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The Phantom of the Sandwich Shop

Through salamis he spoke to me
With pickles he rang
Those hands that understood my stomach pangs
And now I dream of subs
That don’t taste like shoes
The Phantom of the Sandwich Shop is here with me
And brings me cheese
That’s blue.

He wore a faded red visor that shadowed his eyes and a decades-old, black polo shirt covered in mustard stains. Days could pass without a sighting, but then an employee would be in charge of closing the shop on a late night and find a trail of relish leading to the back room, from whence the sound of off-key humming emanated.

I met the Phantom of the Sandwich Shop on just such a night.

Slowly, softly bake until it’s tender
Don’t forget to pay the bread roll vendor
Turn your thoughts from olives and clams
Wash your hands before touching hams
And wear your hairnet
Even though it’s not cool.

His voice was weak, but sincere. He stood in the corner of the office where the swinging lamp revealed small glimpses of his form. There were plastic gloves on his hands. On his shirt a tag proclaimed his name as “Phantom.”

“Why have you come here?” I asked.

“I live here,” he said. “Why have you come here?”

“They wouldn’t hire me at the Forever 21.”

With a swooshing gesture he swung open the door to the office and rushed outside. I ran after him, but he was gone. In the corner of the office was the only proof he’d been there, a small smattering of sesame seeds.

Angel of salt and vinegar, you don’t need to hide
My strange sandwich angel
Even now you’re beside me.

At lunch each day the shop was filled with patrons in workwear, filling all the booths and ordering chocolate chip cookies with their sandwiches. But after about 1:30, the shop grew quiet. Typically during this time I played games on my phone and made terrible mystery sauces out of different ingredients.

But the day after I first saw the Phantom was different. I looked down at my phone for a moment and, when I looked back up, something sat before me on the counter.

It was a sandwich.

A perfect sandwich.

Let your tastebuds journey to a delicious new world
Leave all memories of the sandwiches you knew before
This perfect mouthfeel is where you long to be
Only then can you technically be free.

I ate it. I should have known better than to eat mysterious sandwiches left on counters, but by then it was too late. The timer had been set, the soda had been poured and the plan was already in motion. I was part of something larger than myself.

It was the best sandwich I’d ever eaten. Moist and rich and crunchy and healthy and sinful all at the same time. It was the Sriracha that made the difference.

A voice came over the intercom, filling the empty shop. “You can learn to make sandwiches like this. I will be your mentor and you will build sandwiches that people journey across the city to eat. Sandwiches they tell their friends about. Your yelp reviews will explode. I have chosen you, because I see the potential buried deep within you and I long to bring it out. Also, because I like your sneakers.”

In this land of knives and forks
Where spinach reigns
The Phantom of the Sandwich Shop is here
Inside my brain.

I considered the Phantom’s offer. Could I truly become a sandwich genius?

At that moment my phone buzzed. It was a text from my friend, Marie. “Opening at the Forever 21! Come work with me!”

Considering for a moment, I looked around the empty sandwich shop. Dingy yellow booths. A floor that was never clean no matter how many times I mopped it. The taste of the most delicious sandwich I’d ever eaten lingering on my tongue.

Finally, I took off my apron and set it down on the counter.

“Sorry,” I told the Phantom.

Then I left.

Past the point where rolls grow mold
No second chances
The soup we reheated ten times is now no good
Avocados brown
And lettuce covered in slime
No use eating.

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Engaged in inadvisable wordsmitheries and other creative acts.

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