2 min read

Free Lunch

Always cried poor. Paid with mountains of coins held together with lint.
Free Lunch

I’m sitting outside a coffeeshop on a bright August day. I watch a schlubby guy cross the street to the restaurant across the way. Tuesdays since the plague began they’ve been giving away box lunches. This guy used to be a regular at the bar. He’d weasel drinks out of whoever sat next to him. Always cried poor. Paid with mountains of coins held together with lint. Of course he lines up for the free lunch. Would be shocked if he missed a week.

I hated him for the transparent look of calculation in his eye. Anyone who sat within a few seats got appraised. What could they give him? How hard could he push? What sob story will loosen the purse strings?

I know he has a job. Works at some restaurant in the West Loop. Two kinds of restaurant workers went to the bar. The first buys everyone rounds. Spends all they’ve made. Blacks out. Does it again. The second hangs around with the first and only reciprocates when shamed repeatedly. Springs for PBR after getting Three Floyds all night. Stays sober pretending to be trashed. Has to keep his wits about him while on the make.

I know you know this guy. You work at enough places you meet him or his clones again and again. Must be a factory on the outskirts of town that manufactures them. But what is his purpose? In the animal world a parasite might clean dirt and debris off the surface of the skin of whatever it has attached itself to. My friend wasn't carrying any cleaning products.

I'm trying to restart work on a book I started a few months back. It's a series of long-after-the-fact responses to letters I've kept for decades. Instead, I'm watching the parade of free lunchers. One old man is so happy he stops passersby and points them toward the restaurant door, insisting they get one for themselves.

It's delicious!

I've never gone over there. I've been fortunate not to go hungry in a long time. Doesn't feel right to take food in place of those who can't afford it. My friend from earlier made me think bad thoughts about the people across the street but I doubt most are freeloaders like him. I hope not, in any case.

—I was interviewed on Salt Lake Dirt, interviewed Brian Case last week, will interview Mick Collins this Wednesday. Mallory and I interviewed each other about Get Out. I contributed a short tribute to Gil Roth's epic 500th episode of his Virtual Memories and made a love/hate list for Hello America. Also wrote about a forthcoming book I truly enjoyed.