It was my first day at Blimpie’s. I didn’t know much about making sandwiches. It was supposed to be a summer job, and then I’d have a little extra money to buy some video games. But fate intervened with my very first customer.
A man walked in and approached the counter. “Hi, are you the new sandwich boy?”
“I am,” I said proudly, “I am the new sandwich boy.”
“Well, sandwich boy, my name is Richard Linklater, and-”
“You directed Dazed and Confused!”
He laughed. “I suppose I did. And now I’m beginning my next project.”
“That’s great - what’s it about?”
“It’s a little unorthodox, and hasn’t really been done before, but it’s just something that’s worth a try.”
His next words would change my life forever.
“And I need your help.”
I was confused. Why would Richard Linklater need the help of a young boy working in a sandwich shop for his next project? In any case, I couldn’t say no.
“That’s great!” He patted me on the shoulders. “Let’s get to work. First, the bread.”
I hopped into Richard’s Pontiac GTO and two hours later we were in a wheat field in Doss, Texas. Richard showed me how to harvest wheat. We brought the wheat to the grain mills to grind into bread flour. Then we took that bread flour and baked as much bread we could.
Also Ethan Hawke was there. He just stood in the corner, watching us bake bread. I didn’t ask why. But perhaps I should have.
Six hours later, Richard dropped me off at Blimpie’s. Before he drove away, he rolled down the window. He tossed me the best loaf of bread we had made that day.
“See you next year,” he said.
As he sped off, I wondered what he meant. I held onto that special bread, keeping it in a container in my Blimpie’s locker. I stared at it every time I opened that locker.
So I waited for him, like Charlie Brown and Linus at the Great Pumpkin Patch. Twelve months passed, and I started to lose hope. But one year later – to the day – the Pontiac GTO pulled up in front of Blimpie’s once again.
Richard stepped out of the car, beaming. “Good. You’re still here,” he said. He waved me over to the car, and I walked over immediately.
“Ready for the next step?”
Before I knew it, it was nine hours later, and we had planted an entire garden in my backyard. Richard gave me seeds that he stole from an award-winning tomato farmer from Missouri, and we planted the whole garden together. Ethan Hawke watched from the corner.
I thought my mom would be mad that I had planted an entire garden of tomatoes in the backyard without her permission, but she was happy about it. She was excited that I was taking my work at Blimpie’s so seriously. I didn’t tell her about Richard – she didn’t particularly enjoy his movies, so I didn’t see the point.
“See you next year,” he said as he climbed back into the car. This time I knew for certain he’d be back.
And he was. One year later, he saw which tomato I had picked for him, the best of my garden. “We could enter this into the state fair,” he said, “If I didn’t have such big plans for it.”
I put the tomato in the locker with the bread. I still didn’t know anything about his big plans, but I didn’t need to.
The next few years were a blur. One year we stole a head of lettuce right off of a truck bed because Richard thought it was perfect for the role. The next year, we milked some cows and made some Parmesan cheese, which I aged in my bedroom for ten months. Ethan Hawke would check in on the cheese every few months to make sure it was doing okay. The year after that, we won some jalapenos in a game of pool against the best jalapeno farmers in Texas. Richard hustled them, but they never found out.
Going to the mayonnaise factory was probably my least favorite of our journeys. The creation of mayonnaise is a vile, ungodly procedure when done in a factory, but Richard explained to me that we didn’t have it in the budget to make mayonnaise from scratch. The next year we did the same thing for ketchup, and the year after that, we perfected the art of making Russian dressing. We spent hours mixing the mayonnaise and ketchup together with different ratios before we found the perfect combination. It was a great day.
Blimpie’s corporate heard about my dedication to the craft. They sent someone down to offer me the job of Executive Director of Sandwich Arts, but the job was up in Tulsa, and I told them I needed to stay in Austin, for Richard. They said they understood. I’m not sure they could. I’m not sure anyone really can.
The next year was the most exciting. Richard showed up at my doorstep with two tickets to New York. The next thing I knew, we were flying commercial to New York City. Ethan Hawke was there too. He didn’t think we saw him sitting in the last row of the plane, but we did.
Richard took me to Guss’ Pickles, a pickle institution on the Lower East Side. We spent the next five hours inspecting all of the pickles. Once we had the right pickle, we purchased it and immediately flew back to Texas.
When I got back to Blimpie’s I put the pickle into my locker, next to the other ingredients from the past nine years. What I didn’t realize is that my next test would be the most difficult.
I didn’t expect Richard to arrive at my door that year carrying a cleaver and a live chicken. Then again, I never knew what to expect. He let the chicken loose in the tomato garden, to let it run around and enjoy its last precious moments on this Earth. I killed it myself. I knew I had to. Cooking that bird while wearing my chicken blood-soaked clothes was the first time I doubted the process. Where was this going? I had been making sandwiches at Blimpie’s for ten years now, in addition to whatever the hell this project was. I didn’t know how many more years I could deal with plucking the feathers off of a dead chicken while Ethan Hawke watched from the corner of the room.
Luckily, year eleven was a simpler task. Richard and I took a six-week whittling class and learned to whittle our own toothpicks. We each made one perfect toothpick, and those two toothpicks went into my locker with the other ingredients.
In the twelfth year, Richard returned to see his favorite sandwich boy…or should I say sandwich man? Time had taken its toll on me, as it had on our ingredients. Richard pulled each one out of the locker himself: the moldy bread, the rotten tomatoes, and equally decrepit cheese, lettuce, jalapenos, Russian dressing, pickles, and chicken. The toothpicks were still in good shape, having only been made the year before. He put each ingredient on top of the next, stuck the toothpicks in, and raised a giant knife. I winced as he sliced it in half.
He looked at me proudly, “Next year, we eat this sandwich.”
“Next year? Why not now?”
“Twelve years,” he said, “It has to be twelve years.”
I was exhausted, disillusioned, and very good at making sandwiches. The next year, Richard returned, in his rusty, rickety Pontiac GTO.
When he stepped out of the car, I knew this would be the last time I’d see him. I accepted that job in Tulsa, they kept it open for me for years. They called me The Chosen One. But that’s not why I was leaving. I just needed a change. I needed to get away from that locker.
But first, we had a sandwich to try.
We each picked up half of the sandwich, counted to three, and took a bite.
I couldn’t believe it.
He smiled. “This is the best sandwich of the year,” he said, as I wept in his arms. “Well…except for maybe that one Wes Anderson made last February.”