Tuesday, June 12, 2007

eating. sack lunch.

Some time ago B. mentioned a nearby café which made egg-salad sandwiches, the best she had ever tasted. I am very fond of an egg-salad sandwich, either plain, or with a little curry. Y. taught me to put finely chopped dill into the egg-salad when she brought an enormous pile of sandwiches sliced into perfect triangles and neatly arranged on a platter to one of our infamous lunch parties. I don't slice my sandwiches into perfect triangles, but then Y. is the sort of person who frosts her cupcakes with pink frosting and then pipes white flowers on top (or perhaps it is the other way around). Still, I had been thinking of those egg-salad sandwiches that B. mentioned for weeks now, but somehow had never made time to stop by and buy one, until I found myself with a little extra time in the morning and took the rather more circuitous route to work. This took me past the aforementioned café, a tiny place with a few tables and a very small counter from behind which two women made espresso drinks and handed out packets of cereal and scones.

The café is the sort of place where the same neighborhood people come in every day and order the same thing; the barista seems to know everyone who walks in and has their drink going even before they reach the counter. While eyeing the small cooler filled with cans of Pellegrino and bottles of BibiCaffé (my favorite thing in the world) I notice a small blackboard propped up against a stool proclaiming "SACK LUNCH." (Includes sandwich - tuna or egg salad, a cookie, and a piece of fruit). With my brown bag in one hand (BibiCaffé - an espresso soda - in the other) I continue on my way to work; waiting for the light on the corner I stop to open my bag and peek at its contents, and I am swamped by a wave of nostalgia.

I can't remember the last time I had a lunch packed in a brown paper bag. Sure, I usually bring lunch to work, a plastic box of leftovers, a sandwich (or the ingredients for one), or packets of instant noodles, carried in paper tote bags emblazoned with the logos of various shops (the more expensive the shop, the fancier the bag). I feel curiously young as I look at my plastic-wrapped sandwich and cookie, a ripe banana lounging insouciantly on top. It brings to mind school trips, lunches of ham or turkey sandwiches, with a bag of chips and an apple, perhaps a cookie or two. How many of those lunches have I eaten in this lifetime? Hundreds? Thousands? Would those bags stretch around the world? (Later, the sandwich eaten, every last cookie crumb devoured, the empty banana skin disposed of, I would smooth the brown paper bag flat, remember how I would sometimes reuse them until the sharp creases of each corner would relax into a rumpled softeness).

The egg salad is made with almonds, a sweet crunch with every bite; the multi-grain bread is spread with more mayonnaise before the sandwich is assembled, which I try not to think about too much. It is everything B. mentioned, and better. I eat my sandwich and drink my BibiCaffé and think about past brown-bag lunches eaten on a grassy lawn instead of at my desk in front of the computer. But instead of memories there is egg salad with almonds, and it is enough to make me happy, and I am.

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