I’ve lived in New York for about nine weeks, and about as many times
I’ve stopped to think of California and what I’ve left behind.
It isn’t that I feel regret. I’d say I’ve had my best weeks yet. And yet-
I will admit: There are certain things that never leave my mind.
It’s not sunshine and sand that I remember when snow begins to fall,
not coastlines and tans in mid-December or weeknights at the mall
(I consider myself lucky to have escaped these things at all).
No; when my toes have vanished and I can barely move my jaw,
it’s not the ever present, artificial warmth that I recall.
It’s a sandwich that occupies the space that fills the void behind my face.
To be perfectly honest, I never thought a sandwich could be so difficult to replace.
Before I continue with this story, I’d like to add a tangent to my tab:
In the kingdom of free associations, sawdust is still up for grabs.
The lucky among us would translate a scent of that unmistakable grit
as a prelude to hunger, a heavy plate, content, conveniently halved.
As for the unlucky… well, I’d wager there’s no poetry to be had.
The end of this aside is that my sandwich comes from a place.
A mild observation, I know, but one can’t come from a place without something to show-
and, in this location at Alameda and Ord, there are one hundred years of faces to know.
One hundred years of sawdust and labor, a city to flee, a vacancy to grow.
One hundred years of sprawling arms bent backward across skid row.
After one hundred years, I’m left to wonder when I think about downtown LA:
Is this as cosmopolitan as this city gets? As urban as textbooks will say?
A Sunset drive may be the way to plot a hopeless afternoon,
but Hollywood and Vine won’t be in my thoughts anytime soon.
If I’m lucky, I’ll make the breakfast call for eggs over easy and corned beef hash.
Chinatown has left for work. I haven’t hit the lunchtime dash.
Suits and helmets trickle out, and wood grains skid along the floor.
I scoop some salsa on my plate and claim a flour tinged biscuit as my reward.
When the sun begins its next ascent, I can’t help but be overwhelmed
by the sight of Los Angeles filing in for its daily bread.
Clerks and lawyers, would-be John Hoyers, seekers of their quarter hour,
servants, merchants, abrasive speakers of unsigned power,
the honest and the hopeful, all lining up to be fed.
Across the counter, the contemporary is met with an antique sight
from the fabled years when an honest day’s work was a worker’s right.
An army of mothers, wives and daughters assemble plates
with a server’s calm and a vendor’s grace.
At the end of this centennial line is the L.A. that I miss.
Roast beef, turkey, pork and lamb are carved and dipped into the drink,
then stuffed into rolls, where the juices and grease have a moment to think.
The insides meld, the outside flakes, and hunger transforms into an abyss.
I find a seat, set down my plate and assume the role of another weak link.
The East River wind snaps to attention and shakes me straight.
The snow begins to drift away, dragged behind the memory’s weight.
I walk up Bedford, seeing not a single trace of a nine cent cup of coffee,
an earthy pickled egg, that blistering mustard, that plain-Jane slice of pie
or the sandwich that’s so difficult to replace.
Philippe the Original
1001 N Alameda St
Los Angeles, CA 90012