Turkey Wedge

In the eighth grade, I was on the JV soccer team. Don’t be impressed. I wasn’t very good or anything. In fact, I didn’t really like sports, even though I wasn’t terribly bad at them. There was a reason for this: I was so steeped in team sports everywhere from camp to school starting before kindergarten, that I basically COULDN’T be bad at them. Everything from soccer, to tennis, to swimming, to archery (I’m not even kidding) I had started from the age of 6. And honestly, with all the lessons I got, I should be an amazing tennis player to this day. Which I am not. The heart wants what it wants and my heart wanted books. But this is about soccer. Which I enjoyed to some extent, and was tolerable at to some extent.

Even so, I’m pretty sure everyone who wanted to made it on to the JV soccer team. I only “tried out” because all my friends did it too. In the fall, thanks to a terrible case of mono, I had missed out on field hockey, which I did want to do, because of the cute skirts and polo shirts and the way the boys looked at you in the cute skirt and polo shirt. Field hockey was adorable and sporty.

But in soccer, we wore ugly long shorts and stinky jersey tops. Our coach’s name was Jorge Pardo. He was Chilean, I believe, had a face that could have been carved in stone on Easter Island, loved, loved, loved soccer, and was by far the least creepy coach I ever had. He did not care we were a bunch of pre-pubescent girls. He wanted us to be good, and to win, and he favored those of us who were naturally talented (not me) or had drive (definitely not me.) To those of us who were less than engaged, he was kindly though dismissive of our lack of drive. Fair enough.

Personally I was pretty happy being second to last to finish our zillion laps, day dreaming about Avonlea as I jogged a slow trot. On game days, I was completely happy sitting on the bench, chatting and laughing with the others, although some of them were not so happy on the bench as I. I lived in a sort of dread of being called in, which I was, once a game.

Last on the practice runs was always a girl named Shelly, a ninth grader, and she didn’t mind much either. I will admit, I was definitely in love with Shelly, in the way teenage girls are with other teenage girls. She was a pretty, round girl with a wry sense of humor. She did a dead-on impression of coach that never ceased to send me into hysterics, along with a number of teachers and kids from our school. IT didn’t matter to me if I didn’t know them; her impressions were funny on their own.

 Anyway, Shelly and I were often relegated to the bench together, where she definitely did not find me as cool or as funny as I found her, though she tolerated me. I was probably like a puppy dog to the older girls, adoring and worshiping, and taken none too seriously as a person. I was a nerd, with heavy purple framed glasses, a strangely sophisticated sense of style, and a propensity for movies from Hollywood’s golden age, which led me to frequently utter things like “My word!” and “Heaven forfend!” and “Cripes!” Yeah… I was cool. Very very cool.

My favorite days were away games. I loved going to see other schools and to dream about what it was like to be a student there. (Eighth grade was rough for me, thanks to the aforementioned mono, which caused me to miss my best friend’s bat mitzvah, which in return caused her to hate me with a deep and malicious passion. Also, I was a nerd.) I remember Hastings was a particularly beautiful school- like something out of a book about a northeast prep school, full of ivy and brick- (unlike Briarcliff, which was chucked up in the 70s with no eye to elegance or comfort, really. It did have a smoking patio though, for students in the tenth grade and up. So. There was that!) I’d fantasize about all my friends, and my great grades, and all my wonderful potential. The cute boys that also loved books, the fervent chats at lunch, the intellectual stimulation… yes, life at other schools by an other me was lovely.

I loved the bus rides too. Gazing out the bus window at the houses and neighborhoods rolling past, a glimpse at other, maybe happier, suburban lives. The warm glow of early March living rooms lit cozily against the brisk wind. A mom with a tray of something to eat. The TV flickering against the wall in place of a fire.

Most of all, I loved getting home a little late. It felt special. In those lengthening spring days, my mom, frazzled, would pick me up, my sister in querulous tow. And rather than hurry to make us dinner, she would take us to Weldon’s, which was located on the single strip of road we referred to as “town.” Lots of times the other moms had the same idea. There would be Meri and Dani and all my friends, waiting on line, giggling to each other, filthy in shin guards and sweaty uniforms.

In those days, Weldon’s was a long narrow room, just a deli counter, with shelves behind featuring cigarettes, and gum, and candy, and tins of things no one ever bought. Near the door was a rack of beguiling Hostess pastries; Yodels, Sno Balls heavy with fake coconut, Cupcakes, Fruit Pies. The glass case was filled with cheeses and meats and salads made primarily of mayonnaise. You’d give your order to Tommy or Joey (who also drove the school bus), or whoever was working behind the counter; of course they knew your name too. Sometimes they even knew your order. My sister’s was turkey plain. That’s right, no nothing, not even tomato, not even mustard. For me it was always turkey (or smoked turkey) with tomato, lettuce and mayo. Everyone else on planet earth calls them subs or heros. We, in North-West-Central Westchester, called them wedges.

 I’ve never had a turkey sandwich as good since, but once, and that was at Zito’s on Bleeker Street and it deserves its own entry. I don’t know what was different in those days. Maybe it was that the bread wasn’t from a factory many miles away, but more likely somewhat local. Bread now all tastes of preservative, but those white wedges were like rich, sweet pillows, with a perfectly crackling crust, not unlike a baguette. Each side was swabbed with a layer of mayo- Hellman’s from an enormous jar- perfectly calibrated to the edge of each side, just enough to make sure it hit all aspects of the sandwich. I don’t recall the turkey being slimy or tasting oddly sour, like it does now. It was just tender, a little salty, and very turkeyish, in the way that good turkey is. It was perfectly folded into the sandwich, and there was not too much, just a thick enough layer to give you the salt and the meat taste you desired. On top of that was a layer of thinly sliced tomatoes, probably mealy, definitely not local or in season, there for juice and acid. Next, came the shredded iceberg lettuce, and this was key. It added a layer of all important crunch, echoing the bread, but also a hint of crisp, summery, vegetal sweetness, in opposition to the more sugary sweet of the bread. The mayo would keep the lettuce somewhat bound to the bread, the tomato combining to create a damp juice that organized the whole thing. And last but not least, there was the great thrill of eating dinner standing up, sports-tired, as my mom hustled us to the car. I think I generally ate half before we got home. The lettuce fell on my lap like streamers, if I ate it in the car.

Ever since then, I’ve hunted and searched for that sandwich. The craving for it comes on hard, and you would think, that in New York City, you could find a proximate version, but alas, there are none, and I have had to survive on the memory, except for that one time at Zito’s…

Meanwhile, Weldon’s is still there- they own the whole block in town- and twice as big. I’m sure the sandwiches are still good, just not the same in this era of industrial eating. But I know they have a mean vegetable cream cheese. And so I still search for my turkey wedge, never to find it. I’ve nearly given up.