"Ohh. How long have you had gluten-free sandwiches?" a woman asked yesterday, in a very public-radio voice.
"About a month," I start to tell her, stopping as I remember I'm not the Sandwich Artist. She's not asking me. She's asking the professional. It would be nice if I could also remember this when I'm at Barnes & Noble.
"Since the beginning of the month," the Sandwich Artist responds.
"Wow," the woman is at a loss for words. Gluten-free. Here. At Subway. This is the best thing that has happened to society since the invention of the reusable grocery tote. "I'll have one of those!"
(Later I will swear this woman and I are both standing in front of the three shelves worth of gluten-free breads and crackers at the grocery store. Here, too, she has the star-eyed look of someone whose mind has been blown that this option could possibly exist in the same aisle as Hamburger Helper. It's like the time the Butler on Downton Abbey busted Sybil Crawley learning to make soup from the help).
I'm so tired of sandwiches. This is a highly solvable problem, I know. But solving requires planning. And planning requires thinking about lunch right after dinner or when I wake up and my stomach is still clenched into a fist that I can only coax from hostile toward friendly with coffee and time. Lots of time.
Anyway, I ordered Tuna Fish, with extra gluten. I know. Tuna Fish. Ugh. But I was desperate for something new. Tuna Fish is one of those things where "like" and "loathe" are way too close together. Once I lean to loathe -- an extra mealy chunk of fish muscle, an unappealing splatter from the sandwich onto my Subway wrapper, someone else eating a Tuna Sub with their mouth open, or even just a passing thought about goldfish -- I can be put off it for a very long time.
I made it through 80 percent of the sandwich before it hit. This time it was just the two-word combination. "TUNA fish. Tuna FISH. Raw pink TUNA FISH in a can, packed in a TUNA FISH-flecked watery soup making a TUNA FISH smell." Dry heave. Lunch over.
"I don't know what I want," I whined to the Sandwich Artist last week.
I have this luxury. I eat in the mid-afternoon when the lunch crowd has thinned and the shop is just filled with regulars: that guy playing Nintendo DS, the one in the wheelchair aggressively selling tiles, the fans of the free refill, puck hounds.
"They had to lose sometime," says one guy of Saturday's hockey game.
"Yeah," says the other.
The sandwich of the day is Turkey. Turkey and Ham, great. Ham, Meh. Turkey, double meh. I know it's crazy; They just work better together. I go for the new sub on the block. Something that suggests fire and bravery: The Turkey Jalapeno Melt.
"Let's mix this shit UP," I tell the Sandwich Artist.
She begins crafting it: Turkey, cheddar, jalapenos. She puts it into the toaster oven.
"You know what I like," she says. "Chicken tenders dipped in honey mustard with a jalapeno at the end of it."
Clearly she has been off-roading. Subway doesn't have Chicken Tenders. She takes my sandwich from the toaster.
"Mmmm-MMM," she says. "Chicken tenders dipped in honey mustard with a jalapeno on the end. The honey mustard really cuts the spice and you get the full flavor of the jalapeno."
She scatters a handful of lettuce on the sandwich. Some onions, some tomatoes. A dash of salt and pepper.
"I'm struggling to see the difference between this and an ordinary turkey sub," I tell her. Maybe it's in the finale. A special cream sauce. Otherwise I'll be paying an extra dollar just because I made the error of calling this a Turkey Jalapeno Melt instead of a Toasted Turkey Sandwich.
"It's the heating of the jalapenos in the toaster," she says. "It really gives them a kick."
I nod. I'm not a historian, but I'm pretty sure Subway has always had the option of warmed jalapenos. It requires jumping line a bit in the sandwich assembly, but nothing so heroic that would cost me a dollar.
At the cash register she gives me a little look.
"I just charged you for the regular turkey special," she says. Wink wink. Which is nice ... and weird. Because that's exactly, technically, what I ordered.
I was sitting at a back table eating and reading and The Regular walked into the shop, filled his Subway plastic cup and approached a woman at the table next to me.
"Hear that music?" he asked her. It was faint. Something from the 80s.
"What?" she asked, and as she asked it the music got louder.
I looked at The Regular. I looked around. How did he do that? He does, admittedly, look like a person who would create his own universal remote using pieces from an old tobacco tin, a pocket watch, electrical tape and a mechanical pencil. But I choose to believe this was magic.
I've been plotting my own signature sub sandwich. Okay, it's technically a BLT, which I believe is a rather significant omission on the menu.
"I suppose I could just order a veggie sub and have them put lettuce and tomatoes on it. And bacon," I explain to Chuck as we're lying in bed. I can see this sub in my mind. It looks like it should be featured on a commercial or in a two-page spread in a magazine. The lettuce as crunchy as Cheddar Baked Ruffles, one of my favorite side dishes. The juicy tomatoes, bacon sizzling. Me, spreading Lite Mayo to suit my own specific taste.
"I'm going to create my own sub," I tell the Sandwich Artist today.
She looks at me warily. Like how many times has someone said this. No, wait, put the Turkey on it LAST. That's how daddy likes it.
"I suppose technically it's just a veggie sub with bacon," I say and she goes to work. Slices the bread open, lays down matching triangles of cheddar -- so I'm deviating from a traditional BLT, there are no rules here.
She stops with her hand over the bacon.
"A veggie sub with bacon would have two strips," she tells me. "A BLT gets four."
"Wait. A BLT? You have a BLT?" I ask. Robbed.
She steps backward and points at the menu mounted above her head. "BLT: Bacon, Lettuce and Tomatoes."
"Oh," I say. Egg on my face. "I guess I'll take the BLT, then."