Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Great Charcoal Caper

In a battle between cheapness and self consciousness, cheapness won out.

Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, my employer treated us all to a good old-fashioned cookout. After the cookout, there must have been some charcoal leftover because on Monday a few bags showed up for sale in the company cafeteria.

“How silly,” I thought to myself. “What kind of a goofball would buy a bag of charcoal at work?”

I continued to think this every time I went to the cafeteria for the next several days … until curiosity finally got the better of me and I checked the price. It was $5.50 for a 20-pound bag of Royal Oak hickory charcoal. I did the math. Good charcoal; pretty good price. I began to ponder the unthinkable.

“Nah, I can’t do that,” I thought. “Too embarrassing.”

Nevertheless, I subconsciously began to formulate a plan for the great charcoal caper. Maybe I could hit the cafeteria when it wasn’t too busy, pay for the charcoal, head straight to the door and escape relatively unnoticed.

I tried to dismiss the idea, but it kept gnawing at me. Then it happened. I found myself in a relatively deserted cafeteria. Impulses took over. I grabbed the 20-pounder and headed for the cash register. The perky clerk said, “You’re my first charcoal.” I worried that streamers and balloons might fall from the ceiling at any moment.

I felt like a pariah as I headed down the hall of a Fortune 500 company with a 20-pound bag of charcoal slug over my shoulder. Most people refused to make eye contact with such an oddity. To the few who did, I muttered something about a cookout.

I made it to the car with most of my dignity in tack … and a darn good deal on a much-needed bag of charcoal. That’s because the clerk actually charged me only $4 for the bag, probably because so few people would shoulder such embarrassment. Here’s the worst part: I’m thinking about going back for another bag.

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