The gentleman, well-dressed, sat conspicuously alone. His age was difficult to determine, though his hair had clearly been dyed. Sandy and Alice decided to approach him in the hope of bumming a few free drinks (no matter which way he swung).

They made pleasant unremarkable chitchat for a bit until a waiter approached, asking for drink orders. A pregnant pause followed during which, by all rights, the gentleman should have offered to buy some drinks. Instead he ordered one only for himself, and endured further awkward silence until it was delivered.

Finally, Alice broke the quietude. “I wouldn’t mind a drink myself,” she said.

“I could go for one as well.”

“I’m sure the waiter will be back around,” the man said. “If you make sure he sees your tip in cash when you flag him down, the service will be very prompt and very courteous.”

Sandy and Alice shared a look. Why did he have to make things more difficult that they ought to have been?

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said the man. “Did you want a drink as well?”

“Thank you,” Sandy and Alice said as one.

“Let me tell you something first,” said the man. “When I was your age, and I won’t tell you how long ago that was as I’m sure you could guess, I used to try and bum free drinks off of the sad old men and sadder old women who I used to see here and there. The way I saw it, we were in an exchange of services. I listened, and in exchange I drank. They were listened to, and in exchange they bought.”

Sandy and Alice glanced nervously back and forth.

“Now that I am older, I am not sure it was such a great deal, or that I was nearly as clever as I thought I was,” the man continued. “But I feel I’d be dishonoring the old ways, my old ways, if I flatly told you to buy your own damn drinks. So therefore, I’ll make you a wager if you don’t mind. Win it, and all your drinks tonight are on my tab. Lose it, and take your leave.”

His tab looked to be a hefty one; Sandy and Alice readily, if warily, agreed.

“Excellent,” the man said. “Now, tell me one thing about myself that I have told you in the half-hour we’ve been talking.”

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