While I’m on the subject of sandwiches, I thought I’d show you an excerpt from The Diner in Moonlight, which is still available for review by agents and publishers one and all. In this “sandwich” scene, the owner of the diner is interviewing a sandwich man for the diner. In diner lingo, a sandwich man is an “angel.”
Jesus Alvear, a slight, diminutive man with slicked-back black hair that reminded Charlie of Grace Sharp’s lawyer, what’s-his-name, had shark-black eyes that seemed to be ever lost in sadness and prayer. But when he sat down opposite Charlie and clicked open the long leather case he had brought with him, Charlie knew one of his prayers had been answered. Jesus was an angel.
The case, lined in blue velvet, contained a gleaming assortment of knives, long and short.
“German steel,” he said, his Spanish accent so thick and heavy Charlie half expected the words to drop from his mouth like marbles and skitter away. “The finest.”
Charlie could think of only one response. “Wow.”
Jesus smiled, the sadness briefly disappearing from his eyes.
"I know you probably have your own knives, sir, but these are the tools of my trade.”
“No-no, that’s fine,” Charlie said, nodding vigorously. “You can use your own knives—they look great.”
Jesus considered this. “Good, that is good, but . . .”
“Yes, what is it?”
Jesus rested his arms on the table and leaned in, his eyes fixed on Charlie’s. “Sir, may I ask you a question?”
“Of course, shoot.”
“What is the secret of a good sandwich?”
Charlie didn’t give the question much thought. “Well, let me see, I guess I would say the meat or the bread. Oh, and maybe the lettuce—it has to be fresh and crisp . . .”
Jesus held up a hand to silence him. “No-no, sir, it is the cut.”
“Oh, I see. You mean straight across or diagonal?”
Jesus grimaced, shaking his head. “No, sir, no . . . I mean the quality of the cut, the fineness of the cut.”
“Ah, the knife.”
Jesus scowled at him like a teacher frustrated with a poor student. “The knife is important, yes. Its weight, length, shape, and sharpness—all, all are important—but it is the man behind the knife . . .”
The word startled Jesus. “Ah, I see you know the lingo. That is good. And yes, it is the angel, the man who must play the sandwich like a violin . . .”
Charlie almost burst out laughing, nearly overcome by the image of Jesus at work, an uncut sandwich tucked under his chin, draped across his shoulder, his knife poised above the bread like a bow. “Of course, the angel,” Charlie said, unable to suppress a smile, a smile that was not lost on Jesus, who wagged a finger at him.
“I can see you think this is amusing, sir, but I assure you it is nothing less than serious, serious business.”
Charlie did his best to recover. “No-no, I can see that,” he said. “Forgive me. I just had this image in my head . . .”
Jesus held up a hand again, stopping Charlie cold. “Think about it, sir, the knife slicing first through the bread, then the lettuce, the tomato, each with their own textures, then deeper still the meat, again with its own thickness and texture, and finally the bread again, but not the bread again.”
“No, the bottom slice, remember, has been coated uniformly with mustard or—god forbid—mayonnaise, and that changes everything.”
Charlie looked at him blankly.
“Don’t you see, sir? It is not just a matter of slicing through the sandwich with a sharp knife—anyone can do that.”
“Right, I can see that.”
Jesus shook his head dismissively. “No, I don’t think you do. You see, what has to happen is that the knife must pass through all these layers just so: lightly, slowly through the bread, a little more quickly but in one smooth draw of the knife through the lettuce and tomato, then a quick saw action through the meat but not too quick or forceful—you don’t want to compress the bread below—and finally a light, single stroke through the mustard-coated bread. Just so, just so, just so, just so—you see? It is like making love to a woman, and it is my art.”
And with that he slumped back in the booth, waiting for Charlie to respond.
What do you say to an angel?
Charlie said, “You’re hired.”