There was a time when the Curmudgeon made his own lunch and brought it with him every day.
It was always the same: peanut butter and jelly on raisin bread, an apple and three oatmeal cookies. He’d buy chocolate milk from the roach coach – those shiny trucks that went from place to place at breakfast and lunch before Uber Eats and gourmet food trucks became a thing. He pinched pennies so hard that he used the same raisin bread bag to pack his lunch until it fell apart.<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">There was a reason for his frugality: he was in law school and we were poor, subsisting on my ridiculously low reporter's salary. Still, I was impressed that he never changed it up. He could eat the same thing day in, day out, and never get tired of it. I can't do that. I need variety in my life and in my meals, unable to have the same thing two days in a row. This may explain why we rarely eat the leftovers that the Curmudgeon meticulously packages in plastic storage containers after every dinner.There was a reason for his frugality: he was in law school and we were poor, subsisting on my ridiculously low reporter’s salary. Still, I was impressed that he never changed it up. He could eat the same thing day in, day out, and never get tired of it. I can’t do that. I need variety in my life and in my meals, unable to have the same thing two days in a row. This may explain why we rarely eat the leftovers that the Curmudgeon meticulously packages in plastic storage containers after every dinner.
I don’t like leftovers. I know, I should, and I probably fall in the minority of people, but I don’t. My father refused to eat them, so we can blame him. At one point, he told my mother to stop making baked sausages and potatoes because the dish reminded him of when he was a poor medical resident. He made a similar proclamation over filet of sole Almandine, not because it reminded him of being poor, but he was simply sick of it.
As eaters go, he was a tough nut, the only person I ever met who didn’t like condiments on his hotdogs and hamburgers, and hated all cheese, even the smell of it. My mother used to prepare separate trays of “lasagna in the boat” for my dad at holidays without cheese. That’s the way he ate his pizza too. Before he ordered fish and chips, he always asked if it was made with cod, refusing to order it if it was. He didn’t order it very often.
One day, my dad thought it might be nice to come home for lunch to see my mother without seven kids around, but my mother quickly put a stop to it. She wanted an uninterrupted stretch of time to herself while we were at school to get things done and whatever else moms did while they had the house to themselves. As a mom myself, I understand this completely.
“I married you for better or worse, but not for lunch,” she declared one day, repeating a quote attributed to Wallis Simpson, wife of Edward VIII, who abdicated the British throne for his lady. Aside: I think Prince Harry takes after his great great uncle in the love department, washing his hands of the monarchy for Meghan. I doubt Meghan would tell Harry to get lost at lunch, but who knows? We all have limits to our togetherness.
My father was not amused by my mother’s proclamation; in fact, I think his feelings were hurt, but he got the message. From then on, he ate peanut butter crackers at lunch, arriving home like a maniac at 6 p.m. ready to eat anything in sight.
It never occurred to my mother to pack a sandwich for my father, though it certainly would have been easy enough: most mornings she stood at a thick cutting board and made seven sandwiches for us to take to school before lining us up and combing our hair, mostly into braids and ponytails. From there, she added cookies and a bag of chips, even after I implored her to hold my chips. Of course, we sometimes had hot lunch too, but what I remember from those days is her sandwiches: cream cheese and jelly (and “a punch in the belly,” she always added), ham and cheese and when she was really desperate, cold veal cutlets on a hard roll. (Those were immediately tossed in the trash.)
I don’t have lunch with the Curmudgeon, though there was a time that we ate it together every day. That’s one of the benefits of dating and then marrying a co-worker: you have a built-in lunch buddy to explore the delis and diners within a 10-mile radius of your workplace. We had about 10 establishments in our lunch rotation, from a hamburger joint that served Afghanistan cuisine (fantastic!) to Mr. Sizzle, home of the pastrami nightmare.
Today, the Curmudgeon eats lunch with a few friends at work. They go to a few delis to pick up sandwiches every day, mainly to get out of the office. I understand the need for a change of scenery. Eight or more hours in the same place can drive you nuts. I never brown-bagged my lunch when I worked full-time, mainly because I needed to leave the premises.
But the other day, these guys drove around for 45 minutes in search of their lunch. Their favorite deli in Branford, CT., was closed due to Covid 19, and they had to wait about a half hour for tuna fish sandwiches at another place. So I did something I’ve never done in nearly 40 years of marriage: I offered to make the Curmudgeon a sandwich to take to work. I was feeling so generous that I offered to make one for his co-worker too.
I agree that a sandwich from a deli always tastes better than one made at home, but I figured I could handle tuna salad, about the only option available during Lent if you don’t want egg salad or a PB&J. By Wednesday, I had all of my ingredients: tuna fish, celery, shaved carrots, lettuce, tomato, Spanish onion and hot red peppers for his friend. Despite my supplies, the Curmudgeon was initially dismissive, saying he could handle his own lunch, but thanks.
By Friday morning, he was cautioning me that he only wanted lettuce and tomato on his sandwich, while his friend hated lettuce so I’d better not dare put any on his sandwich. I offered to pack the lunches so he could take them with him, but he worried that the sandwiches would be soggy sitting for hours. This seemed a reasonable concern, though plenty of other people, including school kids, must contend with this every day.
“Come at 12:15 p.m.,” he said. I felt like an Uber Eats delivery person. But at least they don’t have to make it too. To get myself in the mood, I washed the lettuce, sliced the tomatoes and assembled the tuna salad early, throwing it in the refrigerator so the flavors would meld. I’m not sure why deli tuna is so good, but it’s one of those things that’s hard to master at home. Mine is never quite mushy enough, lacking the distinctive texture that makes deli tuna so great. I even used an ice cream scoop like they do at Subway, flattening the mounds of tuna with the back of it.
A few hours after he left, he phoned to say his friend was out of the office, so he wouldn’t be needing lunch. He then suggested I pack my own tuna sandwich and join him at the picnic table outside their office. This surprised me on a few levels: he deplores eating outside, and he hasn’t invited me to have lunch with him in at least 10 years. Then again, I was bringing the sandwiches, a definite plus in my column.
The weather cooperated, a balmy 60-something degrees in mid-March, and the dog limited her begging to me, knowing better not to bother the Curmudgeon when he’s eating. It was pleasant, fun, and best of all, he saved a little money. It was nice eating out with him, even if it was next to the office parking lot and a garbage can.
Some of his office co-workers ambled by, and commented on how cute it was that we were picnicking after all these years. But just as quickly as it began, it ended. When I offered to make tuna sandwiches again, he brushed me off.
“It was nice, but I’m all set,” he said.
I’m back to eating alone, just as Wallis and I like it.