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The Angry Vegetarian
by Jerry Guarino

Sam didn’t start out angry. He didn’t start out as a vegetarian. This was the culmination of repeated frustration over a long period of time. It wasn’t even Sam’s fault; virtually all of the conditions he had were genetically passed on from his father. You can’t pick your name or your genetics. But no one would have guessed how he would react when faced with the final, insurmountable obstacle.

After school, Sam would work in the diner that his father had bought back in the 1950s. Burgers, fries, sandwiches, blue-plate specials and the coldest, thickest, most delicious milk shake in town, nicknamed, the iceberg. If a customer could drink one with a straw, the shake was free. At the end of the day, Sam would sit with his father in a corner booth; his pop would challenge him to drink a strawberry shake with a straw. One day, this ritual was interrupted when a lovely teenage girl came over to them and questioned Sam’s father.

“Excuse me sir, do you need any waitresses after school?” Sam kept one eye on her while continuing his milk shake, hoping to impress this angel and praying that his pop would give her a job. Her name was Veronica (very popular back then). She was 5’9” with long, light brown hair, horned rimmed glasses and a beautiful smile. It was the 15-year old Sam’s first crush.

They worked together for two years until Sam left for college upstate. Veronica went to a local college and continued to work part time in the diner; Sam would come back to the diner every holiday and break, in order to see her. For the next three years, he tried to maintain a connection with her. Then just before Thanksgiving, Sam’s world changed; his father died.

He left college and returned to run the diner. College life seemed like a vacation now compared to 12- hour days, 7 days a week. At least Veronica was still working there. He vowed to find the right time to ask for a date.

It was an unusually busy morning. Veronica was scurrying around, trying to keep up. “Sam, we need more pastries out front. They’re selling like hotcakes. And table three just ordered four servings of hotcakes” she said smiling at him.

He warmed up now to the object of his affection. “Right away Ronnie. Joe, get more pastry from the back and give them to Ronnie.” Meanwhile Sam hurriedly made more batter.

Since he had taken over, business had increased. He could tell from the inventory and receipts. But what was the reason? He had maintained his father’s menu, cooking techniques and advertising, even the staff was largely the same. Could it be that his presence gave customers the feeling that the business was continuing? His father was well liked, but people could tell he was slowing down before the heart attack. Such little things can effect people’s perceptions. Maybe this was a sign that he should finally pursue his feelings for Veronica?

On a cold day in February, Sam gave her more attention than usual; Veronica flirted back. Could all the stars be aligned? Sam knew that if he was going to ask her out, it should be now. As they were closing down that night, he made sure to let the rest of the staff off first.

He made two milk shakes and set them in a corner booth, and then went back to wash his hands. “Ronnie, why don’t you join me for an iceberg?” She winked, took Sam’s hand and walked him back to the booth. Sam knew what he had to do now. “What is this?” he said, seeing a candle in a heart shaped muffin between the milk shakes.

“It’s Valentines Day Sam. Don’t you know that I’ve wanted you to ask me out for years.”

Sam couldn’t believe it. “I’ve felt the same way. I was always too scared.” Holding hands in the booth, this was the beginning of a lifetime of happiness for both of them. They were married in the summer; Veronica finished college and then joined Sam full time in the diner.

But years of diner food took its toll as Sam developed the same ailments that his father had succumbed to: high cholesterol at 40, diabetes at 50 and a kidney stone at 60. Each diagnosis meant another restriction on his diet. First cut out fat, then sugar and finally protein. Sam had become the angry vegetarian.

Sam thanked God that Ronnie never had such health problems. Although she picked up the slack when Sam’s health declined, keeping up with supply purchases was always difficult.

It was Valentines Day again. Ronnie put out two milk shakes and a heart shaped muffin with candle, just as she had done each year for 40 years. She took Sam’s hand and led him to the booth, kissed him on the cheek and sat him down. She could tell something was wrong. “Make a wish sweetheart. Anything you want.”

He boiled over like Yosemite Sam would when confronted with Bugs Bunny. A slow burn is putting it mildly. “What would I like? I’ll tell you what I’d like. I’d like some food, plain old American food. Nothing fancy, nothing extreme. Just some wholesome, everyday food.” Sam thought about how his father died.

Trying to cheer him up, Veronica pushed the cold, thick strawberry milk shake in front of Sam. He looked down. “Sweetheart. This is dirty. Would you mind getting me another one please?”

Veronica gave her best pouty face, put her hand on Sam’s shoulder and gave him the bad news. “I’m so sorry dear. That was the last straw.” Sam laughed.