The hardest part of deceiving local businesses into giving you free stuff on Veterans Day is rationalizing it. At any given moment, you’re disrespecting at least two institutions: America in its entirety, every last part of it, and, you know, Olive Garden.
But you have to rationalize it. You have to totally believe in this hypothetical exercise or you’re gonna crack, your blood pressure is gonna skyrocket, and things are gonna go south for you in a hurry. You’ll never be able to drive around town the same way again. You won’t even be able to look at that Krispy Kreme where you botched the “pretend to be a veteran” grift. You won’t be able to show your face again.
I rationalize it like this: our boys have been to war out of economic despair, often because their town lacked career options and it was ship out or work at Wal-Mart and play the lottery, and all that’s waiting for them back home is a free dinner at Olive Garden and free coffee at Starbucks? That’s injustice on a grand scale. Fight in a war and hooray, you get warmed over fake Italian food and a cup of coffee that’s neck and neck with the Chevron station run by that ex-con who has a metal band where he plays all the instruments. It’s outrageous that we treat our veterans like this. You’re calling attention to it by trying to get free stuff on false pretenses, and that’s wholly virtuous. Ripping off Olive Garden is just one component of your moral imperative to heal the wounded heart of America.
Now you’re in the right headspace. You’re ready to hit the town and grift some free stuff. If you have an American flag lapel pin, put it on the collar of an old t-shirt, and throw on the ill-fitting jacket you use to do yard work in the winter. Try to look a bit tired. Go for a run first. Don’t have any coffee in the morning. Put on some really sad music while you’re driving.
Use the drive to sort out your back story, which needs to be sad but in a “I’ve locked all my emotions away and hidden them from you, and they only come out when I’m alone on my porch” sorta way. No theatrical stuff about all the hell you’ve been through. I thought about consulting my high school buddy who’s in the Marines, to get a line on some credibility, but that’s playing with fire. That might mix you up, get you too bogged down with facts to memorize; town names you’ll wind up mispronouncing. And besides, when he’s drinking, he loves to tell stories about all the classified stuff he knows. I wouldn’t want him going to any secret prisons.
So absolutely no surplus of backstory. Your grift needs to be short and punchy. Your face needs to tell what your words don’t: that you’re tattered and tore down. The world got the best of you. And you’ll need a fake name because you won’t be showing any identification. If you’re a man, your name is an archetypal Midwest home-schooled kid’s name: Wyatt Callahan. If you’re a woman, your name is Sigourney Weaver, and when asked about it you have to say “I don’t need any more shit about that name – not from you, not from anybody.”
Lots of places are doing Veterans Day promotions. Everything from gyms to barbers to recycling centers. We’ll limit ourselves to food, because the others require too much intimate face time. Too many opportunities to crack. A barber might ask where you were stationed or what IEDs look like or why we don’t replace all our boys with predator drones. You’ll panic. It’s too much pressure. So we’ll stick with Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, and Olive Garden, where the exit strategies are easier and you can receive shelter from bystanders.
Presumably all three establishments will ask for your Uniformed Services ID card. This is where you have to learn to act, and use your world-weariness to your advantage. Let’s start with Starbucks:
The employees here, of course, will probably be twenty-somethings or liberal arts majors. It’s a good starting point. Easy. A trial run, really. They’ll be altruistic and easily confused. They want to avoid making a scene at all costs. Walk slow. Act like you haven’t been in a Starbucks in 5 years, and squint a little, as if surprised that this ol’ place stayed in business while you were away. Go up to the counter. Let your face droop but make constant eye contact.
“My name is [Wyatt Callahan/Sigourney Weaver and don’t give me shit about it]. I served in the Marines. Second battalion. One deployment to Iraq and one deployment to Afghanistan.” Make lots of eye contact to assert your quiet, salt-of-the-earth superiority. You’re the boss. Take a long breath, from your gut.
“I’d like [the most expensive thing on the menu].”
“Alright, can I see your ID card?”
This is where you have to get poetic.
“I threw it all away. That life is all behind me and I’m trying to start a new one. I’ve seen men die. Three-legged dogs. The end of the world. All I want right now is some peace and a cup of [the most expensive thing on the menu].”
This will be enough for Starbucks. If it’s not, just play the belligerent card. It’ll eventually work.
2. Krispy Kreme.
Same grift as before. You’ll be in and out. There will be other people in the store. Donuts usually cost under two dollars. They want you out of there. When they ask for your ID card, stick to the basics: threw it all away, old life behind me, dead men, three-legged dogs. This is target practice for the ultimate grift.
3. Olive Garden.
You’ve primed yourself. This is the bigs. You have two goals: you’re ordering to go, and it’s gonna be really expensive without being show-y. A dinner and a dessert.
“My name is [Wyatt Callahan/Sigourney Weaver and don’t give me shit about it]. I served in the Marines. Second battalion. One deployment to Iraq – I’ve seen men die in front of me – and one deployment to Afghanistan.”
“We’ll need to see military ID.”
Olive Garden is a bigger deal than Starbucks. You’re getting steak and tiramisu. This is a thirty dollar order. Time to kick it up a notch. Close your eyes, sigh, and think about what a Bruce Springsteen character would say in this situation. If you have a baseball cap on your head, now is the time to take it off.
“I’m sick and tired and my country turned its back on me. I’ve thrown away my military ID so I could start all over in a new town. It’s hard times and getting harder by the day. I haven’t had a solid meal in a week. If I could live in the desert and hide away, I would. But right now I need something to eat so I can get ready for what’s coming.”
They’ll call over a manager. Intimidation time. You’ll go to the papers with this. You’ll go to the news with this. Worse, you’ll go to Yelp with this, and you may not have any family left but you sure as hell got friends, and they’ll salt the earth with the tattered ruins of Olive Garden’s reputation.
“The things I saw in Afghanistan, they’re things nobody should ever see. The news hid most of it from you. You have no idea what happened out there, and I can’t even talk about it anymore. Give me my thirty dollars worth of food.” Worst case scenario, you get a gift card after taking it to their PR department.
Just remember the cardinal rule of doing this: it’s morally reprehensible and this was a joke. You’re all psychos. And furthermore, what kind of broken, fatalistic bum would even jokingly entertain an idea like this for the better part of 1200 words? The Olive Garden promotion starts at 5 p.m.