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“Should we?”

This is Carla. We’re standing outside the doors of Kathy’s Place, the in-house cafeteria at Sharp Coronado Hospital (sometimes called Sharp Coronado Cafe, 250 Prospect Place, 619-522-3600). Carla’s here to get a check on that elbow she twisted when she swung too hard at me with the baseball bat…kidding. But after the x-ray, natch, we came past this cafeteria, and had a decision to make.

Oh, heck, not really an issue. We haven’t even downed a coffee this morning, in all the rush from bed to bus to boat and beyond.

So today’s menu has lotsa good stuff going, including potato-and-corn chowder with white wine for $2.19. Lord, if I’da just stopped there, I would have had a bargain.

But Carla is already ordering the other special: buttermilk-marinated chicken, “deep-fried with a coating of seasoned flour.” Kentucky, in other words, looks like. Costs $4.89.

I get one, too.

So far, we’ve paid around $12 altogether. What we don’t realize is that each thing you put with the chicken costs extra. We’re merrily ordering mash, gravy, roasted veggies, chopped tomatoes, corn on the cob, and that chowder, plus iced tea for Carla and a coffee for me. And then Carla sees a tray of baked biscuits appearing. “Ooh. Let’s take some home for afternoon tea!” she giggles. Grabs five of them.

Now I’m really getting nervous.

At the checkout, I can see Betty salivating as she punches all the items into her register. No, actually, she’s looking at me, like, You really want all of this?

She hits the “total” button.

“Aaaargh!!” You can hear my cry throughout the hospital. It comes to $27.87 with tax.

Bone-thin doctors look at us as they pass with their feather-light trays and sigh. Like, Here’s tomorrow’s heart attack in ER. Don’t even bother going home.

“No,” says Carla, quietly. “I’m not going to feel bad. This is dinner, too. Let’s just leave the chicken and eat the rest now.”

So we chow down on mash, corn, roasted veggies, the tomatoes, and that filling chowder. Even that is too much.

Still, divide the whole bill by two (for two meals) and then two (for the two of us), and I guess you could say these will be $7 meals.

It only feels expensive when you realize five bucks — one chowder ($2.19 plus tax) each — would have been plenty to get us through the day.

"Self-discipline," I mutter.

"Bedford!" says Carla. "Is that a new word you've just learned?"

But then I'm thinking, with self-discipline we wouldn’t have that cold chicken to look forward to tonight.

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