Maybe you’re wondering why I’m in Memphis donating blood plasma. Or maybe it’s because you saw me literally steal candy from a baby so I could pawn it at the local Cash 4 Gold. Either way, I’ve hit rock bottom on both a financial and ontological level. And it’s all courtesy to that conniving fuck named Campus Dining.
I was in the Rand line. I live off-campus, so I scavenge guest flex meals off of my friends’ parents’ hard-earned tuition payments. Cradling my weirdly juicy chicken from Chicken Shack™, I slid up to the register with my friend’s commodore card in hand. But as the beautiful rand cashier Gertrude swiped my card, her eyes glistening in the overhead fluorescent lights, the card swipe was denied. It took me a second to process, as her old, rosy cheeks sent me off on a journey thinking of our vacations together covered by her maxed social security. Her sultry voice brought me back to reality, “Honey, this card is out of swipes. Let me get my manager.”
Now I’ve heard stories about Campus Dining. My friend Beatrice, god rest her soul, tried to steal a Rand cookie. One moment, she was walking into the back Rand kitchen. The next, she was found on Alumni lawn missing an ear lobe. Or that one time when Patrick made a sarcastic comment on the Vandy Campus Dining Instagram. The last time I saw him, he’d lost 50 pounds and was missing a tongue. What fate awaited me for a fraudulent meal swipe was no better than that of Oedipus.
So here I am, knees weak, arms heavy in front of this beautiful Rand cashier. From behind the salad bar emerges this enormous man, at least 7 feet tall, not dissimilar to Chef Gusteau from Ratatouille. A blanket of silence quiets the dining area. He places a giant hand on my shoulder, indistinguishable from an oven mitt. He booms, “We have alternative forms of payment,” and leads me into the back kitchen area. From the corners of the kitchen scamper a trio of starving dining workers. They restrain me on the center island as Mr. Campus Dining brings out a steak knife. Minutes of adrenaline-fueled terror later, Mr. Campus Dining rips out one of my kidneys, tossing it onto the floor for the dining workers to cook at the Randwich station. “This is just the beginning,” he says, calmly. “You’ll hear from the financial aid department.”
I’m thrown onto the floor in front of Chicken Shack™. I can’t even feel my legs. I cry for help but the cafeteria is empty. I drag myself along the ground to my apartment nearly a mile away, as the unfinished campus construction tears at my hands. Once I have access to my computer, I check my student billing portal. There’s a notice: My account has been charged $40,000 at a rate of 25% interest compounding monthly. I’m fucked.
Months have gone by. I’ve dropped out of school. I’m working three minimum wage jobs but the debt keeps piling up. At this point, the electricity has been out for a week. Although my kidney wound is healthy-ish, my marriage is now infected. One day, I came home from my shift at the campus bookstore, with a good payday of $12 and a Rand cookie. My wife is in the kitchen with my son, suitcases packed. “We’re leaving,” she tells me. At this point, I don’t even try to argue. Diermeier has likely already sent collections after me and I only have one kidney left. My son won’t even look me in the eye at this point. “Papa,” he mutters, “why can’t you bring home cookies like the chef man does?” Confused but deflated, I can only mouth, “I’m sorry.”
I hug my son goodbye but my wife just shakes her head. They walk through the front door towards a car that pulled up in front of our house. It’s a Subaru Hatchback. The windows roll down to reveal the boogeyman that’s plagued my fits of insomnia—Mr. Campus Dining. He kisses my wife on the cheek as he flicks me off, his gold Rolex sparkling in the sun, then peels down the block in a vanishing smoke.
This man. He stole my kidney. My college experience. My wife and kid. Hell, even my goddamn 401(k). All I wanted was a half-cooked tender from Chicken Shack™ but all I got to show for it was insolvency.