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.