Sandra Benedetto: Joseph Heller Eats a Sandwich

One of the biggest benefits to having a writing group is that we find inspiration in each other’s work. A writer will come up with a piece that kickstarts a theme as each group member in turn comes up with their own take on the same concept. One of our favorite themes has been “Author Eating a Sandwich.” Check out our past pieces and come to our live show on Aug. 26th for the opportunity to purchase our compilation zine!

That was the deli in which Heller regained his perspective. He’d been moping around since Farquart’s accidental death, and it had been some time since he’d luxuriated in the muscled, lavender-scented embrace of the girl who came to clean his house. He was under the distinct impression that he’d been in this deli before, but had he actually been there or was he creating an impression of an impression? How could he know anything for sure? One thing he could put a solid finger on was the hunger that had overtaken him in the past few hours. He’d beaten the neighbor’s idiot nephew five times in chess that morning, and the mental toll of even that unimpressive feat manifested in an urgency to fill his stomach with cold cuts.

He asked the man behind the counter if he could order from the teenaged boy who was chopping tomatoes.

“But I’m Manager Manager.”

Heller could see that Manager Manager was going to be a problem, which was exactly why he’d asked for the kid in the first place. Manager Manager was the kind of man whose inflated sense of importance existed to compensate for a childhood of being locked outside by his mother while she spread her legs for door-to-door salesmen or pimply paperboys, and probably the neighborhood drunk for good measure. He was a hunk of sweaty gristle, as befit his profession. Heller didn’t feel sorry for him, because he could just as easily have chosen to grow into a tolerable person as the insufferable one who stood before him.

Heller’s stomach complained loudly. He weighed his options and decided, wrongly as it would turn out, that the most expeditious means of getting his sandwich would be to play along with Manager Manager.

“Alright then, give me the Special, no onion.” Heller moderately disliked onions, more in tribute to Farquart, who had hated them, than an actual aversion to taste or texture.

“That’ll be $6.50.” Manager Manager wiped a sausage-like forearm on his moist brow.

“But the sign says $3.95.”

“Yes, but you can only get the Special with extra capicola, mozzarella, and hot peppers. And our special sauce. That alone’s gonna cost you $1.00.”

“What the hell kind of Special doesn’t come with the special sauce?”

“This one.”

“OK, then gimme the Classic. No onion.”

“No, it doesn’t work that way. You have to get the Special.”

“Why, for the love of god?”

“Because it’s on special today.”

“But the Classic is on the menu!” Heller pointed to a signboard on the wall.

Manager Manager turned around, picked up a piece of chalk, and ran a wobbly line through the Classic. Heller decided his best course of action at this juncture was to appeal to Manager Manager’s meaty ego.

“You’re Manager Manager. Can’t you make an exception?”

“Them’s the rules. If I made an exception for you, where would it end?” Manager Manager gestured to the empty deli behind Heller.

“For chrissakes! Just make me a goddamned sandwich, anything you want on it, and charge me $3.95.”

“I can make you the Special.”

“Fine.” Heller sighed, not with relief, because he knew better, but because some ground, however perilous, had been gained.

“But then we have to add on the capicola, mozzarella, and hot peppers . . . Oh, and the sauce. That’ll come to $6.50.”

Va fangul!” Heller had picked up some Italian during the war, which he now bellowed out in the direction of Manager Manager with all the force his lungs could muster. Manager Manager did not take kindly to being the target of obscenities, presumably in any language.

Va fangul? Get out!” With that, Manager Manager’s grabbed a chef’s knife off the counter and stabbed it in Heller’s direction.

Heller laughed like he hadn’t laughed in a long time. Tears came to his eyes. He laughed as Manager Manager stood there stupidly waving his knife and yelling, and as the boy continued to chop chop chop the tomatoes. He kept laughing as he imagined getting carved up by this ridiculous slab of bluster, who would serve a long jail sentence void of any opportunity to deny people sandwiches. Then Heller remembered Farquart’s mangled body, and the way his eyes had widened in terror as blood bubbled to the corners of his mouth, and he stopped laughing.

As if Heller hadn’t already decided to abort the mission, Manager Manager continued to shoo him away with the tip of the knife’s blade. “Go on, and don’t come back.” His face was the color of spoiled bologna, all splotchy and shiny and pink and green. At least, that’s what Heller imagined bologna would look like if it spoiled, which he wasn’t sure that it could.

Heller went home and made a sandwich out of stale Wonder Bread, mayo, and pickles. It tasted like garbage, and the bread stuck to the roof of his mouth, but it cost him next to nothing.

Catch

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