14 November 2009

There's no such thing as a free lunch. But free dinners may still be alive...

So, I never thought of myself as a cheapskae or a moocher before, but I have to admit; guilty on both accounts. You can get me to attend any event if it means that I get a free meal out of the deal; and I have started to realize that this tendency may turn into an achilles of sorts. I am starting to get myself into things for which the free meal is not adequate compensation. But then there are some pleasant surprises.

This week I got an e-mail regarding a free formal hall; needless to say, I signed up without even thinking twice. What I had signed up for was an alumni dinner in my college. The more time passed, the more I had second thoughts about this commitment.

I have to admit, things didn't start well. "Mixing and mingling" in a room that is only large enough to contain about three more people than the current capacity is never a good experience. And then, when a few people shared opening comments, I noticed that the guy behind me breathed very loudly. (And remember that there was not a lot of free space in the room; so being in such close proximity to such a heavy breather for an extended period of time made me feel a little more than slightly uncomfortable.) Then, when the opening comments closed with a reference to "he will introduce the seven speakers tonight" (?!?!), I felt the walls closing in around me.

But then, I sat down to dinner with the most charming couple from Wales; he had attended my college in the 50s, and when he told the story of how he had met the prime minister and his wife through Jesus College (he was the best man in her sister's wedding--because he knew her husband through the college), he laughed the most jolly laugh and had tears in his eyes. Honestly, he reminded me of a grey-haired Mr. Bean who was exponentially more talkative. And while I didn't understand many of the things he said--both because of the noise and his accent--I think I saw every single tooth he had when he tipped his head back to chuckle, or told stories about his time in Berlin in the 70s. Between he and his wife, I couldn't get a word in edge-wise about the healthcare debate in the states. They asked me what I thought of it, and then every time I opened my mouth and took a breath to start talking, I might have just as well stuck a bite in there, because it was not my turn yet. Summary: NHS is the greatest system; maybe the US should just invite the NHS to come to the states. (Also, how can you have a decent military without good health care. As the Comparative social policy-ist, let me tell you that this argument reflects a generational perspective that does not carry much validity anymore, but dually noted.)

And, the seven speakers all told stories about their time in college, and while I didn't understand the majority of what they were talking about--because it involved jumping over the walls of the college, having parties on the roof, and other shinnanigans which I haven't experienced, it was strange and incredible to realize that I was a part of such a community.

I even got talked into going down to the college pub for a bit and continued conversations with people who were 50-60 years older than me while Justin Timberlake and the Fray played in the background.

You know that you made a great choice to attend a free event when at the end of the night, if asked to, you would pay for it.

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