Fridays, the regulars meet for lunch at Mel’s on Bloor, downtown. Abe, as always, ordered a Reuben, Stan a BLT.
“TANSTAAFL,” pontificated Stanley, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. You always pay, sooner or later, one way or another.”
Abe, an economist and Jewish to boot, chose to quibble. “Well, you’ll concede that lunch can be cheap or expensive? That’s why we have our Friday gabfests here in Mel’s at lunchtime rather than in the evening. Same menu, different pricing.”
“So by inference, the same meal might be even cheaper at some other time of the day or week? And in the extreme, it might be free, perhaps only to selected customers and on rare occasions. Hypothetically, the possibility cannot be denied.” He smiled contentedly, point made.
A stranger, alone at the next table, called to them. “That sounds interesting. Mind if I join your discussion?”
“Sure, pull your chair over. I’m Abe, this is Stan – he speaks funny, he’s English. What’s your opinion?”
“I’m Hamish, I’m an accountant. I track down where the money goes, like who actually pays for so-called free lunches.”
“Ah, you do,” beamed Stanley. “So you agree with me!”
“Och aye, in principle,” said Hamish. “Sometimes the trail’s elusive. But Abe might be right too. In principle, someone always pays, and passes the cost back in some way to the free-luncher. But in practice, sometimes the pass-back fails. Then, for the freeloader, lunch was free; but from the host’s point of view it most certainly wasn’t.”
“Theory and practice are the same, in theory.” It was Abe’s favorite line; Stan groaned appreciatively.
“But when exactly would old Mel give anyone a free lunch?” he demanded.
Abe replied, smiling, “Perhaps when his refrigerator had failed, food was spoiling, and he wanted to keep a valued customer by offering an alternative dish to what had been asked?”
“Mel would never offer you a free pork chop, Abe, not if his life depended on it.” They all laughed at Stan’s joke.
The conversation meandered on, sometimes technical, sometimes hilarious with competing philosophical, pragmatic and analytical perspectives on the free lunch question. They discussed demand pricing models, differential calculus, singularities, behavioral economics, ubercars and cabbages and kings. Hamish ordered a steak sandwich with fries and munched contentedly with them, laughing occasionally, sometimes volunteering his bean-counter’s view of human history.
Time sped. “Excuse me, guys, nature’s summons,” mumbled Hamish through his last mouthful, striding towards the restroom. The discussion flowed on without him. At three o’clock, when Mel’s closed for two hours to set up for the dinner crowd, the waiter brought their check.
“Whose turn is it today?” he asked.
“Mine,” said Abe. He glanced at the check. “Hey, what’s this? It’s way higher than usual.”
“For three, not just two this week,” explained the waiter.
Stan roared with laughter. “Abe, will you never learn? You’ve just had lunch with a Scottish accountant.”
Copyright 2017 Flight of Eagles