together some time, but her use of "study" struck me as vaguely euphemistic. On occasion I noticed her watching me with disturbing intensity while I agitated the seafood and crab. A few times, she also touched my shoulder and back, which you generally have to know me for at least two years (and submit a criminal history report) to be able to do. Now I knew how Anita Hill felt.

After I'd been on the Subway team for a while and proven I could assemble a Cold Cut Combo with the best of 'em, I got to work alone, which I preferred most generally. Ours was a small, master-closet-sized franchise and didn't afford much breathing room for my psyche when I was paired with a giggly high schooler or a woman who saw cookie defamation as a call to arms. Plus, when I worked alone, I could steal food and money, which I did like a madman.

By now, the original manager who hired me had been shipped off to this ghetto Subway on the other side of town--the kind that's always being robbed (like once or twice a day) and has to hire an off-duty police office who won't even help slice the onions. (Maybe it was his punishment for hiring me.) The new manager was a humorless middle-aged man who usually scheduled himself during the day so he didn't have to work with me. More than once, he told me that, at evening clean-up, I failed to clean the bins to his satisfaction. Thereafter, I tried to muster a passion for bin-cleaning because it was only fair since I was stealing so much money. I figured that since I had to drive so far, from my maggot-infested apartment downtown (with a hole in the kitchen wall) all the way out to this suburban shit hole, then Subway could at least spring for my gas money. (Oh, and pay my heating and electric bills, too.) What I'd do is, since I pretty much had the costs of everything (tax inclusive) memorized, I'd just charge the customers for the sandwiches without ever ringing them up. The communists would have called it expropriation, so I will too.

Also, at the end of every night, I'd take bagfuls of assorted sandwiches, chips, and cookies home to my girlfriend. It seems that the two of us were on the Subway diet when Jarrod was still the fat fucking slob of folklore. We should, to this day, probably be getting royalties for this ad campaign since we subsisted on a diet of veggie subs, chocolate chip cookies, and Boone's Farm Sangria for months (the last of which, although not necessarily a part of the Subway diet, was compliments of the evening take).

One night I really fucked up a batch of bread. I took it out of the oven too early because I wanted to pop in back for a quick ciggie. The resulting bread was malleable like Play-Doh and was thus unusable. Even Stacie, with her diminished quality control standards, would never have served these gummy spheroids, which were more suited to a potter's wheel than a sandwich. The next day when I reported to work, Mr. Big Shot Manager threw one of the preemie loaves at my feet, and it bent parabolically like a flaccid penis. He was, needless to say, unamused by my negligient baking. I myself did not know exactly how to react. No one, manager or otherwise, had ever thrown bread at me before, and there is as yet no Dummies guide that tells one what to do. I diagnosed his acting-out as displacement, imagining he suspected that I was skimming from the top but didn't have the hard-and-fast evidence yet. So I was kind of looking forward to unemployment again in a way, although life without gratis sandwiches would place new obstacles in my way. Visualing prosecution and prison rape, however, I made a very conscious effort to avoid the accusatory glare of the hidden camera when I nightly pocketed the loot, and I would at least, from now on, hit NO-SALE while I was conducting a mock transaction to give the action a little dramatic intensity.

Imagine my surprise a few weeks later when a teenager on the afternoon shift cheerily told me that the police came and took away Mr. Manager in handcuffs that very day during the lunch rush. Apparently, the owners of a dozen or so Subway franchises discovered he was embezzling money, so he probably just threw bread at me because I was infringing on his territory, which I can understand in retrospect. I'd probably throw bread at me, too.

My tenure at Subway therefore ended under the reign of yet a third manager, a noodly type, who seemed frightened of me, as if I might have a secret yet powerful alliance with Lucifer. He would ask my high school co-workers, in my absence, if I was "a punk rocker" or what the story was. They would just shrug their shoulders. I had won them over long ago by teaching them how to stir up mayo, mustard, tomato sauce, bits of meatball, oil, and cookie fragments in a Subway cup and then dump the concoction outside the front door on the sidewalk so that it looked like freshly discharged vomit. This tactic would deflect a few of the more squeamish of our prospective customers and make for a stellar reaction shot as cars pulled up to the front door. 

My final days at Subway were whiled away under the threat of imminent bloodshed and Texas-style vigilante justice. The owners of the franchise, a paunchy, middle-aged couple, met with all the employees to warn us that Manager #2 (the embezzler, in case you lost track) was currently out on bail and that, if we should see his car pull up, we were immediately to lock the front door, hide in back, and call the police. I was beginning to feel that much of this was above and beyond the call of duty for a Sandwich Artist.

Naturally, all the embezzlement hoopla had whittled away my courage for stealing money, and I was able, in the subsequent McCarthyist witchhunt that I dreamt up in my head, to boost only an occasional sandwich or two. It goes without saying that the sandwiches never tasted as sweet, so to speak, with the threat of disconnected utilities and, more important, a depressing lack of Boone's Farm Sangria on the horizon. I subsequently left my celebrated career at Subway for a stint as an inept barista at a coffee shop owned by militant Christians, who made their belief that I was in league with Satan quite explicit. Although I wasn't acquainted with Satan personally, I was touched that people thought I could hang with him. But that, as they say, is a whole 'nother story...


  1. I beg you to consider adding a picture of nineteen-year-old David to this post.

  2. I don't have any.

    I'm not even kidding. I have no photos from my past...

  3. Your most offensively obscene post yet.

    (hi, tommy!)

  4. Ha ha ha ha ha! I love your Subway story.

  5. Perhaps you can explain why the bread from Subway smells like band-aids.

    1. Well, they bake the bread (or they used to, anyway) on these gross rubbery mats that are sprayed down with something (probably Agent Orange) to keep the bread from sticking. Maybe the rubbery mats contribute to the Band-Aid smell, which I confess I never noticed.