My life fades. The vision dims. All that remains are memories. I remember a time of chaos, ruined dreams, this wasted land. But most of all, I remember the Everything Diner. To understand what it was, we have to go back to the other time, when the world was powered by the black fuel and the American highways sprouted great oases of neon and chrome.
Gone now....Swept away....Their world crumbled, the cities exploded — a whirlwind of looting, a firestorm of fear. Men began to feed on men.
For a burnt out shell of a man who had wandered out into that wasteland, this posed a considerable philosophical dietary dilemma — men like Max, the Vegetarian Max.
In the roar of an engine, he pulled into the gravel lot of The Everything Diner.
With the exception of a curious fellow in a gyrocopter, with whom I shared a delicious recipe for snake meat I called "Fricassee of Reptile," the Diner had not seen a customer for days.
He remained in the great black vehicle for several moments. The throaty rumble of its V8 engine died leaving only the far off bleating of a sheep somewhere in the not too far distance.
I thought to myself, "I've got to catch that damn sheep. Today was supposed to be the Gyros Special."
My thoughts were cut off by the closing of a car door, followed by the calculating fall of boots upon gravel.
He was clad in dusty and worn leathers. A cop, perhaps, at one time.
A dog trotted by his side. A Blue Healer, a shepherd dog. I did not see any Service Dog identifiers.
He opened the door. The bells above the door tinkled.
"Afternoon. That a service dog?"
An oversized holster bulging with a sawn-off shotgun dangled from his belt.
"Come on in. Dog too."
He stepped through the door. His dog followed him to the front counter, where he sat on one of the vinyl upholstered stools. The dog curled up underneath, watching.
I handed him a menu, informed him that there was no Special for the day.
He spent a couple of minutes looking over the extensive and eclectic menu. Fatigue and misery was worn into his unshaved face.
"Bad out there, huh..."
"I was...am a vegetarian," he said, "Sticking to a diet can be...come and go. I really don't care anymore, any brown vegetarian gack would be fine by me.
"Vegetarian meals that are brown gack I can do. It will have to be from scratch. You got time?"
He nodded and I got to prepping my ingredients.
12 oz. of whole mushrooms
1 package of ToFurky Italian Sausage
Making vegetarian gack is easy, but making decent tasting vegetarian gack takes time, slow heat and veggies chopped into fine, fine bits.
I separated the kale leaves from their main rib, chopped them fine and set aside.
Onions, garlic, carrots, mushrooms, I also chopped up very fine and then added them all to a large stock pot with the olive oil heated under medium heat. The more surface area of the pot the better. Stirring occasionally, I let the veggies cook, until they were soft and starting to brown and caramelize, filling the diner with a delicious aroma. If I had any Italian sausage, such as the vegetarian kind made by ToFurky, I could have chopped it up and tossed it in to the pot with the veggies. But the days of such luxuries had passed...
I then added the chopped kale and the lentils and then stirred them into the veggies for about a minute until the kale wilted down a bit. Satisfied, I added about eight cups of water, give or take, enough to cover the contents of the pot and a bit more. Red lentils cook to mush with about a 1:3 lentil/water ratio. I could always add water but never subtract, when cooking something to a gack-like consistency.
After the water started to boil, I covered the pot and turned down the heat down so the contents could cook slowly at a gentle simmer. If I had to make this as the following day's lunch special, I would have just let it simmer in a crock pot on the high setting for about four hours.
Walking out into the dining area, I observed that both dog and owner were now sitting attentively. It was obvious that they had missed many hot meals.
"So," I queried, "This dog of yours, it can catch sheep, can't it?"
It took about two hours, give or take a half-hour, to catch the sheep with the help of those two. By that time, the lentils in the pot had absorbed most of the liquid and had gently broken down into a mushy consistency. Salt toughens lentils, so I added it then to taste.
I doled out two cups into a bowl for him and a second helping for myself. The dog whined.
"This has a lot of onions and garlic in it. Not good for dogs. I've got a couple of cases of canned dog food in the back though. Meat and Veggies."
In trade for his help in getting my Special back onto the menu for the weekend, I put the remainder of the meal into five separate 2 cup containers. I gave the guy a couple of crates of the canned dog food for his companion. If worse-comes-to-worse, that would have kept the two of them from starving for a few weeks.
For the moment, the horror of that white-line nightmare faded away as we ate in silence.
But that was the last I ever saw of him in the Everything Diner. He lives now - only in my memories.
Parts adapted from the script of "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior," Kennedy Miller Productions, 1981