Free-Loading Ethics

Damon Runyon

In a discussion among some young and rather inexperienced free-loaders recently the question was raised as to the ethics of differing with the host on any topic that may come up at the table or over the canapés. A free-loader is a confirmed guest. He is the man who is always willing to come to dinner.

Personally we do not consider the question an ethical proposition at all. It is a matter of diplomacy, and diplomacy should always be one of the first considerations of the free-loader if he has any regard for his art.

As a rule, a host likes to be agreed with or he would not be a host. If he wanted people to disagree with him, he would not bother assembling them at some expense about a table with him. He would step down to the corner and find plenty of disagreement at no cost, except perhaps a doctor’s bill. Young free-loaders should always remember this psychology of the host.

When the host is at the head of the table giving off gas, the free-loader should listen as attentively as possible, confining his own remarks to a few terse observations of agreement. He should never go beyond half a dozen words at a time because lengthier comment would necessitate the host pausing and a host does not like to pause. We offer, not as stock models, but as suggestions for the free-loader, the following:

1. You’re a hunner puh cen’ right.

2. Absolutely.

3. Positively.

4. I understand.

5. Of course.

6. Yes.

We think No. 4 is the best of them all for a young free-loader just starting out on his career. It suggests that he is intelligent and that the host’s remarks have a flattering clarity. Veteran free-loaders usually reduce the formula to an occasional nod of the head. This enables them to maintain their free-loading without interruption, while at the same time keeping in complete agreement with the host.

If there is also a hostess present, the veteran glances at her from time to time as he tastes a dish and nods and smiles to indicate to her that this is free-loading stuff worthy of the gods. You can usually identify a veteran free-loader by a crease across the back of his neck from excessive nodding.

We believe it impolitic ever to disagree with a host even though the free-loading may be of such mediocre quality as to make the free-loader wholly indifferent about a return engagement. It is an old trick of veteran free-loaders to stir up an argument with a host whose cuisine is not of the best, just to escape further attendance at his board. We say there is always a chance of improvement. We have known it to happen.

We remember a host in Wilmington, Delaware, who had a terrible cook. She was so bad that the free-loaders got to taking issue with the host as soon as he started in panning Mr. Roosevelt. Naturally he eliminated them from his invitation list. Then he married the cook and as she refused to do any further wrestling with pots and pans he had to get another whose cooking became the wonder of the countryside, and the banned free-loaders almost went crazy hearing of the marvels they were now denied.

Even when a host presents his free-loading in bad restaurants it is best to bear with him, in our opinion. He may one day switch restaurants. We do not hold with the theory that poor free-loading is better than no free-loading at all, but we do believe in stringing with a host until it is a dead sure thing that there is no hope for him. You have to be fair in this world.

As a matter of fact, many veteran free-loaders are quite choosy about their hosts. Some insist on knowing what is on the menu before accepting an invitation. We recently heard of one out in Hollywood, California, who declines to be seated next to a certain hostess because she spoils his appetite. We must say we consider this rather technical.

The free-loading in Hollywood is supposed to be the best in the United States, especially in the private homes of the inmates of the movie capital. It is said that Hollywood preserves to a higher degree than any other community in the country the true science of cuisine in the home. The veteran free-loaders out there have the different homes rated according to the quality of their free-loading. Some are accounted strictly B productions, but many of them are said to be epics.

We ran into an old-time free-loader from out there not long ago and he said he would rate the Hollywood free-loading the best in the whole world. He has travelled much and free-loaded in many different places. He said Montgomery, Alabama, is second to Hollywood, and Minneapolis is third. He said New York City is absolutely the tail-ender, bar Brooklyn. His mother lives in Brooklyn.