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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Just Desserts


Imagine if you will in the not so long ago past, two late middle aged men, both closing in on age 50. Horizontally expanding as men their age tend to be, they pass on dessert at the Cuban restaurant in which they dined. They have eaten there only because a generous co-worker gave them a $25 gift card, and their drinks and entrĂ©es had already surpassed that figure. So it isn’t as if they don’t have room for flan in their not-quite-packed digestive system; they just don’t want to pay for it.

“Why don’t you take the beach road home?” the Other Bill suggests. “Maybe we’ll stop off at the Diplomat and look around.”

The Diplomat, a recently constructed, ultra-luxury hotel on the Atlantic Ocean, has been on their to-visit list for months. The driving Bill, a Florida native who grew up when beach parking was free, finds beach pay-to-park lots as a violation of his constitutional rights. He has put off this hotel-visiting chore in a one-man protest of the rotten state of affairs that has ruined his birth state. He also believes in the recent findings that claim that Walt Disney, the man who destroyed Florida, had serious links to the Nazi party. He feels that even if Disney wasn’t a Nazi, he was surely a fascist who wanted world domination of the theme park industry at any cost, including Florida’s fragile ecostructure that he obliterated in the early 1970’s.

“Well, okay,” Bill agrees, “but only if I can find a meter with time on it.”

Over the years, Other Bill has secretly thought that his partner’s stand against Disney, parking lots, oceanfront condo overdevelopment and local political corruption might not be environmentally rooted, but more a display of his partner’s jealousy, bitterness, and, how you say, cheap bastardliness. This, of course, could not be farther from the truth.

Snaking up the side streets of the narrow barrier island, they find a parking place next to a closed retail store. There isn’t a no parking sign to be seen, so they stop there and cross the street to the enormous, handsomely designed tower and enter the cool, well decorated lobby.

Bill, who is never impressed with opulence, and whose scorn for the unabashed greed of Fortune 500 corporations, which include this hotel chain, prevent him from appreciating the elegant design and meticulous decor of the building. While Other Bill looks up and turns in a circle with his jaw open (looking a bit too similar to That Girl in the opening montage of the TV show), the native Bill merely shrugs.

Bill’s browsing and window shopping is, in most cases, limited to the internet. Every once in a while, just to appease Other Bill, he will begrudgingly accompany his partner on trips to the mall in order to fulfill his obligation to this thing called a relationship. Now, while Other Bill is oogling the fountains, Bill is thinking that all this could have been done better from his computer room with a 360-degree virtual tour. He feigns enjoyment.

Other Bill, always up for an adventure, leads them outside so to see the enormous oceanfront pool. They are stopped at the door by a security guard for a private party who notices their improper casual attire and asks to see their invitations. When none can be found, they are asked not to enter the pool area.

For a while they peruse the shops and peek inside the restaurants and sniff the charring steaks. They ride an escalator up to a floor where there are conference rooms, and it is there where Bill’s harsh opinion of big business begins to subside ever so slightly.

They peek inside one room, which contains a podium and an easel perched on the maroon industrial carpeting. Facing that are three rows of gray, cushioned chairs. Not so exciting until you look to the back of the room, where on a table covered with a clean, starched linen tablecloth sit two enormous pizza-pan platters of cookies. No one is in this room; class has been dismissed or is out for recess. And these are not just vanilla wafers or animal crackers we are talking about here. These are fresh, soft, expensive, hockey-puck sized, milk chocolate chunk and peanut butter cookies. The whole room smells of them. Without even pausing, both Bills rush inside like squirrels stealing from a bird feeder. They each grab a cookie and dash out of the room and perch in a darker part of the hall. There they slowly savor their succulent bounties, keeping the bites warm in their mouths until they melt down their throats. When the last crumb has been consumed, they look at each other and say, simultaneously, “Let’s get more.”

They return to the meeting room and quickly shove two more down their throats, fearful that the legitimate occupants of the room might return and report their theft to hotel security. They remove a large cloth napkin from the nicely dressed table, and they stack the cookies high, wrap them in the napkin, and quickly abduct them from the room.

The Bills continue to quietly inspect the rest of the floor by jiggling each doorknob of every meeting room. Like vipers in search of meerkats, they suspect that someone else has been careless and left open another doorway to free food. Locked doors are left behind. Open rooms are peeked into, but if no pleasant aromas waft from these quarters, they are abandoned.

In short time, another meeting room, open and lit, awaits the couple’s exploration. This time there is a whiteboard in the front, along with empty chairs, behind which is a well-stocked, tableclothed display of exotic, fresh, chilled fruit: kiwi slices, tender, ripe raspberries, chocolate-dipped strawberries, thinly sliced Fuji applies and a mountain of fresh, golden pineapple chunks. Beside the fruit is a tempting display of cheeses: tangy Canadian cheddar, warm Camembert, and aged, smoked Gouda. Sitting next to the cheeses are loaves of thick bread crusted in sesame seeds. Hills of smoked almonds, toasted Brazil nuts, and the ever-so-popular cashews call to the men from their shiny, silver bowls. Mouths are filled and filled again. The food has been barely touched by the registered attendees. Who signed up for these meetings, they wonder, Anorexia Anonymous?

What a dilemma: all this food and no take-home Tupperware. Should they go home and procure some, or do they eat what they can now and not risk the chance of having it all disappear while they fetch the containers? They pledge that if they ever visit this heaven again, they will come with pockets stuffed with plastic grocery bags. Until then, they opt for living in the present. One eats while the other stands outside, keeping watch, and then they trade off. When an elevator bell is heard, they dash from the room and run to a dark exit and rush down the stairs, where they escape through a smelly, dumpster-filled room.

Don’t forget this couple, these men who are behaving like boys from a Mark Twain book, will soon be members of AARP.

Bellies full, the gentlemen arrive back at the unticketed car, giddy from getting away with such a fine dessert heist. Any sense of guilt, fear or remorse is quickly squelched with Other Bill’s rationalization: “They just would have thrown it out, anyway.”

“I know,” says the driving Bill. “Big companies are so wasteful.”

As he steers away from the fancy hotel, the balding, gray-haired Bill looks at the empty napkin in his lap and then peers up longingly at the towering hotel, floodlit in his rear-view mirror.

“We should have gotten more,” he says.

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