This Sandwich Has a Subtext

I like to go into Subway and order a BLT.

“What would you like, sir?”

“A BLT on Italian.”

“Would you like bacon on that, sir?”

“Yes. This is a BLT.”

“What kind of cheese?”

“No cheese. Just a BLT.”

“Toasted?” (Read: “Cooked?”)

“Ah…yes, actually, that would be good.”

Wait for a minute while the BLT is “toasting” in the preternatural Subway oven.

“Lettuce?”

“Yes. B-L-T.”

“Anything else on it?”

“Ah, yes. This is a BLT, so tomato would be good. BLT.”

“Anything else on it?”

“No, just mayo. That’s all.”

“Okay, anything else?”

“BLT.”

Before I met my wife, I’d never been to a Subway. I was always afraid of them. The whole process seemed too complicated. So the first time we went, I asked her to order for me. She asked me what kind of sandwich I wanted, and I said, “BLT,” and the conversation went pretty much like the one above but with three people instead of two people.

After that first experience it took some convincing to get me back into a Subway. For the first few times, I ordered the same exact sandwich until I got the hang of it. Eventually, I started to branch out. Now I can pretty much handle anything they can throw at me.

It is not that I’m a slow learner. Rather, I’m somewhat traumatized by subway sandwiches. This is because of Mike’s Submarine Sandwiches at the corner of Washington and Central in my home town. Mike’s was in an old, red brick building sticking out at the end of a triangular junction between these two major streets, sitting right at the border between “downtown” and “uptown.” For quite some time, I went to school and/or worked “downtown” and I lived “uptown.” I made $56 a week, and my rent was $16.50 a week. A Mike’s sub with everything on it was $1.89. That was for the Italian with Everything. I could buy a Mike’s sub and make it last all day and do this for a few days in a row, but that would not be enough over the long term (a week). I would always be hungry, and I was always skinny. I had no transport and the buses were irregular, so I ended up walking between five and ten miles a day. I occasionally passed out from the lack of energy. (Well, two or three times.)

I don’t know whether any of my younger, studenty-type friends are as hungry today as I was then, but this is why I am always happy to buy someone dinner. This is why, when I’m in South Africa and eat out, I’ll often buy an extra meal as take out and give it to the guy who was there when I pitched up, the guy who is always there volunteering to watch the car. “Go home and share this with your daughter,” was what I said to the last such guy, who had told me when I pulled in that his daughter was home ill and starving. Lamb and potato chips and some kind of vegetables. She would like that.

When I think of a sub sandwich, and my memory lets me taste it in my mouth, I do not think of Subway’s sandwiches, even though the last uncountable number of sub sandwiches I’ve eaten were from Subway. Rather, I think of Mike’s Italian with Everything, because that is the last subway sandwich I ate when I was truly hungry, truly starving, decades ago. I’ve been that hungry since, lots of times, in Africa living with the Lese and Efe in the Ituri Forest. I have visceral, three-dimensional, palpable memories of some food items from those times as well, none of which were sub sandwiches.

These Mike’s Italians with Everything rest in some alternative universe ready to lay themselves down on my taste buds and in my limbic system any time I think of hunger, or very long walks to Delmar to meet my girlfriend, or of counting my change five or six times to make sure that when they want to take the money from me after they make the sandwich I have enough. The lettuce was shredded a certain way, and the bread had a certain taste and texture. The stuff Mike poured out of a thin-necked bottle onto the sandwich, after the lettuce and tomato was laid down but before the meat, had a certain juiciness. Standing there, with my stomach eating itself, the change sweaty in my hands, watching the submarine sandwich getting wrapped up, knowing I’d open it right away there in the shop and eat one-fourth of it, then carefully rewrap what was left and head home. Always home. Never anywhere else. If I went anywhere else I might have to share and couldn’t do that just now. That is how you make memories stick forever.

Somewhere in a neighborhood near you is a Mike’s or something like a Mike’s, where the typical customer is counting her or his change to make sure there is enough when they ask for the money. Do you know someone who might need a sandwich? Your change may be something someone else can count on.


I highly recommend Mike’s Submarine Sandwiches on the triangular corner at Central and Washington. Unfortunately, the store is closed now, and probably has been for years. So don’t go there. Unless you want to rent the place.

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18 Responses to “This Sandwich Has a Subtext”

  1. May 6th, 2009 at 8:47 am

    chezjake says:

    Mmmm! Mike’s — good subs! And for many years NEBA was in the same store(s). Far better roast beef sandwiches than Arby’s.

    Do you also remember Calsolaro’s restauant just a little down Washington from there? You were probably too young to go in there for lunch, but back in those days they always had a lunch special — a huge plate of the soup of the day, the sandwich of the day, chips, pickles, and a beer — all for $2.00.

    Dinner at Calsolaro’s was also great — good food, huge portions, very reasonable prices — and if you sat back in the main dining room you always got served by either Nick or George, both wearing tuxes and looking more like ex-Mafiosi than the nice guys they really were.

    Of course, if you were really low on cash you could always go to Hot Dog Charlie’s (and a couple of those are still around).

  2. May 6th, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Greg Laden says:

    Do I know Calsolaro????

    Nick and George (fast and slow) were capable of clearing a table at which six people had just eaten an entre, a salad, and had coffee in a cup with a saucer, in one trip using no bins or trays or carts. Just their left arm. Holy crap, that was a sight to see. My friends and I ate there all the time during different phases of my life when I had a bit more money (and it was not that expensive, really, considering). I often got the manicotti or the stuffed shells.

    I had good friends who for a while lived over top of the place (hey, you may know them: Joe and LInda Dosio… Joe was a hair cutter) and for a while, my girlfriend lived there as well. (Rented from my friends, totally coincidental.)

    Hey, I may well write up the place. One of the more interesting things that ever happened to me happened there (and I have blogged it, but I could do it again). In that story, every single person died. You know it already….

  3. May 6th, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Digital Rabbit says:

    I was just talking about Calsolaro last night as I made shrimp marinara — one of my favorites at that restaurant. I just to order it all the time. Five bucks, and served by a waiter in a tux. Made a big impression on my in my youth!

  4. May 6th, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    chezjake says:

    Don’t know Joe and Linda. I was one of those long haired hippies that never got haircuts — until I had to get a real job to support my family.

    Yeah, Nick and George were quite an act to watch. I used to talk food and cooking with Dom (the chef) all the time. One time when he was considering adding some new entrees to the menu he had me taste test all of them — free!

    Dom’s son, young Dom, is now an Albany city councilman.

  5. May 6th, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    I was one of those long haired hippies that never got haircuts

    Me too, but somehow I knew these guys (and liked them).

    So, Calsolaros is closed?!?!? Too bad.

  6. May 6th, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    chezjake says:

    So, Calsolaros is closed?!?!? Too bad.

    Yeah, too bad. It’s been closed for 17 years now. Mama, who made all of the famous sauce, died back in the ’80s, I think. Dom, Sr. tried to make a move toward drawing a younger crowd — bought the building in back and more than doubled the seating space, plus a stage for entertainment — but that never seemed to click. Then I think he had some health problems and wound up retiring and closing the place in 1992.

  7. May 6th, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    chezjake says:

    Brain fart! I’ve been referring to “Dom, Sr.” all day, and just had memories return that say he was *Joe* Calsolaro, not Dom. Also, just found out that Joe died in 2006 at age 90 – never realized he was anywhere near that old.

  8. May 6th, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    DuWayne says:

    You know, buying folks meals can pay off too. My eldest is a big fan of buying our homeless friends meals (to him, if they’re homeless, they’re our friends) and I will admit that I’m generally not one to object, unless I’m broke. I was often enough the recipient of such aid, back in the day – so I really hate it when I can’t.

    So one day we’re downtown (Portland) and we were getting set to head home for lunch, which was a bummer, because there was something fun happening in Pioneer Courthouse Square. But eldest and I were hungry and I was broke – so we were getting set to jump on the train towards home, when one of our homeless friends walked up and offered to buy us lunch. I was quick to object, but he would hear nothing of it – we had bought him lunch several times and apparently he has just settled a lawsuit, from when someone hit him with a car.

    We ended up having a fabulous afternoon, wandering through the festival with our still rather dirty homeless friend. Nothing was more fun than the looks when eldest wanted something and instead of me buying it or saying no, our homeless friend would take care of it…

  9. May 6th, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    khan says:

    On a tangent:
    Back in the ’60s my parents (with offspring in tow) used to several times a year travel from Coxsackie NY to Castine ME (father’s home town). They would stop in Brunswick ME (home of Bowdoin College) and go to a certain sub house. Those subs just seemed to settle the stomach after 300+ miles. Mother recalled being served by the same older woman over several years.

  10. May 6th, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    chezjake says:

    @ khan

    Maybe not so tangential as you thought. I’m a Bowdoin alum, and also think that Castine is one of the nicest small towns on the Maine coast.

    Yes, the subs in Brunswick were good (and where else could you get a lobster salad sub?). Of course, there were no chains of sub shops back then — each store was independently owned and operated. If I recall correctly, there were three or four sub (and pizza) shops in the first couple blocks of Maine Street after you crossed the Maine Central tracks on the way “downstreet” from the college. They were highly competitive for business from college students, sailors from Brunswick Naval Air Station, and airmen from Topsham AFB, and quality counted. Only problem in those days was it was really hard to get either decent salami or decent dill pickles anywhere in the state of Maine.

  11. May 6th, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    chezjake says:

    OK, that reminds me of one more diversion, although it should get us back into Greg’s original territory of dialogs about food. (Disclaimer: I am a member in good standing of the Adirondack Liars Club.) The following story was first heard from Marshall Dodge.

    Back in those days, not just salami, but any kind of sausage in a casing was pretty new to the folks in the state of Maine. So, imagine a lobsterman coming home for his dinner after a long day of pulling and setting traps.

    [sniff, sniff] “What’s that I smell cookin’, Martha?”

    “Why, John, it’s somethin’ new I’m tryin’ — called a ‘sassage’. Here ya are, have some.”

    “Looks good. … Smells good. … Tastes good. …
    But oncet ya clean it, there’s nothin’ much to it.”


    OK, that should do it for today.

  12. May 6th, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Hmmm..

    I left my heart in Castine Maine. And it is still there, nearby anyway, and very well cared for. (I’ve got others, don’t worry.) And the woman I left it with has been married twice to the same girl, and now they can do it again but legal!!!!

    (I’m simplifying that story quite a bit)

    I know Coxsackie pretty well too. Did some archaeology there, and of course, there is Coxsackie Chert (a nice speckly Onondoga, a little chunky but it keeps a nice edge and looks pretty) . We’ve done a fair amount of chert foraging in the area. And of course, the virus.

    I always thought that Coxsackie flatts would be a great name for a novel.

    And speaking of free food …. arrrg, I can hardly move. I just had one of the nicest meals ever. Expect a better than average “restaurant review” any day now.

  13. May 7th, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    khan says:

    Yes, the virus.

    Nothing like doing a search for your home town, and the first several results are for a virus.

  14. May 7th, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    I suppose it could be worse. You could have come from Marberg. Or Ebola.

  15. May 7th, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    khan says:

    Speaking of chert: Are you familiar with Flint Mine Hill?

    My relatives had boxes of arrowheads and axes.
    ——————————-
    “downstreet” OMG another yankee!

  16. May 8th, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Yes, I believe so… Flint Mine Hill is on or near the property of the prison.

  17. May 8th, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    khan says:

    Yes, I believe so… Flint Mine Hill is on or near the property of the prison.
    ———————————————————————————————————-
    I lived within sight of that prison & Flint Mine Hill.

  18. May 9th, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Volly says:

    I had a very similar experience at a Waffle House once (sorry, sometimes Waffle House is the only thing open on those Long Road Trips of Despair).

    I decided to order their “Bacon Lover’s BLT.”

    Me: I’ll have a BLT plate, please [that means it comes with hash browns.]
    Waitress: You want a BACON BLT?

    Being hungry and tired and not geared up to mess with someone’s head, I simply said yes, but oh, the fun I could have had under different circumstances:

    Waitress (calling order to cook), A BLT, hold the bacon, hold the lettuce, hold the tomato.

    [after cook calls her over for a consultation]
    Waitress: What do you want on your BLT?

    Me: Well, the obvious! It is a BLT, isn’t it? Bison, legumes and tartar sauce. Duh!!

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