Thanks to everyone who submitted an entry to our contest. Jump to read the three winners’ Steve Blowish columns. Each winner will receive a free copy of Hank Stuever’s Tinsel, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Entry No. 1
HED: Art in the Age of Sandwich Reproduction
By Steve Blow
First I pointed to the olives. Then the tomatoes and peppers.
Dante knew the drill. I’d placed my trust in the hands of an artist, and for once, he wasn’t starving.
Dante, a certified “sandwich artist,” works the afternoon shift at the Subway across the street from my office.
Most days I followed the same routine: Hurry in, direct Dante to the little buckets under the wide glass counter, and scramble out the door before the next guy can say “pepperjack.”
The exchange felt so tidy and businesslike, the antithesis of McAlister’s Deli in Sunnyvale, where on Sunday afternoons I’m often greeted with a smile and a courtesy slice of Swiss.
At Subway, I speak only in hurried keywords: 6-inch, double meat, chipotle. The warmest part about that transaction is when I say, “toasted.”
But if Dante lacks social charm, he’s at least dependable. Usually. Not until I was back at my desk did I realize something had gone horribly wrong: This wasn’t my standard turkey on wheat. It was a Philly cheesesteak.
Now, I’d never tried a cheesesteak, and I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to. Did you know, according to Wikipedia, that it’s customary in the City of Brotherly Love to slather the meat in Cheez-Whiz? And, apparently, hot fudge.
When I read this alarming factoid, I stood up and shouted it to the newsroom. My colleagues’ stunned silence proves they were just as taken aback.
I considered returning the sandwich. Instead, I took a bite. Just a nibble. Five minutes later, I stared at the lonely pile of crumbs on my desk and undid one of my shirt buttons. He’d converted me, that clever Dante.
I should have known: Like all the best art, what at first seems an error, is often a stroke of genius.
Entry No. 2
It was early on Tuesday in Sunnyvale when Madlyn Bowers walked to her mailbox. She kicked the neighbor’s cat, Felicity, away from the weedy post and tossed a soggy newspaper into the street. And as she reached into the battered aluminum case, she felt a sting. A deadly brown recluse spider had gnawed her knuckle.
Her husband, Muldoon, pulled out his gray, heavily dented and key-scratched 1978 Ford Maverick with the checkerboard seats, and the two raced to Parkland General Hospital. He was already angry because of a letter from the homeowner’s association about the messy front yard verge, and the night before he had waved his gun at the newspaper carrier for trying to collect a 7.50 for papers.
Anyway, after waiting 17 hours for treatment at Parkland, unfortunately Madlyn died. Muldoon pulled out his .38 special and shot up the ER; no one was hurt but Muldoon, who fell over dead from a heart attack.
Neighbors later held a block party, describing the Muldoons as the dregs of humanity.
And this is what our world in Sunnyvale has come to? Parties for dead neighbors?
Actually, according to the “Parties for Dead Neighbors” Facebook page, this phenomenom is growing by leaps and bounds. Folks are celebrating the demise of their sorry block companions. The trend is noteworthy.
So now my trusted spousal unit and I, empty-nesters, are going to do better by our neighbors. We’ll hold barbecues. We’ll mow the lawn. We won’t pull guns on newspaper carriers.
And we’ll never, ever, reach into a dirty mailbox. After all, that’s what started this saga in the first place.
Entry No. 3
After prayer this morning with my fellow churchmen — our wives waited in the dining hall with our breakfasts hot and ready — I thought, “Shucks, I am lucky to live in a land that lets any color of people, especially the white people of Sunnyvale, celebrate Christmas the way it was intended — the rich buying for the poor once a year and feeling pretty darned good about it.”
From my home balcony I can sip my decaf and see the bright light rising from the heart of Dallas and think, “The Lord is in his heaven as long as that green shaft glows.”
Oh, now and then one of us gets our back bowed up over life’s injustices but, when you shuck the husk off of it, those things are fleeting like a horsefly off a pig’s hide. They’ve lit for only a second and we right-minded people move on.
Except, of course, for a few soreheads who squawk about such dust-ups as the civil rights movement or that Watergate thing. Why drag that out for the company to see? Mr. Nixon was just trying to be a good president, not a role model.
We have to remember, at our most joyous time of year, to look for the motivation of the soul. That is why, for the next two weeks, I’ll be serving noon meals to the homeless downtown. It’s my “mitzvah,” to use the mystical word of my Jewish friends (Lordy, if only they’d relent on their Messiah theory).
When I see Dallas lit up or tinsel in Frisco, I thank the Lord that I am not living in some Santa-free village in Soviet Russia or whatever they call themselves now. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year — just for the season, hold off on the hissy fits.