Category: The Desk of Gabriel Morton

Not a real desk

The Redland Bay Subway

The Redland Bay Subway

It’s when you’re in the jaws of death that you scream for your mother. The mortally terrifying can only be countered by the familiar, so the primate mind cries for its origin.

You won’t find Redland Bay on any map and eyewitness claims to the contrary is just the Mandela Effect engineered by the town’s own nefarious energy. It looks like an Australian soap made for the British market if the entertainment industry could ever bring itself to hire the genuinely ugly. The place radiates a kind of inviting malice, the sort that makes you know in your bones that staying too long will have you blink and find yourself pushing a lawnmower across a beautiful lawn, being called “dad” by children you’ve never seen before. It’s if an episode of Neighbours were directed by Lars von Trier, and the dread it made me feel would give Werner Herzog three-quarters of an erection.

Getting here involves a several hour drive through various permutations of otherwise identical Australian building blocks. Bush blending into industrial district blending into bush blending into strip mall. You’ll think that you can make out a pattern in the blocks, but they’re just the Markov Chains that constitute your new shackles. Your first clue something is terribly amiss is an otherworldly combination of eucalyptus and palm trees, the arboreal blivet that welcomes you to the gently unnatural Redland Bay Shire.

In a suburb where the tinnitus ring in your ears is replaced with a siren’s song, and the inhabitants are all retired sleep paralysis demons, one looks for anything familiar. In this case, a Subway.

The Process

The exclusivity of the soul to humanity found in western religious traditions has taught our cultures that machine life is an ugly thing to be reviled and fought. This narrow orthodoxy finds its greatest challenge in the False Maria like beauty of the Subway Ordering Mechanism. The S.O.M is the perfection of the complex order emerging from simple rules idea that capitalists lie about and libertarians believe. The unit picks a bread. The unit picks FILLING 1. The unit picks FILLINGS (numerous). The unit pays. The unit leaves. Looking closer only reveals an infinite ballet of Mandlebrot gears, a million things that should go wrong but don’t in the face of a basic structure.

But perfection without flaws is just a plot device. The flaw here is the unquantifiable nature of the entering units. The architects of this design are geniuses, but they aren’t gods, so all this can ever be is a better mouse trap.

I am ordering with the kind of choreographed grace years of practise makes look effortless, when in walks the better mouse. The machine has every available pitch for every possible sprocket, but The Mouse just smooshes its organic way into the system like an illiterate eating a book.

“What does that taste like?”

He directs this question at one of the S.O.M’s sprocket teeth, but he is referring to the ham. He is asking a teenage or thereabouts girl to define ham as though he were a learner T-800 preparing for any possible human shibboleths. There is no answer to this question, save the less-than-useful “unlike everything else”, so a long “Uuuuhhhhhhh” from the poor employee is used to let the question die a natural death.

The machine is perfect, it’s a multiple-choice exam with no wrong answers, and I am watching The Mouse drop his 2B pencil and present his response via binary coded yodel. The salad bar is like an episode of Mr Bean, something so fundamentally drained of a language barrier gorillas can enjoy it, and The Mouse breaks it by saying “just the normal stuff” when asked what he’d like. You could successfully order your salad items by throwing a bouquet of gesturing cadaver hands at the sneeze guard and The Mouse walks in here like he’s showing Roman mathematicians the zero.

Further questioning, that had to be conducted with the same carefully coaxing voice employed by therapists, teased out lettuce, tomato, and cucumber, the S.O.Ms gears squeal but they start chewing through The Mouse. He’s not done with his surprises, though, as he assaults the digital question regarding salt and pepper with a disconcertingly analogue request for “just a sprinkle” of the latter, as though an atomically irrelevant quantity of pepper is going to make his Just Normal sub taste better.

It was horrifying. Watching something ruin this beautiful machine like seeing someone repair a laptop by vomiting into it. Either way, a blend of disgust and terror is good for the soul and great for the appetite. I order the footlong pizza sub and leave The Mouse to wonder aloud about the fundamental nature of needing a bag.

The Décor.

Fast food franchises usually speak in a kind of primordial signalling typically the reserve of turgid ape buttocks, making Subway’s combination of glass and the tiles you only otherwise see in rural public toilets practically invisible by comparison. While I don’t discount the potential use of light wavelengths we only register subliminally, the visible spectrum’s décor can stand to be gentle as the franchise has another trick up its sleeve: the S.O.M.

Like cat dicks, duck throats, and ratchets, the S.O.M has little teeth that keep the things that get caught in them from moving in the wrong direction. You can’t just bark “SUB” and wander off, there’s a questionnaire, a barricade that keeps people from stumbling away, and occasionally a sheepdog to catch the distant stragglers. It’s appealing in the same way some people have to hand it to Hitler.

The entire mise-en-scène of a Subway is to direct you to the brightly lit central plinth that in any other situation would be the Pharo’s sarcophagus, Ark of the Covenant, or alien autopsy. Here, it’s a Red Light District of artificially voluptuous salad items and translucent thin scabs of protein, laid out in a way that forces the sense of narrative direction the S.O.M uses as its peristalsis.

The Redland Bay example is unremarkable, itself a cunning camouflage. A moth with eyespots may look like an owl, but it’s the ones who don’t need to pretend that you have to worry about.

The Food.

Fast food restaurants are the domain of aspirational euphemisms but few as blatantly sarcastic as Sandwich Artist. It has the same menacingly challenging air as the phrase “Democratic People’s Republic of”. An assertion so blatantly contrary to reality that it gets to exist because, like arguing with the Cheshire Cat, challenging it requires an impossible combination of taking seriously the fundamentally absurd.

Art is the domain of the analogue. Navigating the infinite variations between endlessly reduceable possibilities is a bite too big for the teeth of a sprocket. It requires the organic ability to say, “fuck it” and call complete a task that could be attended forever. Insecure right wing poseurs maintain their threadbare senses of self by dismissing the arts as dalliances in the face of REAL THINGS that lead to REAL JOBS, all the while ignorant that it’s only the absurdities of art that won’t eventually be done better by an algorithm. The machines can build your buildings better. The machines will write your software better. The S.O.M can produce the perfect means of ordering a sandwich, but only a human can make a sandwich worth eating.

The Pizza Sub has an aggressively normal blandness found only in aliens who have learned to blend in and Mormons. The bread tastes of a sponge that is about to lose its battle with depression. The salad items are watery, bio-mâché constructions made from seaweed fibres and the kinds of All Natural colours and flavours that remind you that there are more things in Heaven and Earth. The pepperonis do the heavy lifting by virtue of it being impossible to suck the flavour out of anything made from a potpourri of fleshes both mammalian and other. I get the Old English cheese. I don’t know what is old or English about it, but it tastes like something, and I need that to remind my gag reflex that I’m not just swallowing lengths of linoleum again.

Conclusion

Subway is fool’s gold, the flower that looks like a lady wasp, the prostitute with the genuine smile you think you can take to meet your parents one day. You’ll think it’s healthier, and you choose this option because the tiny assertion of a desire to live is enough to keep the gnashing teeth of what you hope are just wolves from the door. It has the kind of taste that makes you check your immediate surrounds for Langoliers, but when your immediate surrounds are Redland Bay, you can eat happily in the knowledge that even those howling chronovores are just looking for the way out too.

If the act of Zen had a bikini competition, a pizza sub from the Redland Bay Subway would be the tape you use to keep your tits from falling out. It fooled my stomach into thinking I’d eaten which distracted me from the pain of self-digestion. If watching The Prisoner ever made you hungry, then this is the place for you.

∑/

By Hungry Gabe.