YAGODA: The virtues of sandwich making

The other day I was on the subway and found myself thinking, “Wow, someone really smells like meat on this train.” Then I realized, “Wait, that’s me.” And that’s a scary thing to come to terms with — that you’re the one on the subway that smells like meat.

Yet I took pride in that moment, because it meant I had worked so hard for the past eight hours that I smelled like everything I’d accomplished — the sliced meats, the garlic aioli, the buttered multigrain bread, even the pickling liquid I had poured over two pounds of shallots and (unintentionally) my right thigh.

It is from this place that I urge upperclassman Yalies to consider the full range of options — and backup plans — available to them after graduation. Sandwich making is among these options, despite the fact that UCS, your professors or anyone you’ve managed to network with (side note: if anyone has a spare moment, I’d like networking explained to me) probably won’t communicate this to you.

One of the basic premises of a Yale education is that you will leave the institution successful. You were already successful in high school — perhaps you designed your yearbook, built houses on impoverished islands or went to prom sober. But success that matters starts in college, and attending an elite university is meant to increase your chances of finding a well-paying, real-life-person job. Not only the quality of your Yale education, but also its name brand, will get you noticed. You will get noticed by banks, publications, firms, agencies and other impressive categories of workplace.

I have neither been noticed nor achieved real-person success. By day, I make sandwiches. By other days, I work as an unpaid intern for a magazine. By night, I fall asleep sleep to the dulcet sounds of Downton Abbey. When I can find the time, I try to write things. But only if “Dance Moms” isn’t on. “Dance Moms” takes priority.

It would seem that I don’t fit the image of a recent Yale graduate. I haven’t lived up to what my parents, my professors, those Yale admissions pamphlets — even what I — expected of me. While my friends and former classmates wear pencil skirts to work, I wear mayonnaise-stained cut-offs. They sit at desks, they have vacations, they company-retreat, they live near sushi restaurants. They’ve made it. Though I envy their success and seamless transition into adulthood, I have come to terms with my own strange transition. I have come to recognize the value of the financial, emotional and physical struggle that comes with the life of a part-time sandwich maker, full-time hustler.

When you’re making sandwiches, nothing matters but that sandwich and what you must do to craft it. Cut the baguette in half, put aioli one side and Dijon on the other, rosemary ham, cheddar, sprinkle on the garlic pickles, put it into the panini press — try not to get burned! — start the other sandwich that mustachioed-man just ordered, cut the prosciutto for it — but don’t forget about the other sandwich grilling! — all while making sure the meat slicer doesn’t meat-slice-off your finger.

No part of my Yale education prepared me for this fast-paced, highly-focused and highly-physical type of task (though certainly both myself and others have worked jobs of this ilk before and during college). I’ve found that this diversity of work, this diversion from the intellectual and the interpersonal that is the foundation of the Yale experience, has allowed me to interact with the world in an entirely new way. I’ve learned to appreciate the sensory world and the beautiful nuances of food: the way prosciutto folds when sliced, the chewy bite of seconds-toasted baguette, the satisfying feeling of wrapping a sandwich tightly and well.

This isn’t to say I haven’t thought about leaving the sandwich game; it’s not wildly lucrative and often hurts my body. But the hurt is rewarding, because I know it comes from feeding people delicious sandwiches — the greatest gift of all. More significantly, the job has given me time to think about what I really want to do, and I think many recently graduated Yalies could benefit from a temporary diversion from traditional trajectories of success. There should be more information, support and networks available to those who don’t land or want that newspaper or consulting job. When I was a senior, those few months ago, I wish someone had told me it was all right — nay, noble — to make sandwiches.

Maria Yagoda is a 2012 graduate of Calhoun College.

This column is part of the News’ Friday Forum. Click here to continue.

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