Crazy Train By Jon Stark

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Crazy Train By Jonathan Stark
Illustration by Sue Babcock

Joe turned to his next customer. “What do you want today?”

“I’ll take a ham and swiss on wheat with lettuce, tomato, onion, and brown mustard,” said the man in the suit. He wasn’t too much older than Joe but they looked worlds apart.

“Ham and cheese, coming right up.” Joe turned to his sandwich station and dropped two slices of rye onto the counter. Then he switched to wheat. The rest of the ingredients followed.

“You okay, Joe?” asked the patron. “You seem a little distracted today, not your usual self.”

Joe eyed the man, a regular, then shrugged. “Brenda and I had a — what’s the word she used? Doesn’t matter. She was stupid and I gave her what-for. She gave me the couch. Guess I’m a little pre-occupied.”

“Sorry about that. I’m sure you’ll work it out. She’s a sweet girl.” The man took his sandwich.

“Thanks.” Joe looked to his next customer, a newcomer who studied the menu board like there was going to be a quiz later. “What’ll it be?”

“I’ll take what he had only with turkey instead of ham, american instead of swiss, and no tomato or onion.”

Joe stared, his simmer rolling to boil. “That’s a chick order.”

The customer looked down from the board. “What?”

Joe spoke slowly, explaining to a child. “That’s a chick order. You pick something you say you want and then try to change it into what you really want when what you should do is just go for what you wanted all along in the first place.”

Definitely at low boil.

The customer wasn’t sure what to think so he tried a different angle. “Do you have pumpernickel bread?”

Joe started waving his hands around. “See, even the foundation is flawed. You don’t want what he had, you want something completely different but for some crazy reason a ham sandwich sounded good to you so you’ve just got to have one.”

The customer became confused, “But I don’t want a ham sandwich, I want turkey.”

Exasperated, Joe pointed out the mistake. “We both know you want turkey, but you ordered a ham sandwich.” A hard stare, then “Just like a chick.”

The man thought for a moment before his face brightened with the hope that all compromises enjoy at first. “How about I just give you my order again?”

“Fine.” Joe looked at him expectantly. “Should I write it down so you’ll remember what you said or is this just going to be about me listening until you feel better?”

“I’m going to ignore that,” said the man. Joe felt that sort of made his point agian.

After a dramatic pause, the customer continued. “I’ll take what he had, except PLEASE use turkey instead of ham, american instead of swiss, and hold the tomato and onion. And if you have pumpernickel I’d like that too. Please.” They stared at each other. Joe wondering why he’d expected anything else. The man sensed something was amiss so he politely added, “Thank you.”

Joe didn’t move so he grew more forceful. “Okay, I’m done now. You can make the sandwich.”

Joe laughed. “Guess it doesn’t really matter what I think, or how I feel, does it?”

“You’re the sandwich guy.” The man’s confusion was obvious, hadn’t everything been explained clearly? More than once? There was reason the kid was wearing an apron instead of tie.

Joe got out the pumpernickel and squirted mustard onto the bread.

“What are you doing?” shrieked the man. “I didn’t ask for mustard.” Joe’s look suggested otherwise but he held his tongue. “Who puts mustard on a turkey sandwich? I want mayonnaise.”

“You didn’t order a turkey sandwich, you ordered ham and cheese and everyone knows that if you use pumpernickel you have to put mustard on it,” muttered Joe. He set the ruined bread aside and began again.

“All aboard!” screamed a speaker from somewhere near Joe’s hip. Immediately after, the opening strains of a heavy metal song from the early 1980s filled the deli. Joe pulled out his phone.

“Really? You’re going to take that instead of making my sandwich?”

Joe spoke into the phone. “What? I’m busy making a ham sandwich.” He didn’t say much during the conversation, mostly grunts and “uh-huh’s” but it ended with a “Yeah, me too.”

He put the phone away, changed his gloves, and finished up the sandwich. “I haven’t seen you here before, just move into town?”

The customer was caught off guard by the suddenly friendly and professional attitude. “Yes, actually. I’m from Danbury. Just transferred down here.”

Joe wrapped the sandwich in paper and brought it to the counter. “I hate to bring this back up but there’s a cost difference here between, well… I have to mark turkey on the paper even though you ordered ham.”

“That’s okay. I think I’d rather have turkey anyway now.”

Joe paused, pen in hand, looking at the man. He looked around the small store for any sign of a hidden camera TV show’s production crew. Finding none, he asked, “Would you like a pickle with that?”

 

BIO: Jon is a husband and father of four living and working in Virginia. He’s a transplanted Yankee with a taste for sweet tea and barbecue who writes on rails during his daily commute.