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Herald Flashback: Sometime in the 2000s

When You Gotta Eat, You Gotta Eat

Whoopi called me at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon. She said that she needed a date for Sally Struthers' Annual Hungerthon Dinner that night. Would I go with her?  She promised that there'd be a full dinner and lots of wine. I said, "I'll be there, baby."

I was supposed to meet her at 7 p.m. at The Regency Hotel. That left me time to cram in a full workout at Biceptual, the new gym that Richard Gere had opened with Tom Cruise. I drove over to the gym and spent an hour on the bike. Then I lifted weights for about 30 minutes. By the time I finished my last set of free weights, I was feeling incredibly weak. I was ravenous with hunger and my arms felt like lead. As I showered, my legs began to stiffen from the exercise bike. I dressed as quickly as I could, then squeezed into my Hyundai and raced over to The Regency.

I was running late by the time I arrived at the hotel. I ran inside and found Whoopi waiting for me at the bar. She was talking to Brad Pitt and Ashton Kutcher. They were debating whether or not Winona Ryder looked exactly like the kid in ‘Lord of the Rings.'  Whoopi jumped up as I greeted her. She gave me a big kiss on the cheek, then quickly introduced me to Brad and Ashton.

"Hey guys."



Whoopi handed me a glass of wine. We said a hurried goodbye to Brad and Ashton, then walked quickly to the ballroom.

As we stepped into the hall, Whoopi nudged my shoulder. "You look all buff."

"Yeah, I just got through working out. But listen, I'm starving. When do we eat?"

"Soon. We just have to wait for Sally to make a speech. Then they'll serve dinner."

"All right. I hope she makes it quick, though. I'm starting to get lightheaded."

Whoopi poked my arm. "God. You're always such a baby."

We walked to our table and took our seats. I noticed Drew Barrymoore and David Lane sitting next to us. They had their chairs turned toward the podium. We sat down.

Just at that moment, the whole room stood up and began applauding as Sally Struthers stepped up to the podium. There was a long round of clapping. Then everyone sat down.

Sally looked out at the audience and paused. The room fell absolutely quiet. Someone coughed at a nearby table.

Sally looked down at her speech for a moment. She cleared her throat. "Eight million," she said. She paused for a moment as her voice echoed through the large hall. She repeated herself: "Eight million."  Then she looked out at the audience and said, "Eight million children will die of hunger this year."

I turned to Whoopi and whispered, "Eight million and one if I don't eat something soon."

Whoopi put a finger to her lips. "Shhh..." 

Sally began to launch into her speech. It was something about hunger in Africa and Asia and a lack of running water. I took a sip of my wine. It went immediately to my head. I felt a sudden tightening in the front of my skull. I knew that I needed water.

There was a glass of water set in front of me on the table. I grabbed the glass and drank the whole thing down. Then I looked around for a waiter to pour a refill. I couldn't spot one. But I noticed a large metal waiter's tray resting on a fold-up stand next to our table. It was holding a half-empty pitcher of water. I leaned over and grabbed the pitcher. I poured myself another glass of water.

Sally talked on. She was mentioning something about the United Nations. I began to feel light-headed. My blood sugar was getting too low. My head and neck felt uncomfortably warm. I turned to Whoopi.

"Hey...I gotta eat something...I'm getting lightheaded."

Whoopi waved me away with her hand. I leaned toward her and whispered, "But I'm really feeling faint."

Whoopi whispered back. "Why didn't you eat before you got here?"

"I didn't have time. I had to get to the gym. And you said they'd be serving dinner."

"Why didn't you eat a power bar or something?"

"I forgot to."

"Well then, that's your problem."

Whoopi sat back in her chair. I took a deep breath. I leaned back in my chair and slowly exhaled. I began to massage my forehead.

Sally's speech continued. She passed the 10-minute mark. Little parts of her speech filtered in and out of my consciousness: "World Health Organization...50,000 rations per day...if we sit idly by...vaccination teams...hookworm and ringworm...agriculture department...wheat and grain surplus..."

After a few more minutes I turned to Whoopi. "I think I'm digesting my spleen right now."

"Oh hush up."

"But I feel faint."

"She'll be done soon."

"Yeah, but when?"

"I don't know."

I sat back in my chair and began to glance around the room. I spotted Lindsay Wagner and Andy Garcia sitting at a nearby table; Lindsay was yawning. I turned back to Whoopi. "I'll bet everybody's just waiting to eat."

Whoopi looked at me. "Yeah, but they're behaving like adults."

"But I'm really feeling faint...I gotta do something..."


I looked around the room. At various tables, I could see people fidgeting and yawning. I noticed Lee Majors sitting at a side table. He was holding his head in his hands. He looked exhausted.

Sally's voice droned on: "a concerted effort...political involvement...for just pennies a day..."

A wave of nausea rippled through me. I felt close to fainting. I looked around at another table, then noticed the waiter's stand parked next to our table. It held a large silver tray almost two feet in diameter.

With the last of my strength, I lifted myself out of my chair and stepped over to the tray. I could feel my heart pounding mightily in my chest. All the blood seemed to drain out of my head. I began to see gray.

I picked up the tray with my left hand. My arm trembled from workout fatigue. I held the tray up in the air like a mirror. Then, with a quick punch of my right fist, I gonged the tray as loudly as I could. It sent an enormous metal boom reverberating through the hall.

Instantly the whole room jumped. Everyone turned to look.

People stared at me. I nodded at them and quickly replaced the tray on its stand. Then I sat down next to Whoopi; she was covering her face with her hands.

At the podium, Sally stumbled for something to say. For a moment she looked down at her speech. But then she interrupted herself. "I think...uhhh...we'll, uhh...we'll finish here and...just...thank you..."

The audience stood up and began to applaud. I turned to Whoopi. "See, now we'll get to eat."

I sat back in my chair and waited for dinner to be served.###

All contents © 2011 by Gene Mahoney