The stereo in The Hat was playing Smokey Robinson and Chubby Checker but Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings would have been a better choice. However this was no coincidence but a Zizek- like irony. The same goes for the kaleidoscopic array of condiments, clearly designed to produce such an arresting emotion as to remind us that in life, despite the Bakhtin style carnivalesque (Grimace and the Hamburglar come to mind) we really don’t have many choices at all. In some ways I assumed that The Hat in itself was nothing more nor less than a profound commentary on the fast food industry. Even the name of the eatery – “The Hat” – brings to mind ambiguous, often conflicting feelings. The French “toque” which forms the design of the lighted sign points both to French colonialism in Syria and Lebanon, as well as “tipping its hat” to the conical hoods of the Ku Klux Klan. Back to the condiments and the sandwiches themselves. The first question that comes to mind is: “Is pastrami bad for you, or does it only taste like it is?” The answer lies somewhere in Zizek again who has argued that although one may possess a self-awareness, and just because one understands what one is doing, it does not mean that one is doing the right thing. The fact that this loaded conceit is firmly rooted here within the parameters of a sandwich shop is what ultimately produces a feeling of deep sorrow.
The pastrami dip, groaning with meat produced a leaden sensation, full of the gravity of life. As the first bite traveled down my esophagus I was reminded of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s controversial statement that the 9/11 attacks were the biggest work of art ever made. This too is no coincidence. Pastrami (Turkish: pastirma) was of course invented in Anatolia and spread through the former Ottoman lands in various incarnations before coming to North America in its current bowdlerized form. The reminder that we wish to whitewash and sanitize the Mid East conflicts for easy consumption and digestion through mainstream media was not lost on me. This feeling truly hit home when digestion became problematic and I was weighed down with the rather messy history of our political and military involvement in the Levant. Within the first hour I was filled with a sensation of profound sorrow, the Rabelaisian carnival yielded to ruminations on the sad state of the world. This is not simply a quick and cheap meal. It is as much loaded with fat as it is with the deepest geopolitical questions of our times. For those seeking an inexpensive American lunch, The Hat is a candidate. But for those who seek deeper meaning in the act of consumption as well as the tragedy of our failed foreign policy, The Hat is definitely for you.