If a coward dies a thousand deaths and a hero only once, I cannot help but think this column's last meal places me firmly in the camp of the former.
Clearly, as I'm still pushing ink and not daisies, my final meal was not a lethal repast of salmonella-fried green tomatoes or E. coli-tainted truffles. It was humbler than that, perhaps more cowardly. But honestly, after more than two years of gutting everything from embryonic silkworms to preserved mudfish, I'm ready to hang up the feedbag, and take up the napkin.
But that left me with a quarter-pound conundrum: Namely, if you knew a meal was to be your last, what would you eat?
Would you sidle up to a buffet for a finale so crapulent even Nero would blush? Or would you choose a more ascetic route? Perhaps fasting while enduring a colonic cleanse?
Me? I opted for the condemned man's archetypical Last Meal:
A T-bone Steak with A.1. Steak Sauce, Deep-Fried Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce, French Fries, a Bowl of Corn, Garlic Toast and a Strawberry Shake with Whipped Cream.
In other words, I ate at Denny's.
Though I'd previously been to Denny's only after dark, I chose to eat my last supper at the unsentimental hour of 11 a.m. (I didn't want to be seduced by the velvet night into ordering a basket of mozzarella cheese sticks or a trifling piece of cherry pie. When you've got your sights set on a Dead Man's Meal, you don't want to be diverted by the sham consolations of, say, Moons Over My Hammy.)
Of course, in the harsh light of day, the food on the plate rarely lives up to the menu's midnight promise. The steak, though cooked well, was under-seasoned and over-tough. The slab-like fries had a mealy texture that smacked of freezer burn, and the corn hit the tongue like so many bubbles of watery starch. Still, the shrimp was OK, the garlic toast held its own and the strawberry shake — well, let's just say it gave me a new vision for the sweet hereafter.
Of course, it goes without saying that unlike the truly condemned, I munched my last knowing full well that I would be released into happy daylight.
Still, there was a finality to the ritual. As I gnawed the old cow, I realized that while I was not saying goodbye to this life, I was certainly bidding adieu to this column — which, for better or worse, has been a big part of said life.
I felt disappointed, a little lonely. It seemed so anticlimactic. I mean, really, a bland meal in an anonymous 24-hour chain diner by the side of a highway? You'd think that after more than 100 installments I'd be able to come up with something more memorable than a middling meal of meat and potatoes...
But then, alone in my vinyl-sided booth, I began to feel that old-time dyspeptic rumble. Something was off. I quickly paid my bill and made for my car.
Only then did I notice that the sweat on my brow had begun to evaporate, the nausea starting to subside. This was no case of food poisoning; far from it: It was a food coma. Staggering to a nearby patch of grass, I stretched out in the July sun.
It was then that a profound feeling of peace washed over me. Perhaps I was relieved the nausea had passed, or maybe I was thankful that all those meals of fertilized duck eggs and Oreo pizzas were behind me.
But with my eyes closed against the noonday glare, the true nature of my contentment revealed itself:
It wasn't heroic, folks, but didn't we keep it down?