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Vegetarian (not)

The student union was worse. I tried being a vegetarian when I was a sophomore at Florida Presbyterian College. At FPC you had to eat in the cafeteria. We were in the suburbs; no nearby eateries. You could eat off campus if you had a car, but no car for me until I finished school. My folks were paying for college so I didn't have to work a job; I could study full time. They gave me an allowance, but the bucks stopped there.

Not a rachel; no coleslaw. Sometimes I'd get ride to Wolfies, a deli style restaurant. They made an overstuffed reuben, greasy as hell. I once ordered it with pastrami and never went back. To corned beef, that is. I went back to Wolfies every chance I got.

It was almost as good. A friend from Mel High stopped by, one of the 6 or 7 of us. We decided to picnic in Tampa. Wolfies had a bakery, and I liked to get a loaf of fresh baked bread there and a hunk of muenster. I'd sit on the beach with some girl who'd friendzoned me and we'd tear off hunks of fresh bread and eat it with hunks of cheese; heavenly. When they asked if we wanted it sliced I said no. But PRC was buying and he scoffed at my hippie crap. We got the bread and cheese sliced.

Maybe he meant 10:1? He was driving a little Fiat which he proclaimed had a 1:1 steering ratio. When we headed off to Tampa and he let me drive it across the Howard Frankland Bridge, it was indeed twitchy, hard to keep between the lines.

Traffic on the bridge. But what I really remember about that drive was the music. PRC had asked what I'd been listening to (Spirit, mostly, some Jefferson Airplane, Abbey Road); he nodded tolerantly. He said he had an album he wanted me to hear. He'd copied it onto a cassette, and his little Fiat had a great stereo. We could listen to it on the way to our picnic. We set off across Tampa Bay with me driving and he cranked up The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. OMFG. No wonder I was having a hard time keeping it between the lines.

But I did see the sad remains slowly melting on some fool's platter a few times. Wolfies was also big on ice cream: shakes, malts, and every kind of sundae. Their ultimate ice cream dish was called The Mogambo Extravaganza: something like 20 scoops and every topping, every add-on in the book, all served as a small mountain fat & sugar on a big ol' platter. They had a standing offer: if you ate the whole thing, you got it for free. As far as I know, none of my friends ever tried.

Almost cool. OK back to FPC. Don't let the name fool you: FPC was no ingrown bible-thumpin' church organ; it was one of the two most progressive colleges in Florida at the time. Only New College in Sarasota was cooler, dammit. But by 1971 I'd already burned out on pot and psychedelic pills; they threatened my mental integrity. I'd settled instead into an alcoholic haze which would last me till 2016.

And yours? Anyway, the cafeteria food was institutional. The entree server, the one you encountered first as you slid your tray along the 3 polished steel tubes, greeted each student identically: And yours? That's what we called him, And Yours, a balding fat guy dressed in white, with a white paper hat.

Beige. Mystery meat was the worst entree: a piece of ground or cubed meat product profoundly smothered in thick beige gravy that tasted slightly disturbing. Like, what was that flavor? It made overbaked chicken look like a slice of heaven.

Natural foods. When a student with food service cred convinced the authorities to let him put together a natural foods line, it was a no-brainer. However, you had to do one or the other, no mixing. So I became a vegetarian. There was good stuff in the natural foods line. Fresh whole fruit, a salad bar, nut butters (not just peanut), tahini, granola, and and… I can't remember too much else. Oh yeah yogurt, and whole-wheat bread.

Hard to resist. I lived on peanut butter & banana sandwiches. I would substitute almond butter or tahini for variety, but the peanut butter was Deaf Smith crunchy; hard to resist. I also ate granola with fruit and yogurt or milk. Salad occasionally. But the entrees were unimaginative. Like squash cut in half and steamed. Just that, no sauce or seasoning. You could put salad dressing on them; blue cheese dressing makes anything taste better.

T-bone heaven. I did fine on my vegetarian diet for 4 months, and I wasn't thinking about quitting it. I felt fine, no different. But one day my sister Peggy and her husband Tommy stopped by and offered to take me out to dinner anywhere I wanted. I didn't hesitate an instant: Sizzlin'! I drowned my vegetarianism in a big juicy steak.

Eckerd Drug College. I went through a lot of changes during my time at FPC, and not just me: even the name of my school changed. I was actually a member of the first graduating class of Eckerd College, named for drugstore magnate Jack Eckerd. Word on the street was naming rights for a small college ran Jack about $7 mil. T-shirts proclaiming Eckerd Drug College in the familiar Eckerd Drug logo appeared almost immediately.

But I didn't quit meat. As for me, I finally lost my virginity and fell in love repeatedly, I quit smoking pot and dedicated myself to alcohol, and, more productively, I quit smoking cigarettes.