The Missing Ingredient

By Jon Hillenbrand In Stories

There are many things in this world that are almost perfect.  Pringles, for example, would be perfect if they satiated you.  Unfortunately, you crave more the more you eat which, lucky for Pringles, keeps you purchasing can after delicious can.  My sister used to joke that they were laced with Addicto, a secret additive which made you crave them equally the instant after you swallowed one.  If Addicto exists, there are many more products laced with it such as Coke, Pepperoni Pita Stuffs (discontinued) and a particular sandwich that a woman used to make for me when I was a kid.  Back in early grade school, when I was around 10 years old, there existed this great place called The Deli.  I’m sure they served lots of different types of foods, but the only thing I ever got there was the grilled ham and cheese sandwich.  Since I’ve grown, I’ve tried many different combinations of ham and cheese and bread in a laborious attempt to replicate the recipe only to discover that I will never successfully figure it out.  As the youngest and only boy in a family full of women, my needs were not usually catered to nor acknowledged.  I also had very nerdy parted hair and aviator glasses which made bullies want to beat me up with the same craving as eating a can of Pringles.  I was so nerdy, I even had hand-me-down clothes from my older sisters.  In early grade school, I was given my sister’s used girl jeans.  Even though I was told they were, “unisex,” I could tell by the pattern on the rear pockets that they were only for girls.  So they sat in my drawer for a long time ensuring that I wore my blue uniform dress pants during the hours after school when I would act out desperate scenarios with my GI Joe action figures alone in my room.

Every few weeks, my mother or older sister would bring me to The Deli.  My mind is fuzzy on the details, but the sandwiches I remember clearly.  At home, we had cold cuts which were so uniform that they could have been in the army.  A home sandwich was very orderly with two slices of identical meat, mustard and two pieces of dry white bread.  The Deli sandwich was like Jazz in comparison.  A rough mound of very thinly sliced ham was covered in cheese and in some kind of amazing bread that I can’t quite remember.  That’s not to say that my home grilled ham and cheese was bad.  On the contrary.  My mom used to make a grilled ham and cheese cooked on an old peeling frying pan that probably contained equal parts burned butter and teflon.  It was so pressed down it was like an eraser.  Haven’t you ever wanted to bite down on an eraser just once and have it be a delicious flavor?  It starts out a little rubbery, then break the surface and it’s gooey and hot, tangy, sharp with sweetness and it fills you with a warmth, a warmth not due to the content of the sandwich, but with the content of the act of it having been made for you as a special treat.  The Deli version was this multiplied by a thousand.  Don’t you see?  My mom told me that the woman who worked at or owned The Deli thought I was such a cute little kid that she loved it when I came in there.  “They never give people that much ham.  She must really like you,” they would tell me.  I would stare ahead in disbelief looking just past the sandwich into a corner without tables or chairs or details.  In a life full of bullies and disappointed parents and sisters busy fighting or pitying you for attracting the negative attention of the parents, someone who loves you just because you are cute and you like their cooking, is magical.  Isn’t that some kind of purity that we all deserve?  Fuck.  What do I have to do to reproduce this sandwich?  Find someone, woo her, love her, get her to love me completely…no scratch all of that.  Go somewhere, meet someone who loves me “just because”, freak out, confirm the impossible through various successes and missteps, delight in the spring of serendipity, marry them, be with them and love them completely, and maybe, fuck I hope so, just maybe she will make me a fantastic grilled ham and cheese sandwich and that day I can stop looking forever for that little ingredient that was missing all along.

What do you think?