I want to warn you up front: today’s post may not be all that funny. I had intended to write a fairly standard piece, talking about 2 sandwiches from South Africa, have a laugh or two, quote Invictus. The Poem, not the Movie. Though, I guess, since the quote the poem IN the movie, I’d technically be doing both either way. Well played, Matt Damon.
Damn you, you beautiful bastard!
And don’t think that giving up talking about Invictus was easy, oh no. It’s easily one of my favorite poems, and the movie was perfectly fine. But, things interfered, and I wasn’t able to make one of the sandwiches. Specifically, I wasn’t able to make the one whose name is IN Afrikaans, which would have been my “in” to talk about South African culture. Instead, I made the other one, The Gatsby. And…that opened a door in me. Because, as you quite likely don’t know, The Great Gatsby is a rather important story in my life. And thinking about it opened a sea of emotions in me, that I can’t, in good conscience, not discuss. So I'm gonna front load all my sandwich discussion in the next section, and then go on an emotional journey, So if you're just here for the food and jokes, Just read till I mention Mulan, and then come back on Thursday, no harm, no foul.
First, let’s talk about that sandwich.
My emotional revelations and explorations aside, there is some fun to be had with the history of the Gatsby. You may not recall this, but before Leonardo DiCaprio gave the role a spin in 2013, back in 1974, Robert Redford took a swing at it. There are also 1949 and 1924 versions of the film. Interestingly, NONE of them are regarded as great artistic successes, while all did pretty well at the box office. (There’s also a 2000 British television version, but I have no data about that except that Paul Rudd was in it, so I have to assume it was not particularly well received.)
UNLIKE this sandwich, amirite?
But the Redford film is the important one; because it’s the reason the sandwich has this name. The story is a simple one, of the kind often heard in the circles of sandwich creation, or really any food:
-a group of blue-collar men (in this instance, factory workers) ended up in need of a lunch.
-One of their friends produced a sandwich arranged in a mildly new or interesting way (slices of bologna (well, technically a regional style named polony), slap chips (French fries) and either achaar or peri peri (spicy pickles or hot sauce)).
-Following the first few bites, one of the men made a strange exclamation, creating the name for the sandwich.
In this instance, the cry was “This is a Gatsby Smash”, referencing the film, which had just recently come to South African theatres, presumably the speaker was a big fan.
Personally, Big fan of Good Ol' Robbie Red in teh film, the rest of it was...alright.
Now, as in most cases, this etymology is tricky to prove: which group of factory workers, which exact friend brought or made the sandwich, all of that is argued, because the sandwich became quite popular, essentially the Johannesburg version of a Po’boy. You could put whatever meat or veg you liked, as long as the sandwich had fries and hot sauce inside. Also, the idea of “the more the merrier” was incorporated, with Gatsbys being made to be split among friends: whole loaves of bread were cut up like party subs, so everyone could be in a Gatsby party!
Personally, I quite liked several components of the sandwich, and it was generally well-received by the family. The hot sauce worked nicely, and the chewy french bread and soft bologna paired well together. I think, in future attempts, I'll add more condiments/toppings, and strive to ensure the fries are hot when the sandwich is served, but overall, it was certainly a success.
I blame at least part of the following self-reflection on the fact that I watched Mulan today.
Title Jon is not lying. I am certain Disney put the seed of this analysis within me by running that film today. So why should a simple sandwich, named after an unremarkable film cause me to set aside my jovial nature to level with you, the streetwise youth of the day? Because it reminds me of when I was a man who meant something, that’s why.
DAMNIT. THIS JOKE AGAIN?
That classification is probably overwrought, but it’s also genuine. Allow me to explain: From 2012 to 2015, I was financially treading water: my dedication to theatre prevented me from committing to schedules that would get valuable work in the town I lived in. I was enduring, but my pride was preventing me from really accepting the options that would have allowed me to grow. (food stamps and other forms of assistance. ) I was working 2-3 part-time jobs, and barely staying ahead of my bills.
But I was mostly happy. I was respected as a highly trained and informed theatrical professional. I helped out the student theatre group, people relied on me. I had sold-out rooms laughing at my jokes, and had people who were calling me asking me to be in their projects in other STATES. (That last bit, while true, is cheating: I lived 8 minutes from the Idaho border, so “come do this show in another state” was the same as “it’s a 15 minute commute”)
When you clicked on this sandwich post, did you expect sadness and maps? I know I didn't.
Following a medical emergency around July 2015, however, I ended up going to a dentist not covered by my insurance, putting me in some...mild medical debt. Since I wasn't really making enough money to spare for a new bill, I talked with my parents, and decided to move back home in September, find a job somewhere around Tacoma/Seattle in theatre, and make a new start.
That…didn’t happen. The hows and whys are, frankly, unimportant. But, even by December of 2015, I was already seeing the writing on the wall: I had probably overreacted, and put myself in a position where it was either “keep trying for stuff you’re good at and make you feel good” or “suck at a shitty job for long enough to get money to get to where you want to go”. At that time, Alan approached me, and set out a proposal: he wanted to try building a website, but had no real content to produce for it. And thus the site was born.
I was going to put a picture here, but then figured a picture of the site, ON the site, was something of a "hat on a hat" situation. But I also wanted a moment of levity. So now we have a picture caption with no picture, which is more of a "hat on no head" situation.
Now, all of this is for certain values, sad, but it doesn’t connect to The Great Gatsby. Well, see, 2015 wasn’t the first time I faced the option of giving up and coming home. No, that happened in 2012. Following my graduation, I strode forth from college certain I could find employment fairly quickly and easily. In that first year, I had 4 jobs, only one of which lasted longer than 6 weeks, but that one only offered an average of 4 hours a week. By the time April rolled around, I was not just broke, I was actively in debt to my roommates. I had lived, at one juncture, off of Chicken Ramen and Milk for a week. I was ready to say “Alright, I tried, I give up.”
And then, someone believed in me. They nominated me for a prominent (unpaid) position, which I accepted and ran for. And I won. In that moment, I decided I couldn’t let these people down. I got a new job, and I really started doing stuff. And one of the things I did was The Great Gatsby.
Though I have a surprising lack of photographic evidence that it existed. This may be the only shot I have.
This show was my baby: I had proposed it the year before, stating that, if we wanted students to come, we had to give them things that interested them. A new film with Leonardo DiCaprio was scheduled to come out in December. “Why not,” I said, “open our show the week before? Have them come see our version, and then go see Baz Luhrmann’s?” I was chosen to direct it. I made some risky calls in…basically every aspect of the show, from casting new actors as the leads, to a stylized presentation, to incorporating a projector, that all paid off! While this record may not stand anymore, in the 8 years I was affiliated with the student theatre group, no show EVER made as much money as Gatsby did. It was, in many ways, my vindication.
So, realizing I needed more to talk about for today’s post, I looked back over my work on the show, to draw some fun stories, and I stumbled onto the letters I wrote to my cast members to thank them; and I almost wept. Besides simply the memories, the friends I haven’t seen, the lives I’m no longer involved with, there’s another loss. There’s a…tone to my speech in those letters: A flow of confidence, a sense of joy behind my words that I haven’t felt in some time.
Now, don’t worry: This isn’t some emotional announcement that we’re shutting down, or that I’m going on hiatus, or anything like that. It’s not an announcement of anything, other than, at this moment I'm feeling nostalgic and a little sad, and that this french-fry sandwich isn't really helping.
Heck, it’s more than likely some of this sense of impotence is connected to my father’s illness, and the fact that the last two shows I got cast in were cancelled. I’m probably just having a bit of a rough summer, and had an unlikely coincidence give me an emotional gut-punch. I just think it’s important to be honest with you all, and foolish to pass up a genuine opportunity to be emotionally honest with myself and you all.
That, and seriously, it’s a bologna sandwich, with fries and hot sauce inside it. I sure as shit wasn’t going to make THAT compelling for 1,500 words. As always, if you like our posts, feel free to share them. I don't know why you'd share this one, other than to mock my pain, but that's honestly fine with me, all I care about is dem views, boi! Check out our Facebook page for assorted quips and post updates, and support us on Patreon to see more pictures, get audio recordings of our posts, and shit talk Jon in his own Discord server.
THURSDAY: JESUS, CAN’T A MAN HAVE A MOMENT TO BREATHE? I OPEN UP TO YOU AND YOU ASK WHAT’S NEXT?! WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT?! (I honestly don’t know. I was going to do another “History of a culture’s cuisine” thing, but, again, we didn’t really get into South Africa all that much today.)
Author's note: This recipe will be for the version I made for my family. As noted in the post, The Gatsby is a very variable form of sandwich, so feel free to add/change toppings as you please. The only consistent aspects are the fries, hot sauce, and larger bread. The sandwich can be made with Steak, fried calamari, vienna sausages, basically whatever
1 loaf French bread. (Pick a loaf with a softer crust)
1 pound bag of frozen steak fries.
1 tbsp peri peri sauce
2 tbsps ketchup
1/2 lb bologna (I used 1/4 pound standard bologna, and 1/4 lb beef bologna)
1. Cook the fries as directed on the bag. While cooking, assemble rest of sandwich.
2. Cut the loaf of french bread in half horizontally, forming one huge sandwich.
3. If desired, you can fry the bologna for 1-2 minutes a side to add a bit of textural and flavor variety. I personally fried the normal bologna, but left the beef as-is.
4. Place the bologna on the bottom half of the sandwich. Stir together the ketchup and peri-peri sauce. When the fries are done, place them in 2-3 handfuls across the sandwich, on top of the bologna. Drizzle the sauce as you see fit over the fries. PLace the shredded lettuce on the top half of the sandwich, and flip it onto the fries. Cut into 4 pieces, and serve.