WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE END OF YOUR DAY …
I was on my seventh or eighth cup of coffee, sitting at the counter and enjoying the flow of night life that walked by and sometimes entered the small but inviting diner. It was almost 2:00 AM and I suspected it was going to be another all-nighter. Some of the bar crowd was already finding their way in.
The smell of frying onions and hamburger was a welcome change from the liver and onions that had been cooking earlier. Big Mac, the night shift cook, was anticipating the usual rush of orders that always came in at that time.
It was called a “Simple” and it was hamburger at its basic best. The bun was warmed on the griddle. A splotch of ketchup on the bottom half, fried onions, a very greasy hamburger patty, a small dollop of chili-pepper-spiked Miracle Whip®, topped at the customers request with shredded pepper jack cheese (and most requested it), and the top half of the bun. Simple, but very tasty. On a typical Friday and Saturday night, Big Mac would cook hundreds between 2:00 AM and 5:00 AM.
“Gimme five Simples with jack,” Jeannie hollered to Big Mac, and I immediately wondered why so many waitresses are named Jeannie. “And a bucket of fries,” she added.
“Three more Simples, two with jack, one naked,” Jeannie called out. A naked Simple is bun, ketchup and burger. A naked Simple “no red” means without ketchup.
Anyway, it went on like that for the next couple of hours. Order after order. Scores of Simples chowed down at the counter with scores more going home in brown paper bags. Jeannie loved working the bar rush because she made more in tips during the six hours of those two days than she did the rest of the week.
About 4:10 in the morning, one of the regulars came in. Buddy liked to say he was “houseless but not homeless.” He lived alone in his van, which according to Buddy meant he had a home. Well, he wasn’t quite alone. He had a mongrel of a dog he rescued from the animal shelter. He called him Muddy. Buddy and Muddy.
“I’ll have two Simples with jack,” Buddy told Jeannie. “And a Muddy bag to go.”
A Muddy bag was two naked Simples, no red, that he’d bring “home” for his dog.
Anyway, sometimes Buddy would yell out something as he left the diner. Not always, but sometimes. This morning was one of those sometimes.
“Hey everybody,” Buddy yelled. “Be sure to watch the sunset tonight. It’ll be a beaut.”
“Alright Buddy,” Jeannie said. “We will. Take care now and say hi to Muddy for us.”
I got home around 5:30 that morning, did a little writing and eventually crawled into bed.
Woke up at the crack of noon, did some yard work with my wife through the afternoon and about a half hour before sunset, I remembered Buddy’s advice.
We stood outside and watched. And Buddy was right. The sunset was absolutely magnificent.
It was three weeks later that I ran into Buddy. I asked him how he knew the sunset was going to be so beautiful that night. He looked at me quizzically.
“That night?” he asked. “What night? They’re all beautiful. Every night. It means me and Muddy have lived through another day. It means the problems of the day are done and I can rest. They’re all beautiful, man. They’re all beautiful.”
And you know, he’s right.