Friday, August 22, 2008

Restaurant Steals and Deals

Being poor in college is no big surprise, especially to those of us who had to work at moronic jobs in silly retail outlets, greasy diners and grocery stores. Paying for gas, car insurance and health and beauty aids ate up most of my checks. After shelling out good money for the aforementioned necessities, there wasn't much cash to spread around for those needed extras essential to the "college experience." First there were the dreaded cigarettes, only a dollar in the late 80's and then you had the food that was NOT processed by university Nazi's who thought green roast beef was both a vegetable and a protein. Finally, the entertainment portion of my weekly budget. Although I would indulge in a few movies a semester, many of my friends were more content in watching videos on our dorm room floors while we wore our footie pajamas, ate Cool Ranch Doritos and drank wine out of a box. High class, remember? We always seemed to find monies for cheap booze from Greenvale Liquor and a special blend of herbs and spices from our friend Ted on the first floor of Brookville Hall. What we didn't have was money for utensils, dishes, coffee mugs and glasses. Those types of expenses fall into the paper products, cleaning solution category. You need them but you hate spending cash on them! I needed to find a quick fix to fully stock our make-shift pantry so I improvised and used some special skills I acquired in my late teens to enhance our living conditions, making for a much more comfortable, convenient dorm experience.

The formula was, order a lot of food and drink at a local watering hole, disguise the order of the table setting, pretend you haven't finished any of your food when the server checks on you and then once the bill comes, you begin to shuffle mugs, dishes, silverware and glasses into your enormous back-pack used solely for the purpose of the "eat and grab." We always paid the bill, don't get me wrong, but we helped ourselves to the extras too, which included salt shakers, creamers, sugar packets and basically anything that wasn't nailed down to the table.

One of my favorite places to visit was The Barefoot Peddler, a quaint English style pub down the road from my college. I loved the black coffee mugs they used with their gold plated insignia on the front. They were large enough to fill two average cups of coffee, just what you need when you've slept less than three hours the night before and are running on purely caffeine and tobacco. Now that I'm such a health freak, I shutter at the thought of punishing my body so much but when you are young, the human body can withstand the barrage of junk and processed foods, alcohol and smokes and the rest of the crap that we managed to stuff down our throats during those mindless years. I often bragged to friends outside our culinary circle on my collection of coffee cups and high end plates, giving way to endless jealousy and raucous back-biting remarks. I could have cared less because my pack of peeps always dined on the finest china we could "borrow."

I've never stolen anything in my life, albeit a candy bar on a dare when I was a kid and since we always paid our bills, none of us felt like we were committing a crime. When I lived in Albany and had a fake ID in high school, my friends and I began a stellar collection of cocktail glasses that found their unlikely home in the trunk of my 1974 brown Dodge Dart, bought from my parents in 1985 for the low cost of $100. You needed to keep a tennis racket in the trunk to slam against the starter every now and then when the car began to act up. We called it "Wonder," because we always wondered how that rusted out, back seat flooded hunk of tin was still keeping time. We kept the glasses in a large box in the back of my trunk, not really understanding what we were going to do with them. One afternoon, my mother needed me to drive her to the mechanics shop to pick-up her car and asked me for a ride expectantly. I knew I was stone cold busted because my car wreaked of cigarettes and was filled with unexplained litter. The car was totaled from the inside out. When my mother entered the unkempt vehicle and saw its condition, she gave me that look...only a look Angela could shoot and told me I was a mess and I better get my life together. Oops, instead of the screaming and yelling I got the good old Italian mother guilt. I can't decide which is worse. As we silently rode to the automotive shop, I thought about trying to explain my way out of this, blaming my friend Peggy for the mess since my my mother already knew she was the wild woman out of our group, but then decided not to go down that route for fear of screwing up the lie so badly I'd never earn my mother's trust back. I took the heat.

While daydreaming of my plots and plans, I failed to see a red light and stopped very short when all of a sudden, I heard our hard earned collection of club cocktailers crash into a shattered mess in the trunk of that old clunker. to to get out of this. My mother now was yelling at me and then asked what was in the trunk. I lied but she made me open it and when I did, she must have thought I was some sort of juvenile alcoholic, but in reality, I mostly ordered seltzer and cranberry with a twist of lime when I was out at one our local college bars. I was the only one with a car and was the eternal designated driver, a role I detested.

I have to say that my mother trusted me on the alcohol issue, she really did. I can't say she was totally happy with me but to this day, she still has many of the beer mugs and rock mixers that I swiped 20 years ago in her kitchen cabinets. I laugh every time Vic drinks out of the famed Heineken mug I lifted from Gasberry's in downtown Albany after this loser Tim I used to date tried to ply me with the tonic to get a little downtown action himself. Unfortunately, I could always handle my booze, but had little tolerance for jackass boyfriends. I love how the one I love the most in this world drinks out of one of my little life trophies. I know it sounds ridiculous but that mug reminds me that I didn't give in and fought my way through being a free thinker and a person who never followed the crowd. So, I guess my pension for "borrowing" things sort of paid off in the end.

Several years ago, early in our marriage, Vic and I used to go out for Valentine's Day dinner at some ritzy restaurant du jour. After a friends suggestion of an eclectic Manhattan style restaurant in Carle Place, I made reservations and got out my red, wool wrap skirt perfect for the occasion. After dining on a delicious mix of greens and lobster ravioli, we ordered desert and coffee. When the server brought out our order, I began to grossly salivate, much like Pavlov's dog. It wasn't the desert that made me weak in the knees but the creamer. It was a crisp, clean white cow creamer with milk inside. Vic saw my gleaming eyes and immediately said, "NO. NO way are you taking that." I breathed deeply through my nose, pursed my lips and began to pout like some ten year old brat who didn't get sprinkles on her ice cream cone. I silently protested but Vic would not have any of it. He was furious with me, once a rare occasion but has become naturally woven into our current relationship. It's usually some crazy, cockapooie idea of mine that sets him off and honestly, he's always willing to hear my side before getting his tail feather's in a ruffle. I ruined our Valentine's day because of my old obsession for restaurant trinkets that I could now afford but would rather swipe for the thrill of it. I suppose I'll always be in recovery from this little addiction of mine and still keep a lovely selection from the Peddler's cast offs stocked in my own kitchen cabinets, but now it's time for responsibility and propriety. I no longer have to scrape for food or for utensils but in the back of my mind, I'm always one pay check away from ruins so at least I still some skill to fall back on!

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