Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Mind of a Scavenger

by Tory Butterworth

One thing I've noticed at my new job, there's a lot of free food floating around. It seems like several days a week there's a free lunch being offered at some function, and the leftovers sit on a cart in the hallway for the rest of the day.

Whenever I see free food, I think of a client of mine from my community mental health days. I'll call him Tom, though that's not his real name.

Tom first attracted my attention in our orientation group. His hair was slick-backed and he wore a navy jogging suit without a shirt underneath, the top unzipped to show his hairy chest.

I remember the time Tom and I were standing in front of the agency during a fire alarm. I had reached the limits of my ability to keep up a conversation without revealing confidential information to the forty or so other people also standing in the parking lot. Tom, picking up the conversational ball, pointed to a hotel a few blocks away. "They have a pretty good buffet there." I nodded, too tired and disaffected to wonder where he was going with this. "Let's go over there," he suggested.

"I've already had lunch."

"No," he insisted, "We can get free food. They don't really check, you know, if you've paid. You just wander in, act like you're supposed to be there, and you get something to eat."

Over the next few months Tom taught me how he crashed events and stole from public places. One restaurant he mentioned still gives me the creeps. Tom had several hiding places staked out there where he could stash his "booty."

I can't say Tom left therapy a changed man. I began to question working with him when I realized that I was helping him become a better thief, not a better human being. Just for the record, he was one of only a very few clients who I don't feel like I helped in some constructive way.

Now, seeing all this free food reminds me of Tom. I wonder if there's a reality TV show in it: "Survivor" meets "Hell's Kitchen." Can contestants create haute cuisine from food scavenged in public buildings? Tom could be both instructor and judge. I'm sure he'd like that.


Anonymous said...

Tory, I'm thinking of those stories about homeless people who endlessly roam the halls of hospitals when the weather's cold. Maybe they need to pop over to your department for the free lunch!

One thing that pleases me about working at home and alone is that I don't have to face the temptation of all the doughnuts and brownies and cookies that used to clutter up the faculty lounge when I was a teacher. The goodies were too tough to resist!

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness we don't have all that food at work. No, not even doughnuts! We get goodies at Christmas and on September 11th.

Nancy, I know when I was a stay at home Mom, I was at least twenty pounds thinner. I'd get busy and forget to eat. Now that I'm on a set schedule, I feel that I have to eat just because it's time to do so. Tory, why is that?

Anonymous said...

Joyce, I'm not sure the problem is so much eating on a set schedule as eating when you're not hungry or eating more than you're hungry for. If you're burning more calories, running around, you need more food, but sometimes it's hard not to eat all you pack. Then there's eating because you're bored, or because you're avoiding certain work you're not looking forward to. I remember a boring library job I had one summer in college where I lived for eating my doughnut over break. I'm not sure which of these scenarios fits for you, but maybe one will ring a bell.

I'm with you, Nancy. Having sweets around is just too hard to resist. Fortunately, at my new job it's mostly real food, which I can resist just fine if I'm not hungry.

Cathy said...

Was this Tom guy overweight? Maybe he discovered a new way to weight control--all the calories he consumed were burned up by the anxiety of getting caught. Somehow, I don't think he was anxious about his habit, though.

Here I am on a 24-hour juice fast and all this talk of pastries and food. My timing's bad. Great post, Tory.

Anonymous said...

Cathy, I'm so impressed! I haven't been able to maintain a juice fast for years. Do you do it regularly? How does it make you feel?

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I once knew a guy who'd buy a cookie card from the local grocery every year. He'd go in, take a cookie (which is what the card allows you to do), and leave -- and come back as soon as he'd finished.

He used to say that the card restricted you to one cookie per card per visit, but didn't define visit. So by leaving the store and coming back in, he was making another visit and thus got another cookie.

Charming man, he was.

Anonymous said...

People like that tend to have this attitude, "What business is it of yours that I take too many cookies?" But I think it really is all of our business, because people like him make supermarkets rethink cookie cards and other basic niceties.

Anonymous said...

The problem with unlimited available food is that too many of us are on the seefood diet -- when we see food, we eat it!

Cathy said...

We just started the juice fasts a month or two ago. So far, I've just done 24-hour fasts. I'd like to try longer, but I can't fast when I'm working (might fall over).

They're getting easier to do, and I feel less stuffed up and more energized after. Also, when I'm feeling hungry, I know I can sip some juice and survive.