A Portrait of the Sandwich Artist as a Young Woman

Good things are happening! But first, I should divulge how I got here.

Sandwich art studio
Sandwich art studio

I’ve spent a long time working in food service – it’s unnervingly easy to get stuck in the industry. After college, I returned to Subway. I assumed it would only be temporary: the industry is tricky that way. You start off firmly believing you’re just in transition, and then one day a customer makes you cry and you realize it’s been like seven years. You’re a Sandwich Artist.

As long as there are difficult people there will be difficult customers, and to me they are generally a hazy reflection of some Dickensian antagonist: Miss Havishams, who seem to believe that the world has frozen around them, that none of us have things to do, vegetables to slice, platters that need refrigeration. And what would a restaurant be without a Scrooge-A-Day? Or a vengeful Defarge? They are forgivable. Maybe she was jilted by her fiancée, maybe he will redeem himself. Maybe a perfectly arranged assortment of meats, cheeses and vegetables on a roll will cheer him up and turn his day around.

Then there are the occasional gems: The batty old lady with the tapestry handbag and multiple scarves who insisted I make her salad every day while she told me about her cats. Mrs. Figg, take me to Privet Drive with you! I’ll hang out with you and Harry, eat fruit cake and look at your photo albums. I hope someone is making her salads the right way, artistically, that is, with the chicken cut into bite size pieces, extra tomatoes, quartered. No dressing, she has her own special dressing at home. A couple pieces of turkey for your kittens? Sure, why not. She knows she’s picky, and she waits for the line to die down before presenting her requests.

What kind of sub do you think Sauron would order?
What kind of sub do you think Sauron would order?

If the world was full of Mrs. Figgs, or even Miss Havishams, I could probably have stuck it out forever, but every now and then there’s the antagonist whose actions can’t be justified.

“I want turkey, swiss and chipotle.”
“OK, how about any mayonnaise or mustard?” I asked.
“I want chipotle.” 
“OK, no other condiments? Would you like any vegetables?”
“I want chipotle.”
“I understand, I’m going to put it on after the vegetables. Would you like any lettuce?”
“No, I want chipotle.”

It’s not a big deal. At least 25% of our customers ask for condiments on the cheese before the veggies go on. Take a deep breath. Take a deep breath.

“We usually put the chipotle on after the veggies. Would you like me to put it on first?” I asked.
“Well, duh.” 

I finished his sub, retreated to the back office and cried over every detail of my life that hadn’t worked itself out: the jobs I hadn’t secured, the writing I hadn’t done, the boy who never responded. Then I downloaded a job search app and spent my break searching for a new job.

Nothing chases out apathy and arouses ambition like dissatisfaction.

photo (20)
Working from home is THE BEST.

It’s been two months since then, I’m in Saratoga, currently working at Olive Garden but also working on a freelance assignment for the Saratoga Wire. I’m going to get paid to write!

I’ve also just had a promising interview with the manager of the Northshire Bookstore, who noted that food service employees often make great booksellers. The statement stuck with me. Well, it all stuck with me, I felt like a twelve year old girl on my first date. Working in a bookstore all day, being surrounded by books, talking about books, connecting readers with books: dreamy! At one point I said my interests were “very varied,” which I followed with some awkward giggling. I swear, other than that it went very well.

Anyways, in the moment, sandwich making and bookselling seemed like a strange correlation, but now I’m feeling that a good food service employee is a good employee, a good individual, in any setting. It’s not easy to look at a difficult person and see anything other than antagonism; it can’t always be done. Sometimes a villain is just a villain and you have to suck it up, make their sub, and save the tears for later.

Be kind to your sandwich artists; they’re trying their best.