Montanawich

Boots’s Pick
Nathaniel Tower


Turkey Sandwich
Photo Credit: FotoosVanRobin

A friend of mine told me I couldn’t imagine a sandwich the size of Montana.

“Of course I can,” I reasoned. “I can imagine anything.”

“You can’t imagine that which you cannot perceive,” he told me.

So I set out to prove him wrong.

The first thing I did was search for a plot of land the size of Montana. I tried to purchase Montana itself, but there were more than a few residents ready to raise objections. I set my sights further north.

After not too much searching, I found a nice vacant piece of land up in northern Canada. The few residents there didn’t seem to mind when I told them what I was doing and offered to buy them out. The wildlife didn’t refuse either. Northern Canada actually ended up being a much better spot because there I could keep my sandwich under permanent and natural refrigeration. I knew it would take quite some time to eat such a colossal meal, and I certainly didn’t want it to spoil after all of my efforts.

With my plot of land secured, my next step was to bake the bread. I consulted several master bakers along with a few architects and some mathematicians in order to determine the appropriate amount of each ingredient I would need. The first baker told me it couldn’t be done.

“This is lunacy,” he said. “Do you even know how big Montana is?”

“Yes,” I told him. “In fact, I just purchased 147,046 square miles of land in Canada on which to create my sandwich.”

He tried to explain himself further. “Look,” he said, “let’s just say the average loaf of bread is one square foot.”

“Okay, but I don’t think it is,” I told him.

“Well, let’s just imagine it.”

I tried to imagine it, but I couldn’t. I had seen too many loaves of bread in my life to believe that the average loaf was one square foot.

“Fine,” I told him anyway.

“Okay. It takes about two teaspoons of yeast and four cups of flour to create that one square foot of bread.”

“Got it.” Those numbers were easy to comprehend. Since I had never made a loaf of bread, I had no trouble accepting his calculations.

“Do you know how many square feet are in a square mile?”

“Yes,” I lied.

“Okay. So to make a loaf of bread that is a square mile, we need to multiply our ingredients by 27,878,400.”

“That’s a lot of flour,” I told him.

“And that’s just for one square mile. Then you will need to multiply that by another 174,046. So now you see my point. It can’t be done.”

I shook my hand. “I have the land. It can be done.”

Now I had two people to prove wrong. I just need a few imaginative people to help me.

For the next three weeks I recruited my team. Thirteen bakers, four architects, two mathematicians, one surveyor, two engineers, and three employees from a local sandwich shop. When we all sat down together at our first meeting, I knew we had the brainpower to put together the sandwich.

“There’s one problem I see,” the lead baker told me.

“And what is that?” I asked.

“We’re going to need a rather sizeable oven to pull this off.”

“Not a problem,” said one of the engineers. He got to work on it right away.

For the next seventeen months, my bakers put together all of the ingredients with the help of the mathematicians to make sure everything was just the right amount. We weren’t sure exactly what the number was called that represented the amount of flour we needed, but we did know that it was over 999 trillion cups. They slaved away night and day, and their bodies were so caked in flour that I couldn’t tell which was which. But never once did they complain or doubt or even ask for a break or any money. Truth is, we hadn’t discussed compensation, but I felt all along that they were just excited to be working on such a prestigious project.

During that time, my engineers and architects worked on assembling the oven, and the sandwich shop employees, who had all quit their jobs, collected the meat and toppings for the sandwich. We decided on a relatively simple sandwich that consisted of thinly sliced turkey breast, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, pickles, American cheese, and just a little bit of mayo, low fat of course. Although we had to throw out a few bad tomatoes and some moldy cheese, the three did an excellent job gathering the sandwich ingredients. Their job might have been the least impressive, but it was a necessity nevertheless.

At the end of the seventeenth month, my surveyor approached me with what he saw as the first real snag in my plan.

“You need more land,” he told me.

“What? Did Montana grow?”

“No. We’ve taken up more than half of the land with the oven and the ingredients. You’ll need more land to build the actual sandwich.”

This news was a shock to me. The engineers and architects had pulled off an amazing feat. Rather than building an oven the size of Montana, they built an oven exactly one-fourth the size of Montana. We would simply cut the bread lengthwise and then fuse the pieces together in order to get it just the right size. But we had never even considered needing extra land to create the sandwich.

Somewhere during those seventeen months, my buddy came up to me and told me that I could stop. I had taken it too far, he said, and although he was impressed with my determination, he didn’t see the point of building the actual sandwich.

“You’re missing the point,” he said. “By building the sandwich, you are taking it out of the imaginative realm. You still aren’t imagining it. You’re just creating it.”

“But how can you create something you don’t imagine first?” I asked him. I wondered what Descartes and Plato would’ve thought about my question. But my buddy just shook his head.

When the dough was finally ready it had risen a little higher than we had anticipated. We had to have the engineers come help to punch it down. Then everyone on the team had to assist in getting the massive ball into the oven.

There was much debate over how long it would actually take to bake the bread. I contended that if the oven had been built correctly then it shouldn’t take any longer than a normal loaf of bread. One of the bakers said it would take weeks and possibly even months. We agreed we would set the timer for an hour and check often. It was ready in just under two hours.

Cutting it was a bit tricky, but we managed. We also managed to fuse the pieces together. The bread didn’t quite fill up the land mass though. I blamed the bakers for rolling it out a little too carelessly. By my count we were only a few square feet short though, and I didn’t think that would really make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. Someone could always just imagine that the sandwich occupied those last few feet.

Putting on the meat and toppings wasn’t as much of an adventure as we anticipated. We had to ward off some birds and bears, and at one point we thought we were going to run out of tomatoes, but it ended up being just the right amount. Those sub shop guys sure knew what they were doing.

The mayo was the most fun part. We rented a small biplane and flew it the length of the sandwich, crop-dusting the mayo all along the way. We ran out just a few inches before we reached the end, which I was pleased with because no one wants mayo in that spot at the end of the sandwich where the toppings really thin out and it’s mostly bread.

When we were all finished putting the top piece of bread in place, we admired our work but regretted the fact that we couldn’t see it all at once. I asked them if they wanted to rent a helicopter and fly up until we could see the whole thing. They said they had best be getting back to their lives. It was a bit of a shame, but I knew more or less what it looked like. After all, it was a normal sandwich that just happened to be the size of Montana. I waited for my friend to come and apologize. He never did.

Turns out that my crew did expect some pay after all. The sub shop guys had been tracking every hour they worked, including their travel time. The engineers gave me a flat rate. The mathematicians provided some formula I couldn’t comprehend, but it seemed they wanted to be paid per square kilometer. The others had their fees as well. None of it was reasonable.

Except for one of the bakers. He said he was happy just to hone his art. I laughed at the notion that making a sandwich was art.

I ended up telling them that their checks would be in the mail. They were happy with that and went about their business. I wonder if the sub shop guys ever got their jobs back. They would be the most experienced sub shop guys around, so I can’t imagine they had too much difficulty.

I stayed in Canada with my sandwich for a few days. I wanted to take a bite, especially since I had no money left to buy any other food, but I couldn’t stand the thought of having a sandwich smaller than Montana (even though it already was slightly smaller). So I just feasted on berries and other miscellaneous items I could find in the Canadian forests. There was quite a chill in the air, which was both a blessing and a curse. I was cold, but at least the sandwich was comfortable.

After a few days of roughing it in the cold, the temperature took a turn for the worse. For the sandwich that is. We hit a patch of unseasonable warmth that I heard would last for weeks. My sandwich would certainly spoil, so I did the only thing that made sense. I called up my friend, the one who started the whole argument to begin with. I asked him if he would help me eat the sandwich. He said sure.

“I never thought it would go bad so quickly,” I told him as we munched on a little piece of the sandwich that could probably feed the world.

“That’s how imagination goes,” he replied.

I still haven’t figured out what he meant.

pencil

Nathaniel Tower writes fiction, teaches English, and manages the online lit magazine Bartleby Snopes. His short fiction has appeared in over 50 online and print magazines. A story of his, “The Oaten Hands,” was named one of 190 notable stories by storySouth’s Million Writers Award in 2009. His first novel, A Reason To Kill, is due out in July 2011. Visit him at Bartleby Snopes. Email: bartlebysnopes[at]yahoo.com

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