Meals And Spiels

Some people worry that when they reach a certain age they may be lonely. Nonsense. Get anywhere near retirement age and your popularity increases. Invitations begin to flood and clog your mailbox. Total strangers invite you out to dinner. What could be nicer?

Almost anything, including lonely solitude, it returns out. Here’s a recent invitation, for example. I’d be ever so welcome for a lovely meal at The Porter House, which sounds like meat and potatoes, unless we’ll be gathering at a place where people who carry your bags dine. No charge, except for the fact that I’ll get to listen to an informative lecture.

Great! Lifelong learning. Will it be about Dickens, Debussy, Denali? Alas no. The subject will be death. My death. The local funeral home is hosting the artery-clogging meal in hopes that I will pay up front for my own funeral. Well, the whiff of embalming fluid puts me off my feed a bit.

They are not alone is desiring the pleasure of my company. Brokers, insurance companies, financial planners, bankers are anxious to put my mind at ease in other ways. They’ll cheerfully, for a large ongoing fee hidden in the fine print, invest my retirement nest egg so I never have to worry in the twilight of my life about where my next meal might be coming from.

Unless, of course, I outlive the annuity they are anxious to sell me. Or, as in the late unpleasantness, a market crash reveals that the rock solid company I am urged to trust with my life savings is actually built on sand, and when it washes out to sea so do my dollars.

People have also been willing to feed me if I’d like to visit their retirement communities, assisted living facilities or elder prisons with an eye to signing away all I own in order to purchase my penultimate resting place, where a pattern of mistreatment will be revealed only after I die.

I’ve also been offered a chance to have incomprehensible Social Security, Medicare, 401k rules and options explained in greater depth over some bloody meat and a nice Chianti. But the subjects discussed are so stomach-turning who can think of eating. Particularly when you have the sneaking suspicious that you are Grandma and are about to dine with The Wolf. What big teeth he has! “The better to explain your entitlements, my dear.”

I once spent a grisly hour or two listening to a pitch for a time share in Vegas in exchange for a free night’s lodging. I didn’t want to be in Vegas in the first place, since I prefer to keep my money in my pocket not on the craps table, so stood to get nothing out of this deal. I would have said ‘no sale’ in the first five minutes.

My wife, however, used to manage a large number of sales people and took a professional interest in the guy’s pitch. After putting him through the kind of exhausting paces you might inflict on a Derby-bound thoroughbred of heavyweight contender, she expressed admiration for his technique.

He was qualifying the customer from the handshake on, started closing before you sat down and relentlessly refused to stop. He also had beautifully orchestrated answers to every possible objection. “Loath and despise Vegas? Well, then you’re one of the lucky ones. You can rent your time share for a profit and wait for it to appreciate. It’s a surefire investment. Better than T-Bills. Why? Everybody but you loves Vegas. Just look around.”

This was not my kind of fun, and I have since vowed never again to accept an invitation from anyone I don’t know, anyone selling anything, anyone even threatening to talk to me during a meal. Indeed, I have even been tempted to cut off the mail and phone to dodge the unending stream of invitations, and to post a placard by my door: Will Not Listen For Food.

This is a case in which the wisdom of proverbial wisdom is definitively demonstrated. There really is no such thing as a free lunch. Cheapskate diners, be warned. The cost of listening is a lot higher than that of a blue plate special. The safe alternative is the early bird special.

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