Operation: Free Pizza–An Autobiographical Short Story

[NOTE: Departments may or may not have been changed to protect the innocent.]

It started the same as any other day at work. A minor crises or two, a slew of emails, some paperwork to push. We were having some computer issues: the catalog kept going down, and some of our internet connections were dropping in and out. Still, nothing a crack team of librarians couldn’t handle.

And then I got the call from IT.

I picked it up with my normal routine: “Mantor Library. This is Bryce.”

“We’ve got an emergency,” the voice said.

My heart dropped. An emergency? From IT? This had to be bad. “What is it?” I asked.

“They’re giving away pizza somewhere in the Student Center. For free. But we don’t know where, and it’s been going on since 11:30.”

I glanced at the clock. 11:53. This really was dire. On a campus full of students, offering free food was like spreading out chum to a thousand starving great whites. Once they got a scent of that blood, eyes glazed over and natural instinct kicked in. That pizza might be on its last legs even as we spoke.

“Roger that,” I said. “What’s the call?”

In seconds we had it all planned out. I was going to run a sweep through the top level of the Student Center, and IT would run a counter maneuver from the ground floor up. The first group to encounter free pizza would establish a perimeter at a table and repel all invaders. If we met in the middle, then we’d know that the worst had happened: the pizza had been consumed before our arrival.

I grabbed my coat and umbrella (you can never be too prepared) and headed for the door. The first few seconds were going to be crucial. If anyone stopped me–even for a moment–our entire plan might disintegrate in front of my eyes. But I knew the key to avoiding distractions: a determined, annoyed expression, and a brisk walk. Even so, I tried to avoid eye contact with people until I hit the Student Center.

As soon as I walked through the doors, my worst fears became realized. Students were everywhere, and they all seemed to have a plate with a piece of pizza on it. The scent of pepperoni wafted through the heating vents, and I worried that might be as close as I’d come to pizza today. Why hadn’t I checked the calendar? How had we let this pristine opportunity pass us by?

IT and I have an understanding. We all keep an eye out for free food opportunities, whether it’s a couple of mini-muffins being handed out at an art reception, or an entire spread of appetizers and brownies at a luncheon. Between our two organizations, we typically have most bases covered. We have connections that spread across the campus, a complex web of interactions that ensures none of us miss a mooch.

Still, even the greats have their off days. We wouldn’t even have known this was going on if it weren’t for a student worker coming back from the pizza and letting IT in on it. What separates the masters from the novices all lies in how they respond in times of trouble. We didn’t waste time worrying. We sprang into action.

No pizza on the top floor. None by the cafeteria. None down in the corner of the building. I kept scoping the halls, every step bringing my expectations lower. And then I saw it: an open door with a sign for pizza hanging on it, right there on the ground floor. Surely IT had gotten there first. The only way this could get any worse was if all of IT ended up with pizza and I was too late for any.

I entered the room, my eyes going straight for the telltale pizza boxes. There were six left. They weren’t stacked up, though–which made it likely that there were still a few slices left after all. Then again, none of the students were hovered around them, which made me wonder if it really was too late. On the other hand, I noticed some canned soda down at the end of the table. I raised my eyebrows. No one had mentioned free soda. It wasn’t pizza, but if I moved quickly, I’d at least get something out of this expedition. I scanned the room for any IT presence. They hadn’t arrived yet.

Typical IT. Claim an emergency, and then take forever to show up.

Well, it would be their loss. I crept toward the pizza, dreading that I’d open the box and find it empty. I lifted the lid.

Cheese. Slightly burned.

I grimaced. It wasn’t perfect, but I’d settle for it in a pinch. I quickly uncovered the other pizzas: green peppers, burned pepperoni, and then some sort of mystery pizza that looked like sausage, but you couldn’t be sure. Obviously we were down to the dregs of the pizza, but even dregs are better than nothing. I grabbed a plate and some napkins, then took a slice of the pepperoni and one of the mystery sausage. In times of desperation, you have to take risks.

As promised, I went to a table and defended the free space until IT arrived. While I was waiting, I decided to give the mystery slice a chance. If it turned out to be nasty, I could always pretend I needed more napkins, then grab a second slice of pepperoni when I went up. You have to keep up appearances, after all.

I took a bite, and my eyes widened. This wasn’t mystery sausage: this was meat lovers! A thick crust topped with a layer of sauce, then ham, then pepperoni, then more ham, then a thick strata of cheese, and then that sausage sprinkled on top. These students had been avoiding it, not knowing what they were missing. Talk about a lucky break. Not for the first time, I thanked the moocher gods that most free food never gets labeled.

IT arrived moments later, and in no time, we were celebrating the spoils of our mission. It had been precarious–even treacherous at times. But we’d overcome adversity. I checked the time: 11:55. Hard to believe it had all gone down in less than two minutes. It’s true what they say: time slows down during moments of extreme stress and hardship.

I sat back from the table, took a deep gulp of Mug root beer, and settled in to enjoy another successful freeloading operation.

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