Successful freeloading is equal parts poker, theater and ballet. It doesn't begin when the check arrives. Rather, the curtain rises when the plans are made, and a well-rehearsed script is a must. Got a birthday coming up? Win an award? Have a baby? Anything will suffice. Just casually mention it without any hint of entitlement. You want them to come up with the notion that you deserve a free dinner. If, by the end of the conversation, they haven't bought in, you're going to have to gamble and try a different approach. Once you arrive at Arthur Clay's in downtown Maplewood, suck up to your companions. Sparkle. Order big. If someone chooses a $12 single-malt, raise "em a $16 snifter's worth. The place serves exquisite baby back ribs, the best we've ever had. Recommend them; it'll score you bonus points. Arthur Clay's must have a private hotline to the coasts, because a rare piece of their tuna is still breathing on the inside. Definitely order dessert and a tawny Port (it reinforces the notion that this is a celebration). All the while, befriend your server; speak to him with your eyes. Finally, when the check heads your way, smile and eye-point the bill in the other direction. Then, just as the bill hits the table, the ballet: a subtle, graceful lean-back and eye twinkle with a ting. Oh yes. Life's good on the dole.
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