I've posted before about Mr. Portland, the Great Toothpaste Rescuer. This is, by far, my favorite of the many, many funny stories related to our tenure as friends.
Portland was visiting (again? might have been the same visit) and we went shopping for the day. Round about dinnertime, I suggested we stop and get something to eat on the way home. "Great idea," he gushed, "I'm in the mood for some pancakes." We would be driving by at least two restaurants I could think of that would still be serving flapjacks at 6:30 on a Saturday night so I told him either Carrow's or Buttercup Pantry would be our best bets. As a bonus, the restaurants are right across the street from each other in Placerville, so if one was too busy, we could just mosey on over to the other.
"Hmmm...I've never heard of either of those places before. Are they expensive?" he queried earnestly.
"Well, no. I mean, they serve pancakes at dinnertime. They are not five-star dining establishments. Maybe similar or slightly better than Denny's."
"Ooh. Well, at Denny's they charge for each glass of milk. It's not refillable. What about these places? I like to have lots and lots of milk with my pancakes."
"I don't know for sure, but, yeah, you probably have to pay for each glass of milk."
"I don't want to go then. But, golly, I really want some pancakes tonight! Can we stop by the store so I can get a pint of milk and then I'll just bring it in with me?"
"Uh, sure. You're going to carry your own milk into the restaurant?"
"Sure. I've done it before. They don't like it, but what are they going to do? Kick me out?"
He had a valid point, so we stopped for some milk and rolled on over to Carrow's. As we entered, he again expressed his concern that he wasn't familiar with this restaurant. He hesitated in the lobby, pint of milk in hand, and then strode forward to confront the hostess.
"Do you serve breakfast all day? Can I still get some pancakes?"
"Yes sir. We serve breakfast 24-hours a day."
"Well," he continued dubiously, "Can I see a menu?"
She obliged and he found the pancake page.
"This pancake breakfast here... how many pancakes will I get? The picture shows 5. Will I get 5 pancakes?"
"Yes sir. Our meals are pretty much like what the pictures show."
"How big are the pancakes? Like, sometimes you get 5 pancakes, but they are the silver-dollar kind."
The hostess looked confused now. "I guess they are regular pancake size. They are not small, if that's what you mean. Maybe this big..." She made a circle with her hands.
"Humph. So about 4 inches, huh. They look bigger in the picture. That's what I'm talking about. It's such a rip-off to buy pancakes at a restaurant."
He wavered now, unsure of how to reconcile his nagging hunger for pancakes with the fact that he might get ripped off if we ate there.
"I think we should go," he whispered conspiratorially. "I mean, they haven't seated us yet. We don't have to eat here. Didn't you say there's another place around? It's just for 5 4-inch pancakes, they want $4.99. That's almost a buck twenty-five per pancake!"
We sneaked out while the hostess had her back turned and proceeded to have the exact same conversation with the hostess across the street at Buttercup Pantry. I knew it wouldn't go well. Buttercup Pantry was even worse than Carrows. They were charging $5.50 for 4 5-inch pancakes. Not only were they more expensive, there was one pancake less! The outrage!
Portland hung his head in despair, "Isn't there anywhere else we can go? This is your town. Where can we get good pancakes?"
I told him that the two restaurants we had already been at served perfectly good pancakes. I didn't think there was anywhere we could go that would give us FREE pancakes, though. Since we were both hungry, I suggested we just pick the lesser of the two evil flapjack joints.
"So you'd be okay with paying those outrageous prices? You're like my mom. She'll just eat wherever, just because she's hungry. She's the kind of person who parks in the most expensive lot downtown, too, just because it's close to where she wants to go. She could save $2 or $3 if she'd just be willing to drive around a little and look for somewhere cheaper. That drives me crazy."
I refrained from telling him that he probably drove her crazy, too. Instead I suggested we just go home and we could make pancakes from scratch. After all , we already had the milk.
Some months later, Portland and I were talking on the phone. He related to me an elaborate story about the supermarket was trying to rip him off by advertising some of its candybars at a low price right next to some candy that was not on sale. If he hadn't been paying close attention, he might have been duped into paying 33 cents for his candy, instead of the low low price of 25 cents he thought he would be getting.
He then described the reaction of his two friends who were with him at the time. "They were just being so pushy and trying to get me to buy the candy anyway just so we could leave. The checker had to get the manager to void the sale so it was taking a while. I can't believe they just wanted me to buy it and leave, even though it wasn't on sale."
I made sympathetic noises. "Then they said I was cheap. The cheapest person they know even. I'm not cheap. I'm just frugal. There's a big difference. What do you think?"
Well, since he asked, I had to confess that, yes, I thought he was both frugal and cheap. In fact, I considered it his defining characteristic. If someone had asked me to say the first thing I thought of when I thought of him, I would say, "Cheap."
He was open-mouthed, jaw on the floor, shocked. He honestly, truly, deep down in his heart of hearts did not believe he was cheap. No evidence could convince him otherwise. He'd say, "Well, I like to get a good deal" or "Sure I returned that because I found it for 25 cents less at at store across town" or "Yeah, but those pancake restaurants were totally trying to rip me off!" But he couldn't see it. And I'm sure he never will.