The Usual

Ham Sandwich: Photo credit: Sumit Surai

As Sarah walked from the diner’s serving room to the kitchen, she knew two things: her blood pressure had already begun to rise, and that it was only a matter of time before her latest customer began screaming like a psychopath. Sadly, it was a routine that they had all become used to.

She really used to love her job. The extra cash she earned from picking up an odd late night shift at the Heartland Diner in D.C. helped her keep her family’s heads above water. The diner’s customers, for the most part, were regular folks who occasionally passed through town: friendly, honest, polite, good tippers. The D.C. locals, however, felt that the Heartland’s ambiance was a bit too low-rent for their refined tastes, and that was fine by Sarah. She really did used to love her job. But then he started coming in.

And whenever he did come in, Sarah and the rest of the Heartland crew knew that all they could do was play along – that and get the hell out of the way. No matter how crazy he got, they knew that no cop in D.C. was going to come down and tell the most powerful man in America, and he was the most powerful man in America, to knock it the hell off.

So, tonight, as on previous nights, Sarah and the crew watched nervously from the kitchen doors and waited for the most powerful man in America to finally leave.

Robert Mueller sat alone in a corner booth. Across from him, placed as if it was intended for an absent guest, was the dinner he had ordered – his usual. The left corner of his upper lip began twitching into a barely subdued, reflexive snarl as he stared down his quarry – a lonely sandwich on a plate on the other side of the table.

This went on for many minutes.

Finally, Mueller reached down beside him and produced a manila folder. He opened it and placed it down on the table in front of him. The document inside was oriented print side up and upside-down, so the sandwich could read it. He then reached into his jacket pocket.

Carlos the line cook, not looking away, whispered to Sarah in disbelief, “Jesus! He brought the packets again!” But before Sarah could answer, Mueller, instead of a packet, pulled a pen out of his pocket.

He laid that pen on the document. And then, using two fingers, slowly pushed the folder, document, and pen over to the sandwich.

There was a long pause. At last, with his patience nearing its end, Mueller whispered menacingly, “don’t make me send Weissmann to your house…”

The ham sandwich, however, remained steadfastly uncooperative.

Mueller’s back began to stiffen and Carlos again whispered in horrified yet amused anticipation, “He’s going for the packets! He’s going for the packets!”

Mueller leaped from the booth, ripped the top slice of bread off of the sandwich, jammed a hand into his jacket, pulled out two condiment packets, tore them open, shot the Russian Dressing contents onto the sandwich, threw the empty packets onto the floor, slammed the discarded slice of bread back on top of the sandwich, and began screaming, “You’re dirty and you know it! You’re all dirty, goddamnit! Now, sign ze papers! Sign ze goddamned papers!”

This also went on for many minutes.

And so, another night passed at the Heartland with Robert Mueller raving at a dinner plate. And as Sarah stood there, watching from the kitchen, she thought about her bills, her high blood pressure, her husband’s diabetes, the ridiculous excuse for health insurance that they were mandated to buy, the second jobs that they both must now work despite welcome relief from the latest tax cut – and she sincerely wished that there was some way that she could make the rest of D.C. understand just how the Heartland really sees them.

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