"Hey Jon, if you started doing magic, we could call you sand-witch!"
"When you wake up in the morning, do you leave behind bed-crumbs?"
Jon Montag wished he'd never taken Mr. Tate's History class. He'd had a choice between the regular senior History class and Mr. Tate's. The regular class focused on American history and was meant to be a continuation of the history they'd been learning in class over the last three years. Meanwhile, Mr. Tate taught World History.
History had never been Jon's favorite subject. He thought it was stupid that history classes were just centered on America, and they all seemed to hit the same highlights. Pilgrims, Revolution, Civil War, Westward Expansion, and so on. For Jon, this limited focus on the same American events reminded him too much of life in his small town. Jon lived in Plad, a small town in Missouri. People born in Plad tended to live there their whole lives and they all lead live similar to one another. They sent their kids to the same schools they had attended. Friday nights were for football games, Saturdays for cruising or drinking beer in front of the TV. They earned a living by farming or drove along the Interstate to work in the larger towns of Stanley or Moberre. Jon knew many of them found comfort in this routine, but he had dreams of breaking the mold and getting more out of his life.
"Jon! Jon! I like sandwiches too. Let's start a club! Members only. The password can be open sesame bun," someone yelled out as Jon walked to his next class.
Jon had dreams of a better life but had no idea how he was supposed to accomplish them. His grades weren't the best. Even if his GPA was high enough, there was no money for college. It was the last week of senior year. Jon had spent most of his last year of high school trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. In second semester, when he had the chance to take Mr. Tate's World History course, he'd been excited to sign up. The chances were low he would ever see the world in person. Learning about it in class seemed like the next best thing.
The theme of Mr. Tate's class centered around what the rest of the world was doing while specific historical events occurred in America. Mr. Tate didn't just focus on Europe but also explored the histories of Africa, Asia, and South America. The final unit of his class was genealogy. Mr. Tate paid for all of his students to use Family Tree, an online genealogy program. It was through Family Tree that Jon learned he was descended from the supposed inventor of the sandwich, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich.
"Hey Jon," one of the jocks whispered from behind him. "If I punched you, would you be a knuckle sandwich?" The jock and his friends all laughed. Jon lowered his head and waited for the bell to signal the start of class.
When he'd gotten his genealogy from Family Tree, Jon had at first been amazed. Although they were spelled differently, Jon had almost the same first and last name as his ancestor. His dad's name was Earl and like John Montagu, he had served in the military. Jon happened to work at the Subway restaurant in Stanley. The connection Jon felt to John Montagu elated him at first. Then he gave his oral report on the Family Tree results and that changed. Soon the whole school knew of his lineage, and the teasing had begun.
"Why do they call it a club? Shouldn't it be a stack? Call up your great-great-grandpa and ask him!"
"Jon if you were a golfer, would your nickname be sand-wedge?"
After that first day, Jon had gone home and asked his mom if she knew of their family's history. She had just laughed at his question before assuring him that it was all just a happy coincidence. A humorous twist of fate. Jon's mother was a big believer in fate. Her favorite saying was, "everything happens for a reason."
Jon found this philosophy to be cliched, but even he had to admit that sometimes his mom made sense. Jon lived the first sixteen years of his life in a small trailer with his family. Jon's father had died two years ago in a car accident. Although Jon and his mother were devastated by the loss, his father's death had led to good things. Between Earl's life insurance, pension, and military benefits, Jon and his mother had been able to buy a house and sell the trailer. Jon's mother had used the money they got from the trailer to buy Jon a car. Jon used the car to drive to Stanley to look for work and had been hired at Subway. It was there that he discovered he had a passion for cooking.
Not that making sandwiches really counted as cooking, but working at Subway had been the first step. The Subway in Stanley was connected to a Wal-Mart. Jon loved to use the ingredients stocked by Subway as inspiration. Then he'd buy other items at the Wal-Mart and use them to enhance the original ingredients. He loved figuring out new flavor combinations and putting unique twists on classic sandwiches. There was a time when Jon would have been glad to be famous, at least locally, for making awesome sandwiches. Now however, he was questioning that aspiration.
Last week, when he'd finished his oral report on the Family Tree genealogy results, the class had burst out laughing. Never one to miss a teaching opportunity, Mr. Tate had interjected that the sandwich might be named after John Montagu, but he probably hadn't actually invented it. For one thing, his cook, a man now forgotten by history, would have prepared the dish for John Montagu. For another, John Montagu had traveled around Europe and would have eaten the mezze platters common in Greece and Turkey, which inspired the modern sandwich.
From there Mr. Tate started talking about food trends and how they spread throughout the world. This was a subject that would normally have kept Jon in rapt attention. Unfortunately, as Mr. Tate launched into his spiel, a classmate whispered the first of many jokes at Jon's expense.
"Hey Jon Sandwich, where's your boyfriend Sir Francis Bacon?"
Since that day, Jon had lost some of his enthusiasm for sandwiches. It was hard to enjoy something when everyone was making fun of his only passion. He did his best to focus on the positive. Sandwiches held a significant role in his life. His mom worked as a truck driver and was on the road for days at a time. Since his dad died, Jon had been responsible for taking care of himself. His neighbor Mr. Crensow checked in on him, but for the most part Jon was on his own while his mom was on the road.
The money from his dad's passing paid for the house, but money was still tight. Most of the money Jon made at Subway went to help with household expenses or toward gas for his car. He often had to pay for his own meals with a limited budget. Sandwiches were the perfect solution for eating cheaply. The ingredients didn't cost much and there were all sorts of ways to make them diverse and delicious.
It was lunch time and Jon was sitting off to the side, away from the lunch tables and other students. He was eating carrot sticks and one of his signature sandwiches. It was a cold Reuben with homemade spicy radish sauerkraut and a garlic aioli. He'd made the sandwich on white bread instead of rye and used packaged corned beef, but it was still a good sandwich. It was amazing how the fresh ingredients in the aioli and sauerkraut could elevate the taste of the low-quality lunchmeat. The sandwich temporarily made him forget his problems. At least until the burnout kids came around the side of the school.
The burnouts were benign troublemakers. They didn't care about school and stuck to their small circle of friends. They grew weed in ditches and in between farmer's crops and tried to sprout magic mushrooms from cow pies. Unlike the jocks, they normally didn't bully other, but today that wasn't the case. Upon seeing Jon, the burnouts began to make jokes.
"Hey, what did Dave Grohl say when he dropped his sandwich? There goes my hero!" said one.
"Hey Jon, if you were going to make a sandwich for Nirvana, would you make them one with everything?" chimed in another.
The third burnout looked around in fake suspicion, then whispered, "Hey sandwich, we got some weed. Want to get toasted?"
Laughing, the burnouts walked past Jon and into the school. Jon's rising mood quickly deflated. He finished his lunch and then headed inside. He got to his science class early and sat at a desk by the window. He wasn't the only one who had arrived early. He'd forgotten that the nerds often ate their lunch in the science room. The nerds were another group that tended to keep to themselves, though today would once again turn out to be an exception.
"Hey Jon," said the first nerd. "Did you know a whale's favorite sandwich is a krill-ed cheese?"
"Careful your Pb and jelly sandwiches don’t give people lead poisoning!" added another.
"If my sandwich is dry, do you suggest I go to the Mayo Clinic?" asked another, as they all chuckled.
The first nerd thought of another joke and blurted out, "You should start a religion. You can be the Deli Lama."
Jon ignored them because they weren’t worth engaging. He felt good about being the bigger person but he was still struggling with the jokes everyone was making at his expense. A sandwich was a rather insignificant thing. It had been named after John Montagu in the 1700s and today millions of people ate them every day without giving them much thought. The jokes made Jon feel silly about ever having felt passionate about something so mundane. Pride did not seem worth being a social pariah and he was glad that school was almost over for the year.
That thought brought up more doubt. Jon still had no idea what he wanted to do once he graduated. He'd considered entering the military or going to culinary school, but he'd have to move hundreds of miles away. That would mean leaving his mom, who needed his help with the bills. Plus, after his father's passing, Jon was all she had. They didn't have any other family in the area. Jon spent the rest of the day in a funk, filled with self-doubt and questions about his future. Exiting the school, he passed by the jocks and they called out more jokes as he made his way toward home.
"Hey Sandwich, you're full of baloney!"
"Are you on-bread or in-bred."
As Jon made his way up the front sidewalk of his house, Mr. Crensow called out to him, "Hey Jon! You got dinner plans? If not, I got some brats here with your name on them."
After the day he'd had, Jon was glad for some company. He told Mr. Crensow he'd be over in a few minutes and then went into his house to drop off his backpack. Jon called his mom to check in, just in case she phoned while he was next door. Then Jon grabbed the rest of the radish sauerkraut, thinking it would be good on the brats, and headed across the yard to Mr. Crensow's house.
Mr. Crensow owned a gas station on the outskirts of town. The gas station was close to both Plad and the Interstate and enjoyed the patronage of locals and travelers alike. Mr. Crensow had gone into semi-retirement a little before Jon's father had been killed in the car accident. His employees ran the gas station and Mr. Crensow spent his days working around his house or in his garden, trying to stave off boredom.
As they ate the brats Jon told Mr. Crensow about his day. Mr. Crensow was nice enough not to laugh when Jon mentioned some of the jokes his classmates had told, but Jon could tell from the smirk on his face that Mr. Crensow found the situation amusing. Then Mr. Crensow asked Jon if he'd decided what he wanted to do after graduation. Mr. Crensow knew of Jon's doubts about leaving his mom to pursue any kind of future and the internal conflict this caused him, especially because Jon wanted more out of his life than Plad could offer. Jon shook his head and told Mr. Crensow that he hadn't come to any decisions about his future.
"I have some thoughts on that and what you're going through at school," Mr. Crensow said. "People are complex Jon. John Montagu was credited for inventing the sandwich because he got famous for eating them at the card table. Prolific gambler, John Montagu. At the same time, the Montagu family was also known for other things. Each Earl of Sandwich held various military honors and their support for various lords and laws informed the policy in England for many years. It all depends on which aspect of John Montagu, or any person really, you want to focus on. I for one, think it's too easy to focus on negatives. Everyone does it. The challenge is to focus on the positives, especially in ourselves."
"I've got a proposition for you Jon. You may have heard, but the Plad Diner is closing. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis are retiring, and no one seem interested in buying the place. A town like ours needs a place for folks to come and eat. Otherwise, people will take their business elsewhere, and that's bad for all of us. Now, I know you aren't ready to run a diner, and probably wouldn't want to anyway, but I've got a better idea."
"There's an empty side building attached to my gas station. How'd you like to open a sandwich shop of your own? I'll front you the startup costs and help you get set up. Shoot, I'll even help out around the place until you’re established. That way, you can explore your passions and stay close to home. Plus, people from all over the state stop by the gas station, so you'll have a chance to learn about the world outside of Plad until the day you're ready to see it for yourself. You don't have to answer right now, but if you're up for it, I'd love for us to go into business together."
Jon was touched by Mr. Crensow's offer and didn't need any time to think it over. Mr. Crensow was right about focusing on the positive. Jon also remembered his mother’s philosophy about fate. Perhaps he was fated to carry on the legacy of his ancestor, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. The sandwich might not be the most significant invention in the history of the world, but it was enough for it to be significant to Jon’s life.
Jon accepted Mr. Crensow’s offer, and then fell into silence as he thought of all the menu possibilities for the new sandwich shop. Finally, Jon said the first thing that popped into his head, and it happened to be a sandwich joke.
"I know sandwiches, Mr. Crensow. So, trust me when I say that you're a hero."