Christopher Walken and the Tuna Fish Sandwich
By Rodger Jacobs
I was working the grill at the craft services wagon on this crappy movie starring Christopher Walken. I knew the movie was crappy because Angelo, my sister’s kid, wrote the screenplay. Aside from that I won’t say anything bad about Angelo because he got me the gig on the roach coach after I had been black balled from just about every craft service outfit in town. The problem is they want the people who prepare the food for the crew and the stars to be dumb, to hold no strong opinions, just ladle up the slops and keep your mouth shut.
On a union shoot there are usually two meal breaks a day: lunch and dinner. Breakfast is a catch as catch can affair. So between lunch and dinner it’s kind of quiet around the wagon, just a few requests for coffee and a sandwich here and there.
We were three days into the shoot when I finally met Christopher Walken. It was a little after two o’clock. I had just put two dozen stuffed Cornish game hens in the oven and I saw his long face looming at the wagon window.
“Can I get a tuna fish sandwich?” he asked. Did you ever notice that Walken talks like some alien visitor who is only just now becoming familiar with the rhythms and patterns of human speech? I have.
I wiped my hands on my smock and stood there for the longest moment, sizing him up. It was a hot day, with temperatures threatening to soar into the triple digits, and here I was stuck in an aluminum can on wheels, being baked to a crisp along with two dozen hens.
“You want extra phosphates with that?” I asked. “Or are you okay with the natural phosphate levels in the tuna?”
He stared at me without blinking. That freaked me out. Have you ever seen him do that in the movies? It’s ten times freakier in real life, but I was undaunted by his alien gaze. I could tell he needed an education.
“Did you know that the average consumer in this country uses about 30 pounds of laundry detergent every year? All together, that translates to about 8.3 billion pounds of dry detergent and a billion gallons of liquid detergent every year.”
“I, uhhh, did not know that,” Walken muttered in his other-worldly voice. “Might -- may I have some pickles on the side with the sandwich?”
I had yet to begin preparing his request. “Laundry detergents are filled with phosphates. You know where the run off from all that laundry detergent goes?”
“Into the sewer?”
“A lot of it winds up in the ocean, the same ocean that your tuna fish swims in. You sure you still want that sandwich? How about I make you a nice avocado and sprouts on whole wheat?”
He shook his head and looked down at the baking sidewalk like he was afraid to meet my gaze. “No. No, thank you. Tuna fish sandwich, pickles on the side and, uhhh, some minced onion?”
You would think that the caterers to the stars would use a nice fresh tuna filet for a sandwich but the truth is we use big-ass cans of Bumble Bee tuna from Smart and Final. I pulled a can down off the shelf and began opening it.
“You know what a dead zone is, Mr. Walken? It isn’t that movie you were in by the same name. It’s what scientists call areas of coastal bays that have turned the color of pea soup due to pollution. The water becomes so depleted of oxygen that only primitive creatures like bacteria and algae can survive.”
“Uh-huh.” He was getting impatient for his sandwich. I mixed a dollop of the greasy minced fish in a bowl with a healthy slathering of Miracle Whip.
“If you must eat fish, you need to eat the smaller species. That’s because chemicals tend to accumulate in larger, older fish.”
I opened the Tupperware dish full of minced onion and sprinkled a liberal handful into the tuna salad. Walken continued watching me with that unnerving space freak glare.
“It’s too hard to keep up with what fish is good for you, which are toxic and which are not, that a wise man would simply walk away from fish altogether.”
“Do you have chips?” Walken asked. I tossed him a two ounce bag of Lay’s and began mixing the tuna salad.
“Take the Malibu Pier, for instance,” I said. “State recommendations are that you only consume one meal a month of Queenfish caught from the pier. But in the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors the recommendation is that you should only eat one meal of Queenfish every two weeks. DDT, PCB, elevated mercury levels, parasites. What kind of bread you want?”
Go figure. The guy wants tuna fish and mayo on white bread and here I had him sized up as a convert. I plastered the goo on the bread, sliced it in half, threw it on a plate with pickles on the side, and shook my head sadly as I handed the whole mess to him.
“I would hate to see a man of your talents leave us at a young age.”
He stared at the hunk of bread and tuna salad blankly.
“Thank you,” he said. “The sandwich is for my wife.”
© 2004-05, Rodger Jacobs
All Rights Reserved