Not Ham, Most Definitely

June 9, 2008
By Matt Campelli, Chelmsford, MA

The mornings, out of all parts of the day, have the greatest potential to turn out the worst. It's a painful ordeal to reach the watershed point of actually getting out of bed, when the irritation at the squawking alarm turns to disgust at one's determination to somehow escape reality by trying to fall back asleep. This morning Robert woke in a frenzy of arms and legs and the day accordingly began its slow roll to hell.

The stupid chair got in the way of his foot, and the dirty shirt he threw didn't make it all the way to his bed, and the sock drawer slammed too hard. In the living room everyone just assumed he was angry and their willingness to leave him alone infuriated him further. It was all very illogical, and he was actually angry by the time he was running the water in the kitchen sink. He dropped a plate by accident and it clattered surprisingly loudly. The fact that he probably seemed more mad than he actually was pissed him off. His father cleared his throat over the newspaper and said,

“Be careful Rob.”

and kept looking over the creased inky paper in case Robert's eyes decided to meet his. They didn't, and he went back to reading about the local clash over the proposal to erect a Home Depot in the center of town.

Robert kept looking down. He immediately felt sorry that he hadn't given his dad a connection or at least some kind of assurance that he had raised a son who was capable of getting by in a world of warehouse chains and accounting. He spent the next three minutes feeling sorry and keeping awkwardly quiet and not helping anything except the cheese that was caked on the cheese grater. After that he stood watching the window above the sink fog up, then realized that he had somewhere to be and felt burdened to say something.

He went to the fridge and squeezed the handle to entertain himself.

“Hey dad.”

The paper dropped a little and his father looked over.

“I like your sweater... it's, uh. A nice kind of argyle.”


The paper fell all the way as his father inspected himself critically, chin jutting towards the floor. “You like it? Your mother picked it out. I'm terrible with clothes.”

“It's think it's cool.”

His father looked up.

“You do? Thanks, son.”

Robert smiled because he felt like he should be smiling. His teeth probably showed.

“You know what, Rob? I think your hair looks fine.” He looked Robert over. “It's a nice kind of emu.” His dad made a mock-haughty gesture that indicated he realized he was using another generation's jargon.


“Oh, hell. I like it anyway,” and the newspaper went haltingly back up.

“Thanks, dad.”

“You're welcome,” said the paper.

Robert released the refrigerator and went to his room to get his stuff.

* * * *

The drive to class was the opportunity to reaffirm his confidence in his own unflagging social idiocy. How many retards tell their father that his sweater is “a nice kind of argyle”? Ugh. Some situations push people close to swearing an oath of silence, and this was one of them. Robert considered his whole life to be a gigantic slip of the tongue. As a toddler, for example, he had called his dad “bawbaw” for two years straight, and on Valentine's Day in third grade he was concentrating so hard on how horrible it would be if he were to tell the girl he liked that he hated her guts and she was ugly that he actually said it, and she hit him and started crying.

Remembering didn't help improve his already-bad mood. He decided to think about something else. There was a quiz in fifteen minutes.

* * * *

He bought a Dr. Pepper between classes to prove to himself that he wasn't as off-center as he felt he seemed. As a matter of fact, he found that most reckless behavior came as a result of depressingly bad self-perception. He had a theory that if everyone just stopped worrying about the way everyone else saw them, vandalism would virtually disappear.

Dang. The code under the cap says RVFN 1DDP WWKQ 1D88, and that means I don't win a free one. I bet it's only 1 in 16 that wins, not 1 in 6. Stupid marketing gimmick. If the worry over image were to disappear, there'd be no marketing and no stupid 1-in-6-wins-a-free-Dr.-Pepper.

Scott was in front of him, bleary-eyed but raptorlike, talking about his Counter-Strike exploits.

“ know? I run out, and they have guy – guys co, covering the hangar door and I trow the grenade in there, right? And – and the guy closest to me runs up and trows it right back and it goes off in my face, isn't that crazy?”

Robert was curious why Scott was named Scott when he was Brazilian.

“Did they win?”

“No, naw, we won - the second, the second time we beat them.” He held up two fingers for two victories.

And then you went off and sandbagged for two hours to pump up your rating, most likely. Oh well.

“How the quiz go?”

Robert had physics with Scott last semester but this semester Scott was in the Tuesday-Thursday class. They had been lab partners and scored the highest out of the class on the labs and a byproduct of that relationship had been that Scott thought Robert was smarter than he really was.

“It was ok. I think I did alright.”

“Yeah, but you always do good.”

Robert laughed and then it was class time.

* * * *

The day seemed to have gone by incredibly fast by the time he was climbing into his car to get to work. There had been a physics lab and it had taken forever so it was straight from class to the deli.

He pulled in slowly and sat watching the beams of his headlights refract in a million dazzling bursts of condensation painted on the side of the building by the mist of the dreary low-hanging cloud. He leaned his head back. It seemed that the only time the headrest on the seat got any use was when he was sitting wondering why he was the way he was, why things were the way they were, and why he wasn't getting up and doing anything about it.

Inside, he put on the apron and got busy slicing roast beef for a morbidly large man who looked like he should have been eating tofu or asparagus instead of the meat lover's sub he had ordered. Strangely enough, it was only the dumb customers that Robert actually remembered – not to imply that eating beef when others think you could stand to lose weight is dumb, but rather that it's not hard to recall the ditzy girl and her friends who knocked over the spinning cheese display, or the mom that came in and tried to return a sandwich because she didn't like the way the first half of it had tasted (the cheese incident had occurred about 3 weeks prior to the Mom-Sandwich scandal, which happened last week). During his shift today, there were appearances by the woman always looking for some good aged Gouda, a guy about his own age who wanted chocolate, and a stressed, laptop-toting yuppie who thought he was in Panera and made it loudly obvious that he was on a tight schedule and thought Starbucks to be vastly superior to any other food service chain. Robert didn't bother to point out that the comparison wasn't a valid one, since Starbucks was a legitimate chain and Mangini's Deli and Sandwich Shop had only two outlets and so was more like a segment than anything.

Robert served a ham wrap to a customer who had ordered a ham wrap, and the man came back insisting he had ordered a ham wrap.

“That's a ham wrap right there.” Robert indicated the paper napkin in the man's hand.

“No, I don't think it is.”

“Excuse me?”

“I don't think this is a ham wrap.”

“The meat in that wrap is ham, sir.”

“I don't think so.”

“You don't think the meat is ham?”

“I don't think it is.”

A pause. A large white van rolled up outside the front window and the door opened to wait.

“I can show you how I cut it if you - ”

“No, that won't be necessary.”

“It won't be - ”

“I don't think that this is really ham.”

Another pause. Janine was on break. Sheesh.

“What if I show you the shrink wrap with the brand on it? Would that help?”


Robert had no clue what was going on. He was expecting a TV camera to appear and tell him it was all staged.

“That's ham in - ”

“This is not ham!”

The man flung apart the napkin holding the wrap and whipped the tortilla open, dropping cheese and lettuce to the floor. He pulled out some meat.

“This. Is not ham.”

Robert looked close in case he was missing something.

“That's ham.”

“This! Is not! Ham!” The man's breath was bad.

Robert would have snorted if he were a bull.

“Sir, that's ham, and if you don't like it, you can leave it here and eat the lettuce and cheese by themselves.”

The man dropped the ham on the counter and turned in a funny ducking manner.


“Not ham! Not ham!” called the man to no one in particular, walking in the same swinging gate towards the door. Cheese and more lettuce fell from the forgotten wrap swinging in his hand. To and fro, to and fro, mayonnaise pasted itself to the floor in crazy Rorschach patterns.

“Not ham!”

The man reached the door, swung out onto the sidewalk and was gone into the van. The van pulled away.

Robert was alone in the shop and behind the counter he lowered his head into his hands. I'm the world's biggest moron. The door tone still ringing in his ears seemed to call accusingly, “re-tard”. He looked at the clock. What a freaking idiot I am.

When Janine returned from break, Robert's shift had ended and he had gone. She found it strange that he would leave a mayo-covered slice of ham on the counter. He was usually so neat.

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This article has 1 comment.

br00tal said...
on Aug. 16 2008 at 2:33 am
wicked awesome. incredible style

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