Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Friday, February 10, 2006

A Pittsburgh State of Mind

In a city where the answer to "Do you want ______ on that?" is almost always yes, Primanti Brothers Restaurant reigns supreme. There, absent instructions to the contrary, your sandwich order, selected off a painted board behind the counter, comes on two thick hunks of soft italian bread with your chosen lunchmeat, lettuce, tomato, and a veritable fistful of french fries and cole slaw. The only thing it lacks is a defibrillator within arm's reach of the seating area, such as it is.

While attending Pitt Law, I frequented Primantis fairly often. Then, I was climbing avidly, staying up late, partying far harder than was prudent or even sane, and struggling to get enough calories in to compensate my body for the sundry calorie burning diversions. Perhaps once a week, sometimes twice, notwithstanding my guarded student's budget, I'd head across the street to Primantis for a refueling, perhaps 500, perhaps 700 calories of carbohydrates and fat. I'd drink water, in deference to my budget, pack in the entire sandwich in a few minutes, and leave, part of me regretting the indulgence invariably before I made it out the door while another part of me basked in the gluttony.

I don't eat well. I eat fairly healthily, but absent-mindedly, often sporadically. I view feeding myself as no less a chore than mopping the floor, and procrastinate with regard to the former as I do the latter. It's not that I don't enjoy food. Readers of this site will know that the contrary is true. But if I were afforded a choice between eating dinner-for-one, prepared on the fly in my kitchen, every night, or eating decadently only once or twice per week, I'd choose the latter in a heartbeat. In some sense, I do, managing to eat out at least once or twice in an average week, and failing to make a real dinner at least as frequently.

This week, I've been sleeping less. In the last two days, I've run out of the bananas and Clif bars that usually comprise breakfast. Having ridden the past two days, and in light of the reduced sleep, I've been starving and have struggled to get out of bed in the morning. Rather than do something productive about it last night (grocery shopping followed by cooking), as I intended, I found myself distracted, first upon removing my humid bike clothes by scotch and cigar and Middlesex, then by a movie, then by a basketball game . . . and then it was just late. Instead of making a formal sit down dinner, I got by on a combination of pecans, wasabi peas, chocolate discos, left-over hummus, and finally an aging Amy's pot pie that had darkened my freezer door for far too long, vestige of when I cared enough about the dollar or two I could save by bringing lunch to work to opt for that rather than grabbing food at one or another downtown lunch counter each day.

Surprise: I woke up raveous.

There's a Primantis near my office, on Cherry Way between Oxford and Kaufman's. Today, I could overlook my calorie defecit no longer. Drastic measures were required. No tuna sandwich or burrito or falafel could do for my body what Primantis could do, and nothing else would suffice.

Vaguely ashamed, I grabbed a section of newspaper from a desk in our office, and embarked sheepishly upon my quest, craving the feast to follow.

As an ovo-lacto-pesco-whatever, there are really only a few things on the menu I will eat, and only two that I can recall ever eating: the Deluxe Double Egg and Cheese, and the Cheese Combo. Where nutrition is the alpha and omega, I choose egg over cheese, and today that's what I selected.

Mere minutes after I ordered, I carried my sandwich, wrapped in two layers of wax paper, in two hands like two fistfuls of playing cards jumbled and slick, to the shallow counter along the streetside window where I had set down my small, iceless soda and my newspaper. Spreading the paper awkwardly in a crook in the counter, I stooped to the task.

One doesn't hold a sandwich like this between one's fingers. One wraps one's hands all the way around the half of sandwich, like a massive harmonica, and rather than bite one stuffs, jaws yawning almost painfully to receive the offering. And if one can avoid doing so, one does not set down the half-sandwich but rather eats it entirely in a series of creaking bites. In this way, the stuffings that escape are forced mouthward with the increasingly fragmented bread like an acorn toward a squirrel's mouth, cradled, pushed inexorably forward whether or not the mouth has space or is prepared.

Sandwich by ordeal. And ah the post-prandial satiety. I have spent hundreds of dollars on dinner, eaten out of cans in the high desert chill, and done just about everything in between. No doubt, there are meals I'd rather eat than a Primantis sandwich, which falls just on the eating-as-necessity side of the continuum, rather than the opposing eating-for-aesthetic-pleasure end of the spectrum. But nothing makes me feel quite as full and satisfied as the Primantis sandwich I allow myself just a couple of times a year to fill a bottomless stomach crying for engorgement.


Blogger Diceburgh said...

You said it. Bee-uti-fully, n'at.

12:04 AM  
Anonymous binky said...

You should break the ovo-lacto-pesco for the sausage sandwich, and none of this oakland nonsense, it's gotta be in the strip.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous eli said...

I like the visual of sandwich as harmonica. That makes me chuckle.

3:25 PM  

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