A film about a sandwich, that’s all.
A film about a sandwich, that’s all.
In nineteen-ninety-two, while on vacation in Halifax, my girlfriend and I went to see a play.
There was a statue above the stage in a little alcove. I assumed it was just a part of the theatre’s decor.
Before the play started, Lynda leaned over to me and whispered, “Do you think that statue has anything to do with the play?”
The play was directed by James Roy, who worked for CBC’s radio drama department back in Toronto. I didn’t know James then, but I knew of him, so when I returned to work I sought him out to tell him how much I had enjoyed his play.
Seven years later James welcomed me into the Radio Drama department, where I had the honour of working with him on many radio plays. Seven years after that I was invited to record a play in Blyth, Huron County, during the Blyth Festival, at which time I learned that not only is James an accomplished director, he was also the founding Artistic Director of the Blyth Festival.
The Blyth Festival is unique. James, along with his co-founders Anne Chislett and Keith Roulson, created a festival dedicated to the production and development of Canadian plays, which was at one time—and perhaps still is—the only five hundred seat theatre in Canada devoted solely to Canadian plays. Not content with merely producing plays, James and his partners also created an Art Gallery, and the whole enterprise is still going strong forty years, ten artistic directors, a choir and an orchestra later.
In the summer of 2006 I drove up to Blyth in a rented car accompanied by sound effects engineer Anton Szabo, who would be doing live effects for the reading we would be recording. That afternoon we sat through a rehearsal of the reading. Actually, I snoozed through the rehearsal in a really comfortable armchair. I was suffering from cat allergies which were waking me up in the middle of the night with the sensation that I couldn’t breathe, a sensation that would linger throughout the day. At the time, I had no idea that it was because of cat allergies, so it had me rather on edge.
Anton and I set up the next morning. AKG 414s on each of the actors and another one for Anton’s sound effects. Anton had a keyboard sampler plugged in for additional effects. I was situated on the stage not far from Anton’s setup, well behind the actors, but visible to the audience. I had two DAT machines but I’d learned my lesson at the Royal George; they were only for backup. My main recording would be done on ProTools on a Mac laptop. I was getting a 60 hertz buzz on one of the lines. Somebody that worked for the theatre lifted the ground on an extension cord. It did the trick.
We recorded one dress rehearsal, and then the actual performance. I don’t remember much about either recording except that they went well.
What I do remember is asparagus.
After the performance, James, Anton, myself and several others went for supper at the Stage Manager’s house. I am doing the Stage Manager a great injustice by not remembering her name. She had a house on a hill outside Blyth. But not just any hill—it was a hill from which you could see for miles and miles. A house from which you could see the sun set, but not set into the rooftops of houses halfway up the sky. Here it set directly into the horizon, painting half the sky wonderful shades of red, one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The Stage Manager had a garden out back in which she grew fresh vegetables, some of which I may have eaten, but all I remember is the asparagus. I’ve had asparagus soup before, and possibly actual asparagus, but I had never eaten fresh asparagus straight from anyone’s garden before.
I was astounded.
The asparagus was sublime—the food of, if not all the Gods, then at least those with sense enough to eat vegetables. I couldn’t stop eating it. We ran out. Seconds before I capitulated to symptoms of withdrawal, the Stage Manager went out and picked more, God bless her.
The asparagus wasn’t all that surprised me that night. I found myself enveloped in a wonderful sense of fellowship. It was a privilege to be part of such a company: directors, stage managers, writers, sound effects engineers, producers, and me. Colleagues, but also friends. We had a lovely meal, and a lovely talk. Such a night had snuck up on me unawares. I felt as though I belonged. I felt as though I could breathe. I felt as though I could eat more asparagus.
So I did.
A few weeks later I bought some asparagus at Sobey’s and served it to my family. It was the first time they had ever tried asparagus. It was stringy and tasteless. We all hated it, and have never eaten it since.
No no, I’m fine, thanks, I tell her. I’ll have a little something later.
You really should eat something now, shouldn’t you? she says.
I’m fine, I insist. It’s good to fast once in awhile, gotta keep that girlish figure.
I’ll tell you what, she says. If I make you a sandwich, will you eat it?
You don’t have to make me sandwich, I tell her.
I want to make you a sandwich, she says. What kind of sandwich do you want?
I don’t really want any kind of sandwich, I tell her.
Okay but if you did want a sandwich, what kind of sandwich would you want?
I tell her that if I did want a sandwich, which I don’t, but if I did, I would want a peanut butter and jam and banana sandwich. My favourite.
I’m going to make you a peanut butter and jam and banana sandwich, she says. I’m going to make it right now.
That’s very kind, I tell her. Thank you.
I go walk the dog. I’m not really very hungry, I think, walking the dog. The last thing I want is a sandwich. But if she makes it I’ll eat it. She’s just looking out for me, I know.
I get back and towel the dog off (it was a cold, wet night). I let him off his leash, take my boots off, enter the kitchen. My wife’s on the phone. I can tell it’s going to be a long call. The peanut butter jar sits on the counter, alongside the jam, a couple of slices of bread and a banana. My wife’s making apologetic motions to me. Motions that say, there’s all the stuff, all you have to do now is make the sandwich.
I don’t want to make the sandwich. I don’t want the sandwich. All I want to do is sit down and watch tv.
I make the sandwich anyway. I eat it. It’s very good. It is, after all, my favourite sandwich in the world.
My wife gets off the phone. Sorry about that, she says. I really was going to make you the sandwich, and then my sister called.
I know, I tell her. I appreciate that.
And I do.
You know, I think of myself as a fairly grown up guy, reasonably mature, self sufficient, yadda yadda yadda. And maybe I am all these things in several respects of my life. Okay… two or three respects. All right, I can dress myself, that much at least I can do.
But recently I realized that I’m not at all mature or reasonable when it comes to chocolate. I have a secret addiction, a secret shame. When nobody’s looking, and I’m all alone… I dip into the chocolate chip cupboard. The cupboard with all the baking supplies. There’s a little cup with a cover on it in which we keep chocolate chips, the semi-sweet kind for baking. And it’s important to keep these chocolate chips, or there would be no baking, at least no baking with chocolate chips in it.
Which is why it’s such a bad thing when I dip into these chocolate chips. Which I don’t do very often, understand, certainly no more than eight, nine times an hour. Did I say hour? I meant day… yeah, that’s it. Okay, maybe I’m not quite that bad. But who am I kidding, it is bad. A sweet tooth that may well lead to NO teeth some day. But tasty, darned tasty, and better than smoking or alcoholism I would think. Except for the trans fats they’re probably loaded with… you know what, I don’t even want to look at the ingredients. As long as the chocolate chips have chocolate in them, that’s all I need to know.
So the other day I dip into them when Lynda’s downstairs. Suddenly, uh oh, she’s coming up stairs and I’VE STILL GOT THE CHOCOLATE CHIP CUP IN MY HANDS! There’s no time to put it back. I clutch it to myself, turn my back to Lynda, and kind of huddle in the corner of the kitchen.
Lynda says, “So Joe, I was wondering… hey, whattaya doing, what’ve you got there?”
And she comes over and I sheepishly show her the chocolate chip cup. And of course I’m still kinda chewin’ on a few chips. It was like I was a little kid again, caught red-handed.
But she’s a good wife, a good friend.
“Don’t eat them all,” she said. “I don’t want to be all out when it’s time to make chocolate chip cookies.”
And if that isn’t reason enough to restrain myself at least a tiny little bit, I don’t know what is.