David Brooks and The Case of the Confusing Sandwich

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

– David Brooks, The New York Times, July 11, 2017

I don’t have a college degree, and I’ll never forget the time I went to a sandwich shop in my neighborhood and didn’t know any of the words and I completely freaked out. I started eating the mustard packets and punching people. Why did they give these meats and cheeses such confusing names?

I’ve always liked David Brooks. Even when I don’t agree with him I’ve found him to be a good writer and a smart and thoughtful person. And his latest column isn’t terrible – he makes some good points – but how can a thoughtful person write a paragraph like the one above?

If this friend exists – the paragraph has a whiff of “I was talking to a cab driver….” about it, but I’ll believe him – it’s a weird scenario. People – even mediocre ones that don’t have college degrees! – can usually figure out what cold cuts are, especially if they’re standing in a sandwich shop. And if they can’t, would they really ask Brooks to take them someplace else, like a Mexican place, which, apparently, is where people with “only” high school degrees eat (even though Spanish is probably used on the menu)?

(Also, what the hell is a “high school degree?”)

The line that sticks out to me is “Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop.” Insensitively? What an odd line, showing that Brooks’s default position seems to be elitist, where he separates his friends into people who can “handle” fancy sandwich places and friends he should only take to other types of places. And if this friend was so confused by sandwich meats (there’s no quote from her just confused head-nodding), why would Brooks get her out of there like she was being hounded by the paparazzi, rushing her off to safety (a Mexican restaurant)? Couldn’t Brooks have just explained to her what they are? Couldn’t she ask the person behind the counter?

Recently I took David Brooks to lunch. Insensitively, I led him into a Pizza Hut. Suddenly I saw his face freeze up and his glasses fog as he was confronted with pizzas named “Supreme” and words like “mozzarella” and “pepperoni.” I quickly asked him if he wanted to go some place else and he nodded yes so we went to Le Bernardin and ate some organic kale.