ST. PETERSBURG — Garry Munch was a tough south St. Pete kid who fought and suffered in Vietnam. He came home with post traumatic stress disorder and complications from Agent Orange exposure. He took a job installing AC systems in Burger Kings all over the Southeast, even though Vietnam had left him desperate for familiarity, for safety.
One day at the airport, he broke out in a sweat. He couldn't get on the plane. He drove with his wife, Linda, to the Sunshine Skyway bridge. He threw his beeper over the rail. They drove back to the little house they owned behind Munch's, the serendipitously named family restaurant his parents had opened on Sixth Street S in 1952.
Munch swore he would never leave home again. He started a pawnshop in Pinellas Park. He kept his own stool in the far right corner of the counter at Munch's — an unchanging place, where the Wednesday special remains hot cakes and coffee for $2.05. He swore he'd wear only flip-flops and shorts — and a favorite Hawaiian shirt for dress-up. With rare, brief exceptions, he kept his vows.
He died July 2. He was 62.
All Garry Munch ever wanted was home.
• • •
Munch married Linda, the evening grill cook at Munch's. She was a single mom. He'd come in after 9 p.m., right after she'd cleaned the grill. He'd say he was hungry.
Linda complained to Clariece Munch, the restaurant matriarch. "Who is this idiot coming in here after 9?"
Clariece fired back, "He's my son!"
Clariece turned the grill back on.
Linda didn't know it, but Garry Munch aggravated only people he liked. After messing up her grill for a few nights, he asked her to a movie. "We were together ever since."
They married in 1982 and got a place behind the restaurant. Garry bought a long green overstuffed couch. It took up the whole living room. She hated it. The cat tore up the fabric. The chihuahua and Garry claimed joint ownership. He replaced the couch twice over 28 years — same style every time. Linda threatened to set it on fire.
She could aggravate him back. She once took all the cash out of his wallet without telling him. He went shopping that day. With a cashier waiting, he opened his wallet and all he found was Linda's thank-you note.
• • •
From his stool at the restaurant, Garry Munch would hear the old vets complain about their problems at the Bay Pines VA. He had been getting treatment at Bay Pines for decades. He knew all the ins and outs.
"He'd help these guys with their VA benefits," said his brother, Larry. "He'd hear them talking and he'd say, 'I know someone you can call.' He'd get results."
Behind the register, Larry and Garry's father, Dean Munch, had hung a sign he titled "Munch's Creed" back in the '50s. The sign reads: "I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do, any kindness that I can show, let me do it now."
• • •
Garry Munch's lung cancer was diagnosed in March. He took a first round of chemotherapy that made him so sick he had to be hospitalized for two weeks. When he finally left the hospital, he told Linda, "That's it, I'm done."
He went home to die. He lay on the green couch, his chihuahua curled around his shoulders. He said he wanted rock 'n' roll at his funeral. And anyone who came would have to wear shorts and T-shirts. He died on the couch, surrounded by his family.
He got his wish: No one wore long pants to his funeral on Thursday.
Linda's getting her wish, too. She had tears in her eyes as she revealed it, sitting at the counter at Munch's, next to Larry, who sat on Garry's stool.
She's tossing the couch.