What You Will

Another Burma Shave billboard on the information superhighway. Random thoughts about arts, faith, culture, music, language, literature, and the shortcomings of the Hegelian dialectic. (OK, just kidding about that last bit.)

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Location: Edmonds, Washington, United States

I wonder what goes in this space?


Houston, we have a problem

I've seen the seventh circle of hell, and it looks like a bagel

Being the possessor of a free sandwich coupon from Noah's Bagels, I thought today might be a fine time to redeem it. So I stopped into Noah's on Queen Anne Sunday after church, with my wife and kid in tow. The wife wanted a corned beef sandwich; I ordered pastrami.

When I presented the coupon to the young lady at the cash register, the very first word she uttered, under her breath, was "Shit!" She stepped away and conferred for a few minutes with the gentleman who'd taken my order. Upon returning to the cash register, she explained that there was some sort of ongoing goofup with the expiration date on these coupons, but that the store would honor the coupon anyhow. (I checked the printed expiration date; it was Dec. 31, 2010.) She wore a name tag with the sobriquet "Houston"; I considered asking whether she had a sister named Whitney, but decided that would be in poor taste.

After a few minutes the sandwiches were furnished, and consumption proceeded. After a couple of bites I examined my sandwich and opined to my wife that although the portion was generous and the flavor was good, what I had received was corned beef, not pastrami. We compared sandwiches and the meat in mine looked identical to that in hers: the wrong color, flavor and seasoning for pastrami, and almost completely devoid of black pepper. However, not wishing to upset the Noah's applecart, I decided to enjoy the sandwich for what it was, and kept eating.

If you buy cold cuts in a grocery store, they often come in a plastic blister pack, which may have a hole punched in it so the pack can be hung on a peg. Sometimes the bit of plastic that formerly occupied said hole may be found still clinging to the blister pack. And once in a great while, I suppose, that bit of plastic could end up in someone's corned beef sandwich. It must not happen very often — I've eaten thousands of sandwiches in my life that were free of plastic bits — but apparently it does happen. Or, I should say, it did happen. I removed the plastic bit from my mouth, put it in the paper-lined basket next to the second half of my sandwich, and while finishing the first half I contemplated what to do next.

The wrong meat in a sandwich was one thing, I decided. Foreign objects were another. I lodged a complaint at the counter, and Houston promised to make me a new pastrami sandwich. I returned to my seat, but after a couple of minutes she beckoned me back to the counter. Turns out the store was out of pastrami, and the genius who'd made the sandwich in the first place decided to just substitute corned beef without telling me. Houston asked what kind of meat I'd prefer in the place of pastrami, and I chose roast beef.

The new sandwich came, minus any stray bits of plastic, and also minus the tasty dill pickle that had accompanied the first sandwich, which I hadn't eaten before I returned it. I shrugged off the pickle, ate half the new sandwich, wrapped up the other half for later, and went home. But here's the kicker: Remember, I had gotten the first sandwich with a coupon. Want to know how I got the coupon? At the same Noah's, a week earlier, I had ordered another pastrami sandwich, using a coupon Noah's had sent me by e-mail. On that occasion, the young gentleman at the counter TOLD me the store was out of pastrami BEFORE he made the sandwich, and substituted chicken breast at my request ... THEN he came to our table and gave me two coupons to compensate for the absence of pastrami. I didn't catch his name, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't Houston.

If you're good at math, you already know that I have one coupon left, meaning that Noah's has one more chance to get it right. Here's a thought: if a store runs out of pastrami by 1:30 p.m. two Sundays running, perhaps the manager needs to order more pastrami for Sundays. We'll see if anyone has figured this out by the time I get back there.


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