The Third Slice

Location: Marin Brewing Company

Sandwich: Turkey Club

Contribution by William Barton

We sandwich journalists tend to play it close to the chest. Though we may seem hard and somewhat exoskeletal, like a crab or something, there is a soft spot (though we want to be sure to stop the crab metaphor here: a crab’s soft spot is the spot where you rip their genitals off and smash them in half with a hammer and knife). In this sandwich themed blog, named chimerically for both a best friend and a food item, I’ve found a place where I can bare a small fraction of my soul.

I know this comes as a surprise, but I have been writing seriously for about four years now. Two years ago, I decided that I needed a clear goal for my writing, and I decided that applying for MFA programs would give me a post with which I could tether the strings of my ambition. My parents always told me that it didn’t really matter what your goal was; you just needed to have a goal. So these graduate programs were my goal. I worked tirelessly for a year and a half, mulling over the same six stories, editing and editing until they no longer made any sense to me, until pulling them up on my computer made me sick to my stomach.

I gave out about a month before the application deadlines and decided that enough was enough. I would have to stop sometime and call the stories finished. Early November was as good of a time as any.

I went through the process of applications, which isn’t interesting or funny, so I won’t share it, and then I settled in to the waiting period. Four months after my applications were complete and at the colleges, I heard the last of my replies.

If it wasn’t obvious with my writing for this god damned sandwich blog, the answer was ‘no.’

I saw it coming. I told people that I had did it as a long shot. I’d been qualifying my expectations. But the final ‘no’ still hurt. Also around this time, I’d received my 100th rejection letter from a literary magazine. This also was a celebration/ moment of sorrowful contemplation. On the one hand, I was proud of these failures, and on the other hand, it would have been nice if they were successes, too.

I went in to work bummed. I am lucky enough to work with McManwich beyond this esteemed blog-website. I told him my news and he was appropriately sympathetic. In the break-room, splitting a plastic container of powdered donuts, I felt an emotion which I’m not sure has any name for it: after many failures and setbacks, I wanted to do something difficult but that I could succeed at, and do so in a short time span. Is there a word for that? Not sure. I wanted to climb a big rock.

“Man, I want to climb a big rock this weekend,” I said.

“Yeah, dude, we should do that,” McManwich said.

McManwich came to pick my wife and I up at my apartment and we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, cruising through fennel tinted light into Marin. By the way, this whole blog post is about a turkey-club sandwich, but this introduction is really important. Anyway, McManwich drove us up toward Turtle Rock. We had a frisbee, sunscreen, reusable water bottles, and most importantly, we had a mission: I was going to climb some big rock, and it was going to be difficult, but I was going to do it, and when I was standing on that big rock, I was going to draw conclusions about what it means to work hard and fail/succeed.

First we found a small rock and we climbed all over that. There were supposed to be a bunch of Miwok hieroglyphs on the rocks, but instead there was only Chad and Shelly’s names chiseled into the rock, apparently in 1997. I hate Chad and Shelly, and I hate 1997.

We walked up to Turtle Rock and found the most difficult looking part to climb up. After spending several minutes straddling various sections of the rock, we deemed the whole venture impossible. I set my right hand in to a good position, set my left foot up, had nowhere to put my left hand, and fell. I repeated those steps with different hands and different feet until it seemed we would have to go to the opposite side, where you could just walk up the damn thing.

Turtle Rock seemed to be telling me something: sometimes you look at a large wall and think to yourself, “there is a way up that, I just need to try and try until I discover how to,” and then you discover that either there is no way up the wall, or you’re not good enough.

I had humped the wall in as many ways as there were to hump a wall, and I had made no progress. My writing experience was being echoed in my rock climbing experience. I had set out to accomplish something specific; I had taken people with me and expected to have them see me to the top, only to stay standing at the bottom, embarrassed and apologetic.

“Well, there’s the other side of the rock. We can just walk up that.”

It was true. If I really wanted to stand on top of the rock, I could just walk up the easy side.

But I had come to succeed at something difficult.

So I put my right hand back into the best hold I could find, and I put myself into position to give the back face of Turtle Rock one last good humping. I lifted my leg up, stood awkwardly gripping the granite, searching feebly for a hold for my left hand. My grip was giving out. I could hold on and search for solid footing for maybe another second.

And then I felt a hand on my ass.

Two hands. Three Hands.

Four hands on my ass.

I swung my left hand up and grabbed on to a steady block of granite. I smashed my knee into the rock, but that was contact enough to give myself room to find another hold with my right hand. No holds. My wife and McManwich were propelling me up the rock by my ass. There were no holds whatsoever on the back of this rock. Soon, I was slithering up the rock like a shivering larva– just lying parallel with the near-vertical face, yelling, “if you let go of my ass, I will die.”

They gave me a solid push and I was able to gather myself again, finding a part of the rock to hold on to and lift myself up. Just like that, I was on top of the rock, surmounting the previously insurmountable.

I was on fire, feeling like this was worth the $7.75 bridge toll it would take to get back into the city. I felt like no matter what those dirty admissions committees said about me and my writing behind my back, I still had acceptable motor skills and they couldn’t take those away from me.

Standing on top of Turtle Rock, I felt a swell of paltry post-modern conquest.

I reached my hand down to my wife and to McManwich.

“No thanks, dude. I’ll just walk up that part that is really easy to walk up.”

Clearly, neither of them had been defeated enough in life to understand why looking half-lobotomized on the side of a rock was important, but I wasn’t there to judge them. I was there to climb a big rock, and that’s exactly what I did.

Then it was time for a sandwich and a beer. (This is the part where I get that turkey-club I mentioned earlier.)

We went to Marin Brewing Company. I ordered a turkey-club sandwich, a personal favorite of mine. There was something special about a club sandwich, though I was never sure about what exactly I enjoyed about them especially.

When the sandwich arrived, the answer was clear. The third piece of bread transformed the sandwich. The turkey club, though conceivably delicious without a full-stop halfway through, would never reach its full potential. In order to be successful, the turkey club needs the middle piece of bread. The third slice offers a separation in which the bacon can retain its own identity, the lettuce can offer its crunch, the mayonnaise can find an ample canvas. A turkey club can not stand on its own; it needs support.

I am just like a turkey club sandwich. My friends– the hands upon my ass– were my third slice.

The parallels between me and this sandwich were numerous and profound.

Of course, I couldn’t help but recall myself saying, “if you let go of my ass, I will die.” Without the third slice in the turkey club, the center cannot hold, and things fall apart; the club sandwich becomes a demented salad, splayed about like a budding serial killer’s elementary school diorama project. Without my third slice, I was just an idiot standing eight inches off the ground holding on to a rock. But with my third slice, I was King-mother-fucking-Kong, I was Mufasa before he fell down that cliff, I was the man on PCP standing in front of a speeding train.

Invincible.

We settled our tab and drove home, indifferent about the really expensive bridge toll back to the city. Back at my apartment, we all took naps. Thinking about the day that had just passed, the time spent playing frisbee in the sun, the jokes between friends, the cathartic release of completing the bare minimum, I thought about that turkey-club. It was probably a 6 out of 10 in flavor, but a 10 out of 10 in terms of relatability.

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