Growing up J-Town #JT-061


ad suggested a hamburger but my eye caught something I had never heard of before.

“What’s a clubhouse sandwich?” I asked. Menus back then rarely gave a description of an item.

Dad ignored me, and Mom just shrugged her shoulders, since she came from Japan and wouldn’t know anything about real American food. So I looked expectantly at John.

“It’s a sandwich with turkey, bacon, lettuce and tomato on three slices of toast,” he explained.

“Three slices? Why three? And why on toast?” I asked incredulously.

John just laughed. “There’s too much stuff to keep on just two slices, so they use three. And the best thing is that they put avocado in the club sandwiches here.”

“Avocado?” I knew what avocados were. My friend Rickey lived down the block and he had an avocado tree in his back yard. His mom would occasionally let us eat them when I played over there. I knew that anything with avocado in it had to be good.

“Mom, I wanna clubhouse sandwich,” I declared, half wondering if Dad would just flat out say, No, too expensive. I didn’t know if it was expensive, but it had to cost more than the hamburger. It had avocados in it. But surprisingly, Dad didn’t say anything to me. He said something in Japanese to Mom and John that I didn’t understand, but the net result was that I got to eat a clubhouse if I was willing to share a bite with my sister.

“Okay,” I said rather reluctantly. “Can I get some French fries, too?”

But Dad ignored me again. John told me that the sandwich came with potato chips, and for me that was just as good. We never had potato chips at home.

John ordered for everyone, as I turned my attention back to the juke box. A nickel for one play. A dime for three plays. A quarter for eight plays.

“Isn’t two nickels the same as a dime? Why are the prices different?” This must have been my thirty-seventh question since entering the restaurant.

“They’re trying to give you a bargain,” John explained. “You get more songs if you pay more at once.

“Oh,” I said, feigning comprehension.

“It’s a way to make you spend more money,” Dad said succinctly, an explanation I understood more readily.

I knew a quarter was out of the question, so I asked for a dime.

“To hear a song? We have records and a hi-fi. You can listen to music at home.”

“But… but…” I stammered.

“What do you want to listen to?” asked John.

I didn’t know what to say. I had heard a bunch of songs on TV, but I didn’t no any of the titles.

“See, he doesn’t know any songs anyway,” said Dad.

“I like the song I hear on TV. Something like, ‘run, run, run, run’?”

“Oh, I know that one,” John said and he proceeded to flip through the pages. “Here it is. ‘Runaway’, right?” He put a nickel in the machine and pushed some random numbers and letters. A few seconds later, the familiar intro of the song started playing, and Del Shannon started singing.

As I walk along I wonder, what went wrong with our love, a love that was so strong.

At which point the waitress brought out food. My eyes bugged out, but probably not as much as Dad’s.

“Are you going to eat all of that?”

“Uh-huh,” I smiled.

In front of me was a plate of four triangles, a triple deck club house sandwich cut into quarters. It was completely different from what I had imagined. When John explained that they needed three slices of bread to hold all the contents, I thought there were two slices at the bottom–a firm foundation–upon which was layered the turkey and bacon and tomato and lettuce, and then all this was topped with a single slice. I had no idea that the turkey and lettuce would be on one layer, and the bacon and tomato and avocado would be on a different layer. It looked like two sandwiches stacked on top of each other. I had never seen such an awesome site.

And I wonder, I wah-wah-wah-wah-wonder…

Indeed, it was truly a wonder. But, of course, as I had been made to promise, I shared my sandwich with the others, although I must admit that I tried to eat the potato chips quickly in an attempt to share as little as possible. I was such a selfish kid.

Having eaten something wonderful and new like a clubhouse sandwich, and listening to a song I wanted to hear, I had never felt so satisfied. Unfortunately, I went to the Sugar Bowl Cafe only once or twice more before it closed shop. It was replaced by Ichiban Cafe, which served standard Japanese fare–noodles, rice bowls, tempura. I would not longer get to taste the other world, the world that was more American than Japanese. The world for which I would long for most of my pre-adult life.

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