Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Something for Nothing



I am one of those people who are always looking for something for nothing—the one who sends back the Publisher's Clearing House prize letters although I have never won a prize. I will allow strangers into my home because they promise me something free. I will buy a cheap imitation of the real thing because it costs less. Of course, I know that nothing comes without a price, but the impulse in me is so strong that it is a constant battle simply to resist.
My search for something for nothing has led me through supermarkets (BUY ONE GET ONE FREE), malls (TODAY ONLY--VISIT NORTHGATE MALL AND RECEIVE A FREE MALL CARD WORTH HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS IN FREE GIFTS), restaurants, (BUY ONE MEAL FOR $19.95 AND YOUR COMPANION EATS FOR FREE), hardware stores (GET ONE FREE TAPE MEASURE WITH EVERY $19.95 PURCHASE), and once, a trip to Bangor, Maine (FLY WITH US AND GET A FREE NIGHT'S STAY IN BANGOR).
I should have known better. I had been to Bangor, Maine, and the only thing I saw there was snow and ice.
When I first moved into my home in Springfield, Missouri, I received a phone call from a woman I thought would deliver a neighborhood welcome. She would shower my family and me with gifts—furniture, utensils, bed sheets, and all sorts of edible goodies. I should have known better.
She was not the welcome wagon. She represented a water filter company who wanted to show me how dirty my tap water was. In exchange for a brief presentation by one of their representatives, her company would give me, free of charge, a trip to the Virgin Islands, a trip to Branson, or a state-of-the-art grill. I could already smell the burgers cooking, so over my wife's groans, I said, "Yes."
Are you aware how much sludge you take in through your tap water? It is disgusting to see. Are you aware how much it costs to filter that filth out? Let me put it in terms most people can understand—it costs many state-of-the-art grills. My family would be eating old-fashioned grilled burgers and chasing them down with dirty water for a very long time to come.
***
I actually did receive something for nothing once. 
My daughter was an early riser—usually a few minutes after I got up, she would appear, framed in the doorway of the kitchen, sleepy-eyed, mussed hair, and holding on to her Holly Hobby doll. She would mumble a hello and park herself in front of the television to watch “Sesame Street.”
One morning, she broke with routine. She sat at the kitchen table, carefully placed her doll on the chair next to her, and crooked her finger at me.
I knelt before her.
She looked me directly in the eyes. She hugged my neck and told me how much she loved me.
"I love you too, sweetheart," I said into her shoulder.
It was a scene straight out of a Shirley Temple movie—too much for my old heart to take. I turned away, misty-eyed, and poured boiling water into my coffee pot.
My daughter asked me what why I was teary eyed. I could hear the concern in her voice.
I mumbled something about mushiness in my eyes.
She slid off her chair and crooked her finger at me. I bent down to her level. She took both my cheeks in her tiny hands, and in her small, but serious voice, she said, “Daddy, don’t be funny so early in the morning. It confuses me.
I chuckled and blew my nose. I dabbed at my eyes with a paper towel. I had not been so emotional in a long time, and it felt good to drain the tear ducts. I wanted to turn around and hug her, kiss her, and thank her, but that would have been too much like payment. She had given me the moment free of charge. I wanted it to stay that way.
***
A woman from the newspaper called recently.
She asked me if I received the local newspaper.
"No,” I told her. I get my news from public radio.
Well, her boss had authorized her to offer me two months of the paper free of charge. At the end of two months, if I didn’t want the daily paper anymore, they would stop delivery, and I wouldn’t owe a penny."
Who could resist such a deal?
"Okay," I said over my wife's groans.



I wrote this in 1994 or so while I lived and taught in Springfield, MO. I have since gained a modicum of success controlling my urges to seek out something for nothing. I have concluded that the only thing given freely is love.

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