Friday, May 4, 2012

Speak Snootily and Carry a Big Pocketbook

Speak Snootily and Carry a Big Pocketbook
By Cappy Hall Rearick

“I have Kleptomania, but when it gets bad, I take something for it.”

I’m not going anywhere with Abigail again. 

We’ve been friends since we were kids so I try to overlook her growing addiction. Abby is a Klepto, a thief who’s found a way to take things without getting caught. Not getting caught suits me fine since I’m the only person left on her friends list and I’d just as soon not visit her in the pokey.
The other day we were having lunch at an upscale restaurant. We had black cloth napkins and everything. The waiter, Jules, even asked if we cared for tap water or Pellegrino. Nice.

Right before my eyes, South Georgia Abby, born and bred in a town so small it doesn’t even have a name, turned into Downton Abby

“I shall have,” Abigail began, “a large tumbler of tap water, if you please. And I insist on sliced lemons that have been washed by hand and cut into crescent shapes that can be easily squeezed. I shall require extra sugar packets. Are we clear? If not, I shall be happy to repeat myself.”

No doubt.

I tossed my cloth napkin on the floor so that I would have a reason to crawl under the table. Did I want to seriously slap that woman into the middle of next week or what? 

After the waiter’s shiny oxfords disappeared from view I crept back up and tried to regain my composure. My face was red as a radish; my embarrassment was off the charts.

When he returned, Abigail went all Maggie Smith on him again which made me turn even redder. I rolled my eyes and hoped he saw me.

Clearing his throat, he waited patiently for us to peruse the menu and make up our minds. I asked him to give us a few more minutes. He turned on his heels so fast it made me dizzy.

The minute he was out of sight, Abigail began grabbing the sugar packets and stuffing them in that suitcase of hers she calls a pocketbook. Like a crazed woman, she looked all around the table for anything else she could snatch.
“Upscale restaurants have salt and pepper shakers,” I said, so she seized packets of creamer and sugar substitute instead. I was prepared to stop her if her hand inched toward the silverware.

“Abby, do you have to do that,” I asked. “This is not Burger King. You can’t steal things in here like you’re a bag lady.”

She sniffed and gave me a “Her Ladyship” look. “It’s a built-in loss. Most people don’t know that, so they don’t take advantage of what’s right before their eyes.”

Take advantage? Abby walks the walk.

“What do you mean built-in loss? That’s not your word for thievery, I hope.”
Without glancing at me, Abby dumped two sugar packets into her “tumbler” and squeezed in four crescent-shaped lemon slices. She stirred it up then dabbed her hands on the cloth napkin. “I much prefer lemonade to plain old tap water, don’t you? Why should we pay two-fifty a glass when we can so easily make lemonade ourselves for free at the table?”

“I repeat: What does built-in loss mean?”

“It’s how expensive restaurants offset their overhead, silly. They expect to lose a few pennies on sugar and creamer packets. I dare say they don’t even know they’re gone.” 

As soon as my salmon salad arrived, I ate every bite. She picked at a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of tomato soup, then asked for a box so she could take half of it home. 

“Don’t forget the crackers,” I said through clinched teeth. Her hand was in the cracker basket before I finished the sentence.

Last week, I played bridge at her house and when I went to the powder room, I was astonished at the enormous display of miniature soaps, shampoos, lotions, even mini-bottles of mouthwash, all pilfered from hotels. I dried my hands on a white guest towel adorned with a Hampton Inn logo. 

When I went to her kitchen for a “tumbler” of water, I found miniature packets everywhere. Sugar, creamer, soy sauce, ketchup, vinegar, salt and pepper. Her stack of paper napkins had thirteen different restaurant names on them. I didn’t need to ask if the muffins she served us that day were ones that, over time, she had hoarded from Cracker Barrel. 

So if you run into an arrogant seventy-something woman toting a pocketbook the size of a chest of drawers, look out. She’ll steal you blind.