Essays — September 29, 2015 9:14 — 0 Comments

I called Myself SandwichEnthusiast – Steven Barker

The only dating website I paid for was Zooks. During my free trial I was bombarded with messages stating that woman were trying to chat with me, and the only way to view these messages and respond was by inputting my credit card information. I determined $29.99 for a month of membership was a reasonable price to satisfy my curiosity.

As soon as I became a paying customer I saw that six out of the eight women who’d requested a chat had cancelled their accounts, but I managed to start a dialog with 28-year-old Russian who liked Hitchcock movies. We bonded over the fact that neither of us were American citizens. We agreed it had the benefit of never being summonsed to jury duty, but had the disadvantage of not being able to vote in local politics. I shared my immigration story and asked about hers. She’d lived in America five years, but didn’t go into detail, saying, “English is my second language, so it’s hard to explain.”

Until that point I hadn’t considered she might not be fluent. “Your English is great,” I typed. “Spelling too.”

“I know,” she responded.

I couldn’t think of the right way to reply, so I closed my laptop and went to bed.

Two days later when I signed-in, she hit me with a “Hey,” which I returned, and our “Heys” stared at each other from opposite sides of the chat box, like boys and girls at a middle school dance. I cancelled my membership at the end of the month.


I’d spent the previous 12 years split between two long-term relationships with women I’d met in real life. I was wary about online dating. As well as embarrassed, which is why Plenty of Fish seemed like a good starter site. I’d never heard it mentioned among my single friends.

I called myself SandwichEnthusiast, and composed a detailed profile about the do and don’ts of sandwich assembly. Swiss is the best cheese to compliment turkey, and a kosher dill is the only acceptable pickle that can garnish a plate. Anyone who thinks a sweet gherkin is an equivalent substitute is undateable. Ham and cheddar is best when warmed open face in the oven, then topped with chilled lettuce and four drops of oil and vinegar. And the corner-to-corner cutting method is a rule, not an option.

I sent my “best matches” meticulously crafted messages about the sandwich I’d eaten that day and asked about their favorite sandwich.

I received a response from a cute 27-year old with a lip ring. “Tell me about yourself,” is all it said.

“I’m like a turkey, bacon, Swiss sandwich, on soft potato bread, with mayo, ice burg lettuce, and a shake of pepper. On the outside I’m plain, white, and average. Nothing you haven’t seen before, but once you get through the crust and take a center bite, sinking your teeth through the softness of the bread, the crunch of the bacon, and the refreshing snap of lettuce, all the while tasting the pinch of pepper that you didn’t notice on the first few bites, you’re in love. Unfortunately, there’s only one or two bites like that per sandwich, but they’re worth the adventure of eating towards the middle.”

She seemed to think that was funny, but after four more messages heavy on sandwich metaphors she stopped responding.


One night, after returning from the bar, I revamped my profile with an honesty only exposed after a night of drinking. My new description read, “Charming alcoholic who will eventually disappoint you, seeks sexually adventurous feminist.” I updated my photo to a drunken muscle pose wearing nothing but underwear, a Viking helmet, and mirrored glasses.


I woke the following morning to a message from a woman who lived in Tacoma. “Hey stud, you look like fun.” She wore a wedding dress in her profile picture. The groom was feeding her a piece of cake. I was deleting her message when I noticed my drunken photo was featured in the corner of the screen, advertising the site. Below my picture it said, “contact this user now.” I’m sure I agreed to public use of my photos when I joined the site, but I couldn’t have that picture out in the world. Mortified, I cancelled my account.


Tinder appeared while I was in a committed relationship, and nothing like it existed the previous times I’d been single. Judging potential mates with a simple swipe seemed impersonal, but knowing each match meant someone considered the possibility of being naked in the same room with me was intriguing.

My lifelong insecurity about my undefined chin spiked while searching for a profile picture. I disqualified all images snapped from angles emphasizing my lack of a solid jaw line, until landing on one acceptable photo that was taken at a reading. The photographer was below the podium, which was the best angle to showcase what little chin I had.

I matched with a stellar blonde on my second swipe. She looked straight out of a Calvin Klein ad. “Steve, I want to have sex with strangers. Please visit my website.” I hit unmatch while a sad trombone played in my head.

My next match was even more beautiful than the first. She wore a black t-shirt branded with a gold Wu-Tang “W” and posed in front of a Ralph Steadman reprint from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” I also owned a black t-shirt with a golden Wu-Tang “W” and the same Steadman print hung in a frame above my couch.     “I have that same shirt! Who’s your favorite member of the Wu?” I messaged.

As I waited for a response I wondered what our first date would be like, and how long before we had one of those nights where we talked until the sun rose, eventually committing to each other, while simultaneously deleting our Tinder accounts.

After ten minutes without a response I followed up, “Lyrically GZA is my favorite member, but over all it’s got to be Ghostface. He consistently drops quality albums.”

Two hours passed without a response and I realized she probably didn’t understand how perfect we were for each other. I put on my Wu-Tang shirt and posed in front of the Steadman, just as she had, making sure the angle wasn’t unflattering to my chin. She favorited the picture, but didn’t respond.

I continued swiping until matching with a girl who said, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Running,” was her favorite book. We exchanged rapid texts about Murakami groupies who only talked about “Wind Up Bird Chronicles” and “IQ84,” and how come, “When Talking About Running,” was never included in the conversation about his greatest works. We made plans to meet for a drink the following day.

The moment I saw her sitting at the bar I knew it wasn’t a match. She’d advertised herself with outdated pictures and her heavy eye shadow was clownish, but she loved a book I also loved, so I took a seat. She told me about her dream of back-packing through India, while I drank two beers, and then told me how thankful she was to have escaped small town Texas, while I drank two more.

I walked her to her car and initiated a side hug. Two hours later I texted her saying I had a good time. She didn’t respond.


OkCupid was the site I was most hesitant to join, because it was popular among people my age and in my area. I feared the humiliation of being recognized, without giving much consideration to the fact that if anyone recognized me, it would mean they were on the site too.

I kept my profile honest, yet vague, and barely mentioned sandwiches. I had to at least put “making sandwiches,” in the section of things I was good at. It was just a fact. I maintained a balance between over share, like stating my credit score, and under share, like not mentioning that I smoke when I drink, and I drink often.

Browsing profiles taught me that Seattle women in their late-twenties and early-thirties are all self-described nerds who love the Seahawks, hiking, IPAs, traveling, and taking photos in front of the Gum Wall.

I hit the like button on all who lived within two miles of me and listed, “House of Leaves” as a favorite book. When I found someone compelling enough to message, I scrutinized every word, chopping anything that sounded eager or like I was just trying to hook up.

“Hey, we both like Klosterman. ‘Sex Drugs and Coco Puffs’ will always be my favorite book of his, but I loved ‘I Wear the Black Hat.’ What do you think of his fiction? I prefer his nonfiction.”

My response percentage was below failing, but I managed to set up a few casual meetings at bars and cafes. And despite the anxiety-induced stomachache that occurred half an hour before each encounter, I mostly enjoyed myself, although, never enough to request a second date.

When my matches became familiar, I considered deleting my account, but figured there was no harm in leaving it up. As long as I was single it was an invitation, like an Open sign flickering in a diner window on a secluded stretch of road. Most who pass won’t even notice, but maybe one night, Wu-Tang girl will drive by after a weekend of fear and loathing, and realize there’s nothing she wants more than a turkey, bacon, Swiss.


Steven Barker is a 2014-2015 Made at Hugo House fellow and is working on a collection of essays that detail the wide range of short-term jobs he's held over the past ten years. When he's not working or writing he hosts the arts and entertainment podcast Ordinary Madness (, and he is the co-founder of “Cheap Wine & Poetry” and “Cheap Beer & Prose.”

Leave a Reply

The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney