Episode LIII – There’s no free lunch.

Everything becomes routine in life. At some point, even the special things, like breaking the law become as automatic as breathing. When routine becomes life, sometimes there’s nothing to do but sit back and watch the hours slip away. Hangover, party, class, late night attempted transcendental discussion, group watching of action movies, and assorted work was my routine after the first few weeks of college. It was a routine with odd hours, but still a routine.

Occasionally, some members of the cabal and I would tempt fate by venturing out of the confines of our routine. Invariably, we were inspired to scoff at our mundane lives by fliers. Simple printer-paper, Times-New-Roman-font-fliers. Occasionally, they’d be luxury fliers with bold print and a nice goldenrod hue. The opening line of these missives would always be absolutely identical – “Free Food!”. It was a state ordinance that an exclamation point had to follow those exact words, because if it didn’t, we, as lowly fresh-people, would have no idea how great and fantastic the food was that we were missing.

Randomly, we’d follow these signs like breadcrumbs to the time and place that they set out in their black letters. At the events, some people were there for the stated purpose – to learn more about how the Platonic Ideals related to the theory of crop growth. Others were there to socialize. I was always there for the food. It was why I followed the signs. Sure, I’d talk to people with a full plate, but my perspective was no food, no dialogue. After all, as cliché as it sounded, I was a starving college student. Through the signs, I went to Happy Hour at the Architecture school, where I fit in like a supporting truss because I had brought a Frisbee. The signs also misled me to several events where I didn’t fit in, with the consequence that I had to eat and run.

Despite the occasional quick escape, I was blithely unaware of the possible sinister motives of these meals. The hook, however, was readily apparent one hot afternoon where the air was sweating moisture. Secret and I were crossing back from the main campus to the South Forty. We had just stepped into the underpass when the trouble began. There was a table festooned with bright colors, and that “free” word again, attached to two other cold words – “sno cones”. Since our brains were scrambling in the solid oven of late summer air, anything below the temperature of fire sounded refreshing.

Innocently, we moved over to the table like shy cattle, and received melting, dripping frozen flavored treats. But as we left, something snagged my arm. It was the clean-complexioned gentlemen who had served me my paper cup. I paused for a split-second, noticing that he was abnormally clean. I wasn’t dirty, but my clothes had a distinct rumpled look, and I was sporting a two-day beard. That moment was all he needed in his cool iron firmness to start speaking about redemption. It wasn’t the consumer type of redemption either, it was the ultimate redemption, the real-deal type of redemption, the Book of Revelations type of redemption.

As my hot, mushy brain listened to his sugary words, and red dye dripped onto the pavement, nervousness crept into my being. I wasn’t sure what eternal salvation had to do with sno-cones, but I was positive that the two weren’t linked by any sort of primal bond. Calmly, I extricated myself from the discussion and with Secret in tow, strode through the inferno of humidity back to the dorm. It turned out that the “sno-cone incident” was just the opening salvo for all factions of faith. It was as if the influx of fresh people was equivalent of a spiritual “blue light” special.

Warily, we followed a few more signs to meals, but invariably found ourselves and our theoretical souls the subject of intense rhetoric. Given these covetous and fanatical sales pitches, we left all of the “afterlife time-share presentations” hastily. While we did possess malleable minds, we realized that if we kept following signs, we would soon be converted members of some faction. A week passed, and we lapsed back into the rut of our routine. It was boring, but at least we weren’t wearing robes and drinking drugged Kool-Aid. On the seventh day, however, the safety of normalcy was intolerable. We headed out, and vowed to follow the first sign we saw, into the danger of the unknown, with only our wits to protect us.