I am a simple man. I don’t like change. If something works, I stick with it. I use a flip phone (Forget 5G. I’m on 2½ G, baby). I listen to CDs (I just picked up a hot one, Joe Cocker’s greatest hits, for $2). And I think baseball hasn’t been the same since the designated hitter was introduced in 1973 (Nothing beats watching pitchers try to bunt).
For lunch, I order the same thing day after blessed day: the chicken Caesar wrap.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking—man, you might have a point about the designated hitter, but the chicken Caesar wrap, that’s a bridge too far. Well, that’s a fair point. It’s hard to get excited about a wrap. Plain and passionless, wraps are caught in the netherworld of lunch options. They’re not a salad, but they’re not a sandwich either. They’re an enigma, a riddle for wise men and fools to decipher. Truth is, no one knows what the hell they are.
The wrap itself, the tortilla, is wimpy and flaccid. It’s just a holder. It’s better than eating a pile of chicken, lettuce, and salad dressing out of your hands, but not by much. When you order a wrap, you are punting on lunch. You have decided that nothing great will happen today. You have turned your back on your highest potential. You have settled.
I know not everyone could handle such a numbing lunch routine. Imagine five years passing, and all you have to show for it is a string of chicken Caesars. That would drive many to despair.
Why do I do this to myself? Why do I order the same boring, unexciting thing day after day? To be honest, I crave the routine. I can’t waste any brainpower thinking about what I want for lunch. I already got too much to think about it. I’ve got meetings to attend and emails to reply to and stories to write. I’ve got to worry about my career and my family and the country and the amount of carbon in the air and pandemics and thousands of nuclear weapons on standby and the fate of human civilization. I don’t have the mental capacity to ponder what’s for lunch. It’s too big a lift.
By ordering the chicken Caesar, I have no menu to peruse, no decision to make. It’s automatic. The choice is made. Ring it up. When I order the chicken Caesar, I am a confident man, a master of my destiny. No hesitation. No hedging. Lunch is as effortless and graceful as a Steph Curry jump shot.
The cafe lunch ladies know this. They respect my need for the chicken Caesar. When I stroll into the cafe, they call to me. Here comes chicken man, they say. I feel like somebody. I’m rolling like an insider, like a boss. I’m Sinatra at the Sands, cuff links and tux, Jack in my glass.
The ladies don’t ask what I want. There’s no need. They know. They just start making it. Charmers and conjurers of the chicken Caesar, they move like magic, their hands like those of an artist. They toss the lettuce, place the chicken ever so gently, squirt the Caesar, roll the whole thing up, and place it in my hand like they’re delivering something sacred.
They care about my lunch. One day, a lunch lady looks at me like she has the worst news in the world. I wait. We’re out of parmesan cheese, she tells me. You want cheddar or swiss or mozzarella? She respects my sandwich. She wants it perfect and right and true.
When Mary makes my wrap, she throws out the rules. She puts red peppers on it. Pickles. Tomatoes. No doubt, the extras help. They elevate the wrap. I’m not saying I’ll reach a higher state of being, but a few pickles can go a long way to lifting the burdens of the day.
Because, truth be told, the wrap isn’t always perfect. The chicken can be dry, leathery like a lizard, like an aunt left outside too long in the sun. Sometimes the ladies put too much dressing on the wrap, so it’s like I’m eating a swamp, and sometimes they’re out of spinach leaves and instead load it up with iceberg, which has the nutritional value of a gulp of air.
Still, these are mere quibbles. When I head to the cashier, wrap in hand, I feel satisfied. The ladies say, see you tomorrow. I say, count on it. (Unless, of course, I find some half-eaten pizza in the office kitchen, at which point I’ll pounce on that free food like a raccoon eating out of a trashcan. I’m not proud.)
As I leave the cafe, I’m the big man on campus with the chicken Caesar. I stroll out the door as if a limo is waiting for me and a crowd of photographers is dying to take my picture.
Lunch awaits. Hail Caesar.
John Crawford is a writer and editor in the Boston area. He can be found on Twitter, @crawfordwriter, where he writes weird, depressing, semi-amusing missives about climate change.