Those who know me best will attest to the fact that I've never met a freebie I wouldn't avail myself of. Whether it's a dish of mint chocolates in the bank teller line or a swig of kombucha at Whole Foods Market, I'm genetically wired to take what's offered, and probably return for seconds. I don't even have to be hungry if the price is right — meaning there is none.
I had an opportunity to indulge my weakness for handouts recently when my 60th birthday rolled around. I was feeling all mopey and depressed, unable to sleep the night before, when my dear wife begged me to look at the bright side: "Hey, grandpa, at least you get a free Grand Slam breakfast at Denny's!"
My mood lifted instantly. I reached over to the nightstand, ignited the old iPad and Googled "Birthday Freebies" with the ardor of a lovestruck teen. Eureka, 13.7 million results came back in .18 seconds and I was off and running at warp-speed. Free entrées, free desserts, free skiing, free car washes, free miniature golf, bowling and movie popcorn, it was mine, all mine, just for being born!
There was, however, just one little hitch. To qualify for such priceless booty requires one to register in a company's email club, an open invitation to be spammed with useless offers and promotions for the rest of your greedy little life. Ah, what the heck, I figured, and started signing up for Rubio's Beach Club, the Tony Roma Rib Expert Club, IHOP's Pancake Revolution, even Famous Dave's BBQ's "P.I.G." Club, a cutesy abbreviation for Pretty Important Guest. I felt ashamed and dirty, and, of course, ready to roll.
Lo and behold, my driver's license hot in hand, we checked in at Denny's at 5 am to start the caloric juggernaut before daybreak. "Happy birthday," the waitress intoned with little detectable enthusiasm when handing over the high-cholesterol birthday platter. Pancakes, grits, eggs, hashbrowns, all for nothing — well, I did leave a nice tip for the grumpy server. It wasn't her birthday, after all.
For lunch, I had me a free Chipotle Cheesesteak sandwich and a tasty beverage at Jersey Mike's sub shop, and then topped it all off that evening with a beef brisket platter at Famous Dave's BBQ that nearly landed me in an ER. My bold experiment in cash-free, low-roughage eating had caused a near riot in my digestive system. Talk about a Pancake Revolution.
I reckon the universe is trying to wise me up to a maxim I've spent the better part of my adult life trying to disprove. There actually is no such a thing as a free lunch — everything comes with a time-delayed, karmic price-tag.
Consider me chastened. I've been living on unbuttered whole-grain toast and carbonated spring water for the last few days, and yes, I had to pay for it with cold hard cash. Now that was tough to swallow.
Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.