Friday, July 1, 2005

Non-Fiction
“B.L.T.”: A Review

Man, you get jaded as a critic, sitting in your underwear waiting for the mailman to deliver the latest tired release from Neil Young, the latest rehashed Americana crap from that small-town bastard Mellencamp. You hold out hope for the younger bands, but do you honestly think the Strokes are anything but another pseudo-V.U. or a hopelessly undercooked version of Television? Shit. You think you’ve seen everything, and you’re right.

And then.

And then something comes along that so thoroughly subverts your expectations that the world becomes a little more green even in early March, a little more gentle even with Bush in office. Something hits you as so ingenious, so elegantly conceived, that you start to believe in rock ’n’ roll again.

That thing is the “B.L.T.”

I know, I know—The Sandwich is washed up. Hasn’t put out anything sharp or dangerous since … shit, since the hamburger, probably. The wrap? Yawn. This Quizno’s “innovation” of toasting—it’s as “been there, done that” as the phrase “been there, done that.” The sandwich is so fucking over that a lifetime Grammy is in order, with a harmonica solo from Stevie Wonder for good measure.

But not any more.

The review copy of the “B.L.T.” arrived at my house last week to no noticeable fanfare. For breakfast I’d eaten a bag and a half of Chips Ahoy!, washed down with a generous application of my own A.M. Special (one part Jack, one part Scope, one part CVS Multi-Symptom Cold and Flu Reliever), and the day looked dim. I’d lost my favorite slippers a few weeks earlier and had been padding around the place in a pair of Kerouac paperbacks strapped to my feet with U.S. Postal Service rubber bands. What the fuck? I thought. Another sandwich to review? I threw it in the corner next to that Arcade Fire CD I’d never bothered to open (I know, I know—you love them, family members died while they were making it, … whatever) and spread my ass on the couch for a Planet of the Apes marathon I had TiVoed in 2003. At last.

Though Zira was still damn cute and Doctor Zaius remained one handsome orangutan, I couldn’t sit still. That package. There was … bacon in it. Shit. How many lame sandwiches had I reviewed over the years that had a strip of bacon added for no good reason? But still … . Who doesn’t love the stuff?

There sat the B.L.T., still warm, the toast glowing with evenly striped patches of warm gold, a dribble of mayonnaise curling out from beneath crisp iceberg lettuce.

I opened it, and there sat the B.L.T., still warm, the toast glowing with evenly striped patches of warm gold, a dribble of mayonnaise curling out from beneath crisp iceberg lettuce.

What was this? I searched in vain for a slice of turkey, a healthy hunk of ham, maybe even just a slab of avocado to satisfy the human craving for a lead, a star, possibly a smoked meat that could open a movie on a holiday weekend. But the B.L.T. just grinned at me, happily empty at its center, daring a first bite.

I indulged.

And the effect was one of revelation. This was a sandwich daring enough to be centered around an absence—or perhaps on a culinary question mark. It reminded me of nothing so much as reading Italo Calvino’s singular If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, a book with no plot other than the reading of the book itself. This was a sandwich the eating of which makes you reflect on the very nature of “sandwich,” a meal that humbly redefines your understanding of the eating process itself, a frame so glorious that it glorifies a blank canvas. Ah: the first, the only postmodern sandwich.

B.L.T.: Bacon, lettuce and tomato, placed on perfectly prepared white toast and smeared generously with a piquant mayonnaise. The effect is at once crunchy and soft, a balance of culinary polarities summed up exactly by the tomato: a delicate crunch as your teeth penetrate its skin, then the nearly obscene gush of juices. Though the bacon may be the only meat, it retains its role as the sandwiches mere accent, like the fiddle work on Dylan’s Rolling Thunder work—essential but not central. Is it the tomato, then, that fills the void? Each ingredient checks its ego at the door. Like the classic Coltrane quartet or the ’69 New York Knicks, the B.L.T. is a collective improvisation of the first order with no dominant single force.

As soon as I’d finished the B.L.T., I wanted to do it all again. I considered running out to the nearest corner store to buy my own ingredients, but the last time I’d seen my toaster was when I held it above the tub, threatening my ex during the height of a Benzedrine jag that the cops are still laughing about wherever it is that cops laugh. I knew for fact this sandwich would fall flat on untoasted white (and don’t even get me started about untoasted wheat bread, its grainy countenance suggesting nothing so much as that ex-wife’s toe calluses).

A rerun will have to wait. In the meantime, I’ve got my memory of the smoky bacon cushioned against the lettuce, the easy absorption of tomato into the bread. Did I miss the turkey or ham? Ha. If I merely want protein, I’ll turn back to the frozen half-a-suckling pig I’ve still got in my freezer leftover from the Winter Bacchanalia at Spike’s house.

But for enlightenment: it’s the B.L.T.

Will Layman used to be wise beyond his years, but then the wisdom kind of slowed down and the years just kept coming and … well, you get the picture. Now he is simply itchy beyond his years. When not furiously scratching, he teaches in Washington, D.C., plays the rock ‘n’ roll music, and pursues the pot of gold at the end of the Little Humor Pieces on the Internet Rainbow. Dig his work on National Public Radio, McSweeney’s, Somewhat.org, and at http://home.comcast.net/~willlayman/wsb/html. Contact Will, if you dare, at WillLayman@comcast.net.

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