Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

On Shutting Up, and Liking It

May 16, 2008

It stings my consummeristic self to admit it, but I’m not always so great at choosing what is good for me. I was thinking about this as I was ordering some food at Banh Mi (yes, that makes 3 times in 4 days, and yes, I may be struggling with an addiction), where ‘choice’ isn’t a high priority, and ‘selection’ is left up to the slightly surly folks behind the counter.

Since I hadn’t had my cup yet, I ordered some coffee. Here, this is a binary choice: “iced, or hot?” I chose the latter, and that was the end of the matter. No caff, or decaf. No small, medium, or large. No skinny, soy, or whole. You get what you get. You get what everyone gets.

And a few minutes later, I got it. The fact that it was in a large cup that was only half-full seemed to emphasize the point: this is what we give you. It was very hot, very strong, and very rich and sweet (fortified with sweetened, condensed milk, I think). Not exactly the way I’d make it myself (black, thanks), but it was really, really good. Delicious, in fact. And I wouldn’t have had it to enjoy if the lady at the counter had politely asked me, “Now how would you like that?”

The sandwiches are similar. Sure, there are about a dozen choice of meats or fish or other fillings, but the options end there. I asked for a ‘ham’ and a ‘combination’, and that was the end of our conversation. This is no Subway ™, where I press my flesh up against some sneezeguard and tell them exactly what I want, where, and in what order. And why should I? I make sandwiches all of the time. And while I’m pretty good at it, it’s not my life’s work, and I’m undeniably trapped inside my own experience. So why not let someone else do the driving for once? Let the two ladies stationed far away from the customers decide just how much mayo and quick-pickled carrots and jicama to put on my respective sandwiches. Because if it were up to me, I’d make a goopy mess of mine, adding more mayo and peppers and cilantro and cucumber until all of those flavors were clamoring for attention like a room full of 2-year-olds. But by humbling myself a bit, I’m treated to an elegant expression of the true Zen of the sandwhich: pure poetry on a flaky French baguette. Nothing I don’t need, and– as it turns out– everything I could want.

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