I had just paid for my daughter’s 6-inch sub when two military men in fatigues joined the sandwich line.
It was Saturday afternoon, and they were on break from a training exercise. I decided to buy their lunch, a patriotic impromptu act of kindness performed by a life-long, pampered, take-freedom-for-granted American citizen. Always the civilian — I.
I never joined the military. I entered college to avoid the war (well, technically, the pushups of war). There was no war in 1983 — but I covered my butt. A cowardly kid, I had the only Talking G.I. Joe in the neighborhood with a Canadian road map.
Buying a sandwich for two soldiers wasn’t going to bankrupt me; however, there was cause for pause, for they were big, fit, hungry looking gents, causing me to ponder postponing my plans until one day sharing Subway with a punier patriot. You know, save a little dough at the sub shop. It’s not that I’m tight with money, for that would insinuate I have money to be tight with, which I don’t. Note how I went to Subway to buy my daughter a sandwich, sans one for daddy-o. I planned to await her wrapper crumbs.
After great internal debate, I decided to deploy my inner random act of kindness. I told the cashier my intent. She seemed relieved, for I had been standing there in silent, private debate for a rather lengthy time, likely looking like a hold-up man trying to conjure up enough courage to whip out my pistol and demand, “I want a 6-inch sub with turkey and American cheese and extra mayo. And I want it now!!!!”
I had hoped to remain anonymous, but I couldn’t pay for the soldiers’ meals ahead of time since I didn’t know what they were ordering. The cashier was impressed by my kindness, though not enough to add a free cookie to my daughter’s take-out. Not that I asked. Apparently, it wasn’t national “pay it forward” day.
Before the soldiers made their meat selections, a third soldier arrived, soon followed by a fourth. Now there were four hungry soldiers. Great. A whole platoon was obviously on its way. This wasn’t a lunch break; this was an invasion. Operation Overdraft!
To tell the cashier that I would pay for only the first two soldiers seemed slimy.
The foursome went for the 12-inch subs. I hadn’t even thought about that possibility. I was thinking 6-inch subs, like my daughter’s — you know, in the $5 dollar range. Four soldiers; 48-inches of cost. To stipulate only 6-inch subs, to deprive the soldiers of half a sandwich, also seemed slimy. After all, it’s doubtful these men would be deployed “halfway” to Afghanistan.
Sweat formed at my brow. Springsteen was right: It’s hard to be a saint in the city. I put my ATM debit card away, replacing it with my Discover. It was, after all, the second Saturday of my biweekly paycheck. I considered applying on the spot for a part-time “sandwich artist” job, you know, just till next paycheck.
I once was the recipient of a random act of kindness at a local restaurant. This was at Heichelbech’s (Heichs), which has the best club sandwich in town. In fact, I once mentioned in a column that Heichs has the best club sandwich in town. The following week, the owners, having appreciated my column, gave me a free club — fries included. Full disclosure: I did not write that column to get a free club. I have journalistic integrity. To say I was a bit bummed to open the menu and find that Heichs hadn’t renamed their club “The Saalmanwich” would be an understatement. Still, the only thing that tastes better than a Heichs’ club sandwich is a free Heichs’ club sandwich, since Heichs does have, in case I haven’t mentioned this yet, the best club sandwich in town. In fact, I’ll be going there next week, plenty of time for them to update the menu.
As the sandwich artist worked on the four 12-inch masterpieces I commissioned for the military, my mental cash register went on a cha-ching binge. I prayed cookies and chips wouldn’t be added, not to mention fountain drinks, whose prices, in case you don’t know, are controlled by OPEC.
Did I mention the sweat at my brow?
When the soldiers learned that I was buying their meals, they were sincerely appreciative. They even tried to talk me out of it. My god, did the military teach them to read minds? There was an elongated pause as I seriously considered taking them up on their reverse random act of kindness. “Nonsense,” I finally said. What did they take me for — a tightwad? “I really appreciate what you are doing for our country,” I added. As each man passed by with his 12-inch sub, chips, cookie and giant cup, he said, “Thank you, sir.” I was sincerely touched by their politeness, and I started to feel all warm inside for such a simple act of kindness.
It was a small cost for freedom, one well worth the bullets I sweated in Subway.
Scott Saalman and the Will Read For Food players will perform a public benefit show for Anderson Woods at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 23, at Klubhaus 61.