It’s a gray Thursday morning. I slept on my couch. According to all clues of the thing, I planted there something like three seconds after barging in my front door – which I left open.
I called in to work, extraordinarily hung over.
Last night’s improprieties were several. Austin’s Scoot Inn has a thing it offhandedly calls “The Hammer” – a can of Schlitz and a shot of K.D. for five dollars. It is suitably named.
After lazing about in my underoos for a couple of hours, half-eyeing some Bette Davis drag on TCM, I decide it’s time for a meal. Even if it doesn’t last long in my stomach.
Google Maps’ food search has never disappointed for options, but I’m a vegetarian. I dutifully flick my little touchscreen past Burger Boy and Frankfurter Express and Demo’s. Fries and an Orange Freeze? Microwaved veggie dogs? Days-old dolmas? No thanks.
Then there’s a picture of that monstrosity of latticework at the corner of McCullough and Dewey Streets. I’ve seen it a thousand times, stumbling to or from yet another Sunday morning chilaquiles-and-Medio-Litro mistake at Chapala Jalisco. Google’s reviews are decent, it says the place is open, and I’ve occasionally heard whispers that the sandwiches are quite good. It’s called the Sandwich Garden.
I rouse myself from my fortified position on the couch and peek through the front door. San Antonio skies are definitely gray. The pants come on, and I’m out the door.
I’m in bad shape. Each step is a wince, each beam of sunlight that pokes through the cloud cover is met with a pouty frown and extreme animus as well as a bevy of internalized mental cusswords. I’m unwashed and shiny. I’m regretful I enjoyed last night so fully.
I pause at the corner of Ashby to snag a copy of the Current, out yesterday. I am then, inevitably, spotted in my advanced state of self-neglect.
I had hoped to slip unnoticed past the gauntlet of friends’ homes and this morning’s Walk of Shamers to a private luncheon, but had no such luck.
A friend and neighbor, looking spry and fresh-faced through the windshield of his Prius, toot-toots a merry greeting as he whizzes silently by, smiling at my couch-hair and his own smug self-satisfaction at having continually done his part for the environment. I consciously refrain from grinding my teeth and manage a meager wave.
I continue past the early-morning drunks at the Cobalt Club, who spend their days ambling back and forth across McCullough for cigarettes at the Valero and booze at the bar. I pass on the far side the collection of decrepit, abandoned houses on Courtland mounted like last summer’s cicada shells on some forgotten log. Say, that’s pretty good.
I wave to the tire shop guys, and no more, because of our shared language barriers. Six bucks to fix a flat was all we ever had to communicate to one another.
Soon enough, I’m in the parking lot of my destination. The sign, which some now-incarcerated, mentally ill child must have painted sometime in the Seventies, says this is The Sandwich Garden.
A demonic-looking Venus fly trap is poised to eat the words but hasn’t.
The Garden, as near as I can tell, boasts no actual live plants of any sort. One scrub of long-dead, rotted thing of unknown genus has squeezed through the lattice near the entrance. It hangdogs there, having never been noticed by the management, I guess, or perhaps it’s too high to reach. Or maybe it’s the corpse of the plant from the sign, the hallowed remains of their beloved mascot.
As I see it, I have at this point two options: I can view this specter as a foreboding warning of the unappetizing fare I’m about to consume and dart across the street for a plate of cheese and fried stuff at Chapala. Or, I can view the Garden as a kindred soul, perhaps also recovering from a period of extended merrymaking, some forgotten fat days now become lean, some gentle settling into some delicious neglect. I’ve made it this far–let’s do the benefit-of-the-doubt thing.
As one passes through the Garden’s awning it becomes clear the lattice hides a little patio area. This morning, two gentlemen sit in the shadows and talk over sandwiches and cans of soda pop. I hadn’t been able to see them as I approached, which it now becomes clear is the likely intention of all that lattice. I hadn’t heard them, either, because they speak in hushed tones.
Inside, it all hits you. Angle-less, indefinable New Age music. Bright white walls bathed in the light of the perfect fluorescence above. A little maze with signs bidding you to approach the counter this way. That’s right, just keep on coming this way. Nope, take a right here. You’re almost there. It’s all a bit Soylent Green, and as I’m well aware Soylent Green is people.
A bearded old man in the corner is the only inside patron. I have to double-take to make sure it isn’t Edward G. Robinson. He’s reading a paperback Clive Cussler the title of which is obviously not important, since the only words I can make out from 10 feet away are Clive Cussler. He’s wearing a floweredy shirt and Bermuda shorts. He’s just finished an early lunch and now he doesn’t give a fuck about anything but whom Dirk Pitt is about to harpoon in the mouth to save the sunken treasure. For about ten seconds I really want to be this guy, have his life, care about nothing but paperbacks and pretend adventure.
The oppressive slur of the breathy, lazily optimistic Muzak snaps that idea right out of my head. I don’t know how this guy can stand it. Maybe he doesn’t know he stands to be euthanized at any moment. Maybe he doesn’t care. I decide to leave off before I start to envy him again.
And so I dutifully maze my way up to the counter past several decorative items that look like they were bought at Robert Goulet’s estate sale. A metal model of a sailing ship looms just ahead of me, probably the creation of some round haircut in a turtleneck and beret. For all I know, it might once have served as a coke mule, or a disco trollop’s sex toy, or a fondue set, or a television antenna – whatever folks were up to in the Seventies.
The counter is manned by two gentlemen – one short and normal-sized, the other short and fat. I can barely see them over the counter, upon which sits a positively ancient Glenfiddich gift tube. It nauseatingly reminds me of the previous night’s transgressions, and the fact that I am not a man who drinks Glenfiddich; rather, I am a man who drinks Kentucky Deluxe straight from the well, and I am a man who pays for it the next morning.
The men who are vaguely somewhere behind the counter are nice enough, helpful enough. They point to the various sandwich sizes displayed on the wall in the form of wholly unappetizing gray paper mache sculptures. I’ve made my decision.
Since I’ve long decided I’d rather allow animals to live than eat them, the only options available to me in the sandwich department are a cheese sandwich and a garden veggie sandwich. I opt for a cheese. Sans onions, because I just can’t right now. Throw in a can of Dr. Pepper, like my dudes outside, and a pickle on the side. To go, please.
It’s, like, nine bucks. I pay with a card and they don’t make me sign my name or add a tip, which is always a tiny relief for the bitter miser inside me.
I wait, exchange a silent nod of common masculinity with Mr. Robinson when he looks up. I browse the wall, covered in curling, yellow photographs of the Grand Canyon and maple trees and other absurdly mundane Travel Desinations of the Average Middle American.
Several ancient newspaper reviews are tacked below the photos. The San Antonio Light likes it in the Seventies, also likes it in the Eighties. The Snout, evidently the long-forgotten food critic from the SAC paper, compares the Garden’s bread in 1976 to Acme bricks. They hung it up anyway, which earns points for not giving a single damn.
The chairs inside are those plastic lawn jobs, but it’s complimentary to the motif. The place could aim for a greenhouse vibe, maybe with some orchids, I’m thinking. But then I think by all appearances that likely makes way too much sense for this place and abandon the idea.
The round counter clerk calls out my order. He nails it verbatim.
On my way out, the patio studs are still there, still whispering about something. The one guy looks up, the other gives me a half turn. No reciprocal nods are forthcoming from either side. But fuck them, who cares.
The walk home is pleasant. Some gripey kid at the car wash yells at his mom. She sighs and slams the car door. The soap suds are pink, which I don’t think I had noticed before.
Back home, Bette Davis has been replaced with some B-list starlets from just Post-War, which is preferable. The Dr. Pepper was a fantastic idea, I congratulate myself. The gurgle in my guts has started to subside and The Hammer has ceased its hammering. I can hear birds in the yard and the dog wants to cuddle at my feet while I loaf it on the couch for the rest of the day.
I crane my neck and peek out the screen door – gray gives way to a little blue and they decide to coexist on the same palette for a while. And quite complimentarily, I might add.
“How was the sandwich?” you ask.
Reed Morris is an acclaimed writer of no particular body of work. He lives, works, and does his most important drinking in Tobin Hill.