Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mad Max 2

Time flies these days—even, it seems, when one is not having fun. It’s closing in on a year now since a very special diner, and a secular holy place, served up its last grilled hamburger and bacon, eggs, and home fries breakfast platter. And the really sad thing is that we won’t see its likes again around these parts. Changing tastes, astronomical rents, high operating costs, and a business-unfriendly bureaucracy have seen to that. The owner of this gritty eatery was there seven days a week—on the physical premises all the time with the exception of a several hours on Sunday—and did virtually all the cooking himself. While he was plying his culinary trade, it was the norm to both greet and bid farewell to this classic diner impresario. I miss the thunderous “Hi!” greetings and equally booming “Take care!” farewells from grill side.

I was reminded of both this personal and societal loss when I bumped into the diner’s number two man for many years. Fortunately, he has found work in the area. While I chatted with him, an old blowhard got out of a car and yelled over, “Hey, Pete!” I asked, “Wasn’t he a diner customer?” Pete replied, “A long time ago.” I, of course, knew that Max was indeed a patron. He was unforgettable.

Almost invariably, Max would double park his huge boat of a car and have arguments with people on the street before entering the diner. He ordered the same thing all the time—like so many of us did—and executed his usual pre-meal ritual. Before eating his ham and egg sandwich, he swallowed a medley of meds and then swigged from a bottle of Pepto-Bismal, which he pulled out of his jacket pocket. Max was always loud and loutish.

What surprised me about seeing Max in the flesh today was that I presumed he was long dead. The man was old, obese, and red-skinned many, many years ago. He appeared then to be among the living courtesy of those pockets full of pills and bottles of Pepto-Bismal. But there Max was—all these years later and in living color—double parked in a heavily trafficked thoroughfare and heading off to purchase lottery tickets, which was where Pete was going, too. Somehow, though, seeing Mad Max alive and well—albeit still old, obese, and red-skinned—made my day.

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