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.

One thought on “David Brooks and The Case of the Confusing Sandwich

  1. I read David Brooks’ column per your link, and actually agree with quite a bit of what he says, which makes the italicized paragraph at the top contradictory and ironic actually, as the column is pretty condemning of the very type of person or “class” that would do the very thing he did himself!

    A lot of high school grads AND college grads don’t know their ass from a whole in the ground today, and it’s one of the biggest reasons this country is in the terrible mess it’s in. Many people in both groups have no basic common sense, and the intelligence level of a flea. Many college grads are not like the phony elitists discussed in his column, but many are stupid dumb asses that happen to be good enough at regurgitation to pass the tests to get the grades to get the degree!

    Take them out of the classroom and strip them of their college graduate status and you’ll find some of the stupidest, low class people just under the surface. People who’s idea of great movies are ‘Transformers’ and everything else where you just sit there in a stupor with Hollywood’s brain-dead pyrotechnic audio-visual assaults to the brain. Considering the state of today’s movies, music, and so much more, a very strong argument could be made college is a near complete creativity destroyer!

    Many hold the destructive pharmaceutical industry in high regard as the ONLY way to get better. After all, doctors are all college grads. Alternative, natural healing that would actually get to the root of the problem instead of masking it? Perish the thought! College is a one-size-fits-all world which represents the ultimate example itself of what it claims to represent the opposite. They’re the ones with all the power, and want to take all the credit. They absolutely SHOULD get all the credit for the condition the U.S. is in today, without question! For the most part, “education” is the last thing they’re about. A drunk, dumb, dying boy crashing head first down a flight of stairs? Now you’re talkin’!

    Those Italian sandwiches aren’t something many high school OR college grads would know unless they frequented the shops and bought them!! Certain “trendy” (aka PHONY) places will come up with exotic names for things to give the insecure snobs/schmucks a feeling of “exclusivity” they need because they lack it in life otherwise, and know it.

    Driving around town different times you’ll see this type lined up, waiting in the hot sun to get into some (otherwise) nothing pancake restaurant or coffee place because it’s “trendy”. I’ve seen it in West L.A. on Pico, on Ventura Blvd. in Tarzana and on Tujunga Blvd. across the street from Vitello’s (that of the Robert Blake murder years ago) in Studio City.

    To play devil’s advocate, a lot of these types of restaurants have tried to create airs of superiority as a survival skill in a brutal economy where they’re little place could vanish with even one bad month. So for insecure high school and college grads, the names of the coffee and pancakes have to have exotic enough names to help justify their outrageous prices! Enough people in these crowds think JFK was asassinated in the 1800’s—–if they even know who he is at all of course, which is at best iffy.

    It’s totally a case of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, but a win-win for these small places with Starbucks around the corner, raking in the dough to stay competitive. Win-lose for the customer though. A temporary snob appeal fix they sadly need because they know they’re up to their eyeballs in debt, college or not. Very little is owned, most are leasing and renting everything, so who cares what’s in a ‘Padrino’. or what it is. They get to say the name loud enough for everyone else to hear them order it! Aren’t you jealous?!

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