Sometimes I try to figure out what I would do if I were homeless and had no money for food. The first important thing to do is to make sure your clothes are clean and you look like everyone else; if you can pull this off, then you will never go hungry because you will not be tossed out of places that have a lot of food lying around. The food court at the bottom of the Westfield Mall is a good place to start because people barely poke at their fries etc. and then get up and leave. All you have to do is slide into their old seat and chow down on what's left over.
The other idea I had was to go to the nice hotels in town and take the elevator up to the floors with rooms. Provided there are no active security cameras, you can cobble together a meal with the trays of room service that people put out in the hall. Midday is perfect because it's all scones, rolls, coffee tumblers, and uneaten bacon. Carry a newspaper with you and stand in front of the elevator; that way when the maids or whoever come you just look like you are waiting for your dawdling hubby. Then when you see someone dump their tray you can pounce.
I was hatching this whole plan as I sat at the bar at the Hilton on Kearny. It's called 750, which is one of those innocuous names that they give bars in hotels that also double as the address. Sophisticated yet completely meaningless, just like most of the Hilton family.
In the winter the bar has this strange hot coals art installation that burns real fire, but when it's warmer it's just a big room with banquette seating, low lighting, and flatscreen, soundless TVs with Fox News and sports.
When I talk about where to eat for free in the City I am actually having a From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler fantasy (RIP, E. L. Konigsburg!). That's a book about two kids who hide out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If I had to hide somewhere overnight for a week I would choose this Hilton. Where else is it OK to be sitting in an easy chair in the lobby at 4 a.m., reading? If I had some luggage next to me, no one would care. Then I could eat the leftover trays, use the bathroom at the rear of the building that doesn't require a key, and during the day put on sunglasses and sleep on the terrace.
"Can I get the Giants game?" said the businessman next to me, pointing at the TV with his butter knife. It looked like he was eating some kind of buffalo wing salad.
"Of course, sir!" said the eager bartender, scrambling for the remote and then trying in vain for like 10 minutes to change the channel. Eventually he had to call in for backup. The businessman was not amused and muttered angrily to his colleague. "Don't you think in San Francisco you would have a San Francisco game on? I mean, is it just me?"
In The Mixed Up Files, the kids go into the bathroom stalls and stand on the toilets after the place closes, so then when the security guards come in they don't see feet. It's possible to do the same thing in the Presidential Suites upstairs at the Hilton. They are so huge that the maid could be in one room while you hide in the other. Once she has vacuumed under a bed you can slide underneath easily and stay there until she leaves. You can't tell me that those suites get booked often. And when the bellhop and the new guests walk in on you, you just act offended and like your privacy has been invaded. Then when they go downstairs to clear up the mixup you skedaddle.
Then the higher echelon of hotel staff finally arrived to fix the television channel problem. You have to work hard to make it to hotel management, I would imagine. It takes a particular level of butt kissing to arrive there. I've seen Dunston Checks In. I know.
The bartender's boss fiddled with the remote too, painstakingly clicking through lists of channels. Now I was even annoyed; how hard is it to find KRON 4, people?
However inept, this guy would be my nemesis during The Great Illegal Sleep-Over. He would be the one I had to impress. If I stood out too much he might wonder why I always had my luggage and was always waiting for a taxi at 4 a.m. in the lounge. He might see me waiting for the elevator on the fourth floor and then again on the eighth floor, each time with a rasher of bacon pressed between two biscuits in my hand.
I guess he saw me staring at him and perhaps moving my lips while talking to myself, because the boss came over. "Do you have everything you need?" he asked me, clasping his hands together. "Nah, I was just waiting for the game, thank you for doing that," I said in my sweetest, most dishonest voice. His eyes lingered on mine for a split-second too long. Shoot, he was more observant than I thought. This guy knows when someone was planning on squatting before they even know it themselves. "Marvelous, it was no problem at all," he said, tapping his hand on my table before sauntering off. He glanced back at me one more time and then disappeared around the corner. Damn, he was good.