Thursday, June 12, 2014

"The Word Before 'Food' That Changes Everything"

And that word is…


I don’t know what it is about free food.  But I find it virtually impossible to resist.  And I say “virtually” only to preserve a semblance of my reputation for self-discipline.  

My Reputation For Self-Discipline:  “Thank you.”

Though in this case it is arguably undeserved.

My Reputation For Self-Discipline:  “Scrupulously honest.  Even if it hurts the reputation of his reputation.”

Maybe it’s not just free food.  Maybe it’s free anything.  I habitually pick up discarded pennies on the street.  That’s free money.  Why would anyone pass that by? 

A momentary stoop, a grasp and a pick-up, and presto! – You are now, with the most minimal of effort and at no cost whatsoever, the possessor of a denomination of currency that, albeit infinitesimally, has elevated your net worth! 

My mind also revives the memory of the Canadian National Exhibition, reputed to be the largest county fair…in the country?... on the continent?…I don’t remember, but it was big, I know that!

Every year, an eight-year old Early P. would return home, weighed down by complimentary (Read:  free) shopping bags full of complimentary brochures picked up at various promotional booths, making me the proud possessor of flyers touting the latest models of automobiles (though I would not be driving for some time), miraculous new kitchen appliances (“‘Microwave’ a hotdog in less than ten seconds!”) and upgraded farming accessories (an automatic manure spreader so you no longer had to spread manure with your hand.  And I didn’t even have a farm!) 

I did not care what the brochures were advertising.  They were glossy, and colorful…

…and free!

By far, however, the most enticing of gratis giveaways has always been free food.

The most dominant example being the catered dinners on television “Show Nights.”

(On the day when we filmed the episodes we had been rehearsing all week, there was a late-afternoon “Dress Rehearsal” and then a couple of hours afterwards, there was the filming.  In between, everyone working on that show, from the “Extras” to the Executive Producer, received a ticket, allowing them entry onto a soundstage arranged specifically for that purpose on which would be provided, at no cost whatsoever, a studio-prepared, multi-coursed, “Show Night” dinner.)

At those self-service buffets, you were entirely in charge of a (theoretically) unlimited portion control.  And when you arrived at the head of the line, there was nobody standing in front of a cash register “ringing you up.”  You just loaded up with food, and off you went!

You then found an available seat, you plopped yourself down, and you dug in.  You didn’t even have to dig in.  You could just look at the food, and then walk away.  What difference did it make?  You could go back and get more, and not eat that serving either!  You could go back as often as you wanted, leaving uneaten dinners all over the soundstage.  Who cared?

It was free! 

Here’s the thing, however, that made this gustorial windfall not quite as magical as it sounds. 

The food was terrible!

But it didn’t matter.  (He repeated, mimicking the crazed Walter Huston character in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre)

“Because it's free!”

I have written elsewhere about performing in plays at summer camp and being too nervous to eat anything before the show.  (And that royally pissed me off because on camp “Show Nights” they served hotdogs and French fries and that was the only meal of the week that I actually enjoyed!) 

Although I was, overall, never as nervous as a network television writer as I was performing in camp shows – there is an incomparable adrenalin – well, maybe being shot into space is somewhat comparable – about appearing onstage – I was still plenty fidgety about how things would turn out.  I mean, my career was pretty much on the line.  So you can imagine some jumpiness.

My pre-show jitters, however, did not deter me from those complimentary dinners.  I can still see myself polishing off a plate of overcooked chicken, wilted green beans and lumpy mashed potatoes, thinking, or maybe actually saying out loud,

“This stuff is just awful!  Somebody, stop me.  Because I am seriously tempted go back for ‘Seconds’!”

The only time I was truly upset was when they ran out of food.  I could literally feel my blood start to boil.  How dare they run out of inedible free food! 

I was especially irate about the desserts, so sweet diabetics would go into a swoon simply walking past the building.  Sometimes the dessert would be gone before I got to it.  And I would virtually hit the roof!

“You’re all out of that indigestible cake?  How could you!”

As the aphorism goes:  “No man feels more greatly abused than when he is cruelly denied what has been provided him for nothing.”  (Okay, it’s an aphorism I just made up.  But who knows?  It may just catch on.  And then I’m an “Aphorism Guy!”)

There is just something about free food.  I mean, I was certainly not starving.  I could easy pay for food myself.  And that food would no doubt be considerably more to my liking than the “institutional catering” dished out by the studio.  But when I walked onto that soundstage, and I stepped up to that buffet line, aware that all I surveyed was available “on the house”, everything looked irresistibly delicious. 

Until I ate it.

And then (inexplicably to this very day),

I invariably went back for more.

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

You really ought to be a journalist. Free food, for sure.