I was about to give the world’s most confused man the world’s most confusing toasted sandwich order. Some call it a form of gambling: pulling into an unknown town and choosing a cafe. Depending on your mood it can be either stressful or exhilarating.

St Mary promised a lot. A blip on the radar on the way to the Bay of Fires, we pulled in at 11:30, hot, hungry, ready to be dazzled. On the outside the cafe looked promising. A former service station and mechanics converted to an arty cafe, with tatty couches plonked on the workshop floor, car magazines spilling off milk crate coffee tables, oil stains on the concrete floor. In retrospect I’m not sure why I thought it looked promising.

There were no other customers. The man at the counter had a cheerful face, but behind his dopey smile and bright eyes you could detect a glint of fear, as though he was worried customers might enter and place an order.

The party was in agreement: three tomato, cheese and pineapple toasted sandwiches. ‘With plenty of salt and pepper,’ I added. The fact you have to stipulate the addition of salt and pepper to any toasted sandwich order is a sad indictment on society, it’s true – but did you notice the real baffling element of the order? That’s right: no ham. Ham is the defining ingredient of a toasted sandwich. It’s the staple. There are two reasons I don’t order ham in my toasted sandwiches. The first is I like to pretend I’m a white convert to the religion of peace, like Cat Stevens. I sometimes throw a tent over my wife, too, for added effect. The second reason is that I’m vegetarian.

The man wrote down the order carefully. ‘With plenty of salt of pepper,’ he repeated to himself, tongue sticking ever so slightly out of the corner of his mouth. He turned to his wife, who was poking at buttons on the coffee machine. ‘Did you get that, honey?’

‘Sure did,’ she said, rather absently. I suspected she sure didn’t, given her far-away look. We added two flat whites to the order. That seemed to go well. It was next that things went down hill.
‘How much?’ I asked.

‘Sure,’ the man replied. ‘What flavour?’

I scrunched my face up a little and shook my head. ‘What? No, how much is it? The price.’
‘Yes, but what flavour milkshake?’

‘No, no milkshake. We didn’t order a milkshake.’

‘Okay, so cancel the milkshake?’

It was a sign to leave, a shot across the bows, but we were already committed. I sighed. ‘Yes, cancel the milkshake.’

Satisfied that our order was vaguely understood we retired to the ripped couches and opened one of the 671 copies of Muscle Car. The coffees arrived on cue, and we waited for the sandwiches. We gave it time. We gave it 25 minutes. Finally a woman approached, bearing an iced coffee. ‘There you are!’ she said. We sent her away with firm instructions to check on the status of our actual order. 15 more minutes passed. A man with an unkempt beard walked in and grumbled about the heat. To pass time I asked him what there was to see in St Marys. He gestured in the vague direction of the street. ‘You’ve seen it all,’ he said. But he was wrong. I hadn’t yet seen my toasted sandwich.

I wondered if we were destined to spend our entire holiday sitting at this milk crate. Then at last the woman burst into the room. ‘Are you guys waiting on anything?’ We shouted back in unison: ‘Yes! Three tomato, cheese and pineapple toasted sandwiches!’ And in the background we heard a familiar echo: ‘With plenty of salt and pepper!’

We didn’t kill anyone that day. It was close. The sandwiches arrived, sans salt and pepper, of course. We ate and left. We had seen everything in St Marys. A failed brunch slightly mitigated by the knowledge that we hadn’t paid for the coffees. We’ll call it a draw.