"The Letterman appearance, in October, was likely to be Zevon's last public performance. He had a long connection to the show; when the band leader, Paul Shaffer, took time off, Letterman called on Zevon to lead the band, and Letterman makes a cameo appearance (shouting ''Hit somebody!'') on Zevon's 2002 album, "My Ride's Here." Now he walked onstage as the band played "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," a Zevon song from 1976, and bluntly described his situation. ''I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years,'' he told Letterman. ''It's one of those phobias that didn't pay off.''
Letterman asked Zevon if his condition had taught him anything about life and death. ''How much you're supposed to enjoy every sandwich,'' Zevon answered."
The sandwich is simple in construct. The idea was to create something portable—a meal you could hold in your hand and eat as you went about things. Two pieces of bread, a tortilla, a shell, a bun—any of these casings can be filled with meat or vegetables or butter or cheese—and viola, you have a sandwich. What you choose to put in the sandwich is really up to you.
In 1995, in Edinburgh, Scotland at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (the largest performing arts festival on the planet), I found myself standing on a plinth, dressed as my character from "The Armageddon Radio Hour" and playing my horn as some of us from the show passed out handbills to promote attendance. We always went to the area right outside the Main Box Office and were shilling with hundreds of other actors and musicians.
At one point, we gained a fan. His name was Kevin and he was one of the Edinburgh homeless. Kevin was probably 35 years old but he looked far older. The fact that he had lost most of his teeth squished his face into a sort of shrunken apple visage and we could hardly understand a word he said as his accent was of that incredibly thick Scottish jumble of sounds. Every afternoon, Kevin would stand near me, listening to me play and jabber at me almost nonstop. A few days later, he grabbed some of our handbills and started passing them out with us. As we'd leave, I'd give him a few dollars. After all, he was working for it, right?
One afternoon, Kevin wasn't there and I noticed. We danced our dance of potential commerce and as we were finishing up, Kevin came over with a couple of sandwiches. He offered one to me, smiling toothlessly and mumbling something through bites of his.
The sandwich was filled with some sort of meat but it was sheathed in fat and gristle. It was disgusting. My stomach rolled over just looking at it. I shook my head no, I was fine. He should eat it. But Kevin wouldn't have it. He brought the second sandwich to share with me.
It turned out, as I bit into the sandwich that the filling was almost entirely fat. It was a fat sandwich. It was kind of horrifying and I started to dry heave as I tried to chew through it. Kevin smiled a huge mouthy grin as I masticated the inedible thing and said something very enthusiastic, likely about how good the sandwich was. I nodded and steeled myself and swallowed, barely holding on to the rejection my system wanted to engage in. And I looked at his smiling face and ate the goddamned thing.
It was the worst sandwich I've ever eaten but, in its odd way and in the context of the dining companion I was with, it was also the best one.
"Enjoy every sandwich," says a man who was stricken with lung cancer at age 56.
Simple advice but complicated as well.
We don't get to make every sandwich we eat. Sometimes the sandwich is filled with the grief of loss, maybe of heartache, perhaps the shit you eat when you make a crushing mistake, with condiments made up of self-doubt mustard and the relish of regret. Lately, the sandwich we have been handed is filled with Trump brand ham. Sometimes we are handed a sandwich we do not want and need to eat it anyway.
And we need to enjoy them as well as the sandwiches that fill us with joy and are deliciously satisfying.
Hell, sometimes that awful sandwich comes with a side of humanity.