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Notable Sandwiches #54: The Dagwood
A visual gag, a hideous enormity, a comic monument to the folly of man
Welcome back to Notable Sandwiches, the feature where I, alongside my editor David Swanson, trip merrily through the baffling document that is Wikipedia’s List of Notable Sandwiches, in alphabetical order. This week: the Dagwood.
God, I want a cigarette.
I’m trying to kick the habit, you see, and every day since my quit date (Feb. 1) has been a gauntlet of longing and failure, homicidal sentiment, ping-ponging blood-urges, fantasies about smoking, migraines, malaise, and ultimate capitulation to my addiction, with an ensuing enervating wave of shame.
I’ve taken all suggestions under advisement—I have enough nicotine patches to fashion a sort of garment out of; I have read Allen Carr’s book three times over, to no discernible effect; I have been searching for a reputable hypnotist, although the one closest by me in the city has the following somewhat worrying FAQ:
1. How much does your hypnosis cost?
In the past, whenever I get asked that question, I would typically reply with “How long is a piece of string?”
I didn’t read on. I don’t know how long a piece of string is. I do know that every moment denying my need for a cigarette feels very long indeed. But it’s important. My eyes look like runny eggs, I can’t focus, but even with my slipups I’ve winnowed down the amount I’m smoking to less than half of what it was. And when I do smoke I feel so dizzy with elation I want to fall down on the freezing concrete and then cry.
Anyway, I’m supposed to be writing about a sandwich. The Dagwood sandwich. It’s from a comic strip called Blondie that’s been in newspapers since 1930, first by cartoonist Chic Young and then a zombified assortment of cowriters including Young’s son, Dean. It’s about a va-va-voom blonde femme—the titular Blondie—whose husband, Dagwood Bumstead, was disinherited for marrying this erstwhile flapper, and now they live in the suburbs getting into extremely predictable shenanigans. The sandwich is named for Bumstead, and it’s the most identifiable running gag from the strip:
Most popular in the ‘50s, Blondie gave rise to a series of 28 low-budget films, a radio program, and spinoffs in dozens of languages. Everyone is into the empty-eyed Dagwood Bumstead and his strange horns for hair and his big-breasted better half. The sandwich itself is less a sandwich than a visual gag on the improbability of enormous sandwiches. It’s most often depicted with live seafood in it, such as this joyful sardine and this sleepylobster:
Imagine putting your mouth on that! There are peas in it! And I think that beige layer in the middle is just slices of onion.
Clearly this is more metaphor than sandwich. Metaphor for Dagwood’s gluttony. For masculine hubris. For the plastic possibilities of the comic-strip medium. Many have tried to make it, particularly in the decades of the strip’s cultural ubiquity, but the sole dedicated Dagwood Sandwiches franchise almost immediately collapsed amid allegations of multi-million-dollar fraud. The finance kind, not fraud concerning human mandibular capacity or anything culinary. On the other hand, a Canadian supermarket chain marketed Dagwoods for years.
As none of these offerings are a cigarette pointed at my face, I can summon little care or even curiosity. I wish those Canucks the best of luck with their hideous enormities. I look at the Dagwood sandwich and imagine unhinging my jaw to encompass all of it and decide it’s not worth the effort.
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I want a cigarette. You could probably smuggle a whole pack of them in a Dagwood and no one would notice, too busy having their tongue attacked by a live lobster. You could slip them into my hot hand and then I could forego this whole sham attempt at “quitting.” Or I could keep going and know that it will get easier by a month in.
I renounce my own desires. I renounce them! They are a jumble as contemptible as fillings of the Dagwood, as impossible to bear—and I am the soggy bread that cannot contain them! In just a month my villi will start to regenerate, in a year I will have halved my risk of stroke! In a minute I am going to explode! There are ants beneath my skin! There are knives under my nails! I can be angry at no one but myself!
Imagine how funny a real Dagwood sandwich would be to actually hold. That’s why it works so well as a visual gag. No wonder this strip has run essentially unchanged for ninety-two years. I don’t understand the comic-strip industry; I couldn’t learn more about it because my brain has turned into the tiny and vexed thinking organ of an enraged fly.
I’m taking two weeks off the column to focus on lying in a dark room with an ice pack on my head. I’m going to take enough Benadryl to tranquilize a horse, and then I’m going to sleep. I’m going to quit these god damn delicious sweet wonderful beautiful pressed fabulous magnificent life-giving horrid cancer sticks that revolve in my thoughts in their appalling symmetry. In these paper tubes are my desire and my destruction.
You could fit all of these entangling and contradictory statements on a Dagwood sandwich. May I never be forced to eat one.