As the car turned towards the dull beige façade of Harold’s New York Deli, Christopher experienced the same kind of nervous excitement you’d feel if you were unexpectedly invited to dine at the White House.
“All right,” his dad turned off the parked car.
They opened their doors in accidental yet beautiful synchronicity and walked the same short-legged stride to the restaurant.
Inside, Harold’s was exactly as he’d remembered it from the one other time he’d been there, the night before his bar mitzvah. (For what better evokes burgeoning manhood than a foot-tall sandwich full of greasy pastrami?)
The decor was that of an eighties hospital cafeteria. Not unusual in northern New Jersey, where that decade has lingered like a makeup stain. But, for his father, the only thing subject to aesthetic judgment at Harold’s was the sandwiches. When they’d gotten their order, his father had made them stop and admire it, gazing at the tower of cold cuts and bread that teetered heavenward, yet held steady. He’d asked the waitress to take a photo of them and their sandwich; Christopher had suspected the latter was the real reason.
Everything was large -- too large for a single mortal man to stomach. For his father, Christopher had come to think, Harold’s was like a kosher Valhalla.
Back in the present, at a table to the left, his dad’s fellow fallen warriors greeted them. Christopher’d known his father’s friends, all now-retired businessmen, forever. Every Saturday they got together at Harold’s, and he was never invited.
He understood. His father had never been happy that, after an expensive education, he’d become a librarian, devoting his free hours to his true passion: toothpick sculpture.
Then, a few days ago, his scale model of the Piazza San Marco had won First Prize at the local arts fair. He was interviewed in the Star-Ledger, and, as word spread, in papers around the world. Everyone loved a quirky story. Christopher knew the reporters didn’t take him completely seriously, but he answered their questions– after all, his words might inspire some lost soul of a kid whose destiny was to build, say, a toothpick Angkor Wat.
Now they sat down, and the waitress brought a meat monolith to the table. Christopher looked at the newly respectful eyes of his father and friends, and suddenly felt moved to thank them. He cleared his throat and brought up his right hand in an expansive gesture – which accidentally grazed the sandwich.
It toppled directly, falling onto everyone’s helpless cutlery.
After a long silence, his father said tightly: “Put.it.back.together.”
But the waitress arrived with dishes and slid salvageable slices onto each. This is normally what happened to a Harold’s sandwich anyway, since it was meant to be shared - just not before his father could properly admire it.
Christopher got up and went to the pickle bar - the world's largest - to clear his head. Biting into a sour dill, he knew he wouldn't be asked back.