Egg sandwich photo by the author
Reality, like trash in August, stinks at dawn, when night no longer cloaks it in dreams or darkness. The light is harsh, the subways are late, and last night’s deeds flood back like dust floating in through a sunlit window. What you did or had done to you, and to or by whom, barges in unbidden to your mind. “I’ll never do that again,” you say, and you won’t... at least for a few more hours.
On mornings such as these, there inevitably arrives that moment when you can choose to embark upon a salubrious new life or slump into the filthy patterns of the past. Nowhere is this choice more pronounced than at breakfast. Homeade granola with non-fat yogurt drizzled with wild honey is the clear path to betterment. A deli breakfast sandwich—greasy eggs, half-melted American cheese, and lukewarm bacon on a soft boulder of bread—is both delicious and a slide to dissolution. I go for the egg sandwich every time.
There are so many things wrong with a breakfast sandwich, so many taboos transgressed and health codes flouted. It has no business being as pleasing as it is. There is the largely unremarkable fact that by eating at a deli, you are entrusting the first meal of your day to a business that makes most of its money selling lottery tickets and cigarettes. This, in itself, is perverse, like going to your bartender for your taxes because he knows how to use a cash register.
Then there are the ingredients to consider. There are only four in a proper deli breakfast sandwich—a hard roll, eggs, cheese, and bacon—but each are sensory horsemen galloping toward a cardiac apocalypse.
Long before you got up in the morning, and long before you went to sleep, that steel dish of bacon was festering on the side of an unclean, greasy, flat top grill. Inside, strips of pre-cooked meat are crammed like lobsters in a tank, awaiting their demise. For these pieces of former pig, it is a long, porcine purgatory. Fat commingling from the early morning until late at night under unnatural lighting, the bacon yearns to meet his griddle again, if only to end the pain for eternity.
Nearby, dozens of eggs form high-rise apartments in their pallets of cardboard. One shudders to think of the lives led by the chickens who laid them. At least with bacon, the pig can no longer suffer, though others shall replace it. Eggs, on the other hand, are the license plates made by chicken inmates doomed to serve life sentences in hellish cages.
A happier story is to be found in the American “cheese” that constitutes the binding agent between the eggs, bacon, and the hard roll. The cheese does not feel pain. It was born in a laboratory. It is no cheese, this, but a pasteurized cheese-food product, a task-oriented abstraction from dairy. It is invincible, unspoilable, and can never die, for it has never lived. This plasticine mess that has been dubbed “American” is bad for the country.
A New York kaiser roll is nothing but a glorified caloric box. Hard on the outside with an air-filled body, the only thing it delivers is short-lived pleasure and empty calories. But in a deli sandwich, it finds its true purpose.
A New York City deli via.
As for the cook at the other end of the spatula, my deli chef is a man named Allah. He’s a devout Muslim. On one particularly hairy morning, I asked to use the deli bathroom and walked past a neatly arranged row of prayer mats in the back room. Allah does not dig on swine, making this culinary experience heavy and horrible. Allah is preparing something for me that he finds profane.
It’s a filthy thing, a deli breakfast sandwich. But I defy you to tell me that you are not tempted by the flesh-colored roll peeking from the loosely closed tin foil or the virginal white paper sheath, the stench of desire emanating from the sandwich. There it is, that glorious doughy fold with a hint of eggy effluvia, like a woman’s most private moist hobby lobby mixed with the scent of the Venice canal. It’s all you can do to refrain from ripping off its aluminum corset and ravishing it with your mouth organ in front of the disapproving eyes of the deli man. “Haram!” he says. “Haram!”
But wait you do, shuffling in line painfully erect as the woman in front of you picks with irritating deliberation each of her futile lottery numbers. Inside you are so gnawed with anxiety—what if the cheese annoyingly adheres to the interior paper when you finally do unwrap the sandwich?—you can hardly breathe. (Cheese is a fickle mistress, one who will adhere to almost any surface.)
Payment isn’t more than tuppence for this momentary pleasure. But where to enjoy it? Can you, could you, do you, want to wait for privacy? No, you open the black plastic bag and immediately unwrap the foil, momentarily glancing at whatever sick cover adorns the day's New York Post. For inside your pouch, perfectly halved and now shorn of its prophylactic foil, awaits your breakfast.
Another view of the egg sandwich. Photo by the author
Pry apart the two halves and peer inside. It’s like Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde. Bacon labia enmeshed between the doughy thighs of a hard roll. Glistening white, the egg appears like slick porcelain, a word that comes from the Italian term porcellina, or pig vulva. That cheese goops and gleeps onto the roll. It gloms and grabs onto the bacon. The egg is the conscientious but filthy id that is even more perverse for wanting to be there, knowing this desire is wrong.
So you grasp the roll for a better grip, and bring the thing to the precipice of your lips. Squeeze it between your fingers as it spurts just a little yolky cheese ejaculate that dribbles down the side of the roll. You bring the oozing eggy porky breakfast concoction to your mouth and take a ravenous bite. You are wallowing in your filthy delight. And all the stinking trash in the world, all the incinerating rays of the sun, and last night's misdeeds can’t—and won’t—stir you from your bliss.