Hollywood Sandwich

By Henry Presente

Nobody tells me how to run my business. Not nobody. You like my sandwiches, eat a sandwich. You like my place, have a seat. Othawise, go. I don’t care. That’s America, right?

But no. Some people gotta tell you what to do. I got people comin in off the street, eatin a sandwich I made, wipin their face with a napkin I gave em, and tellin me how to run my business. I don’t preciate it. Sometimes I tell em so. I guess that’s how I get inna trouble, but what you gonna do?

This one kid comes in a few weeks ago, a real pretty boy, but tough lookin too, ya know? He wants a reuben sandwich and a coke. Now, I ain’t made a reuben in a month, but who’m I to judge? I dust off the old brain and make him a top notch sandwich. It’s drippin with all that sauce and, bang, it’s good. He knows it, I know it, a blind man knows it cuz the blind gotta eat, too.

He sits down at a table, eatin and smilin and sauce is drippin down his chin and on the table and on the floor. I’m lookin at him makin a mess and I remember why I don’t like reubens so much, but hey, you gotta enjoy a good sandwich.

He finishes eatin and he’s sittin there at the table, burps real loud, and starts lookin round at all the pictchas I got on the wall. He’s lookin at Frank and Dino and that Clooney guy and Hanks and Doris Day, that fox. My walls are covered in pictchas cuz I figga the customas want somethin pretty to look at while they eat, and that sure as hell ain’t me. My place—-it’s called “Hollywood Sandwich.”

Half the people I got in them pictchas, I don’t know who they are. Friend a mine works in a movie posta shop, and he gets em fa me. He calls em “glossies.” Whateva.

So this guy is lookin round and he says somethin like “I can’t believe you got Frank Sinatra’s signature.”

And I say, “Yeah, sure, Frank loved a sandwich much as the next guy.”

And he says, “And Charlie Chaplin, too?”

And I say, “Sure, except Charlie was real quiet when he ate.”

“Why’s that?” he asks.

“Cuz they ain’t got sound back then. Don’t you know nothin, kid?”

And this kid, I swear, he’s about ta laugh. I’m tellin ya, if he’da laughed right then, then it all woulda been alright. How ya gonna get inna it with a guy that made ya laugh? But he don’t laugh cuz alluva sudden he sees someone else on the wall.

“Hey!” he shouts out. “That one’s not real!”

“Sure,” I say, but I’m not lookin anywhere except the puddle a sauce on the floor. “It’s real.”

“No way,” he says. “I know it’s not real cuz that’s me and I didn’t sign that. That’s not my signature. That’s a forgery.”

And I look real close at him and at the pictcha he’s pointin at and whaddaya know. “Okay, maybe so,” I say.

“You’ve gotta take that off the wall,” he tells me, kinda angry.

I mighta mentioned that I don’t like no one tellin me what to do, but I figga what’s the big deal. “Okay,” I say, “gimme a real one and I’ll swap em.”

“I don’t have one on me,” he says and he starts lookin at all the other pictchas again. “These are all fakes!” he says. “They’re all in the same handwriting!”

“Alright, then bring a real pictcha in, and sign it and I’ll do the swap presto chango.”

But this kid has gotta have it his way, right? Cuz he don’t wanna listen to reason. Starts tellin me he wants it off the wall now, and I tell him I’m not gonna leave a big hole undaneath Johnny Cash.

He gets up, all shoutin and pushin my table round. Shoutin bout how he’s from da streets and he’s gonna mess me up unless I take that stupid little pictcha down. While he’s shoutin, anotha customa walks in and walks out again without orderin nothin.

“Look what ya done,” I say. “Ya costin me business. Ya gotta go.”

“Take it down,” he tells me.

So I pull out the mop (which I gotta use to clean up the sauce anyway) and I point the handle at’im. “Get out,” I say.

“I’ll be back,” he says. “You’ll be sorry,” he says, like this is some sorta movie or somethin, but if this was a movie, would I be makin sandwiches and holdin a mop?

“Okay, good, come back, buy anotha sandwich,” I say. “But you gotta leave now.”

So he leaves in a big huff and I get on with my business and figga that’s that. A couple days go by, and I’m walkin back from the wholesale club with too many bags in my hands. I fall on the ice on the sidewalk and hurt my arm pretty bad and gotta wear a cast. It’s hard makin sandwiches with one good arm, but, you know, I get by alright, and I can still holda knife and spread the mayo with the busted arm.

But then this kid comes back. He makes a real production outta it, too. It’s a busy aftanoon and I got customas all round gettin antsy waitin fa their lunch.

“Are you gonna take my picture down?” he asks me.

“No,” I tell him and he looks at me with eyes narrowed down like a snake’s eyes. “Are you gonna order a sandwich or what?” I say and he stalks out again and I’m too busy with sandwiches to think any more bout him.

But afta the lunch crowd thins out, I do somethin that maybe I shouldn’ta done. But I’m in a bad mood cuz my arm is hurtin and it’s rainin outside, which don’t help none, and I’m actually gettin pretty sicka lookin at that kid on the wall.

So yeah, I take the pictcha down. But like I said, I don’t wanna leave a big hole undaneath Johnny Cash, cuz the guy needs all the support he can get (God rest his soul) so I put a big “Bathroom ?” sign where this kid’s pictcha use ta be. And that’s what gives me the bad idea.

Of course the kid comes back the next day. He pushes open my door like it’s one of them old-time saloon doors, like he’s John Wayne with his spurs on and he’s lookin fa a fight. He gets halfway to the sandwich counta when he notices that his pictcha ain’t on the wall no more. It’s kinda fun seein that, the way the air goes outta him like a balloon.

“Ya wanna sandwich?” I ask him.

“Uh…” he says.

“Ya know what I mean, a sandwich? Bread and meat and stuff?”

“Uh…” he says.

“How bout a reuben?”

“Yeah, okay,” he says.

“And a coke?” I ask.

“Yeah, and a coke,” he says and I pour him the biggest cuppa coke I got.

He mostly sits there lookin stupid and starin at the bathroom sign until the sandwich is done. Then he scarfs it down, partly cuz the sandwich is so good, partly cuz he wants ta get outta the shop. He drinks up the whole coke, too. But like I said, it was a big coke and this kid’s been lookin at the bathroom sign fa ten minutes, and when he puts his coat on and heads towards the back, I know what’s comin.

He’s back there maybe five seconds before he comes rushin outta the bathroom. Before I see him even, I know he’s gonna be holdin somethin in his hands, and that somethin is gonna be somethin soaked with piss that he found in the urinal, and that somethin is gonna be his pictcha that I put there.

“You’re gonna be sorry,” he says and I already kinda am, because that wasn’t none too nice a me, and maybe I just got carried away. But this kid, he wants ta make sure I’m sorry, so he pulls out a crowbar from his jacket and starts smashin the place up, probably like he was gonna do when he walked in.

A bunch of my pictchas, he smashes. My glass cover for the pie, he smashes. He breaks up my countatop, busts up my payphone, and busts out my front door. He don’t hit me, maybe cuz I’m not sayin nothin cuz whaddaya gonna say, but mostly cuz I’m not doin nothin cuz whaddaya gonna do with a busted up arm? Then he leaves.

So sure, I call the cops and they take the report. But I don’t know the kid’s name cuz the kid took his pictcha with’im. And then I’m talkin to the insurance company for a couple hours, which is as much fun as you think it is. And then I figga I’ll go home and try to fuhgetaboutit.

I’m sittin in my easy chair, watchin the news and tryin to relax, cuz some of these people on the news got it a lot worse off than a busted arm and a busted shop. There’s the folks with the earthquake, and the ones who got shot, and alla them othas. I’m tryin to remember how good off I am and then the newsgirl comes on the TV to talk about all the entatainment news.

Normally I love to see this newsgirl, cuz she wears those little outfits and looks like an actress herself, besides. But who do you think she starts talkin bout?

Turns out this kid that busted up my shop just got fired offa his TV show. I guess it’s one of those daytime soaps where not mucha anything happens but then someone’s cousin shows up and is a midget, and anotha guy does heart surgery on his motha’s twin.

Anyway, that don’t make me feel too good, because as big a jerk as this kid was, I don’t like to kick a man when he’s down.

The next mornin, I wake up and I don’t much feel like goin to work and dealin with that mess. I decide to take the day off and try to do the crossword and just rest. But I get stuck on the numba five down and can’t get no furtha, but really I’m stuck because I can’t stop thinkin bout this kid and I don’t get no relaxin done neitha.

So I’m pretty happy when the next mornin comes round, even if I have to start callin contractas to get the shop in shape and that’s guaranteed to cost more than I got. But when I get to the shop, there’s already a glasswork guy waitin outside in a van, and a guy from the phone company in anotha truck. When they see me with the keys to the shop, they come up to me and say they’re here fa the job and they’re pissed I didn’t show up yestaday.

And now the kid comes outta the glasswork van, where he’s been waitin cuz it’s warm in there, and he tells me he’s sorry and that he wants to pay for the damages he made.

So I say “sure” and I tell him that I saw on the news that he lost his job and I’m sorry bout that, and he says thanks.

And then I start laughin pretty hard. So hard that the glass guy stops takin his mezhaments and the phone guy puts down his tools. I’m laughin so hard that my arm starts hurtin cuz I start movin it cuz I’m laughin so hard.

“What’s so funny?” the kid asks me.

“Kid, I ain’t nevah met no one famous. You’re the first person I met from those pictchas on them walls. But afta you, I can honestly say I don’t wanna meet no more famous people the rest a my life. Let the pictchas stay pictchas.”

The kid gives me a weird smile, like it’s almost a smirk, this smile. And then he pulls this rolled up paper out of his back pocket and hands it to me.

I unroll it and it’s a pictcha a him with a signature that says “Sandwiches so good they’ll drive you crazy.”

I start shakin my head cuz I can’t believe it, and the kid asks me if I’ll do him the honor of puttin it on my wall.

“Sure, kid. A pictcha’s a pictcha,” I say, and up on the wall is where it goes.

Sometimes when business is slow, I look at the pictcha of this kid, who comes in every Friday now fa a reuben and a coke, and shake my head cuz I still don’t get it. I seen a lotta things, I made a lotta sandwiches, but I can’t make heads a tails a these Hollywood types.

Henry Presente’s creative juices have dripped on the pages of SmokeLong Quarterly, Flashquake, Word Riot, and Medicinal Purposes Literary Review. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, eaten enchiladas in the White House, discussed adult magazines with a world-famous physicist, and shared a beer with a gold-toothed man named Jesus Christ.