The Absence of Sauerkraut

My father belongs to a generation that lived on Reuben sandwiches. In fact they took Reuben sandwiches for granted as something that would always be available on the menu of any restaurant. A kitchen contained certain things, among them sauerkraut, corned beef, and rye. We were eating lunch at the Deluxe Bar and Grill and they lacked sauerkraut.


In reference to my parents’ inability to really cook, a friend asked me, “Wasn’t your dad a cook?”

“He was a cook at a city diner,” I said. “If I wanted a Crab Louie, I was in luck.”

My father pulled out a pair of glasses from his pocket. They were a big pair of glasses with lens as big as the base of a coffee mug. The brass stems glittered. They transformed his face into a wizened old man’s face, magnifying the trenches of bunched grey skin under his eyes. Tiny red filaments threaded over the whites of his enlarged eyes. “What are those?”

“I can’t see,” he said. “When I wear I contacts I can’t see up close. So I bought these after I was at Andy Boonstraw’s house. He had glasses like these and I tried them on and I could see up close. I forget that I couldn’t see.”

My father consulted the menu not so much to see what they had but to see what they had in the kitchen. He can tell they had a corned beef sandwich but wondered if that meant they really had a Reuben. He said, “That’s not a Reuben sandwich, that’s a corned beef sandwich.”

“What do you mean, Dad?”

“It’s a corned beef sandwich. Not really a Reuben,” he said.

‘It’s called a corned beef sandwich. They must not have a sauerkraut,” I said.

My father found the absence of sauerkraut in the kitchen troubling because sauerkraut could be kept in a jar. It was pickled. It didn’t go bad. If one person in three weeks ordered something in sauerkraut, they’d be able to accommodate them. The absence of sauerkraut indicted to him the absence of the kitchen as a place where food was prepared and where thinking people cooked, but a land populated by the assemblers of food. He wanted to occupy a world where he was in control and didn’t want anyone to anticipate whether he really wanted a corned beef sandwich or a Reuben.

He ordered the turkey club.

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