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12/28/05 Construction
12/15/05 Tribute Band
12/14/05 Jury Duty
11/14/05 Liability
10/20/05 Cheapskate
10/10/05 Gift-Giving
10/05/05 Camping
10/04/05 Boxing
09/08/05 Massage
08/22/05 Green Thumb
08/03/05 Poison Oak

Free Lunch

My wife asked if I wanted to be "her hero." My mission: Drive thirty minutes to pick up barbecued chicken. Leave it to my wife to crave thirty-minute-away chicken. I agreed to do it not because I'm a hero but because my wife and I are trying to conceive.

Wood Ranch Barbecue is big in my ZIP code. Like Elvis. When I arrived, it was standing room only. Little ones were sitting in laps; big ones were jiggling their keys outside. I squeezed through the pit and waited. And waited. And waited.

Twenty minutes passed. People breezed in and out, just like me but with the "out" part. It seemed that only big orders were moving -- Flintstone-sized ribs, vats of coleslaw. The plant beside me had begun to change seasons. I checked the status of my order, and they said it was coming. Well, yes, one would think.

I counted tiles on the floor, trying not to take things personally. Why did all these other people get the right-of-way? Was I missing the secret handshake? How silly it was to serve all the Johnson Party of Fifty's while the little guy went hungry. The Man was keeping me down.

By the time they called my name I was so over-the-edge appalled, you know what I said? You know what I said to them? I said "thank you." Then I left.

In the car I called my wife to vent, and she, being lifetimes older, said, "If you suppress these emotions, they'll just resurface as tumors. Why don't you talk to the manager?" It was sheer revelation, like being told to "use my words" by Mrs. Barth, my first-grade teacher whom I will never again call Mrs. Barf because I see now how childish that was.

I rang the manager to give him my tumor, and he, to my surprise, was the nicest guy in the world. He listened like a therapist. Not my therapist, but others. He confessed to being unprepared for a local rodeo-horse-parade-thingy and offered a coupon for one free lunch. He used the F-word!

And at that moment, something in me softened. Einstein said that the most important question we have to ask ourselves is this: Do I live in a friendly or hostile universe? That day I learned that foes are just friends who haven't used their words and that there is such a thing as free lunch. I also learned to call in my orders ahead.

Driving home I wondered how much of my heartache was based on bad theory. How many assumptions had come from not getting my way? The neurons in my brain were looking for new partners. I had begun The Reformat.

Nearing home, I remembered to share the news with my wife.

"A free lunch!" she said. "That's terrific, because my sister will be joining us, and do you want to be my hero..."


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