In Hoboken New Jersey, Felix lied to his wife Luna that he was going out only to pick up the sandwiches. Luna was very patriotic about wanting to eat sandwiches for lunch. He knew her preferences well. In the three or four years since they had been married, he couldn’t remember a time when they had ever argued about anything. Next year they even planned to make a baby.
Outside, instead of going directly to the sandwich shop, Felix walked around the corner and away from Luna’s spying eyes, went into a bank branch. He took out his New York bank card, the one she didn’t know about, and slid it into the ATM. His heart raced as he anxiously hoped the card would still work. Using a bank card from across the river carried risks. But Felix had a secret habit.
Feeding the habit had become vastly more complicated after the great gluten divide. He recalled that back in the 2020s, people had so many issues that they thought might one day divide the nation. But in the following decade, when the batter really hit the fan, it was the issue of gluten which unglued the 50 states.
During the dietary wars, battle lines were drawn, erased, redrawn again and when everyone was exhausted, the last line drawn was set in stone. On the map, the Gluten States clumped together like a wet dumpling in the middle. The Gluten Free States scattered like flaky pastry crumbs around the edges and anchored themselves at the bottom in the cornbread states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama
New Jersey and New York found themselves on opposite sides. Since the great divide, cross border ATM transactions took over 5 minutes to clear. The glitches with the new currency had yet to be worked out.
To make the time pass quicker, Felix looked for people in the line to chat with. The man behind him held a Home Depot bag with cooking utensils sticking out.
“Barbecue season?” Felix asked.
“Yup,” the man said.
“What ‘r you grilling?” Talking about food in general, without bringing up bread, was a low-key way to suss out their level of breadmatism.
“Burgers, with lots of BREAD,” he replied, “Three slices each bro.”
Ah, a real doughhead. He better try to fit in.
“United we rise, divided we fall,” Felix said, repeating the newly adapted slogan of doughland.
This is when most people in Felix’s position would start a caustic rant about the tyranny of the Gluten Free Staters, but Felix didn’t feel it in his heart to put them down. It was just the food they ate after all.
In the awkward silence that followed, Home Depot guy looked at Felix intently.
“You from over there?”
Felix always had problems lying. He admitted, “Yeah. I spent some time there.”
“What’s it like?” the man asked in a softer tone, perhaps he was open-minded after all.
“It’s the same as here. Except, we talk about bread, and they talk about tapioca and arrow root flour.” But when Felix was there, they mostly talked about how disgusting the gluten-eating people in doughland were, but he thought it better not to bring that up.
“They sound brainwashed over there. Who would want to live like that? Only talking about not eating gluten all the time.”
Felix nodded. But no matter how many lovely sandwiches he ate, he often missed his time in Brooklyn, when he lived and worked as a video editor.
During the gluten wars, with little work available, the New York entertainment industry began to starve. Gluten-free Mondays became gluten-free weekdays, then gluten-free months, and finally gluten-free martial law was declared. Over time, more and more of his friends and acquaintances became hungry for a Subway Sandwich, or a Reuben Sandwich, or a slice of Italian thin crust pizza, and made the swim across the Hudson River away from ‘Freedom’ and into 'Doughland'. For Felix, who grew in Short Hills New Jersey, what brought him to the banks of the Hudson River was thoughts of a hoagie, the Spicy Italian Sub.
One day, with thoughts of vinegar splashed spicy salami in his mouth, he held onto an inflatable flamingo and swam across the current until he reached the banks of New Jersey.
That was 3 years ago. Now he had a job, a wife and worked in Hobokenwood producing comedic sitcoms, cleverly filled with product placements for wheat products and odes to the joy of dough kneading and pasta making.
After the first year of conflict, everyone became exhausted with the war. A treaty was signed and peace was declared. The people wanted entertainment again. Normalcy was slowly returning.
It had all been so tiring. Felix remembered how pleasant it was when Gluten and Gluten-Free people lived together, and even dined in the same restaurants. If only we could return back to those days?
His biggest problem with living in New Jersey now, was the fact that half of his favorite TV programs were off the air. Sure, a good portion of them moved to Hoboken-wood, but TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, now into its 37th season, had gone gluten-free, and could only be seen in the Free States. On the bright side, if he lived on that side, he wouldn't be able to watch Great British Bake Off.
But missing the 37th season of GA was unbearable. He had been using the money in his old New York bank account to pay for his Netfree subscription.
Felix’s secret habit was binge-watching gluten-free TV.
At the bank branch, after all the waiting, the screen on the ATM machine updated. In very large letters, it displayed “Violation #343”. A red light above the machine flashed alarmingly.
Home Depot guy blocked the exit. He had been looking at Felix strangely since they talked. Seconds later, government agents stormed in, and everyone pointed at Felix.
“Felix Junger,” the agent in the front shouted angrily, “you are being arrested on charges of conspiring against gluten.”
He violently yanked Felix’s arms behind his back and shoved him face-first into the floor. He thought of Luna, how could he ever explain this to her? They should have talked earlier.
While being detained awaiting trial, Felix read the Doughland Daily (even prisoners needed to be fed government propaganda). In New York at LaGuardia Airport, at approximately the same time he was arrested, a gluten swab stick picked up residue in a passenger in transit between the Free States. After interrogation, Congressman Ron Shiller consented to a stomach content examination. When traces of bagel were found, he was arrested on charges of treason.
That afternoon the guard brought Felix down for questioning by the special prosecutor as he did on most days. Today was different though, on Felix’s side of the table, was a lunch box and in it was his favorite meal. A spicy falafel and lentil salad. A fork and knife were placed next to it.
Steely faced Joseph Bandt, the special prosecutor, was more smiley than his usual self.
“You know, Felix, we have to talk up gluten all the time on our side. But even I can say it's overrated at times.” He pointed at the meal, “Dig in! Gluten-free.”
Felix began eating. It had been 3 years since he tasted something this good.
“I made sure you saw that newspaper this morning,” Joseph winked, “Congressman Shiller. He’s a dead man. They don’t mess around over there with traitors, especially at his level.”
Joseph looked at the falafel in front of Felix, his face showing subtle revulsion, and continued what he had to say, “They say you were a top propagandist for that side, is that right?”
“I made anti-gluten ads, I was a video editor, it was just my job, everyone knows that.”
"Anti-gluten ads? And here you are in New Jersey living like a hypocrite having a Reuben sandwich every day for lunch.“ Joseph’s face turned red. He composed himself and continued. “They’re saying if we turn you over to New York, and you tell everyone on that side that swimming away was a mistake, and go back to making ads, they’ll free Schiller to come over here, and he'll escape a death sentence. What do you think about that, bud?”
Felix felt dizzy, it was so sudden and overwhelming. He was thinking about his wife Luna and mumbled something that he couldn't recall afterwards.
Prosecutor Joseph continued, “Or you can stay here, serve a 3-year jail sentence, and Congressman Shiller goes bye-bye.” He paused to let Felix weigh his options, “She probably won’t wait around for you, you know that, right? What do you say?”
Felix thought he should finish the falafel before he gave his answer.