Photo by Steve LoweryHello, my name is Steve, and I, I . . . IlikeArby's.
God, that feels good. . . .
Yes, damn you, I like Arby's. I like the purported "beef" sandwiches stacked with alleged "meat" slathered in that sweet, spicy Arby's sauce that I would gladly step over the fallen torso of my sainted mother just to lick a few misguided droplets off the soiled hind legs of some subterranean rodent noted for its explosive flatulence.
The sauce is that good.
Yes, I like, nay, love Arby's. But, alas, it is a love that dares not speak its name. Certainly one that dare not be eaten in front of anyone. Mine is a forbidden love. One quickly learns that one eats at Arby's by oneself. One does not invite others to Arby's. High school boys do not take high school girls to Arby's. Happy families are not seen scurrying into Arby's. People do not scurry anywhere in the vicinity of Arby's. They skulk. And by they, I mean men.
Arby's is a place for men to eat quasi-"meat" sandwiches by themselves, aware that to be seen in Arby's is to have it assumed that something is lacking in them, just as it is assumed that a man riding a bicycle in street clothes does so only because it has been court-mandated (glug, glug).
This is why Arby's occupies that third rung of the fast food ladder, down among Blimpie's and Der Wienerschnitzel and AM/PM. This is why the best-known thing ever uttered about Arby's was during an episode of the Simpsons when a starving child said, "I'm so hungry I could eat at Arby's."
It bears mentioning that the child was a girl. Girls, women, do not like Arby's. It is something about the "meat." It's understandable since the "meat's" physical appearance can be best described as "off." Thinly sliced, battleship gray with a hint of defilement, my wife—a woman—once said that a wad of Arby's reminded her of "something the English would make."
Such hateful sentiments are typical and have shamed men into remaining hushed about their passion for Arby's in the same way they guard their passion for strip clubs and wilding. Lo, how many times I have stood with other men before an Arby's counter, a bovine circle jerk regarding one another in that way men do when they encounter one another in adult-video sections: respecting that each is fulfilling some biological need, but still repelled by that need as well as one another and ourselves?
And the sad thing is that it doesn't have to be this way. Arby's has attempted to bring women into the fold with new, women-friendly items: salads, "light" sandwiches, 2 percent milk. But all they have to do is find a way to get women to taste the Arby's sauce. It's the sauce that makes everything all right. Hey, men aren't stupid. They know that Arby's "meat" isn't something to be found in nature; they know it's not "healthy" or "safe" or "meat." But it is a wonderful sponge, absorbing all of that sweet, spicy sauce, sauce that redeems all it comes in contact with.
Am I comparing Arby's sauce to the crucifixion? I don't know—is the crucifixion sweet and spicy? Does it taste great on "meat"? There is a web site (members.tripod.com/Spunk/sauce) devoted solely to Arby's sauce ("This is the shrine to Arby's sauce, the most glorious condiment to grace existence").
If women could ever know that sauce, it would change everything. Will they? I doubt it. Maybe one day, but not soon. Why, just the other day, I met a young man, a boy, a friend of my son's, and in the course of some casual conversation, he sheepishly mentioned that he, he . . . helikedArby's.
He waited for my reaction, and when I showed enthusiasm, he spilled forth all that he had held back: how he loved the sandwiches spilling sauce, how he loved the sauce so much that he actually drank it straight with no "meat" chaser, how he wished he could have Arby's all the time but that his mother—a woman—would not allow him to go to Arby's and that he only got to go there when he visited his grandpa.
We talked for some time about Arby's. Mostly he talked as I thought about the life the boy had chosen. A life of eating with averted eyes and dark thoughts, a life of solitude, of skulking.
And then I smiled.
The sauce is that good.
Arby's is located at . . . well, ask a man.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.