Paup Fiction: The Cafeteria (Part I)

Don Shula placed the Granny Smith apple on his tray and walked over to pay the cashier at the cafeteria. This, right here, has the makings of a fine, well-balanced lunch, he thought to himself with a wry smile. The Turkey BLT on wheat bread stridently walks the line between satisfying taste and heart-healthy prudence. The apple gives me a little extra joy inside every time I bite into its green, luscious goodness – AND it’s an excellent source of fiber, of which I need plenty of to avoid pain-staking bowel movements. And, finally, I’ve got an oatmeal raisin cookie that I know full well I probably shouldn’t be eating. But it just tastes so gosh darn good! And you have to eat a little something naughty every once in a while – being a full-fledged disciplinarian 100% of the time simply DOES NOT WORK…unless you’re trying to keep Garo Yepremian from drowning in the bathtub, anyway.

Just then, a husky voice called out from the distance.

“That’s a good meal you’ve prepared for yourself, Don…if your entire remaining life’s goal is to end up as an even fatter and bloated corpse than Elvis.”

Don dropped the tray in shock. There was only one man who knew of his secret intense love of The King – and his even more secret and intense fear of dying in the same exact fashion.

“You know full well that a man who has fully bought into the NutriSystem philosophy of life has little chance of dying while sitting on the toilet, Dick,” he said while slowly turning around and reaching his hand for the banana in his pocket.

Dick Butkus slowly ran his hand through his remaining hairs, laughed and shook his head. “Being aware of NutriSystem’s legendary effect on the human cardiovascular system has its benefits, but I didn’t know that curing a senile old man’s fear of constipation was one of them.”

“Well, it is! You should re-read the pamphlet again,” Don said while gazing uncomfortably at his shuffling feet. “What, exactly, is it that you want with me this time, Richard?”

“A moment of your time,” Butkus said with a shrug. “A simple moment where I can let you know about all the dreadful mistakes you’ve been making. You see, when a coach wins the most games in NFL history and gets patted on the back for the greater part of fifty years, there comes a point where he starts getting…sloppy, shall we say, with his personal choices and actions. Maybe you thought you had ascended above the rule of law; maybe you didn’t. The point is, there’s someone who’s seen you commit serious transgressions against mankind for far too long and has finally summoned the courage and wherewithal to buy a Hoveround scooter and track you down in person.”

Shula kept a blank expression on his face, but his pulse was soon doubling its previous rate.

“You saw me hold up all those Burger Kings last month, didn’t you?”

Butkus took a long, slow drag from a hookah and grimly nodded. “At first, I wasn’t going to say anything because those places are insured up the rear and the only people you’re really robbing – other than the employees at the franchise locations you stole from – are a bunch of nameless and faceless scumbags who have more than enough money for three or four lifetimes. But you just kept pushing the envelope further and further. One minute, you’re using a terrible German accent to ask for a cup of iced tea at a drive-through window; the next, you’re wearing a Lindsay Lohan mask and funneling hundreds of dollars into a burlap sack while cocking a glock at some poor assistant manager’s head and telling him you’ll rob his mom’s house as soon as you’re done with this joint. It’s just…reprehensible, Don. It’s reprehensible.”

Shula was used to performing under pressure in the withering South Florida heat, so a heated conversation inside the air-conditioned cafeteria of an Ikea in Fort Lauderdale wasn’t about to cause puddles of sweat to form beneath his oily, tanned skin.

“Fine, Dick. You caught me. I held up 13 Burger Kings in between Pompano Beach and Homestead in the last two weeks of February. Is that what you wanted to hear?” Upon hearing no immediate response, he derisively continued, “No? That’s not good enough? Well, I suppose you came down here with the intention of forcing me to make an apology and making amends for my actions. That’s the only reason you’d drive the 1400 miles from Chicago to Miami on your Hoveround in less-than-ideal spring conditions. But I’m afraid I simply have nothing to apologize to you – or anyone, for that matter – about. The greatest thrills in life are the ones where you take off the repressive shackles that chained on your limbs by society and simply go with your gut. I learned that late in life. Too late, for it to make a meaningful difference in the way I’d wanted my life to be shaped. But once you learn that truth, you simply cannot go back to the days when you didn’t ride through the front doors of fast-food restaurants in a tank and sprayed mace in the face of any drive-through attendant who tried to stop you. Not even for well-intentioned and previously-terrifying gentlemen such as yourself.”

And with that, Dick reached for the banana in his pocket and was about to prime it into action when he was suddenly knocked out by a right hook to the back of his head. He dropped to the floor instantly, his head bouncing twice off the gleaming tile floor. Butkus’s eyes grew wide with fright and a dark, wet circle soon began expanding in the midsection of his trousers.

“G-g-good God, JaMarcus…when did you get here?”

To be continued…

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